[Creative Commons image by Martino Pizzol]
The Times of London this week published an article that reconsiders the "cloak of invisibility" argument: Plays like Merchant of Venice are simply too replete with Venetian lore, geography, etc. that it forces the conclusion that the author must somehow have visited the city he so accurately immortalizes. So, given Will Shakspere as the author, he must have just slipped on his invisibility cloak for a year during those fabled Lost Years and snuck off across the Alps to make his way to La Serenissima -- all, of course, without leaving a single trace in the historical record. And these days, with his place of origin seeming more and more like Speculation-upon-Avon, why the hell not?
Shaul Bassi at the University of Venice recently co-wrote a book with the Italian writer Alberto Toso Fei titled Shakespeare in Venice (published in Italy, in Italian) that weighs in with what looks like not a small chunk of the same evidence "Shakespeare" By Another Name puts forward. Here's The Times:
It was striking that he had given the name “Gobbo” to Shylock's servant, a reference to the carved figure of a hunchback (Il Gobbo di Rialto) on the bridge, a feature well known in Venice but not beyond it. Shakespeare had also used local words such as gondola, as in Act 2, scene 8 of The Merchant, when Salarino remarks: “But there the duke was given to understand that in a gondola were seen together Lorenzo and his amorous Jessica.”
...Shakespeare knew about the Venetian custom of offering pigeons (“a dish of doves”) as a gift, and showed rare insight into cosmopolitan Venice's ethnic and social relations, and its tolerance of foreigners and minorities.
Bene bene! Eccezionale! Couldn't agree more. In fact, if you want to follow "Shakespeare" through Venice -- and the rest of Italy -- there's already a free Google Earth Atlas that let's you retrace his every step from the comfort of your own virtual desktop.
One hitch, though. A slight change of byline is needed.
But if the reader is willing to take that provisional step then, hey, the world is thine oyster.