Map of Ireland and engraving of wild Irishman and woman


This hand-coloured map of ‘The Kingdome of Irland’ is part of John Speed’s remarkable work, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine (first printed in 1611–12 and reprinted in this version in 1616). It is the first atlas to present ‘an exact geography’ of Great Britain and Ireland, helping to solidify the notion of a coherent British ‘Empire’ that emerged in this era.

Probably made in the same year as The Tempest was first performed, The Theatre of Empire reveals contemporary views of the colonisation of Ireland and the scorn for its ‘wilde’ people, which some critics see reflected in the play.

Caliban and the ‘wild Irish’

As part of this map, John Speed depicts different classes of Irishman and woman – ‘wilde’, ‘Civill’ and ‘gentle’ – alongside a description of the area and its people. In his account of the ‘wild Irish’ (p.138), Speed tells how they have been seen in the past as ‘uncivill’, cannibalistic people, who ‘feede upon the flesh of men’ and ‘wantonlie … accompanie with women’. Yet he admits, somewhat sheepishly, that ‘we have no certaine witnesse’ of this savage behaviour.

Some critics have seen such ideas echoed in Prospero’s claim to Caliban’s island (1.2.331–32) and in his portrayal of Caliban as a rapacious creature, ‘not honor’d with/A human shape’ (1.2.283–84).

Full title:
The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, presenting an exact geography of the Kingdomes of England, Scotland, Ireland and the Iles adjoyning
1616, London
Map / Book / Image
Speed John
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
MAPS C.7.c.19.

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