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A Map of America's Shakespeare Towns
Shakespeare never visited America, yet the map of the U.S. is dotted with references to his work.
Although well received by critics, the debut album by Diesel Park West, a rock band from Leicester (UK), never made it to the top of the charts. It wasn't for lack of an appealing title: released in 1989, Shakespeare, Alabama conjures up an imaginary town in America's Deep South, incongruously named after the 17th-century English playwright.
It's an intriguing juxtaposition. At the time of Shakespeare's death in 1616, Jamestown, the first English colony in North America, had barely taken hold. And yet the New World had considerable influence on the Bard's work.
Firstly, in a general sense. In Britain as elsewhere in Europe, the Age of Discovery swept away old certainties, replacing them with the promise of the new, the lure of the exotic. It’s no coincidence Shakespeare named his theatre The Globe.
There are also a few particular references to America – although only a single literal one. In Act III, Scene 2 of the Comedy of Errors, Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio are playing word-games, comparing the latter’s wife Nell to various lands of the earth (“she is spherical, like a globe; I could find out countries in her”). Dromio compares her buttocks to Ireland, the hard palm of her hand to Scotland, the hotness of her breath to Spain. Antipholus asks:
"Where America, the Indies?"
"Oh, sir, upon her nose all o'er embellished with rubies, carbuncles, sapphires, declining their rich aspect to the hot breath of Spain; who sent whole armadoes of caracks to be ballast at her nose".
The Tempest, considered Shakespeare's last play, is set on a remote island. Although its exact location is never clarified in the text, the island is generally understood to be somewhere in the New World (1). Less well known is that it was based on true events: in 1609, a fleet of nine English ships heading for Virginia was blown off course and shipwrecked on Bermuda. All hands were thought lost, but passengers and crew eventually managed to repair the ships and complete their journey.
And although Shakespeare never crossed the ocean himself, one actual native-born American has slipped in to his oeuvre.
In 1611, the English captain Edward Harlow kidnapped Epenow and Coneconam from their island of Capawick (now Martha’s Vineyard). They were among the 29 Native Americans brought to England by Harlow, who intended to sell them as slaves. Epenow ended up becoming a 'wonder', on constant display in London, and is thought to be the inspiration for the 'strange Indian' mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry VIII:
"What should you do, but knock 'em down by the dozens? Is this Moorfields to muster in? or have we some strange Indian with the great tool come to court, the women so besiege us? Bless me, what a fry of fornication is at door! On my Christian conscience, this one christening will beget a thousand; here will be father, godfather, and all together".
Epenow lived to tell his strange tale to his kinsmen, by the way. He fabricated a story of gold mines on Martha’s Vineyard, and upon arrival escaped the English whose gold fever had returned him home. There is some evidence that Epenow became a sachem (2) among his people, leading the resistance against the English.
Shakespeare never lived to see the English colonies strike root along the entire East Coast of North America, and ever deeper inland. The vast reservoirs of English-speakers in North America would prove useful to England’s literary luminaries of later centuries. They were able to translate their fame on both sides of the Atlantic into extensive tours of the United States. Charles Dickens upon his first visit in 1842 received the full rock star treatment.
On Valentine’s Day, New York’s high society hosted a ball in his honour in the Park Theatre, then the grandest venue in the city. But the star-struck attention soon grew too much for the young novelist: "I can't drink a glass of water, without having 100 people looking down my throat when I open my mouth to swallow".
A visit to DC he remembered not for his dinner with president Tyler, but for the copious tobacco-spitting on the streets: “Washington may be called the head-quarters of tobacco-tinctured saliva. The thing itself is an exaggeration of nastiness, which cannot be outdone”, Dickens wrote in his travelogue, American Notes.
“I am disappointed”, Dickens wrote: “This is not the republic of my imagination”. Dickens’s disenchantment was fully reciprocated, by the way. The New York Courier and Enquirer described him as a "low-bred scullion... who for more than half his life has lived in the stews of London".
The so-called 'Quarrel with America' was eventually patched up, and Dickens returned to the U.S. in 1867, to a rapturous reception.
Oscar Wilde’s lecture tour of the U.S. in 1882, originally scheduled to last four months, was so popular that it eventually lasted an entire year. That tour occasioned him to coin the observation that "We (British) have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language".
And also: "The first thing that struck me on landing in America was that if the Americans are not the most well-dressed people in the world, they are the most comfortably dressed".
How would Shakespeare have gone down among the beau monde of the East Coast, with the earnest, uncomplicated Midwesterners (Dickens, horrified by their table manners, described them as "so many fellow animals", who "strip social sacraments of everything but the mere satisfaction of natural cravings") or, for that matter, in Alabama?
Wherever he would have gone, he probably would have been adulated ad nauseam too. For Americans love their Shakespeare. And have, for centuries. Shakespeare’s works were often among the few prized possessions brought over by the first English colonists who sailed to the New World. Shakespeare plays were staged in America as early as 1750. Travelling the frontier in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that "there is hardly a pioneer's hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare".
In the 19th century, performances of Shakespeare plays were so numerous throughout North America that they drew in shiploads of English actors looking for work and adventure. Mark Twain has Huckleberry Finn float down the Mississippi on a raft with two miscreants who pose as Shakespearean actors, on a tour of the riverbank towns.
Shakespeare was the all-American playwright. Only in the 20th century, when mass media created new frames of cultural reference, did the Bard’s reach narrow from popular to high culture.
Still, Shakespeare’s appeal – or at least the reverence for his talent – remains widespread. Last year, to mark the quadricentennial of his death, the Folger Shakespeare Library sent out copies of the First Folio edition to all 50 states. Printed only 7 years after Shakespeare’s death in no more than 750 copies, the First Folio is the first printed collection of all his plays. Today, 233 copies survive. The Folger owns 82 of them – the world’s largest collection – and normally keeps them behind four sets of safe doors. A total of 18 Folio ventured out in 2016 to make that all-state tour.
A 'book tour' four hundred years after the death of the author, that’s fantastic measure of his work’s lasting impact. The First Folio travel schedule around America’s 50 states included the capitals and larger cities of each state. But this itinerary would be way cooler: if the books visited the locations across America that bear the name of characters and places mentioned in Shakespeare.
As this map shows, there are heaps of those, in almost every state – the only Bard-less ones are Maryland and Delaware (and perhaps also Alaska and Hawaii, which are not included).
Granted, some toponymical concordances are likely coincidental, and may not refer to Shakespeare at all. The four Denmarks (in Oregon, Iowa, Wisconsin and Kansas) have probably been named by Danish immigrants rather than by thespian pioneers.
Hamlet, on the other hand, is a more distinguishing name, and more likely to refer to the Prince of Denmark portrayed by Shakespeare in his play of the same name.
Do the four Stratfords and ten Avons dotting the U.S. map refer to Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon? Perhaps. How about those Londons in California and Texas? They could well have been named without a thought for the 65 mentions the English capital gets in Shakespeare. The same for Vienna, Georgia, named after the Austrian capital, which is mentioned once in Hamlet, nine times in Measure for Measure. Or Wales, mentioned numerous times as the country, and even more often as the princely title – but still: 32 mentions. So there is a connection, however unintentional.
The rarer the name, the likelier an intentional Shakespeare reference. Especially if it refers to a person rather than a place. Surely the four towns called Romeo (and one Romeoville) refer to the romantic protagonist. Unfortunately, he’ll search in vain for his star-crossed lover on the map: there’s no town called Juliet in America – not anymore. There is a Joliet, Illinois. It was named after the French explorer Louis Jolliet. Strangely, in a corruption of the explorer’s name, the town was actually originally named Juliet until 1845.
There are four Othellos, vying for the attention of just one Desdemona. She’s located in Texas, as is her nemesis, Iago.
The Midwest seems to contain a concentration of exotically-named female characters: Olivia, Miranda, Viola, Octavia, Beatrice.
How weird to consider the blistering desert heat of Ely, Nevada, so different from the freezing winter cold of Ely, Minnesota – but perhaps fitting, as Shakespeare does mention two different bishops of Ely (John Morton, in Richard III; and John Fordham, in Henry V).
Pinch, West Virginia could be named after the conjuring schoolmaster from The Comedy of Errors. And Blunt, South Dakota might refer to Sir Walter Blunt, a chivalrous character in Henry IV, Part I, based on the royal standard bearer, mistaken for the king and killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403).
In fact, neither town is named for their Shakespearean homonym. But what better 21st-century way to honour the Bard than to use these place-names as hyperlink entry points into this work? It is a lot faster and easier than actually reading all those plays.
One name is conspicuously absent from the U.S. map: Shakespeare. No Shakespeare, Alabama or anywhere else. At least not in the United States. There is a Shakespeare, Ontario, though. And there was a Shakespeare, New Mexico. The place (pictured below) is now a ghost town, part of a private ranch, and occasionally open to outside visitors.
Strange Maps #786
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
(1) The play contains the phrase ‘Brave New World’, later used by Aldous Huxley as the title for his most famous work.
(2) Sachem or sagamore: a paramount chief among the Algonquians and other Native tribes in the northeastern U.S.
A team of archaeologists has discovered 3,200-year-old cheese after analyzing artifacts found in an ancient Egyptian tomb. It could be the oldest known cheese sample in the world.
A team of archaeologists has discovered 3,200-year-old cheese after analyzing artifacts found in an ancient Egyptian tomb. It could be the oldest known cheese sample in the world.
The tomb that held the cheese lies in the desert sands south of Cairo. It was first discovered in the 19th century by treasure hunters, who eventually lost the knowledge of its location, leaving the Saharan sands to once again conceal the tomb.
“Since 1885 the tomb has been covered in sand and no-one knew about it,” Professor Ola el-Aguizy of Cairo University told the BBC. “It is important because this tomb was the lost tomb.”
In 2010, a team of archaeologists rediscovered the tomb, which belonged to Ptahmes, a mayor and military chief of staff of the Egyptian city of Memphis in the 13th century B.C. In the tomb, the team found a jar containing a “solidified whitish mass,” among other artifacts.
“The archaeologists suspected [the mass] was food, according to the conservation method and the position of the finding inside the tomb, but we discovered it was cheese after the first tests,” Enrico Greco, the lead author of the paper and a research assistant at Peking University in Beijing, told the The New York Times.
To find out what the substance was, the team had to develop a novel way to analyze the proteins and identify the peptide markers in the samples. They first dissolved parts of the substance and then used mass spectrometry and chromatography to analyze its proteins.
Despite more than 3,000 years spent in the desert, the researchers were able to identify hundreds of peptides (chains of amino acids) in the sample. They found some that were associated with milk from goat, sheep and, interestingly, the African buffalo, a species not usually kept as a domestic animal in modern Africa, as Gizmodo reports.
Those results suggested that the substance was cheese, specifically one that was probably similar in consistency to chevre but with a “really, really acidy” taste, as Dr. Paul Kindstedt, a professor at the University of Vermont who studies the chemistry and history of cheese, told the The New York Times.
“It would be high in moisture; it would be spreadable,” he said. “It would not last long; it would spoil very quickly.”
The researchers also found traces of the bacterium Brucella melitensis, which causes brucellosis, a debilitating disease that can cause endocarditis, arthritis, chronic fatigue, malaise, muscle pain and other conditions. It’s a disease usually contracted by consuming raw dairy products.
“The most common way to be infected [with Brucella melitensis] is by eating or drinking unpasteurized/raw dairy products. When sheep, goats, cows, or camels are infected, their milk becomes contaminated with the bacteria,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control wrote on its website. “If the milk from infected animals is not pasteurized, the infection will be transmitted to people who consume the milk and/or cheese products.”
Dr. Kindstedt said one reason the study is significant is for its novel use of proteomic analysis, which is the systematic identification and quantification of the complete complement of proteins (the proteome) of a biological system.
“As I say to my students every year when I get to Egypt, someone has to go ahead and analyze these residues with modern capabilities,” he told the The New York Times. “This is a logical next step and I think you’re going to see a lot more of this.”
'The Great Pyramid of Chee-za'. An artist's interpretation of a very ripe, slightly deadly Egyptian tomb cheese. (Credit: Creative commons/Big Think)
However, Dr. Kindstedt did offer a bit of caution on the conclusions the researchers drew from the findings.
“The authors of this new study did some nice work,” he told Gizmodo in a statement. “But in my view, on multiple grounds (I suspect in their zeal to be “the first”), they inferred considerably beyond what their data is capable of supporting within reasonable certainty, and almost certainly they are not the first to have found solid cheese residues in Egyptian tombs, just the first to apply proteomic analyses (which is worthy achievement on its own).”
As bad as this sounds, a new essay suggests that we live in a surprisingly egalitarian age.
- A new essay depicts 700 years of economic inequality in Europe.
- The only stretch of time more egalitarian than today was the period between 1350 to approximately the year 1700.
- Data suggest that, without intervention, inequality does not decrease on its own.
Economic inequality is a constant topic. No matter the cycle — boom or bust — somebody is making a lot of money, and the question of fairness is never far behind.
A recently published essay in the Journal of Economic Literature by Professor Guido Alfani adds an intriguing perspective to the discussion by showing the evolution of income inequality in Europe over the last several hundred years. As it turns out, we currently live in a comparatively egalitarian epoch.
Seven centuries of economic history
Figure 8 from Guido Alfani, Journal of Economic Literature, 2021.
This graph shows the amount of wealth controlled by the top ten percent in certain parts of Europe over the last seven hundred years. Archival documentation similar to — and often of a similar quality as — modern economic data allows researchers to get a glimpse of what economic conditions were like centuries ago. Sources like property tax records and documents listing the rental value of homes can be used to determine how much a person's estate was worth. (While these methods leave out those without property, the data is not particularly distorted.)
The first part of the line, shown in black, represents work by Prof. Alfani and represents the average inequality level of the Sabaudian State in Northern Italy, The Florentine State, The Kingdom of Naples, and the Republic of Venice. The latter part, in gray, is based on the work of French economist Thomas Piketty and represents an average of inequality in France, the United Kingdom, and Sweden during that time period.
Despite the shift in location, the level of inequality and rate of increase are very similar between the two data sets.
Apocalyptic events cause decreases in inequality
Note that there are two substantial declines in inequality. Both are tied to truly apocalyptic events. The first is the Black Death, the common name for the bubonic plague pandemic in the 14th century, which killed off anywhere between 30 and 50 percent of Europe. The second, at the dawn of the 20th century, was the result of World War I and the many major events in its aftermath.
The 20th century as a whole was a time of tremendous economic change, and the periods not featuring major wars are notable for having large experiments in distributive economic policies, particularly in the countries Piketty considers.
The slight stall in the rise of inequality during the 17th century is the result of the Thirty Years' War, a terrible religious conflict that ravaged Europe and left eight million people dead, and of major plagues that affected South Europe. However, the recurrent outbreaks of the plague after the Black Death no longer had much effect on inequality. This was due to a number of factors, not the least of which was the adaptation of European institutions to handle pandemics without causing such a shift in wealth.
In 2010, the last year covered by the essay, inequality levels were similar to those of 1340, with 66 percent of the wealth of society being held by the top ten percent. Also, inequality levels were continuing to rise, and the trends have not ended since. As Prof. Alfani explained in an email to BigThink:
"During the decade preceding the Covid pandemic, economic inequality has shown a slow tendency towards further inequality growth. The Great Recession that began in 2008 possibly contributed to slow down inequality growth, especially in Europe, but it did not stop it. However, the expectation is that Covid-19 will tend to increase inequality and poverty. This, because it tends to create a relatively greater economic damage to those having unstable occupations, or who need physical strength to work (think of the effects of the so-called "long-Covid," which can prove physically invalidating for a long time). Additionally, and thankfully, Covid is not lethal enough to force major leveling dynamics upon society."
Can only disasters change inequality?
That is the subject of some debate. While inequality can occur in any economy, even one that doesn't grow all that much, some things appear to make it more likely to rise or fall.
Thomas Piketty suggested that the cause of changes in inequality levels is the difference in the rate of return on capital and the overall growth rate of the economy. Since the return on capital is typically higher than the overall growth rate, this means that those who have capital to invest tend to get richer faster than everybody else.
While this does explain a great deal of the graph after 1800, his model fails to explain why inequality fell after the Black Death. Indeed, since the plague destroyed human capital and left material goods alone, we would expect the ratio of wealth over income to increase and for inequality to rise. His model can provide explanations for the decline in inequality in the decades after the pandemic, however- it is possible that the abundance of capital could have lowered returns over a longer time span.
The catastrophe theory put forth by Walter Scheidel suggests that the only force strong enough to wrest economic power from those who have it is a world-shattering event like the Black Death, the fall of the Roman Empire, or World War I. While each event changed the world in a different way, they all had a tremendous leveling effect on society.
But not even this explains everything in the above graph. Pandemics subsequent to the Black Death had little effect on inequality, and inequality continued to fall for decades after World War II ended. Prof. Alfani suggests that we remember the importance of human agency through institutional change. He attributes much of the post-WWII decline in inequality to "the redistributive policies and the development of the welfare states from the 1950s to the early 1970s."
What does this mean for us now?
As Professor Alfani put it in his email:
"[H]istory does not necessarily teach us whether we should consider the current trend toward growth in economic inequality as an undesirable outcome or a problem per se (although I personally believe that there is some ground to argue for that). Nor does it teach us that high inequality is destiny. What it does teach us, is that if we do not act, we have no reason whatsoever to expect that inequality will, one day, decline on its own. History also offers abundant evidence that past trends in inequality have been deeply influenced by our collective decisions, as they shaped the institutional framework across time. So, it is really up to us to decide whether we want to live in a more, or a less unequal society."
Our love-hate relationship with browser tabs drives all of us crazy. There is a solution.
- A new study suggests that tabs can cause people to be flustered as they try to keep track of every website.
- The reason is that tabs are unable to properly organize information.
- The researchers are plugging a browser extension that aims to fix the problem.
A lot of ideas that people had about the internet in the 1990s have fallen by the wayside as technology and our usage patterns evolved. Long gone are things like GeoCities, BowieNet, and the belief that letting anybody post whatever they are thinking whenever they want is a fundamentally good idea with no societal repercussions.
While these ideas have been abandoned and the tools that made them possible often replaced by new and improved ones, not every outdated part of our internet experience is gone. A new study by a team at Carnegie Mellon makes the case that the use of tabs in a web browser is one of these outdated concepts that we would do well to get rid of.
How many tabs do you have open right now?
We didn't always have tabs. Introduced in the early 2000s, tabs are now included on all major web browsers, and most users have had access to them for a little over a decade. They've been pretty much the same since they came out, despite the ever changing nature of the internet. So, in this new study, researchers interviewed and surveyed 113 people on their use of — and feelings toward — the ubiquitous tabs.
Most people use tabs for the short-term storage of information, particularly if it's information that is needed again soon. Some keep tabs that they know they'll never get around to reading. Others used them as a sort of external memory bank. One participant described this action to the researchers:
"It's like a manifestation of everything that's on my mind right now. Or the things that should be on my mind right now... So right now, in this browser window, I have a web project that I'm working on. I don't have time to work on it right now, but I know I need to work on it. So it's sitting there reminding me that I need to work on it."
You suffer from tab overload
Unfortunately, trying to use tabs this way can cause a number of problems. A quarter of the interview subjects reported having caused a computer or browser to crash because they had too many tabs open. Others reported feeling flustered by having so many tabs open — a situation called "tab overload" — or feeling ashamed that they appeared disorganized by having so many tabs up at once. More than half of participants reported having problems like this at least two or three times a week.
However, people can become emotionally invested in the tabs. One participant explained, "[E]ven when I'm not using those tabs, I don't want to close them. Maybe it's because it took efforts [sic] to open those tabs and organize them in that way."
So, we have a tool that inefficiently saves web pages that we might visit again while simultaneously reducing our productivity, increasing our anxiety, and crashing our machines. And yet we feel oddly attached to them.
Either the system is crazy or we are.
Skeema: The anti-tab revolution
The researchers concluded that at least part of the problem is caused by tabs not being an ideal way of organizing the work we now do online. They propose a new model that better compartmentalizes tabs by task and subtask, reflects users' mental models, and helps manage the users' attention on what is important right now rather than what might be important later.
To that end, the team also created Skeema, an extension for Google Chrome, that treats tabs as tasks and offers a variety of ways to organize them. Users of an early version reported having fewer tabs and windows open at one time and were better able to manage the information they contained.
Tabs were an improvement over having multiple windows open at the same time, but they may have outlived their usefulness. While it might take a paradigm shift to fully replace the concept, the study suggests that taking a different approach to tabs might be worth trying.
And now, excuse me, while I close some of the 87 tabs I currently have open.