Although Shakespeare’s home stage was the Globe Theater, and his plays are set in places as far flung as Denmark, Cyprus, Verona, Egypt, and Rome, there is not much in evidence that he actually traveled to any of those places. Rick Steves’ guidebooks and travel episodes were not available, so Wm. S. did the next best when it came to creating his settings: research sprinkled with imagination.
Then again, why not set plays in jolly old London? No doubt the fear of offending present citizens played into the scriptwriting. Or not having as much wiggle room with creative license. Plus, it’s much easier to imply unknown cultural aspects such as young marriages and sparring families as found in Romeo and Juliet or having a widower mandating the oldest daughter is married off first as stated in Taming of the Shrew. Wild flora and fauna can be invented, which is seen in The Tempest. Conquering queens and funny forest business is better placed in Athens than in England in terms of sparking the imagination (also known as “getting away with suspension of disbelief).
While there is not much Danish about Shakespeare’s Denmark in Hamlet, there is the hint of the romance of Venice in Othello, and there is definitely Roman reign in Julius Caesar. Shakespeare did stick around Britain for his histories, all those Henry plays and what have you. Perhaps it was more than inventing or embellishing cultural aspects in his plays, that encouraged Wm. S. to spin elaborate settings. Methinks the draw of experiencing a two hour traffic set in a land far from London’s teeming streets appealed to the audience.
Shakespeare was no doubt an amazing wordsmith, but he also knew how to plump up box office interest. The show must go on, and it has, hasn’t it?