The plots in Shakespeare’s plays often rely on key figures, places, or objects that remain unseen on stage. A deep analysis of his works resulted in a long list of such missing elements that provide a broad setting for each of his plays. This project highlights the absent in Shakespeare’s works by associating each missing element with a specific location on a current map of the world.
During the process of deciding what gets mapped and what does not, we faced several obstacles, which were rooted in the core of the project. What qualifies as missing? If the global element does not play too important a role in the plot of the play, should it be mapped? How do we map missing elements, whose physical locations remain unknown even after 400 years (for example, where Titania and Oberon met in the middle of summer once upon a time)?
Even though the majority of the mapped missing elements play a crucial role in the advancement of the plotline or the development of a character, some elements (such as the Hybla bees in Julius Caesar) bring up unusual sources and thus have been included. Meanwhile, notably missing figures (such as the missing mothers in King Lear and The Merchant of Venice) have been excluded from the set of missing people because it can be assumed that they come from the same place the rest of their families do. All the mapped elements, however, contribute to support the second mission of our project: showcasing Shakespeare as a global playwright. Tracing these unseen elements in the plays reveals the startlingly international contexts for the texts: geopolitical conflicts, trade routes, consumer demand, colonialist impulses, and so on. As for mapping what cannot be physically mapped, we decided to include all such elements under a ‘404’ category to make sure that they were a part of the cluster of absent things. These elements have been mapped in or near Greenland, as there seem to be no references to anything from that region.