The mystery of how Stratford boy Shakespeare knew so much about the world


Key locations

The jealous Leontes may not have had a real-life counterpart, but Sicily was a kingdom, by various definitions, between 1130 and 1816 – its rulers sat in the Royal Palace (now the Sicilian Regional Assembly , but open for visits; in the capital Palermo. Messina is a pretty city, its Forte Gonzaga ( still dreams of the 16th century as the Italian mainland looms nearby.

In person

The five-bedroom Villa La Boheme, in Taormina, costs from £4,800 a week via Sicily4U (


“I know a shore where the wild thyme blows, where the oxlips grow and the nodding violet, utterly covered with succulent creepers, sweet rosehip and wild roses: There Titania sleeps, at some time of night, cradled in these flowers with dances and delights (Oberon – A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

The Greek capital appears regularly, but largely ethereal, in Shakespeare’s work. It is the city in which the generous Timon of Athens gives all his money, before fleeing into a cave in nature; it is in a forest somewhere outside that the two noble titular parents fight for the same woman. And it’s against this same backdrop, the woods beyond the walls, that the madness and magic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – all the mischievous fairies, love potions and goblin-headed actors donkey – pour onto the stage.

In person

You can try your own summer dream in Attica, the region that stretches around Athens. Vrbo offers a six-bedroom villa (ref: 4120016) for up to nine people in Sounion, 64 km south of the city. It’s available in the week of July 9-16 for £2,637 – additional flights (


“Shout, Trojans, shout! Practice your eyes with tears! Troy must not be, nor good standing lion. Our incendiary brother, Paris, burns us all. Shout, Trojans, shout! A Helen and a misfortune. Cry cry! Troy burns, or else lets Helen go. (Cassandre – Troilus and Cressida).

Like Homer 2,400 years earlier, Shakespeare was drawn to the golden coast of what is now western Turkey. Troilus and Cressida lay out his grief amid the bitterness of the Trojan War. It’s a darker, darker, more seedy Romeo and Juliet – a swirling mess of lovers divided by enemy lines, honor trampled in bloody sand, and a constant air of impending doom. About 230 miles to the south, Ephesus is the scene of The Comedy of Errors – one of the Bard’s more lighthearted efforts, with its humor of mistaken identity about two sets of identical twins, embroiled in a rivalry with (the ancient Sicilian city of) Syracuse.


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