The Italian Connection – Reposting No. 24 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere was Shake-speare

When the case for Edward de Vere as “Shakespeare” finally gains popular acceptance, not the least reason will be the overwhelming evidence that the author (no matter who he was) had traveled in Italy and must have lived in Venice for a time. Such was the experience of twenty-five-year-old Oxford in 1575, when he was welcomed in one place after another as an illustrious dignity from the English court — a young, high-born nobleman absorbing this land and its people and the Italian renaissance.

In fact, it was a play set in Italy that inspired Thomas Looney’s search for “Shakespeare,” as he wrote in 1920:

“For several years in succession I had been called upon to go through repeated courses of reading in one particular play of Shakespeare’s, namely The Merchant of Venice. This long continued familiarity with the contents of one play induced a peculiar sense of intimacy with the mind and disposition of its author and his outlook upon life. The personality which seemed to run through the pages of the drama I felt to be altogether out of relationship with what was taught of the reputed author and the ascertained facts of his career.”

He continues:

“For example, the Stratford Shakespeare was untraveled, having moved from his native place to London when a young man, and then as a successful middle-aged man of business he had returned to Stratford to attend to his lands and houses. This particular play on the contrary bespeaks a writer who knew Italy at first hand and was touched with the life and spirit of the country. Again the play suggested an author with no great respect for money and business methods, but rather one to whom material possessions would be in the nature of an encumbrance to be easily and lightly disposed of: at any rate one who was by no means of an acquisitive disposition.”

Now, nearly a century later, another book, The Shakespeare Guide to Italy by Richard Paul Roe (2012), is finally breaking down the rigid walls of Stratfordian tradition as readers demand better explanations. Roe died in 2010 at eighty-eight, having spent the last quarter-century of his life traveling the length and breadth of Italy on what the publisher aptly describes as “a literary quest of unparalleled significance.”

Here is a beautiful paragraph from Roe, speaking of “Shakespeare” in relation to Venice and The Merchant:

“In the latter part of the sixteenth century, the gifted English playwright arrived in the beating heart of this Venetian empire: the legendary city of Venice. He moved about noting its structured society, its centuries-old government of laws, its traditions, its culture, and its disciplines. He carefully considered and investigated its engines of banking and commerce. He explored its harbors and canals, and its streets and squares. He saw the flash of its pageants, its parties and celebrations; and he looked deeply into the Venetian soul. Then, with a skill that has never been equaled, he wrote a story that has a happy ending for all its characters save one, about whom a grief endures and always will: a deathless tragedy.”

If Roe’s description of the dramatist’s activities is at all accurate, how can the authorship continue to be attributed to William of Stratford?

When de Vere traveled through Italy during 1575, he and his retinue skirted Spanish-controlled Milan before navigating by canal and a network of rivers on a 120-mile journey to Verona.  His travels took him to Padua, Venice, Mantua, Pisa, Florence, Siena, Naples, Florence, Messina, Palermo and elsewhere, with his home base in Venice.

Aside from three stage works set in ancient Rome (Corianlanus, Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar), ten of Shakespeare’s fictional plays are set in whole or in part in Italy: Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well That Ends Well (also France), Much Ado About Nothing, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest (which opens aboard a ship in the Mediterranean between North Africa and Italy).

Only one play of fiction (The Merry Wives of Windsor) is set in England — an astounding ten-to-one ratio!  Why?  The logical answer is that “Shakespeare” (whoever he was) must have fallen in love with Italy.  It would be pretty hard to fall in love with a country without ever visiting it!

Oxfordians believe that de Vere “brought the European Renaissance back to England” when he returned in 1576 after fifteen months of travel through France, Germany and, most extensively, Italy.  He became the quintessential “Italianate Englishman,” wearing “new-fangled” clothes* of the latest styles. He brought richly embroidered, perfumed gloves for Queen Elizabeth, who delighted in them. Such gloves became all the rage among the great ladies of the time; and, for example, he brought back his perfumed leather jerkin (a close-fitting, sleeveless jacket) and “sweet bags” with costly washes and perfumes.

Soon enough John Lyly, who was Oxford’s personal secretary and stage manager, issued two novels about an Italian traveler: Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and his England (1580), the latter dedicated to de Vere, who apparently supervised the writing of both books.  Together they are said to comprise “the first English novel” and in the following decade “Shakespeare” would demonstrate Lyly’s influence upon his plays.

“There is a secret Italy hidden in the plays of Shakespeare,” Roe begins the introduction to his groundbreaking book.   “It is an ingeniously-described Italy that has neither been recognized, nor even suspected – not in four hundred years – save by a curious few.  It is exact; it is detailed; and it is brilliant.” The descriptions of Italy in the plays are in “challenging detail” and “nearly all their locations” can be found to this day.  Whoever wrote them “had a personal interest in that country equal to the interest in his own.”  The places and things in Italy which Shakespeare alludes to or describes “reveal themselves to be singularly unique to that one country.”  His familiarity with Italy’s sites and sights – “specific details, history, geography, unique cultural aspects, places and things, practices and propensities” and so on – “is, quite simply, astonishing.”

Roe never mentions Oxford; instead he takes us right away to Verona, the setting for Romeo and Juliet, and recounts making one trip to search for … sycamore!  Roe went to find sycamore trees, which would have to be located in one specific spot, “just outside the western wall” as “remnants of a grove that had flourished in that one place for centuries.” The trees are described in the very opening scene –

Where, underneath the grove of sycamore

That westward rooteth from the city’s side…

There are no sycamore trees in any of the known source materials for the play; they were deliberately put in by the great author himself. So Roe, our intrepid detective-explorer, arrives in the old city of Verona: “My driver took me across the city, then to its edge on the Viale Cristoforo Colombo.  Turning south onto the Viale Colonnello Galliano, he began to slow.  This was the boulevard where, long before and rushing to the airport at Milan, I had glimpsed trees, but had no idea what kind.” His car creeps along the Viale and comes to a halt.  Are there sycamores at the very same spot where “Shakespeare” said they were?  Did this playwright, who is said to be ignorant of Italy, know this “unnoted and unimportant but literal truth” about Verona?  Had he deliberately “dropped an odd little stone about a real grove of trees into the pool of his powerful drama”?

Yes, he did!

“No one has ever thought that the English genius who wrote the play could have been telling the truth: that there were such trees, growing exactly where he said in Verona,” writes Roe, whose discoveries all demonstrate Shakespeare’s depth of knowledge and personal experience of Italy. They comprise yet another solid reason to conclude that Oxford was the great poet-dramatist.”

(This post has become no. 45 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford. Thanks to editor Alex McNeil for some extra help on this one.)

 

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

    • Hello — yes, I was startled at the time to see it on the front page of my paper. Looking through it, fascinated, I was taken by the fact that the George North work was a “manuscript” and had never been published. So — how would our Man from Stratford have gotten access to it? And so on. Much more likely that Oxford knew about it. Also that he may have had a hand, wholly or in part, in its writing. Not sure of the relationship to Thomas North, translator of Plutarch — but we do know Oxford at nineteen had purchased Plutarch in French.
      If you have any comments on it we’d love to have them here. Best – Hank


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