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Shakespeare & Beyond

‘The Winter’s Tale’ and the problem of the Bohemia seacoast

Much has been made of Shakespeare’s decision to have a key plot point of The Winter’s Tale rely on the nonexistent shoreline of Bohemia, a land-locked country in Central Europe. Without this fantasy coast, there would be no place to leave the baby Perdita, nor an easy way for the teenage princess to escape with Florizell 16 years later.

Some people attribute this geographical gaffe to Shakespeare’s lack of formal education; others will defend it as a conscious choice to highlight the fairy-tale nature of the piece, or pedantically point out that there was a small window of time when Bohemian territories stretched to the Adriatic Sea.

Whichever side of the debate you fall on, the presence of Bohemia in The Winter’s Tale leads to some fascinating connections with items in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection. Here are just three examples of how a Shakespeare play can be a starting point for new journeys of discovery.


Shakespeare may have consulted Ortellius for The Taming of the Shrew, because in it he places Padua in Lombardy rather than in Venice where it belonged, as did Ortellius. He may not have owned or had regular access to a copy, as the Winter’s Tale shows.

As Ben Jonson lampooned Shakespeare for the Bohemia boner, accurate details were obviously available if one wanted them.

Jeffrey Meade — April 4, 2018

Bohemia had a seacoast! During Premisl Ottokar II.’s reign. He controled part of Adriatic sea.
It’s possible, Shakespeare did know it – Premisl Ottokar was quite well knowen king.

Veronika of Bohemia — April 24, 2019

The pastoral genre is not known for precise verisimilitude, and, like the assortment of mixed references to ancient religion and contemporary religious figures and customs, this possible inaccuracy may have been included to underscore the play’s fantastical and chimeric quality. As Andrew Gurr puts it, Bohemia may have been given a seacoast “to flout geographical realism, and to underline the unreality of place in the play”.

txxx — November 12, 2019

In ‘A Time of Gifts’ (Chapter Six) Patrick Leigh Fermor speculates that the word ‘coast’ as in ‘the Coast of Bohemia’ must originally have meant ‘side’ or ‘edge’ (cp. French ‘côte’) and referred merely to one of Bohemia’s borders with a neighbouring country. But PLF is not noted as a scholar of Shakespeare or of literature generally!

Christopher Martyn — July 21, 2021