Shakespeare’s Restless World:
An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects
Neil MacGregor

I bought this book in the shop at The Globe in London, part of making tangible a day when I wandered in a distracted dream from exhibit to exhibit, trying to both listen to the tour guides and to step away to find a quiet moment when I could just breathe and listen and time-travel. In the theater, while I was looking up at the blue sky from the “wooden O”, a plane flew overhead, and brought me back.

I’m a big believer that objects, particularly historical objects, carry a discernible cultural charge. This book devotes a chapter to twenty objects from Shakespeare’s period, and touches them with something from the plays. The first is Sir Francis Drake’s Circumnavigation Medal, awarded after he sailed his ship around the globe in 1580. Ten or so years, later, playgoers at The Globe seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream heard this:

Oberon: We the globe can compass soon
Swifter than the wandering moon.

Puck: I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes.

As McGregor says, “For the Elizabethan play-goer…encompassing the globe, putting a girdle around the earth, was news – patriotic news that every person in the audience would have known about. In their Athenian wood, Shakespeare’s very English fairies, are, in their whimsical poetical way, restating the nation’s pride in Drake’s accomplishment, just like this silver medal.”

The Daily Mail said “Enjoyable and intriguing, an absorbing evocation…he draws us into the minds of the Elizabethan and Jacobean audience. Next time you see one of the plays reading this book will make those first audiences seem real to you.”

I am in favor of that.

Well-illustrated, engagingly written. Time travel.