Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Double Dutch

Just returned from a two-day Shakespeare authorship conference in Utrecht, The Netherlands where researchers from the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, Germany, and Italy gathered to discuss some of the latest research on Shakespeare—and Edward de Vere— in Italy.

A few excerpts:

• Kevin Gilvary of the De Vere Society, UK, presented a summary of the best scholarship on The Tempest's Italian sources, which points to the conclusion that The Bard basically had to have been in Italy to have seen the plays that are clear precursors to characters and storylines of The Tempest. (In three Italian comedies in particular, unavailable in England, a magician on a lost island causes buffoons to be shipwrecked; a plot emerges among the shipwrecked to steal the magician's book and dress as gods of the island; the magus's servant is a wild savage; and a love subplot emerges involving a child of the shipwrecked crew.)

• The Italian scholar Noemi Magri presented her new research on the knowledge that Twelfth Night reveals about the Illyrian setting of the play—concluding, as did Gilvary, above, that the author of this play knew details of the eastern Adriatic coast that all but assures us he had visited there. Chapter 4 of "Shakespeare" By Another Name opens this door—but I look forward to incorporating and referencing Dr. Magri's great new work into a future edition of the book.

• Chuck Berney arguing that the character Polixenes in The Winter's Tale is based in part on Sir Walter Raleigh—which led me, in turn, to wonder if, as in The Winter's Tale's plot, de Vere had suspected Raleigh of being the one who had cheated on his wife while he was in Italy. A quick look at the DNB data reveals that Raleigh did first appear on the literary scene in 1576 (the year of de Vere's Italian travels) with a poetic contribution to a book by George Gascoigne. It's only a stab in the dark... but no one yet knows whom de Vere did accuse of sleeping with his wife while he was having his adventures on the Continent. Could be a new plot twist.

• I gave two talks, one a variation on talks presented last month in Taipei; the other, detailing connections to a dukedom near Venice that I suspect that de Vere visited during his Italian travels: Urbino. It is the poisoning of an early 16th century Duke of Urbino that Hamlet portrays in his play The Mousetrap, and it is also Titian's portrait of same that Horatio describes when recounting the warlike appearance of the ghost of King Hamlet. As with all matters Italian, the orthodox scholars simply cannot begin to explain how their supposed author saw or read or heard about any of this. In the case of Urbino, we cannot prove de Vere visited there. All we have is means, motive and opportunity.

Photo captions: (1) A view of a street scene in Utrecht with the town's Dom Tower in the background, a tower that seemingly every 15 minutes played on its bells a song resembling a slowed-down rendition of "Bicycle Built for Two"—thus yielding up images of a demented HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey four times an hour.

(2) The "Shakespeare in Italie" poster on display at a local bookstore, revealing that around the same time of the conference was an actual appearance by a famous Russian czar and successor to Ivan the Terrible. Talk about yer tough competition. (OK, slightly below the level of resolution of the image is the detail that Mr. Godunov himself would not be appearing at the show but rather an opera singer portraying him in a Mussorgsky opera of the same name.)

(3) Actors Juan Tajes and Grainne Delaney performed famous scenes from Shakespeare in the style (and masks!) native to the Italian commedia dell'arte traditions. Despite the vibrant performances, including a recitation in Italian of Brutus's "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" speech, jet lag was unfortunately getting the better of yours truly, embarassingly calling to mind a different character from the Bard... Quoth Hamlet re Polonius: "He's for a jig or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps."

(4) An American de Vere biographer meets Pieter Helsloot, author of Edward de Vere, onvermijdelijk Shakespeare, the first Oxfordian biography of de Vere written in Dutch.