Saturday, June 12, 2010

Shakespeare's Italy - the teaser

As noted in the comment thread to the previous entry, I discovered after posting about Richard Roe's forthcoming book The Shakespeare Guide To Italy ... Then and Now that the commercial edition is still forthcoming -- but not as in a few weeks or months from now. More like later this year or sometime next year. (Hopefully on the sooner end of that scale.)

Still, I don't want to whet appetites without also providing an appetizer until the main course becomes available.

So I'm pleased to report my recent discovery that a one of the classic studies on Shakespeare's Italy is now available for free download. It was among a handful of excellent sources that I used to write the two Italy chapters of "Shakespeare" By Another Name.

The 17-page work, "Shakespeare and the Waterways of North Italy," obliterates two of the most frequently-cited claims of the Bard's "ignorance" about Italy -- and continental Europe.

Case in point, says the scold: Shakespeare set part of The Winter's Tale on the seacoast of Bohemia. That'd be like trying to find some nice oceanfront property in Nebraska.

In fact, says Bart Edward Sullivan, the study's author, Bohemia during its most prosperous years had two seacoasts. (And as SBAN readers may recall, the first patch of foreign coastline Edward de Vere encountered on his 1575 trip down the Adriatic Sea out of Venice was land ruled by the then-King of Bohemia.)

OK, then... another case in point: Shakespeare didn't even know which Italian cities were on the Mediterranean and which were landlocked. Multiple plays feature voyages by ship from inland towns.

Sullivan demolishes that objection, too. Every one of the references to travel by boat via inland Italian towns (in The Tempest, Taming of the Shrew, and Two Gentlemen of Verona) is in fact spot-on for 16th century Italy, when travel across Northern Italy was often more convenient by water than by land routes. The Po and Adige rivers as well as via a network of canals and tributaries that look today like a Renaissance Italian bus map provided the routes for the region's network of ferries and boats.

Sullivan adds, however, that for Two Gentlemen of Verona (which prominently features water travel between Verona and Milan), he couldn't determine whether the entire journey between the two Italian cities could be made by boat.

And that's one hurdle Richard Roe's book clears. He records some pretty impressive gumshoe detective work to determine that an uninterrupted river/canal trip between Verona and Milan was not only possible -- it was also recorded in accurate detail in Two Gentlemen. The Bard's critics are, again, the ones with egg on their face.

The dispiriting thing about Sullivan's work is that it was published in 1908. And Sullivan was a Stratfordian. His work is still widely ignored to this day.

Evidently, a Shakespeare who knew Italy like the back of his hand is a Shakespeare that academic Shakespeareans want nothing to do with. They know that if the Bard can be kept safely holed up in London, leaving no traces of a well-traveled Renaissance life, there's no threat to the happy myth of a commercial writer who spent his career churning out potboilers for the stage.

The fun begins soon, friends. Sullivan is just the starter dish.