No. 81 of 100 Reasons why Edward de Vere = “Shakespeare” — a scene of “Twelfth Night” alluding to the ordeal of Jesuit Priest Edmund Campion before his execution in December 1581

“Provide me with ink and paper and I will write!” – Edmund Campion, the Catholic priest who lived hermit-like at Prague, teaching at the Jesuit college, before returning in 1580 to England — where he was imprisoned the following year in the Tower dungeon; and who, brought out for public disputations with Church officials intending to ridicule him, was refused the means of providing written answers

“…the old hermit of Prague that never saw pen and ink…” – Feste the clown in Act Four, Scene Two of Twelfth Night, disguised as a clergyman intent upon ridiculing Malvolio, who, for a prank, is imprisoned in the cellar for being a lunatic – clearly an otherwise “hidden” reference to Campion as well as a bold criticism of the English government’s treatment of him in the fall of 1581

Edmund Campion 1540 - 1581

Edmund Campion
1540 – 1581

Twelfth Night was one of eighteen stage works never printed until the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623. Two decades earlier, in 1602, the law student John Manningham had attended “a play called Twelve Night, or what you will” at the Middle Temple; and therefore most commentators, logically enough, believe this rollicking comedy was written in about 1600.

But once Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford is envisioned writing Twelfth Night in the early 1580s, the same scenes come alive with an array of allusions to contemporary persons and events; and perhaps the most surprising of these allusions remained undiscovered until less than twenty years ago. In the Spring/Summer 1995 issue of The Elizabethan Review, researcher C. Richard Desper reported that one entire scene in the play recreates the Crown’s unfair actions toward Campion, who was tortured and found guilty of high treason before being hanged, drawn and quartered in December 1581. [He was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1970.]

While it may be shocking to find an allusion to such a serious current event “hidden” within a comedy, the finding by Desper would have been virtually impossible without knowing who was the correct author. Given that William Shakspere of Stratford was only seventeen in 1581 and still in Warwickshire, this allusion to Campion’s ordeal remained unnoticed for more than four centuries. Oxford, however, was thirty-one in 1581 and writing “comedies” for private audiences as well as the court; and given his known sympathies toward Catholics in England, it is not surprising that he would be angry at officials of the Crown and Church of England for staging mockeries and travesties of justice.

Execution of Edmund Campion, Alexander Briant & Ralph Sherwin

Execution of Edmund Campion, Alexander Briant & Ralph Sherwin

In September 1581 the Elizabethan government led Campion from his dungeon in the Tower for public “conferences” in an attempt to discredit him. Scholars and clergymen representing the Church of England were sent to defeat him in religious disputations. In addition, the Crown sought to portray Campion as trying to rouse English Catholics in rebellion against Queen Elizabeth, with the goal of killing her and putting Mary Queen of Scots on the throne.

The sessions were rigged and Campion was deprived of any means of preparing a defense. During the third disputation he asked his opponent, one Master Fulke, to allow him access to books containing the teachings of St. Augustine and St. John Chrysoston.

“If you dare, let me show you Augustine and Chrysostom!” he cried out, adding, “If you dare!”

Fulke replied before he could stop himself. “If you think you can add anything,” he said, “put it in writing and I will answer it.”

Campion saw his opening and seized it. “Provide me with ink and paper,” he retorted, “and I will answer it!”

Fulke realized his tactical error. In no way had the government intended to let Campion write out his answers; after all, much of his public success had come from his writings. But now the Jesuit had outwitted his Church opponent, who had been trapped by his own statement that he, Campion, should “put it in writing.”

“I am not to provide you ink and paper,” Fulke replied, thereby denying Campion the wherewithal to write even though he himself had challenged him to do so.

“Procure me, that I may have liberty to write!”

Fulke offered an excuse that completely undermined his challenge to Campion. “I know not for what cause you are restrained of that liberty,” he said, “and therefore I will not take upon me to procure it.”

Edmund Campion as depicted in a 1631 print

Edmund Campion as depicted in a 1631 print

This public exchange, embarrassing to the government, would have been most widely known in 1582, when the “old hermit of Prague that never saw pen and ink” would have been recognized as Edmund Campion. But why would any dramatist in 1600 write and insert an entire scene within a comedy such as Twelfth Night to metaphorically recreate the Jesuit priest’s ordeal in 1581?

The scene as it survived and appeared in the Folio of 1623 begins with Malvolio shut up in the cellar [as Campion was confined in the Tower dungeon]. Feste the clown agrees to disguise himself as “Sir Topas the Curate” or cleric to interrogate the prisoner and humiliate him, as we see in the following dialogue [with key words or phrases emphasized in bold]:

Maria (to Feste): “Nay, I pray thee, put on this gown and this beard. Make him believe thou art Sir Topas the Curate. Do it quickly. I’ll call Sir Toby the whilst.”

Feste: “Well, I’ll put it on, and I will dissemble [disguise] myself in it. And I would that I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown.”

[As Richard Desper suggests, the dramatist’s negative opinion about such proceedings is revealed here at the outset. Feste is donning an academic gown to “dissemble” or pretend to have more learning, as the opponents sent to dispute with Campion pretended – when, in fact, none of them had as much learning as he had acquired.]

Feste (continued): “I am not tall enough to become the function well, nor lean enough, to be thought a good student; but to be said an honest man and a good housekeeper goes as fairly, as to say, a careful man and a great scholar. The competitors [opponents] enter.” (Enter Sir Toby)

Toby: “Jove bless thee, Master Parson.”

[“Robert Persons was a fellow Jesuit who traveled with Campion from Rome to France,” Desper explains. “The two separated to enter England and, for reasons of security, pursued their ministries individually, meeting each other occasionally. Persons, sometimes referred to as ‘Parsons’ and a former classmate of Campion, was in charge of the Jesuit mission to England.”]

Feste: “Bonos dies, Sir Toby: for as the old hermit of Prague that never saw pen and ink very wittily said to a Niece of King Gorboduc, ‘That that is, is,” so I, being Master Parson, am Master Parson: for what is ‘that’ but ‘that’? And ‘is’ but ‘is’?”

An engraving possibly of late 17th century of Campion and Briant executions

An engraving possibly of late 17th century of Campion and Briant executions

[In addition to references already mentioned, others occur in Feste’s speech. Desper points out that Gorboduc was a mythical King of England; and Queen Elizabeth was the “niece” of her father’s brother, Arthur, who would have been King of England if he had lived. Meanwhile the phrase “That that is, is” may be taken as “a religious affirmation, just as Campion’s mission to England was a religious affirmation,” Desper writes, adding that his goal was “to affirm the truth [from the Catholic viewpoint] in the face of official displeasure” and despite efforts to force him to deny what, for him, was reality. The phrase also echoes God’s words to Moses, “I Am That I Am.” Given that Campion owed a higher allegiance to God than to the Crown, the phrase “That that is, is” becomes the “essence” of his position vis-a-vis his God and his Queen,” Desper explains.]

Toby: “To him, Sir Topas.”

Feste: “What ho, I say, peace in this prison.”

[In effect, Malvolio is in a “prison” as Campion was.]

Toby: “The knave counterfeits well: a good knave.”

[“Thus it is established at the outset that the playwright regards the conference to be held, like the conferences Campion was brought to, as a sham, a counterfeit, with a knave posing as a learned man acting as the examiner,” Desper writes. Having established the allusions to Campion in Feste the Clown’s opening speech, he notes, “the tenor of the remainder of the scene, in the context of Campion’s imprisonment, becomes apparent. The Clown is seen assuming the role of the learned men to dispute with the prisoner, just as men of learning brought Campion to dispute at the aforementioned conferences.”]

Malvolio (from within): “Who calls there?”

Feste: “Sir Topas the Curate, who comes to visit Malvolio the Lunatic.”

[Desper writes that Feste, posing as Sir Topas the Curate, “proceeds to deal with Malvolio as a man possessed and in need of exorcism, even though, as the Clown, he knows full well that Malvolio, whatever his faults might be, is neither insane nor possessed.”]

As the scene goes on, we can feel the underlying power of the playwright’s anger at what was done to Campion:

Malvolio: “Sir Topas, Sir Topas, good Sir Topas, go to my Lady [Olivia].”

Feste: “Out, hyperbolical fiend! How vext thou this man? Talkest thou nothing but of Ladies?”

Malvolio: “Sir Topas, never was man thus wronged. Good Sir Topas, do not think I am mad. They have laid me here in hideous darkness.”

Feste: “Fye, thou dishonest Satan! I call thee by the most modest terms, for I am one of those gentle ones, that will use the Devil himself with courtesy. Sayst thou that house is dark?”

Malvolio: “As hell, Sir Topas.”

Feste: “Why, it hath bay windows transparent as baricadoes, and the clear stores toward the south north are a lustrous as ebony. And yet complaineth thou of obstruction?”

Malvolio: “I am not mad, Sir Topas. I say to you this house is dark.”

Feste: “Madman, thou errest! I say there is no darkness but ignorance, in which thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog.” [A biblical reference: Exodus, 10:21]

Malvolio: “I say this house is as dark as ignorance, though ignorance were as dark as hell. And I say there was never man thus abused. I am no more mad than you are. Make the trial of it in any confident question.”

Feste: “What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wildfowl?”

Malvolio: “That the soul of our grandam might happily inhabit a bird.”

Feste: “What thinkest thou of his opinion?”

Malvolio: “I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion.”

Feste: “Fare thee well. Remain thou still in darkness. Thou shalt hold the opinion of Pythagoras, ere I will allow of thy wits, and fear to kill a woodcock lest thou dispossess the soul of thy grandam. Fare thee well.”

In the above dialogue, Feste chides Malvolio for not upholding the pagan view of the transmigration of souls; and likewise, Desper points out, Campion was expected to provide answers which, in his own view, were illogical and false but accorded with the needs of those in power. “The playwright thus demonstrates for us the world turned upside-down,” he writes, “with clowns passing themselves off as men of learning, while men of learning such as Campion are pressed to deny what they believe to be true” in order to serve political ends. And in this one scene, he also suggests, the author expresses “his bitterness over the trial and execution of one he saw as an innocent man.”

Was the scene actually performed in the early 1580s? Was it enacted for the Queen? Was it so skillfully hidden within the play that even William Cecil Lord Burghley, architect of the Protestant Reformation, or spymaster Francis Walsingham could have missed the allusions to Campions ordeal, which was their own doing? Isn’t this another example (like the Sonnets) of this author’s ability to create one kind of reality on the surface while another, wholly different world exists within the same work at the same time?

There are more questions than answers, but I suggest that no writer other than Edward de Vere had the ability to create a scene that was so potentially dangerous and get away with it.

Discovery of a 1595 Reference to “Sweet Shakspeare … Oxford … Our De Vere … A Secret” — No. 80 of 100 Reasons to Conclude that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“Most contemporaries alluded to Shakespeare’s famous lines or characters – they did not usually mention his name or give personal information. Even praise for the great author was often indirect, implying that there was something secret about him.” – Katherine Chiljan, “Shakespeare Suppressed”

scan of Polimanteia
(Click on Image for Larger View)

These “reasons” to conclude that Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford wrote the Shakespeare works have generally avoided anagrams and the like, but for Reason No. 80 we make an exception. In my view, what we have here – based on common sense, requiring no formal training to recognize it – is a veritable knockout punch.

In 1595, two years after “Shakespeare” initially appeared — on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton — and one year after the name appeared on the dedication of Lucrece to that young nobleman, the University of Cambridge published a book containing one of the first mentions of the new poet.

A page of this book contained an italicized margin note Lucrecia Sweet Shak-speare” alongside two lines of text, one containing the italicized word “Oxford” and the line below containing a perfect anagram of OUR DE VERE — A SECRET.

To be more precise, directly underneath Oxford was printed the odd hyphenated phrase “court-deare-verse,” with letters and words which, in correct sequence, spelled out OUR DE VERE. [c-OUR-t-e-DE-e-a-r-e VERsE.] Moreover, the remaining seven letters (c-t-e-a-r-e-s) formed a perfect anagram of A SECRET.

scan of Polimanteia
(Click on Image for Larger View)

The book was Polimanteia. The publication in 1595 was anonymous, but later evidence showed it was written by William Covell, a clergyman who received his MA from Cambridge in 1588 and went on to serve as a Fellow of Queen’s College, Cambridge, from 1589 to 1599.

Discoverer of this rather amazing Oxford=Shakespeare reference, which had been hiding in plain sight for more than four centuries, is Alexander Waugh, the English writer who is also a critic, journalist, composer, cartoonist, record producer, television producer and outspoken critic of the traditional Stratfordian biography.

Alexander Waugh

Alexander Waugh

The grandson of novelist Evelyn Waugh, he recently co-edited (with John M. Shahan) — and contributed to — the book of essays entitled Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?, Exposing an Industry in Denial, published in response to the orthodox position of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The complete marginal note reads: “All praise/ worthy./ Lucrecia/ Sweet Shak-/ speare./ Eloquent Gaveston./ Wanton Adonis./ Watsons heyre (heir).”

(“The spelling ‘Shakspeare’ – missing the medial ‘e’ – is here forced by lack of space,” Waugh points out. Adding an ‘e’ after the ‘k’ would make it collide with the main text. “No other significance should be attached to this spelling.”)

"Venus and Adonis" Dedication - 1593

“Venus and Adonis” Dedication – 1593

The note’s references to “Lucrecia” and “Adonis” obviously refer to Shakespeare’s two narrative poems. Given that the overall topic covers poets and poetry, “Gaveston” most likely refers to Michael Drayton’s historical poem The Legend of Piers Gaveston, published in 1593; and “Watson” refers to the poet Thomas Watson, who had dedicated Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love (1582), a sequence of 100 consecutively numbered verses, to his patron Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, who had viewed them in manuscript and apparently had been involved with their actual writing.

Covell, well aware that “Shakespeare” was Oxford’s new pen name and that this was a highly sensitive state secret, was careful to avoid pointing directly to the earl. On the other hand, he was equally careful to place the margin words “Lucrecia Sweet Shakspeare” right next to the lines containing “Oxford” and “courte-deare-verse” — and, therefore, the crucial aspect of his indirect message was the combination of both the margin note and the text; to get Covell’s barely hidden meaning, the reader must view them in conjunction with each other.

"Lucrece" Dedication 1594

“Lucrece” Dedication

“The main text of Polimanteia is supported by a great many marginal notes,” Waugh writes in the De Vere Society Newsletter, “all of which have been precisely and meticulously placed by the printer so that there can be no doubt as to which line each is intended to reference.” With that observation in mind, he declares, “Given that only a handful of direct allusions to Shakespeare are known to exist from the 1590s, and given that the world has been turned upside-down in search of any information relating to the Bard, I find it very strange that no Shakespearean scholar has yet seen fit to investigate the meaning of this little note in relation to the text to which it is supposed to refer.” (My emphasis)

Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton

Henry Wriothesley
Earl of Southampton

There is a definite political dimension to this story, however, and it involves Oxford’s support via “Shakespeare” to the Earl of Southampton, to whom he wrote in the Lucrece dedication: “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.” During these years, roughly 1592-1594, there had been an open effort to raise Southampton in the public eye and even to suggest he was a prince who deserved to succeed Elizabeth I on the throne.

But the young earl had refused a political marriage to Elizabeth Vere, granddaughter of William Cecil Lord Burghley (and the reputed daughter of Oxford, who had denied his paternity), preferring instead to join Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex in breaking away from Burghley and his son Robert Cecil. And now William Covell was dedicating Polimanteia to Essex, pledging his “deep affection” as well as his “kindnesse and love” in the process of devoting “the full interest of my self to your dispose.”

William Cecil Lord Burghley and his son Robert Cecil

William Cecil Lord Burghley and his son Robert Cecil

Edward de Vere, Robert Devereux and Henry Wriothesley had all three been royal wards of the Queen in Burghley’s household; all three had been Cambridge men, as was Covell, who appears to have used Polimanteia to publicly (though indirectly) declare his support for the “Essex faction” in the power struggle to control the succession upon Elizabeth’s death.

This growing political battle would result just six years later in the Essex faction’s use of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (known to us as “Shakespeare’s Company”) to perform Richard II at the Globe (showing the deposition of a monarch) on the eve of the so-called Essex rebellion of 8 February 1601, aimed at removing Robert Cecil. It ended in utter failure, followed by the execution of Essex and the confinement of Southampton in the Tower until after Elizabeth’s death in 1603 and Cecil’s engineering of the succession of King James.

Going back to 1595, however, Alexander Waugh raises the question of how to explain the “brazen temerity” of William Covell in publishing with Cambridge at a time when Lord Burghley himself was Chancellor of the University. That fact, plus the dedication to Essex, leads to a “natural supposition,” he writes, “that the release of Covell’s secret [about Oxford as Shakespeare] was in some way sanctioned by Essex and/or Burghley.”

While the proposed alliance of Southampton and the Cecil family through marriage was in play, during 1590-1594, Burghley would have been in favor of Oxford’s attempt to persuade the younger earl to go along (in Venus and Adonis the Goddess of Love has thirty-six lines urging the young god to hurry into marriage and fatherhood, using virtually the same words as in the first seventeen sonnets to Southampton urging procreation). Even the Archbishop of Canterbury (who took his orders from Burghley and/or the Queen) had signed off on Venus and Adonis, that first published offering with “Shakespeare” attached to it.

Southampton in Tower 1601 - 1603

Southampton in Tower
1601 – 1603

By 1595, however, the potential Oxford-Elizabeth-Burghley alliance with Southampton had ended, so that now Oxford was breaking with William and Robert Cecil while using “Shakespeare” to support Southampton alone. And in doing so, he was inevitably joining the Essex faction — even against his better judgment. It appears to me, therefore, that Covell in 1595 must have been quite daring to insert his allusion to the Earl of Oxford as “Shakespeare,” with its implied support of Essex and Southampton against the entrenched Cecil faction.

Yes, quite daring, in a world where writers were being censored, imprisoned, tortured, killed.

At stake, after all, was the crown.

Shakespeare at the Customs Gate

A wonderful little incident took place at the start of my time in London, where I was set to deliver a talk for the conference of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust (S.A.T.) at Shakespeare’s Globe. After the plane had landed at Heathrow, I took my place in line to go through the Customs section, holding my passport and the form I had filled out. The line moved along in fits and starts and, soon enough, I was approaching the man behind the counter.

Heathrow queues

“Here you go,” I said, handing over the papers.

The man looked at my passport, then at the form, then back at the passport. I watched, wondering what might be going through his mind. Finally he looked up at me.

“Are you staying in London?”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“How long do you intend to be here?”

“Oh, well, five nights, I believe.”

“Mmmm. Are you here for business or pleasure?”

“Well, uh, I’m going to give a talk.”

“A talk, eh? On what subject?”

dog at heathrow

I was not sure it was any of his business. Briefly it occurred to me that once you give a guy a uniform, he suddenly feels the need to exercise his power as a figure of authority. I began to feel a little nervous. Nearby was an officer with a leg-sniffing dog. And I thought, as the Customs agent looked at me, waiting for an answer, that my hesitation probably seemed suspicious.

Say something, I told myself, and be quick about it.

“Well, actually I’m giving a talk about Shakespeare.”

“Oh, really?” he said, and now I imagined he was an official of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, placed there to nab me and confiscate my speech.

“Yes,” I said. “Shakespeare.”

shakespeare as Santa

He leaned forward, one elbow on the counter, and gestured with a forefinger for me to do the same. I bent my head forward and down, the better to lend him my ear.

“You know,” he said in a low voice that was nearly a whisper, “some people think Shakespeare didn’t write those things.”

I lifted my eyes and looked at him.

He was smiling.

I smiled back and said, “So I’ve heard.”

“Good luck with your talk,” he said, waving me through.

Later I realized what he may well have been thinking:

“That American guy must be one of those die-hard Stratfordians. When will they ever wise up?”

“Richard Roe, Shakespeare and Italy” – 3rd and Final Installment

This is the third and final installment of my talk focusing on The Shakespeare Guide to Italy by Richard Paul Roe, delivered at the November 24, 2013 conference of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust (S.A.T.) in London:

“Why would Shakespeare want any of us to find sycamore trees in Romeo and Juliet? Even when I was first reading Roe’s book, that nagging question kept floating up. Why did he put those sycamores in there in the first place? Why put into his plays so many little things in Italy that could only be found by being there?


“As Alexander Waugh describes it in his brilliant and detail-packed chapter in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? – *

“‘Shakespeare’s method, which we see repeated time and again, was to pepper his plays with frequent, minor and precise touches of local color. In both of his Venetian plays” – Merchant of Venice, and Othello – “he presents many little facts about the city that can be traced neither to the original sources from which he drew his plots, nor to any known travel books of the time.’

“Okay, but why? Just exactly WHY would Shakespeare want to put all these little details into his plays? I mean, was he showing off, or what? Boasting? Writing a book for tourists?

“I asked some of my authorship colleagues and one suggested that perhaps the playwright was doing this for the amusement of his friends – for the aristocratic young men who also went to that forbidden, dangerously alive place called Italy. But that reason didn’t really impress me too much. I mean, there are just too many details in the Italian plays … and – just my opinion – I don’t think his friends back home would recognize even a tenth of them, no matter how many continental trips they had made.

“Another friend suggested that the great author knew his identity was going to be erased from the historical record. After all, in the sonnets he spoke with the personal pronoun ‘I’ and declared, for example, ‘My name be buried where my body is,’ and ‘I, once gone, to all the world must die.’ And so, my friend said, if the real author knew his true identity was going to be obliterated, he would want send a message to us so we could realize that he actually did travel in Italy. That would be a strong clue, perhaps, to his identity – and all the little clues he put in there would survive – would pass through censorship unnoticed, unseen, unrecognized – and so remain there in his plays.

Portia's Landing Place (Venice) in "Merchant" Ducal Palace & Court

Portia’s Landing Place
(Venice) in “Merchant”
Ducal Palace & Court

“Well, I guess if ‘Shakespeare’ knew his identity as the author was going to be buried, then he probably did have a strong need to be witnessed – that is, for those of us in the future to bear witness to his personal experience.

“The thought of being obliterated must have been emotionally difficult, to say the least – as Hamlet cries out, “O Horatio what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown shall live behind me!” That’s a cry of suffering – ‘Things standing thus unknown’ – so he pleads with his good friend Horatio to ‘draw thy breath in pain to tell my story.’ In other words, “Horatio, please – please bear witness … to me and my life.”

“But then I thought of another reason, and I believe that even if the others might be valid, this one is probably the bottom-line … and let me say it first as simply as I can, from my own point of view as someone who tries to put words together:

“The man wrote better when he knew it was real!**

“He knew that using very specific things that he had seen with his own eyes, touched with his own hands, tasted, heard, smelled – then the rest of his writing of that particular play would go better. My friend and colleague Stephanie Hughes says it very directly and clearly: ‘This author’s imagination was the sort that needs real things and real experiences to build upon.’


“In my earliest acting days we used to sit around drinking imaginary cups of tea –the actors know this, right? At first I thought it was kind of ridiculous, but then I realized, hey, if I can smell the aroma of this invisible tea, and feel the nonexistent steam coming from this imaginary cup – well, then, everything else begins to take on that essential feeling of reality.

“The comedian Billy Crystal recalls getting advice from Bill Cosby, the great standup comic, who told him, “You gotta leave a tip! Leave your audience with a little PIECE of yourself, so they get a little feeling of who you are – a gift.” So in the process using the reality of his experience to write better, the author known as Shakespeare also gave us a special kind of ‘gift’ when it comes to his Italian plays – he gave us a way to go right to the very places where he spent time and be able to walk in his shoes on the very same streets, following his footsteps.

He left us with a map of his own experience.

“Through his plays he demonstrates that he had absorbed Italy into himself, through all his senses, all the wiring of his brain, and that he shook off the rigid attitudes and behavior of his own roots, broke the shackles – and became a lover – the Italian lover he always knew he was – which allowed him, for one thing, to embrace a new and powerful empathy, the better to inhabit each of his characters.

“His love for Italy was, of course, a love for life – and of course the Italian renaissance.

“But Dick Roe was not alone in his convictions about this. Another was Professor Ernesto Grillo, who grew up in a respected Italian family and taught Italian studies at Glasgow University. His lectures included dozens of linkages between Shakespeare and the geography, language and culture of Italy. One of his students put together his notes into a book entitled Shakespeare and Italy , published in 1949. And it quotes Grillo in conclusion:

“’Italy with its public and private life, its laws and customs, its ceremonial and other characteristics, pulsates in every line of our dramatist, while the atmosphere of many scenes is Italian in the truest sense of the word. We cannot but wonder how Shakespeare obtained such accurate information, and we have no hesitation in affirming that on at least one occasion he must have visited Italy.’

“For example, Grillo wrote, Shakespeare in Twelfth Night has Malvolio say that “the Lady of the Strachy married the yeoman of the wardrobe,” – and it seems that no scholar could explain it, but Professor Grillo drew upon his own Italian heritage to recognize a common Italian sarcasm, La Signora degli Stracci, alluding to a poor but haughty woman, a lady of rags, in this case one who married the yeoman of the wardrobe — and so we do get a little more pleasure of our ‘Shakespeare’ the better we can understand him.

“And then there was Georges Lambin, a professor at the Saint-Louis College in Paris specializing in translations of Shakespeare – and his work The Travels of Shakespeare in France and Italy was published in 1962.*** Professor Lambin writes with passion –

“’The moment is near, if it has not already arrived, in which the ‘Shakespeare mystery’ will finally escape the somewhat narrow and jealous competence of the exclusive specialist in literary studies. And when the HISTORIAN and the GEOGRAPHERS (and so on) shall wish to intensively undertake this problem, it will be definitely resolved.’


“Lambin writes about The Two Gentlemen of Verona and the famous “mistake” by Shakespeare of having Valentine sail from inland Verona to inland Milan – when, of course, it was easier – and safer – to sail on the connecting waterways, rivers, and canals which contained “roads” or wide places for ships to anchor.

“A vessel waits in the road,” he writes of The Two Gentlemen, “and time is pressing, because the tide – otherwise the flood – has just peaked.” Now Lambin turns sarcastic: “Here, our author surely must be exaggerating! What? Not know that Verona and Milan are not on the sea?! Well, there you go – that proves it — Shakespeare never was in Italy!”

“But he points out that in Two Gentlemen the author never directly mentions the sea. ‘As to the flood or tide, we’re not talking about an ocean surge at Verona! Yet today, motor-less vessels still wait for the tide to assist their passage to the open sea … River navigation is common on the European continent and has been for a long time. It is this flow that our voyagers have awaited for their voyage to Milan from Verona” –

“And Speed, as Lambin writes, tells us that ‘if the river were dry, I am able to fill it with my tears.’ So, he continues, ‘Valentine’s transportation, and then that of Proteus, then their domestics and their trunks, was not an ignorant fiction of the playwright’ – and the same goes for his topographic details of Milan and the forest.

“And he concludes, after many pages, that ‘the author of Two Gentlemen did indeed visit Milan, just as the author of All’s Well must have visited Florence, for his personal satisfaction and seeking a more authentic ‘local color,’ so that this unknown Shakespeare depended on his own recollections.’

“I might add that Stephanie Hughes makes the point – about the Earl of Oxford, but it could apply to any author – that these works would be performed for Queen Elizabeth, who was back at court waiting for the witty and informative plays about places she herself would probably never see – and in fact never did! — and about events on the continent that continued to reverberate through the challenging relationships with Italy and Spain that were of continual concern in England.

“And one other scholar I’d like to mention is one who I think is another giant in this realm – Dr. Noemi Magri, of Mantua, who died in May of 2011 — an extraordinary woman – an outstanding teacher of the English language, who contributed many amazing articles about Shakespeare and Italy to the De Vere Society, which re-printed no less than five of her articles in its 2004 collection of essays Great Oxford which in my view is one of the most outstanding books that I recommend for anyone involved in the Shakespeare authorship question.

“The cover photograph is that of a Titian painting of Ovid’s story of Venus and Adonis. As Dr. Magri reported, Titian painted many such pictures, but this was the only one in which Adonis wears a bonnet or cap while trying to avoid being seduced by the goddess of love and beauty. The one with the hat could only be seen in the sixteenth century at Titian’s home in Venice. And this is the very painting that Shakespeare describes in his narrative poem of Venus and Adonis.


“The author we call ‘Shakespeare’ was in Venice. He saw that particular painting. And he eventually described it in words:

‘He sees her coming and begins to glow…
And with his bonnet hides his angry brow…
For all askance he holds her in his eye…
Now was she just before him as he sat,
And like a lowly lover down she kneels …
O what a war of looks was then between them!’

“Princes and cardinals, ambassadors and nobles, artists and literary figures would not fail to pay their respects to Titian. Up to when he died in 1576, his house in Venice was a kind of cultural center and to be received into his house was a mark of high honor and prestige. ‘Shakespeare’ was one of those distinguished visitors who were received at Titian’s house in Venice. [Oxford made his home base in Venice during his 1575-76 travels in Italy.]

“But don’t tell Stanley Wells or Jonathan Bate!

Villa Foscari  (Portia's Belmont)

Villa Foscari
(Portia’s Belmont)

“Both Noemi Magri and Dick Roe contributed details of evidence to prove that Portia’s supposedly fictitious estate of Belmont in The Merchant of Venice was none other than the Villa Foscari-Malcontenta on the River Brenta – built by 1560, a grand palace where, just as the author knew, trumpets sounded as each nobleman was received in its richly decorated Great Hall, and where musicians serenaded and aristocrats danced and players performed.

“It turns out that ‘Shakespeare’ gave Portia the precisely correct information for her instruction to Nerissa to ‘haste away, for we must measure twenty miles today.’ The round-trip will be ten miles to Venice and ten miles back to the Villa Foscari or Belmont. Portia says they will travel by coach to the ‘Tranect’ – a narrow strip of land where travelers could transfer to the common ferry, which was then pulled across the dry land by machinery to the water and then the final lap to Venice.


“That rendezvous at the ‘Tranect’ was exactly five miles from Belmont to Fusina, and from there it was exactly another five miles to Venice. Each ten miles of the journey was in two parts of five miles each; and the roundtrip was twice ten or twenty miles, just as not only Portia, but also Shakespeare, had to know firsthand.

“The landing place at Venice for the two women was Il Molo, which sits in front of the Ducal Palace and the Courts of Justice – exactly where the trial of Antonio was being held.

Here are some names of places or things from Shakespeare’s plays that Richard Paul Roe found in Italy:

• From Romeo and Juliet, the cloister at Friar Lawrence’s monastery
• From Two Gentlemen of Verona, the Emperor’s Court and Saint Gregory’s Well in Milan
• From Taming of the Shrew, the rivers and canals to Padua, and the hostelry near St. Luke’s Church
• From Othello, the “Sagittary” in Venice known in Italian as the Frezzaria. Scholars have had many ideas about what it was (usually said to be a tavern), all of them wrong, but in fact it’s a narrow street where arrow-makers had their shops.
• From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an ancient and un-changed town near Mantua called Sabbioneta, known as ‘Little Athens’ – with enough details to convince the most stubborn naysayer that this was indeed the real setting for Shakespeare’s Dream.
• From All’s Well That Ends Well, the St. Francis Hostelry
• And much more, on and on, but how about this — from The Tempest, the Island of Vulcano – of which Ariel sings, ‘Come unto these yellow sands…’
Prospero's Island
Vulcano is one of the islands off the northeast coast of Sicily. It’s named for the Roman god of fire and forges and volcanoes. And once again Roe offers dozens of details coordinating this magical location with that magical play of Shakespeare. The photo of Vulcano in this blog is from Roe’s daughter Hilary Roe Metternich, with whom I had the good fortune to communicate before coming here. And I’d like to share some of her insights into the scholar and adventurer whom she called Dad.

There were two points Hilary especially wanted to make: The first might simply be called ‘irreverence.” Her father was “a highly intelligent individual — a self-made man of simple background, who was fundamentally irreverent.”

Roe at twenty-two

“He never accepted what the ‘experts’ had to say about anything, at least not just because they were ‘experts’. He was a feisty guy. He had no problem challenging accepted ‘truth’ or questioning what individuals with big titles had to say. This may have stemmed from his training as a brilliant lawyer,” she said, adding, “but I believe his irreverence shows through in the topic which absorbed him so profoundly at the end of his life — and which resulted in his book.”

The second point, she said, “is that my father’s outlook was also impacted by the ‘conflict’ or ‘tension’ between Appearance and Reality. How things (and people) appear are not necessarily how they actually are. For example, his mother, born in 1886, was a divorced woman — considered rather a wild thing for a woman to be at the turn of the 20th century. But he knew her only as a wonderful and warm person. How she may have appeared to others was never the reality of her to him….’


“Irreverence and Awareness of the Difference between Appearance and Reality: ‘I should think,’ Hilary said, ‘that these two themes would profoundly impact a person’s outlook, and I do not believe my father embarked on his Shakespeare quest without having been affected by them.’

Dick Roe believed (as I do) that the Earl of Oxford was the true author, but he left that conviction aside when it came to writing his book. His epilogue is a paragraph of simple elegance and eloquence:

‘As we have seen in the foregoing chapters of this book, the ‘imaginary’ settings for the ten Italian plays of Shakespeare have presented both specific, and strikingly accurate, details about that country, as a result of dedicated sojourns within it by the playwright. The author’s journeys took him from its Alpine slopes to the toe of its peninsula, across the length and breadth of its great island of Sicily, and included sailing trips on both the adjoining Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas. For the last four hundred years, nearly all of the playwright’s descriptions of Italy’s places and treasures have either gone unrecognized as being true, or have been dismissed as mistaken. In researching and writing this book, it has been my goal to re-visit these orthodox beliefs, and contrast them for their accuracy with the actual words of the English playwright.’

“And that, I might add, is precisely what he did.”


* This book of essays (2013), edited by John M. Shahan and Alexander Waugh, is a response to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, an attack on doubters of the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, edited by Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson

**The conclusion originally came from Ted Story, co-writer and director of my one-man show Shakespeare’s Treason, and I shamelessly stole it from him.

*** See an English translation of Georges Lambin’s 1962 book by Talamadge (Tal) Gartley Wilson, completed by W. Ron Hess, with others, and published by Hess in The Dark Side of Shakespeare, Volume I, An Iron-Fisted Romantic in England’s Most Perilous Times (2002)

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