Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

Shakespeare and Italy:

Levith, Murray J. Shakespeare's Italian Settings and Plays. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Roger Ascham (1515-1568) in The Scholemaster (1570): Venice = sin. Danger to Englishman traveller, may return "Italianato, e un diabolo incarnato" (6).

"In almost all the dramas set in Italy, learning and education are major themes" (10).

"Coryat was fascinated by the fashionable platform footwear called 'chapineys', and observed women balancing on them precariously with the help of servants" (13).

"While the Inquisition was a real and present danger for English Protestants elsewhere in Italy, according to Moryson there was 'no danger ... at all in the State of Venice to him that can hold his peace, and behave himselfe modestly'" (14). "Nominally Catholic in religion, Venice was anti-papal politically" (14).

"Now it seems likely that John Florio, the Italian manual writer, dictionary maker, and translator of Montaigne, was the source for Jonson's Venetian information. A copy of Volpone autographed to Florio exists" (15).

"Venice was the hub of Italy for Shakespeare and his contemporaries. One could love it as the locus of excitement and progressive culture, a sort of New York, London, and Paris / combined, or hate it as the seat of excess and decadence, a Catholic Sodom and Gomorrah" (17-18).

"In a Venice of canals, Old Gobbo has a horse named 'Dobbin' (II,ii,95,96), yet, according to Moryson again, 'The Venetians seldome or never come on horsebacke and vulgar Jeasts are raysed on them for ignorance of ryding'" (19).

"He refers to the expected 'gondilo' (II,viii,8) and surprises with his forementioned accurate traghetto detail (III,iv,53). He knows about slaves in Venice (see IV,i,90-93), and the custom of offering pigeons ('a dish of doves') as a gift (II,ii,135)" (19).

"The name of Portia's cousin, Bellario, is, surprisingly, a correct Paduan one" (20).

"As a seaport and centre for trade, the 'market place of the world' in Coryat's phrase, it was only good business for Venice to be tolerant of foreigners and provide freedoms for a heterogeneous population" (21).

No such thing as "Jewish gaberdine" (21).

"Bassanio's name suggests 'touchstone' (from basanite), the stone used to test for true gold" (24).

"The final danger of Italy is the temptation to embrace bad customs and habits when there, then bring them home. Ascham cites those young men who now are 'contemners of mariage and readie persuaders of all other to the same'. He describes the devil incarnate, the 'Englishman Italianated' (40).

"Ascham was not the only one to condemn Italian travel. Towards the end of his life, William Cecil, Lord Burghley (to whom The Scholemaster is inscribed), instructed the caretakers of his children not to allow them to 'pass the Alps, for they shall learn nothing there [in Italy] but pride, blasphemy, and atheism'" (41).

"Shakespeare's young gentlemen, like Bertram and Proteus, as if to bear out Moryson, return to the fold better and wiser after their youthful flings. Travel is indeed educational" (42).

"The University of Padua was especially reputed as medical school. Among the more notable English physicians who studied there were John Caius (who gave his name to the Cambridge College), doctor to Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, and William Harvey, who first described the circulation of the blood early in the seventeenth century" (42).

"Moryson, with unusual poetic reach, saw Verona as 'built in the forme of a Lute, the necke whereof lies towards the West, on which side the River Athesis ... doth not only compasse the City, but runs almost through the center of the body of this Lute'" (44).

"The city of Mantua, Castiglione's birthplace, is the other setting in Romeo and Juliet. Only a single scene is laid here (V,i)" (44).

"In The Taming of the Shrew, Hortensio becomes the musician Litio 'born in Mantua' (II,i,60), and the Pedant is also 'Of Mantua' (IV,ii,77). The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which shares the Brooke source with Romeo and Juliet, contains an outlaw banished 'from Mantua' (IV,i,48) for murdering a gentleman" (44).

"A Shrew's setting is Athens, associated with Aristotle and Plato, and the seat of ancient learning" (46).

"The name Petruchio also may have been reinforced as a good Italian name for Shakespeare's character by a person at court, Petruccio Ubaldini. This soldier came to England during the reign of Henry VIII, married an Englishwoman and possibly served Queen Elizabeth as a diplomat" (46).

"Moryson writes that 'in the Provinces of the State of Venice [which would include Padua], ... they were wont to marry their virgins ... to him that would give most for them, and by the money given for the fayrest, raysed dowrys for them that were ill favored" (49).

"Shakespeare writes knowingly here of Florence's reputation as a banking centre" (51).

Moryson says University of Padua is school of music, so Hortensio credible as a music teacher (51).

"Venice is correctly identified as the place for fashion. Petruchio 'will unto Venice / To buy apparel 'gainst ... [his] wedding-day' (II,i,314-15)" (51). "We recall that Jaques in As You Like It, who has also been in Venice, wears 'strange suits' (IV,i,34). Among much else Gremio promises for Bianca's hand is a 'Valens of Venice gold' (II,i,354)" (51).

"Another supposed error by Shakespeare is the identification of Tranio's father as 'a sailmaker in Bergamo' (V,i,77-8)" (52). But, though landlocked, textile manufacture fame.

"The sleeve of Kate's would-be dress is 'carv'd like an apple-tart' (IV,iii,89), and English sweet" (52).

Romeo and Juliet: "Moryson reports the masque parties at 'Carnival Time'" (54).

"Unlike the English, aristocratic Italians were often buried in family tombs" (54).

English songs in Romeo and Juliet, "and some lines of an English poem, 'In Commendation of Musick' by Richard Edwardes (1523-66), are recited (IV,v,126-30)" (57).

"In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare quotes some lines from a poem by Richard Edwardes, and another source for The Two Gentlemen of Verona is thought to be Edwardes' The Excellent Comedy of Two Most Faithful Friends, Damon and Pithias (1565). These friends are described as 'two gentlemen of Greece'" (60).

"Most editors view Speed's greeting of Launce to 'Padua' and not 'Milan' at II,v,1 in the Folio as one of Shakespeare's many 'errors' in the play, possibly due to hasty writing or careless rewriting. But surely this welcome is meant to be a joke by the quick-witted servant at the expense of the slow-witted one -- Padua is, after all, in the opposite direction from Milan when travelling from Verona. Other slips, however, such as the substitution of 'Verona' for 'Milan' at V,iv,29 in the Folio, are not so easy to explain" (61).

"The region of Naples had important classical as well as modern associations for the Renaissance English. With its geological peculiarities and volcanic activity, it was then as now an exotic landscape. The ancients regarded Lago d'Averno as the entrance to the Underworld" (67).

"Syphilis, too, was associated with Naples, and commonly called the 'Neapolitan disease'. In Troilus and Cressida, Thersites refers to 'the Neapolitan bone-ache' (II,iii,18-19), and in Othello the nasal sound of the musicians' instruments causes the clown to ask if they have 'been in Naples' (III,i,3-4) -- that is, have they been affected by venereal disease" (68).

All's Well That Ends Well from Boccaccio's Decameron, ninth novel third day (71). Shakespeare "makes Florence a training ground in warfare for French youth, which indeed it was at times" (72).

Much Ado's "Claudio (whose name, by the way, is traditional for a Commedia dell'arte lover) is Florentine (I,i,11)" (77).

"'Balthazar', the name the playwright gives to Don Pedro's musical attendant, was, of course, Castiglione's Christian name Baldassare; it was a name associated with courtesy in the Renaissance" (79).

Don John of Austria, when Elizabeth made it known "that he might aspire to her hand," "rebuffed her overtures" and "She expressed,it is said, great indignation at the slight put upon her by a bastard, and / the Spaniards believed that she set on foot plots for his assassination" (81-82).

"Another possible source for The Tempest is Thomas' The History of Italy. This work recounts the story of a fifteenth-century Duke of Genoa, Prospero Adorno, with a relevant first name and significant Milanese and Neapolitan connections. Adorno waa deposed in 1460, then returned to power seventeen years later by the Duke of Milan" (83).

"E.M. Grillo boldly asserts that in a number of plays 'Italy ... pulsates in every line of our dramatist, while the atmosphere of many scenes is Italian in the truest sense of the word'. His conclusion about Shakespeare as traveller is similarly unflinching: 'on at least one occasion he must have visited Italy'. Other scholars agree. One writes of the playwright's 'eye-witness' verisimilitude and 'intimate description of Italian life', and another of the 'pure Paduan atmosphere' in The Taming of the Shrew.... Einstein also thinks the mature Othello shows 'undeniable knowledge of Italy', and that Shakespeare's information about Italian cities is 'remarkable'. Violet Jeffrey, too, is sure, for example, that Shakespeare knew Venice firsthand" (87).
[Mario Praz, "Shakespeare's Italy," Shakespeare Survey 7.]

"the inescapable conclusion is that he was casual about his local colour. But Shakespeare was not the only Renaissance English playwright to get his Italian details wrong at times. John Marston, whose own mother was Italian, makes his Sforzas Venetian not Milanese in Antonio and Mellinda and Antonio's Revenge. George Chapman in All Fool puts the Rialto in Florence!" (89).

Moryson, Fynes. An Itinerary. 1617.

Italian Bibliography
Shakespeare Index