Daily Archives: December 3, 2014

Shakespeare’s Grand Tour (part 5)


And then Sir William would travel to Spain, There for to learn the Spanish tongue ; He tarried there not past half a year, But he thought he’d been in Spain too long. 

The Garland of William Stanley


  Visiting  the court of lovely Navarre brought Stanley & Shakespeare (& Donne) to the Pyrenees, which of course adjoins the beautiful, sierra-swept lands of Spain. Wither the party went, we have no record, but Sir Henry Thomas writes of the ‘Tawny Spain’ phrase as found in Love’s Labour’s Lost as, ‘so apt a description of the landscape, at least in some parts of Spain & at certain seasons of the year, that it suggest personal observation. If such it really was, the trip to Spain might be a youthful escapade, for Loves Labour’s Lost is one of the earliest plays.’  There is also the curious possibility that Shakespeare may have visited the Court of King Phillip II in Madrid, where he would have viewed Titian’s painting, Venus & Adonis. In this pictorial version of the myth, Adonis is seen backing away from the advances of Venus, which goes against the original outcome as described by Ovid in his Metamorpheses. When Shakespeare came to write his own version of the story he, like Titian, had Adonis rejecting Venus. Interestingly enough, on the title page to this poem (published in 1593), Shakespeare calls it ‘the first heir of my invention,’ from which we can infer that after a few months on the road, Shakespeare was suddenly inspired to write his first substantial piece of poetry.



  In the terms of the Garland, Stanley’s stay in Spain ‘not past half a year’ represents a rather brief visit. With the Spanish Armada only three years away the tensions between England & Spain were growing more desperate, & it is no surprise that Stanley got himself into a spot of bother. Thomas Aspen tells us; He was challenged by a Spanish nobleman to single combat. In the first encounter the Spaniard succeeded in wounding Sir William on his right arm, and causing him to fall to the ground, but he was soon upon his feet again. In the second round the Spaniard aimed three deadly blows at the wounded Englishman, but they were all skillfully averted, and Sir William gave his adversary a thrust on the right breast, inflicting a severe wound, and causing him to reel to the ground. Blood flowed freely, and the friends of the Spanish nobleman counselled his withdrawal from the contest, but he was too enraged to heed their advice, and in the third encounter rushed at Sir William with the force of desperation, but the blows were successfully parried, and the representative of the house of Stanley once more secured the crown of victory by inflicting a second wound on the breast of the Spaniard, and thus effectually disabling him ‘ Brutal stuff, eh? The Stanleys were yer typical tough northern lads, however, & could handle themselves in a fracas;  proper staunch Lancastrians, they had helped Henry Tudor (the seventh) gain victory on the fields of Bosworth in 1485, earning the great earldom of the north in the process.  The first Earl of Derby, Thomas Stanley, was even said to have crowned Henry on the battlefield, as in;

Then therle of Darby without taking more reade,  Straighte set the crowne on King Harry the Seaventh his heade (The Stanleys antiquytyes in Englishe meeter – Rawlinson poet)



  At the very same battle fought Shakespeare’s own great-grandfather. We know this through a record made in 1596, when Shakespeare’s father, John, applied to the College of Heralds for a family coat of arms. A draft prepared by William Dethick, the garter king-of-arms, declared by ‘credible report’ that John’s ‘parentes & late antecessors were for their valeant & faithfull service advanced & rewarded by the most prudent prince King Henry the seventh of famous memorie, sythence whiche tyme they have contiewed at those partes in good reputacion & credit.’ One imagines a solid & immutable bond between Stanley & Shakespeare based upon sharing such a seminal event in their ancestral history, & they would have conversed upon many occasions – great fuel indeed for the epic Historical Cycle that Shakespeare was destined to write, that always portrayed the Stanleys in a great light. Richard Wilson writes, ‘Richard the Third is constructed around a series of tributes to the Stanleys that exaggerates their importance in the invasion of 1485 which brought the Tudors to power.’


But I digress, we are now in Spain, which rarely pops up in Shakepeare’s work. However, it seems he spent long enough in the Iberian regions to learn the language. Sir Henry Thomas writes; ‘It is common ground that Shakespeare had some knowledge of Spain and the Spaniards, that a few Spanish words were among his stock-in-trade… Shakespeare’s allusions to Spain are very numerous, he uses Spanish phrases and gives an English garb to others.’



So we are getting here a general hint of familiarity between Shakespeare & the Spanish language.  A few years ago, a Spanish film was released entitled William and Miguel, which placed Shakespeare in the company of Miguel de Cervantes, the creator of Don Quixote. These two famous authors were contemporaries, & actually died on the same day, with Cervantes being considered something of a Spanish Shakespeare. Whether they met or not is pure conjecture, but there is one play in particular attributed to Shakespeare (& John Fletcher) in a Stationer’s Entry register of 1653 – the long-lost ‘History of Cardenio,’ – a name which appears in Don Quixote.




In 1585 Cervantes published a book in Spanish called La Galatea, an imitation of the Diana by Jorge de Montemayor, another book in Spanish. It contains a plot, the Proteus-Julia-Sylvia triangle, which went on to inspire another early play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. With no English translation of Diana extant in 1585 (it finally appeared in 1598), Shakespeare must have read Diana (or La Galatea) in the original Spanish. Also reading the Diana at this time was our very own John Donne, who placed a motto at the top of a 1591 painting of himself which said, ‘Antes muerto que muado’ (sooner dead than changed), which four words, TE Terrill tells us, are found in the feminine gender in the Diana.




Of the influence of Spanish literature on Shakespeare, Sir Henry Thomas mentions the Diana-Two Gentleman link, alongside a great many others, & so connects together; The Winter’s Tale to Amadis de Grecia… The Tempest is at any rate related to Eslava’s Noches de Invierno, even if Shakespeare knew nothing of the Spanish book. His apparent allusion to The Mirror of Knighthood may warrant the suspicion that he read, and perhaps utilized that romance ; and we may at least speculate as to whether he came under the influence of Cervantes and the Celestina… It has for some time been on record that Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and Twelfth Night deal respectively with the same subjects as Lope de Rueda’s Comedia Eufemia and Comedia de los Enganados, and his Romeo and Juliet with the same theme as Lope de Vega’s Castelvines y Monteses. Recently Pericles, which is partly Shakespeare’s work, has been similarly brought into line with Gil Vicente’s Comedia de Rubena… The earliest Spanish work that has been connected with Shakespeare is the Conde Lucanor, the fourteenth-century collection of apologues by Don Juan Manuel, which was first published in 1575. One of the stories told in the Conde Lucanor, obviously taken from an oriental source, has a similar theme to The Taming of the Shrew, and as late as 1909 Mr. Martin Hume was still claiming that the Shakespearian play was derived from the Spanish story… Over a century ago, Robert Southey, fixing on the name Florizel in The Winter’s Tale, observed that Shakespeare in this play imitated Amadis de Grecia— one of Feliciano de Silva’s continuations of the famous romance Amadis de Guala— which was not translated into English till 1693…


The general idea is that Shakespeare utilised a number of Spanish sources, which he could have understood only in the original language. Did Shakespeare go on some kind of shopping trip in Spain, buying books to study upon those long journeys that the pre-mechanised era entailed? John Donne certainly did something similar, for in 1623 he wrote a letter to the Duke of Buckingham professing to own more books from Spain than ‘any other nation.‘ Another Shakespearean connection to Spain comes through Roussillon, one of the scenes in All’s Wells that Ends Well, which through the Treaty of Corbeil (1258) Louis IX of France formally handed over the sovereignty of to the Crown of Aragon. Visiting here places our young party at the start of the French Riviera, where further along the coast we find Marseille, another of ‘All’s Well’s’ scenes. That same play also takes place in Florence, & it  feels like this particular comedy contains a remembrance of our party’s journey to Italy, which we shall of course be looking at in my next post…

Shakespeare’s Grand Tour (part 4)


Its quite apt that Im writing this book at this time, for the 233rd First Folio (out of 800) has just been announced as being found at St Omer, near Calais.  Shakespeare in France indeed, & of course Im now placing him there in person. So where were we… ah yes, in Antwerp with William Stanley, William Shakespeare & possibly John Donne, at the commencement of perhaps the most important Grand Tour in History. Being the second son of a noble family generally meant you were left to your own devices, living without the pressure to marry & carry on the family name & lands. Many of these young libertines undertook extended travels across Europe, & William Stanley was no different. He had spent the early 1580s travelling with his tutor, Richard Lloyd, & had returned to England for the Christmas festivities of 1584/85. Lloyd is also listed as part of the 4th Earl’s retinue in the Garter expedition, & William appears as ‘Stanley of Chelsea’ in the same lists. Lloyd may even have accompanied Stanley on this second tour, but to date I have ascertained no supporting evidence, so I am forced to leave him out of the equasion.


Then first Sir William travell’d to France,
To learn the French tongue and to dance ;
He tarried there not past three years,
But he learnt their language and all their affairs


This stanza from the Garland  is the only which refers to Stanley’s time in France, from which we get the idea he was immersing himself in the native courts, a memory of which may have been recorded by Shakespeare himself, who writes;


Twere good, I think, your lordship sent him thither:
There shall he practise tilts and tournaments,
Hear sweet discourse, converse with noblemen.
And be in eye of every exercise
Worthy his youth and nobleness of birth. (The Two Gentlemen of Verona 1:3)

It is through this very sojourn through France that Shakespeare would have made his own discovery of the (occasionally) beautiful French language. Rowe tells us that it was, ‘certain he understood French, as may be observ’d from many Words and Sentences scatter’d up and down his Plays in that Language; and especially from one Scene in Henry the Fifth written wholly in it.



 Navarre is the yellow ‘Bourbon Possesion’ at the foot of the picture, by the Spanish border

The Garland tells us that after France, Stanley visited Spain, so we must now head south with the party, probably perched hard-arsed on horseback. En route they may have visited scenes from the Hundred Years War between England & France. One play in particular, the first part of Henry VI, & one of Shakespeare’s earliest, could well reflect the party’s travels to southern France, for it has scenes in Orleans, Bordeaux, Gascony, Anjou, & Auvergne.

As they journeyed through the country, our party would have noticed the devastation of two decades of civil strife. Between 1562 & 1580, the French had seen SEVEN wars fought between Catholic & Hugenot (Protestant) factions, which had turned many French towns to rubble. These visions of urban desolation seem to be remembered later by Shakespeare;

Look on thy country, look on fertile France,
 And see the cities and the towns defaced
 By wasting ruin of the cruel foe.
 As looks the mother on her lowly babe
 When death doth close his tender dying eyes,
 See, see the pining malady of France;
 Behold the wounds, the most unnatural wounds,
 Which thou thyself hast given her woful breast.
 O, turn thy edged sword another way;
 Strike those that hurt, and hurt not those that help.
 One drop of blood drawn from thy country’s bosom
 Should grieve thee more than streams of foreign gore:
 Return thee therefore with a flood of tears,
 And wash away thy country’s stained spots. (Henry VI Part 1 : 3-3)



There is one region in particular in southern France that flags up for William Stanley: his father, the 4th Earl of Derby, had befriended Henri of Navarre, the king of a region in southern France abutting the Pyrynees. It would be no surprise that Stanley would have wanted to visit this hospitable court, & Shakespeare’s visit to Navarre is implicitly suggested by one of his earliest plays – Love’s Labour’s Lost – which was set in that very place. Lefranc describes, ‘an easy familiarity with the atmosphere reigning at the court of Navarre & pervading the comedy Love’s Labours Lost,’ adding that the play’s ‘Park of Navarre… is easily identifiable with the park of Nerac.‘ Shakespeare describes an academic environment which matches that of the kingdom’s capital, Nerac, in which Henry of Navarre had installed a humanist academy.


Henri of Navarre's Castle, Nerac
Henri of Navarre’s Castle, Nerac


Love’s Labours Lost is a charming piece, which sees the austere academic endeavours of four young men completely rattled by the arrival of the Princess of France at court, when all pretensions of intellectual ascetism soon descend into a round of sonnets, masques, and love-gifts. The very start of the play shows the state of mind of  the four young men, before the arrival of the French princess, & contain language full of passion for study.

Ferdinand. Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live register’d upon our brazen tombs
And then grace us in the disgrace of death;
When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,
The endeavor of this present breath may buy
That honour which shall bate his scythe’s keen edge
And make us heirs of all eternity.
Therefore, brave conquerors,—for so you are,
That war against your own affections
And the huge army of the world’s desires,—
Our late edict shall strongly stand in force:
Navarre shall be the wonder of the world;
Our court shall be a little Academe,
Still and contemplative in living art.
You three, Biron, Dumain, and Longaville,
Have sworn for three years’ term to live with me
My fellow-scholars, and to keep those statutes
That are recorded in this schedule here:

Longaville. I am resolved; ’tis but a three years’ fast:
The mind shall banquet, though the body pine:
Fat paunches have lean pates, and dainty bits
Make rich the ribs, but bankrupt quite the wits.

Dumain. My loving lord, Dumain is mortified:
The grosser manner of these world’s delights
He throws upon the gross world’s baser slaves:
To love, to wealth, to pomp, I pine and die;
With all these living in philosophy.
Biron. I can but say their protestation over;
So much, dear liege, I have already sworn,
That is, to live and study here three years.
But there are other strict observances;
As, not to see a woman in that term,
Which I hope well is not enrolled there;
And one day in a week to touch no food
And but one meal on every day beside,
The which I hope is not enrolled there
Biron.  Study is like the heaven’s glorious sun
That will not be deep-search’d with saucy looks:
Small have continual plodders ever won
Save base authority from others’ books
These earthly godfathers of heaven’s lights
That give a name to every fixed star
Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk and wot not what they are.
Too much to know is to know nought but fame;
And every godfather can give a name.



When Biron tells us, ‘study is like the heaven’s glorious sun,‘ we feel the importance that Shakespeare attaches to his time in Navarre. The three years that Stanley spent on the continent (1585-1587) are also a direct match for the three-year course of study planned by Ferdinand’s ‘fellow-scholars,’ Longaville, Dumain & Biron;  as in ‘I only swore to study with your grace / And stay here in your court for three years’ space.’

Love’s Labours Lost is Shakespeare’s poetical recollection of his time  in Navarre, where King Henry should be King Ferdinand, while Longaville, Dumain & Biron would be Shakespeare, Stanley & perhaps Donne. That they were setting out on their quest for educational enlightenment is thoroughly reflected in the play’s ebullient desire for education – which in the play was stymied by the arrival of women on the scene. One could even hazard a guess that Shakespeare got laid in Nerac, as ain;

First, from the park let us conduct them thither;
Then homeward every man attach the hand
Of his fair mistress: in the afternoon
We will with some strange pastime solace them,
Such as the shortness of the time can shape;
For revels, dances, masks and merry hours
Forerun fair Love, strewing her way with flowers.

In support, Emile Montegut describes the familiarity Love’s Labour’s Lost has with the idiosynchracies of the French court of the times, as in; ‘it is something extraordinary to observe Shakespeare’s fidelity to the most minute details of historic truth. The conversations of his lords & ladies are thoroughly French; vivacious, sprightly, witty, an unbroken game of battledore & shuttelcock, a skirmish of bons mots, a mimic war of repartee. Even their bad taste is quite French.’ To this we must add Shakespeare’s uncanny knowledge of local politics. The Ducs de Biron & Longueville were real people who were allies of Henri of Navarre, while Derran Charlton tells us, ‘the names Boyet, Marcade & de la Mothe appear in contemporary registers of court officials. The King’s impetuous riding (4.1.1-2) & his covering the whole sheet, ‘margin & all,’ in his letter-writing (5.2.7-8) were actual habits of Henri of Navarre.’

Whenever the play was written is difficult to say, but it was probably some time after Shakespeare had left Navarre, for in the words of William Wordsworth, ‘Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.’  

I do know, however, the exact place & day the play was performed for the first time, but before we reach that moment, there is an awful lot of travel to unravel…