Daily Archives: December 5, 2014

Shakespeare’s Grand Tour (part 9)



Of all the Italian cities Shakespeare writes about, he seems to know the most about floating pleasure-palace that is Venice. When in the Merchant of Venice, he writes, ‘what news on the Rialto?’ he would surely have been aware of the rumor-laden tittle-tattle that flocked to that beautiful famous bridge. Elsewhere, in Othello, Shakespeare mentions Brabantio’s ‘Senatorial gown’ which all Venetian senators were made to wear in public. In that same play, the members of the Venetian night patrols were very specifically called Signori di Notte, which Shakespeare translates as ‘Officers of Night,’ in Othello;

Pray you, lead on. At every house I’ll call;
I may command at most.–Get weapons, ho!
And raise some special officers of nigh
t (1:1)
Of the Merchant, JR Mulryne notices that Shakespeare, ‘has found in his play a dramatic language for the expression of inter-communal tension that was actual uin Venice at the end of the 1580s.‘ Joe Peel notices that the bard was fully aware of the Venetian legal system & its terms, while showing, ‘that he was well informed of the privileges which strangers (that is those who did not belong to Venetian aristiocray or were not native citizens descended from the romans) enjoyed in venice,’ adding, ‘with regard to knowledge of Italian & Venetian life & legal procedures, the dramatist must have had direct experience.’
In relation to The Merchant of Venice, Grillo finds in it, ‘an inimitable Italian atmosphere… the topography is so precise & accurate that it must convince even the most superficial reader that the poet visited the country, acutely observant of all its characteristics as he travelled through its mountains & valleys. One instance is the gift of a dish of pigeons which Gobbo takes to his sons master. Gobbo is a purely Venetian name, which must certainly have been suggested to Shakespeare by the statue of the kneeling hunchback of the Rialto, which forms the base of the pillar upon which in ancient days were affixed the decrees of the Republic.’




Another Elizabethan traveler to Venice, Fynnes Moryson, offers an accurate insight into the Venice which Shakespeare would have encountered. Notice how he observes the Traghetti ferries, which in the Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare calls, ‘Trajects,’ as in, ‘Unto the traject, to the common ferry. Which trades to Venice.’

This stately City built in the bottome of the gulfe of the Adriatique sea… is eight miles in circuit, and hath seventy parishes, wherein each Church hath a little market place, for the most part foure square, and a publike Well. For the common sort use well water, and raine water kept in cesternes; but the Gentlemen fetch their water by boat from the land. It hath thirty one cloysters of Monkes, and twenty eight of Nunnes, besides chappels and alines-houses. Channels of water passe through this City (consisting of many Ilands joyned with Bridges) as the bloud passeth through the veines of mans body; so that a man may passe to what place  he will both by land and water. The great channell is in length about one thousand three hundred paces, and in breadth forty paces, and hath onely one bridge called Rialto, and the passage is very pleasant by this channell; being adorned on both sides with stately Pallaces. And that men may passe speedily, besides this bridge, therebe thirteene places called Traghetti, where boats attend Gondole. called Gondole; which being of incredible number give ready passage to all men.


Through Moryson, we can really get a feel for Shakespeare’s stay in Venice; absorbing all the vibrant life & colour of the market-places, or perhaps studying in the city’s library, which had been stocked with books from Constantinople in the wake of that city’s conquest by the Ottomans in 1453. Here are a couple of more Venetian passages from his ‘Itinerary.’
Right over against the Dukes Pallace, in the… second market place of the pallace, is the library, whose building is remarkable, and the architecture of the corner next the market place of the Bakers, is held by great Artists a rare worke, and divers carved Images of Heathen Gods, and Goddesses in the old habit, are no lesse praised, as done by the hands of most skilfull workemen. On  the inside, the arched roofes curiously painted, and the little study of ivory, with pillars of Allablaster, and rare stones, and carved Images (in which an old breviary of written hand, and much esteemed, is kept) are things very remarkeable. The inner chamber is called the study ; in which many statuaes and halle statuaes, twelve heads of Emperors, and other things given to the State by Cardinall Dominicke Grimani, are esteemed precious by all antiquaries. And in this Library are laid up the Bookes, which the Patriarke and Cardinall Bessarione gave to Saint Marke (that is to the State) by his last will, and the most rare books brought from Constantinople at the taking thereof, and otherwise gathered from all parts of Greece.



Venetian fish market - still going strong
Venetian fish market – still going strong


This City aboundeth with good fish, which are twice each day to be sold in two markets of Saint Marke & Rialto, & that it spendeth weekly five hundred Oxen, & two hundred & fifty Calves, besides great numbers of young Goates, Hens, and many kinds of birds, besides that it aboundeth with sea birds, whereof the Venetian writers make two hundred kinds, and likewise aboundeth with savoury fruits, and many salted and dried dainties, and with all manner of victuals, in such sort as they impart them to other Cities. I will also adde that here is great concourse of all nations, as well for the pleasure the City yeeldeth, as for the free conversation ; and especially for the commodity of trafficke. That in no place is to be found in one market place such variety of apparell, languages, and manners.


In particular, the Venice as portrayed by Othello shows a personal appreciation by Shakespeare.  A Venetian called Cassio arrives in Cyprus on a ‘Veronesa’ ship. Verona is actually situated 60 miles from Venice, but Shakespeare knew the obscure fact that Venetian galleys were built in Verona at this time. Grillo writes, ‘the various scenes of Othello are no mere Venetian reminiscences, but pictures exhaling the very spirit of Venice, which Shakespeare has transferred to his drama. The darkness of morning, the narrow and mysterious “calli,” Brabantio’s house with its heavy iron-barred doors, the Sagittary, the official residence of the commanders of the galleys, the hired gondolier witness of gallant intrigues, the gondola where the lovers had been seen, the galleys sent on a multitude of errands, the armaments, the attendants with torches, the special night guards, the council chamber, the senators, the Doge—the beloved Signor Magnifico— the discussions about the war, Brabantio’s accusation that his daughter had been stolen and seduced by means of drugs and witchcraft, the history of Othello with all the sacrifices made in defence of the republic , the appearance of the divine Desdemona, fair & beautiful as a Titian portrait – all give the impression of a vivid portrayal of scenes enacted in the very heart of the Queen of the Adriatic.’



As for the Merchant of Venice, we have a lovely link to William Stanley, via the parish of Prestcot in Lancashire, which borders the estate at Knowsley from where the Stanleys ran their ‘Northern Court.’ In the Churchwardens Accounts of Prescot we read of one money-orientated warden whose name is highly similar to the Merchant’s money-orientated jew called Shylock.

1581 - ‘imprimis, receyved bye me, the sed Thomas Sherlock at the handes of the olde churche wardens, ouer theire accountes the last year as appereth bye this booke

1584 - item, paid to thomas sherlocke for the repairinge of the olde slate uponm the sowth syde of the church
Prescot - not as nice as Venice
Prescot – not as nice as Venice
As we shall see later in this tour, several personages from that small part of Lancashire also appear in the plays of Shakespeare, & I believe very much naming Shylock after a person the Stanleys knew about was one of the many secret injokes of Shakesperiana.

The inimitable Dick Roe has also declared to have found the very house where Shylock lived, a ‘penthouse’ on the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, the the site of Jewish loan banks from which Christians borrowed money. That is (& was) supported by three colomuns, just as Shakespeare describes, is yet another incredible accuary from our man in Italy. Directions to it are given in the Merchant, as in; ‘Turn upon your right hand at the next turning, but at the next turning of all, on your left; marry, at the very next turning, turn of no hand; but turn down indirectly to the Jew’s house,’ which is an uncanny way of describing the mazy lanes of Venice. Other scholars have identified many more Italian nuggets which Shakespeare could only known about if he had visited the country. Where Fynne Moryson (a 16th century traveller to Venice) reports the masque parties at ‘Carnival Time: yea the very house of noblemen & gentlemen, upon occasions of meetings to danse withy wemen & virgins of honour, are open for any masked persons to enter & behold them,’ according to MJ Levirth, ‘this describes accurately the Capulet party found in Romeo & Juliet.’





So we now find ourselves ready to leave Italy, stood with Stanley, Shakespeare (& perhaps Donne) by the glimmering waters of the Adriatic. In their luggae, as I have stated earlier in these blogposts, sat a number of books from Spain, to which I believe they had added a great deal more in Italian. Reading matter for the long voyages ahead, they would have included many plays & prose pieces which would find their way into Shakesepeare’s ouvre. Many of these were untranslated into English before the plays were composed, such as the Gl’ingannati which inspired Twelfth Night.  Five of the renaissance Italian poet Matteo Bandello’s stories were later adapted by Shakespeare, being: Cymbeline, Othello, the Claudio subplot of Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo & Juliet & Twelfth Night.  Other Italian influences on Shakespeare’s works include;

1 – Ser Giovanni Fiorentino’s Il Pecorone – in which we find the debtor Antonio – inspired the Merchant of Venice
2 – There are flashes of Berni in Othello
3 – Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso inspired Othello, the Tempest,  a Midsummer Nights Dream & Much Ado About Nothing
4 – The Hecatomiti of Cinthio inspired Othello & the Isabella adventures in Measure for Measure
5 – The Clever Wench tale found the in the 9th story of Bocaccio’s Decameron inspired Alls Well that Ends Well
6 – Othello’s story was taken from Cinthio’s El Capitano Moro, of which there was then no translation.
7 – The 15th century Novellino of Masuccio Salernitani influenced the Merchant of Venice & Romeo & Juliet

But that is enough of Italy, for now… its time to set sail for Africa, & Egypt,  which according to the Garland was Stanley’s next port of call.



Shakespeare’s Grand Tour – (part 8)


Shakespeare’s most famous play, Romeo & Juliet sees the Montagues & Capulets play out their tragic feud in two Italian cities, Verona & Mantua, while another play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, is situated, well, in Verona. We have a number of clues that Shakespeare visited these two cities, while other curious but unstainable local details pop up in reference to Milan.
These cities are all situated in what Shakespeare accurately describes as ‘fruitful Lombardy, the pleasant garden of great Italy,’ while politically he knew,  as Grillo tells us, ‘that Padua with all its learning was under the protection of Venice and that Mantua was not.’ Shakespeare’s visit to Mantua is hinted at in The Winter’s Tale, where he describes Queen Hermione’s statue as; ‘A piece many years in doing and now newly perform’d by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom, so perfectly is he her ape. (5-2).This is perhaps the sweetest of all Shakespeare’s Italian morning pastries, for Julio Romano was famous for being a painter, & not a sculptor. However, in Vasari’s Lives of Seventy of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, we are given two now-lost Latin epitaphs of Romano which were inscribed on his tombstone in Mantua which confirm his status as both painter and sculptor!
he Wedding Feast of Cupid and Psyche, fresco in Palazzo del Te, Mantua by Giulio Romano
he Wedding Feast of Cupid and Psyche, fresco in Palazzo del Te, Mantua by Giulio Romano
When Hamlet says, ‘He poisons him i’ th’ garden for ’s estate. His name’s Gonzago. The story is extant, and writ in choice Italian. You shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife,‘ we see further Shakespeare’s knowledge of Mantua, ruled by the House of Gonzaga. That the story was ‘writ in choice Italian,’ suggests Shakespeare could understand Italian, which is confirmed by the Taming of the Shrew, in which he writes;


PETRUCHIO – Signior Hortensio, come you to part the fray?
Con tutto il cuore, ben trovato, may I say.

HORTENSIO - Alla nostra casa ben venuto, molto honorato signor mio

To Verona was drawn our Schliemannesque American Shakespeare-hunter, Dick Roe, who writes; ‘In the first act, in the very first scene, of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the trees are described; and 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. In that first scene, Romeo’s mother, Lady Montague, encounters her nephew on the street – Benvolio … Romeo’s best friend. She asks Benvolio where her son Romeo might be. Benvolio replies:


Madam, an hour before the worshipped sun
Peered forth the golden window of the East,
A troubled mind drove me to walk abroad,
Where, underneath the grove of sycamore
That westward rooteth from the city’s side,
So early walking did I see your son.



Also in Verona, as Roe points out, the Chiesa di San Pietro Incarnario is mentioned by Juliet (3-5), when she says, ‘Now, by Saint Peter`s church, and Peter too. He shall not make me there a joyful bride.’ Shakespeare also knew about a minor place very much off the normal radar called Villafranca, 10 miles from Verona on the banks of the Tartaro River. Villafranca translates as ‘Freetown,’ based on its tax-free status, & in 1-1 of Romeo & Juliet we hear, ‘You Capulet, shall go along with me; And Montague, come you this afternoon, To know our father pleasure in this case, To old Freetown [Villafranca], our common judgment place’.  Elsewhere, Roe found in the Verona’s State Archives a map dated 1713, which shows how the Adige,  Tartaro, and Po rivers were connected by a system of canals, which connects to the journey to Milan by water undertaken by Valentine in the Two Gentlemen.  Grillo adds, ‘In The Two gentlemen of Verona we find, ‘Sound as a fish,’ sano come un pesce’ being an expression still in common use in certain parts of Italy.’

The legacy of Romeo & Juliet being placed in Verona has had a profound effect on the place, with many a set of star-crossed lovers coming to the city to soak in its sheer romance. Close to the imagined site of Julets Balcony (it was added to a building in the early 2oth century) graffiti & notes cover the walls, leading to the rather irate & rather staid Veronese authorites instigating 500 euro fines to those who stick notes up with chewing gum!
This region of Italy was also the fertile bedsoil for the rise of a new kind of improvised comical theatre called Commeddia Dell Arte. The full name of the form is commedia dell’arte all’improvviso, or “comedy of the very creative ability of improvisatio,’ & were rather like the romantic comedies of today, & were typically acted out by masked ‘archetypes’ trained to give out improvised performances. These stock characters included foolish old men, mischievous servants, brash military officers, & miserly merchants. ‘ In Act II Scene II of Hamlet, Hamlet seems to be describing a performance as he speaks to an actor;
I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was never acted; or, if it was, not above once; for the play, I remember, pleased not the million; ’twas caviare to the general: but it was–as I received it, and others, whose judgments in such matters cried in the top of mine–an excellent play, well digested in the scenes, set down with as much modesty as cunning. I remember, one said there were no sallets in the lines to make the matter savoury, nor no matter in the phrase that might indict the author of affectation; but called it an honest method, as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine.
Most of the early plays – The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night & Much Ado About Nothing – are inspired by CDELA. Of Love’s Labours Lost, where Geoffrey Bullough writes, ‘there may have been an earlier play, continental in origin & affected by the commedia dell’arte tradition,‘ in that play we find the loud braggart (Armado), the ostentatious pedant (Holofernes), the retarded rustic (Costard), the wacky fool (Moth), the parasite (Nathaniel),  and the loreless magistrate (Dull).  In Twelfth Night, Maria, Olivia’s maid, would be the CDELA’s Columbina, while Malvolio would be the Arlecchino. The play also utilises many of the CDELA’s lazzi, i.e. a stock comic element, such as when the ‘Pantalone’  is tricked by other characters into doing crazy things they have convinced him will impress the woman he admires. In the same play, Maria also leaves a letter to be found by Malvolio, which states that Olivia would desire a man who wore a yellow kilt and knee-high yellow socks, which of course Malvolio later does!


That Shakespeare witnessed a performance seems likely, for both Mantua & Verona were both on the circuit of traveling CDELA troupes. Grillo writes that English theatre ‘borrowed from Italian drama much of its technique–chorus, echo, play within a play, dumb show, ghosts of great men, mechanical stage apparatus and all the physical horrors which aroused in the audience feelings of awe and terror,‘ & with Shakespeare’s trip to the Continent beinf in all essence an academic pursuit, it seems that the study of Italian theater was on the curriculum. In particular, the Merchant of Venice has many dramaturgical links to material in Italian plays & scenarios.

Also in Lombardy stood its capital, Milan, where between 1585-1600, a famous painting by Correggio known as Jupiter and Io, was exhibited in the palace of the sculptor, Leoni. When hakespeare writes, We’ll show thee Io as she was a maid / And how she was beguiled and surpris’d / As lively painted as the deed was done,‘ we should assume he saw the painting in person. Grillo adds, ‘despite being 100 miles from the coast, the city of Bergamo, near Milan, produced sails. In the Taming of the Shrew, Vincentio says to Tranio, ‘Thy father! O villain! he is a sailmaker in Bergamo.’ Each one of these clues represents a mimesis-like snapshot stored in the vasty memory banks of our bard, bubbling up to the surface of his consciousness. Shakespeare also knew o  a certain St Gregory’s Well in Milan, which was actually a burial pit for plague victims!
But out own Grand Tour is gonna skip the Milanese – despite the fact even the supermarket check-out girls are at worst an 8 out of ten. Instead, we shall travel to that world-famous city on the water, before setting sail for more sultrier climes.

Shakespeare’s Grand Tour (part 7)



At the end of my last post, I briefly hinted at William Stanley having a hand in the writing of Shakespeare’s brutally violent revenge play called Titus Andronicus, a product of their time in Rome. Most modern scholars now agree that the play was co-written by Shakespeare, accounting for the discrepencies in style & vocabulary that ripple through the text. Indeed, in 1687, Edward Ravenscroft tells us, ‘I have been told by some anciently conversant with the Stage, that it was not Originally his, but brought by a private Author to be Acted and he only gave some Master-touches to one or two of the Principal Parts or Characters; this I am apt to believe, because ’tis the most incorrect and indigested piece in all his Works, It seems rather a heap of Rubbish then a Structure.’




If Stanley was involved, then that would explain why his very own theatre company was the first to perform the play. In the first quarto edition, printed in 1594, the title page tells us; ‘As it was Plaide by the Right Honourable the Earle of Darbie, Earle of Pembrooke, and Earle of Suffox their Seruants.’ By 1599, Stanley was certainly writing plays, when James Greenstreet writes of him, ‘Our Earle of Darby is busye in penning commodyes for the common players.’ These comedies, I believe, were The Maid’s Metamorphosis and The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll, two ‘anonymous’ comedies played in 1599 by the ‘Paul’s Boys acting troupe,‘ which Stanley had relaunched himself that year. But again I digress, & I leave it to a specialist to ascertain the connections between Andronicus & the two Paul’s Boys comedies.

In 1979, the excellent scholar Macdonald Jackson showed how through the use of rare words, parts of Titus Andronicus are closest to another early play, The Taming of the Shrew.’ This play has also been suggested as being co-written, the editor of the 1857 epic complete works of Shakespeare, Grant White, suggested that one writer supplied the love-plot, while Shakespeare was behind ‘the strong, clear characterization, the delicious humor, & the rich verbal coloring of the recast Induction, and all the scenes in which Katherine & Petruchio & Grumio are the prominent figures.‘ Another early play, the Comedy of Errors, is also full of what Arthur Quiller Couch calls, ‘glaring instances of ‘poor touches.‘ Slowly but surely, the idea is emerging that Stanley & Shakespeare were collaborating & composing the prototypes of the plays on their Grand Tour.




The chief setting of ‘Shrew’ is the city of the Padua, north Italy, so let us now head north from Rome in the company of Shakespeare, Stanley & the 12 year old Jonne Donne. It was on the way that Stanley perhaps may have, according to Thomas Aspen, ‘assumed the garb of a mendicant friar for the purpose of gaining information and the more readily getting through the country,’ which could have one day found its way into Measure for Measure, where Vincentio also disguises himself as a friar. En route the party would have been lost in conversations, &  Scholars have noticed certain stylistic similarities between Donne & Shakespeare which may have been formed during those conversations on the road. CG Martin writes;

The fact that both Shakespeare & Donne refer almost exclusively to mythic ‘proofs’ of their conviction that women are faithless harpies or hypocrites suggests similarities not just in technique but also in perspective. Benedick promises to bring back the length of ‘Prester John’s foot'; Donne vows to deliver the knowledge of ‘who cleft the Divels foot'; Benedick offers to travel to ‘the furthest inch of Asia,’ Donne to ‘Ride then thousand daies & nights'; Benedick offers to visit the ‘Pygmies’, Donne to visit the singing ‘mermaides’ & both would make these voyages to ‘keep off envies stinging’ – the evil mythically represented by the harpies
Jennifer Pacenza noticed that the writings of Donne & Shakespeare are rife with die puns, stating that Donne uses some form of the ‘death’ word 61 times in the songs & sonnets, while Shakespeare uses it 49. She adds, ‘both these authors utilize the pun to varying degrees of seriousness & salaciousness. The frequency with which they utilize die makes is usage more than mere wordplay. For these two writers, the two elements of the die pun create a mutually constructive relationship that borders on the synonymous, causing death to become eroticized & the erotic to become deathlike.’

So… we are now arrived in the fair city of Padua, of which place Shakespeare (according to Grillo), ‘displays such an intimate acquaintance not only with the manners and customs of Italy but also with the minutest details of domestic life that it cannot have been gleaned from books or acquired in the course of conversations with travellers returned from Padua. The form of marriage between Petruchio and Katharine, which was later recommended by Manzoni’s loquacious Agnese to Renzo and Lucia, was Italian and not English.’



Shakespeare’s knowledge of the city can be seen in Biondello’s ‘My master hath appointed me to go to Saint Luke’s, to bid the pries be ready to come against you come with your appendix.‘ Paul Roe actually tracked the church church down, the Saint Luke’s Church of via Venti Settembre 22. Nearby, Roe passed through the arched Porta S.G. Barbarigo, & wandered straight into Act I, Scene I of the Shrew, with its waterway, landing place and wide open space with a cluster of buildings. The Padua that Shakespeare visited has been wonderfully preserved by an English traveller known as Fynes Moryson, who visited Italy in the 1590s.

After breakefast we rode twenty two Italian miles, through a most pleasant plain, in which we passed over a river, and came to Paduoa…  The aire at Paduoa is very healthfull, and the building is with arches of stone, hanging over the streets, under which they walke dry in the greatest raine; but the streetes are thereby made narrow, and in the middest are dirty. There be five market places: in the first the Gentlemen and Students meet and walke: in the second herbes are sold, in the third corne: in the fourth wood, and in the fifth straw

I staied all this winter at Paduoa, in which famous University I desired to perfect my Italian tongue, where a Student may have his table at an Ordinary (vulgarly a la dozena) and his chamber for eight, or at most, for tenne silver crownes the month… gentlemen of all Nations come thither in great numbers, by reason of the famous University, which Emperour Frederick the second, being offended with the City of Bologna, planted here in the yeere 1222, or there abouts, some comming to study the civill Law, other the Mathemetickes, & Musick, others to ride, to practise the Art of Fencing, and the exercises of dancing and activity, under most skilful professors of those Arts, drawn hither by the same reason.

The Schoole where the professors of liberall Sciences teach, is seated over against Saint Martins Church, and was of old a publike Inne, having the signe of an Oxe, which name it still retaineth. The promotion of degrees is taken in the Bishops hall, neere the Cathedrall Church, and the Doctors are made in the chiefe Church. And there bee eight Colledges built for poore Students of severall Provinces.



Moryson describes Padua to be an academic hotbed, & one to which the English were drawn. Early in the 16th century, cardinal Reginald Pole (1500-1558) had set up a colony of English scholars & poets, which was still active in Shakepeare’s day. Sir Henry Wooton, the ambassador for James I (1603-1625), declared, ‘Our English swarme at Padua.’ It seems probablt that a trip to such an academic environment was a part of the Stanley itinerary, & just as Love’s Labour’s Lost begins with a paean to intellectual endeavour, so too begins the Taming of the Shrew.

ACT 1 SCENE I. Padua. A public place.
Enter LUCENTIO and his man TRANIO

LUCENTIO Tranio, since for the great desire I had
To see fair Padua, nursery of arts,
I am arrived for fruitful Lombardy,
The pleasant garden of great Italy;
And by my father’s love and leave am arm’d
With his good will and thy good company,
My trusty servant, well approved in all,
Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies.
Pisa renown’d for grave citizens
Gave me my being and my father first,
A merchant of great traffic through the world,
Vincetino come of Bentivolii.
Vincetino’s son brought up in Florence
It shall become to serve all hopes conceived,
To deck his fortune with his virtuous deeds:
And therefore, Tranio, for the time I study,
Virtue and that part of philosophy
Will I apply that treats of happiness
By virtue specially to be achieved.
Tell me thy mind; for I have Pisa left
And am to Padua come, as he that leaves
A shallow plash to plunge him in the deep
And with satiety seeks to quench his thirst.

TRANIO Mi perdonato, gentle master mine.
I am in all affected as yourself,
Glad that you thus continue your resolve
To suck the sweets of sweet philosophy.
Only, good master, while we do admire
This virtue and this moral discipline,
Let’s be no stoics nor no stocks, I pray,
Or so devote to Aristotle’s checks
As Ovid be an outcast quite abjured.
Balk logic with acquaintance that you have,
And practice rhetoric in your common talk;
Music and poesy use to quicken you;
The mathematics and the metaphysics—
Fall to them as you find your stomach serves you.
No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en.
In brief, sir, study what you most affect.

LUCENTIO Gramercies, Tranio, well dost thou advise.
If, Biondello, thou wert come ashore,
We could at once put us in readiness
And take a lodging fit to entertain
Such friends as time in Padua shall beget.
But stay awhile. What company is this?

TRANIO Master, some show to welcome us to town.


Plantain Leaves
Plantain Leaves


There is one piece of evidence in particular that places an erudite Shakespeare in Padua. At the time of his visit, the majority of Europe’s greatest medical doctors & teachers were based in the city, & a period of study there by the young Shakespeare could well account for the high level of medical knowledge in his plays. RR Simpson claims to have found over 712 of these, which should only have really been acquired under the tutorship of a doctor. Examples of his knowledge include;

ROMEO – Your plantain-leaf is excellent for that.
BENVOLIO - For what, I pray thee?
ROMEO - For your broken shin. (Romeo & Juliet 1:2)

Among the many wonderful healing abilities of Plaintain leaves, its possession of epidermal growth factor means it can help repair damaged tissue, treat bruises & repair broken bones.

LEAR - O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!
Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow,
Thy element’s below! Where is this daughter
? (King Lear 2:4)

Hysterica Passio is the Latin term for a female disease which caused choking & shortness of breath

MARGARET – Get you some of this distill’d Carduus Benedictus, and lay it to your heart; it is the only thing for a qualm.
HERO - There thou prick’st her with a thistle. (Much Ado About Nothing)

Carduus Benedictus, the blessed thistle, was used to remedy migraines, chest congestion, stomach upsets & menstrual problems. There are also early indications that the herb’s chemically compounded lingans have anti-HIV properties.

BIONDELLO          his horse hipped with an
old mothy saddle and stirrups of no kindred;
besides, possessed with the glanders and like to mose
in the chine; troubled with the lampass, infected
with the fashions, full of wingdalls, sped with
spavins, rayed with yellows, past cure of the fives,
stark spoiled with the staggers, begnawn with the
bots, swayed in the back and shoulder-shotten;
near-legged before (Taming of the Shrew : 3-2)

This shows the excellent veterinary knowledge Shakespeare possessed, with many of the terms still in use today

HOLFERNESS – This is a gift that I have, simple, simple; a foolish, extravagant spirit, full of forms, figures, shapes, objects, ideas, apprehensions, motions, revolutions: these are begot in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of pia mater, and delivered upon the mellowing of occasion (Love’s Labours Lost 4:2)

This shows a remarkable insight into the obscure ‘pia mater,’ that is the inner lining or membrane of the brain and spinal cord, & its neurological connections to the brain’s activities.

William Harvey
William Harvey

The key to the conundrum comes with an English physician known as William Harvey (1578-1657), who the English proudly trumpet as the first man  describe the processes of the circulation of the blood about the body. His book, De Motu Cordis, was published in 1628, yet well before then Shakespeare was also hinting at this very process. In Julius Ceasar, we read, ‘You are my true and honourable wife, as dear to me as are those ruddy drops that visit my sad heart‘ (1-2). How on earth could both men have obtained this select & secret knowledge. The answer would be at Padua, where the chair of practical medicine was regularly filled by Renaissance thinkers & doctors such as Girolamo Mercuriale who translated the works of Hippocrates. During Stanleys time in Italy (1585/86), & in 1599-1602, when Harvey studied in Padua, a certain Hieronymus Fabricius had held the chair of Medicine and Anatomy at Padua for almost half a century (1562-1609). In the 1570s he had discovered that veins possessed valves which kept the blood flowing in the direction of the heart, & Harvey himself gives credit to his teacher, as in, ‘the celebrated Hieronymus Fabricius of Acquapendente, a most skillful anatomist, and venerable old man, or, as the learned Riolan will have it, Jacobus Sylvius, first gave representations of the valves in the veins.’ It is possible that Fabricius knew more, but was afraid to publish due to the oppressive reprisals dished out by the Spanish inquisition to all those thinkers who dared challenge the scientific hegemony of God.


‘The exact distance between Monte Bello and Padua is twenty miles; and this amazing accuracy is no chance coincidence,’ says Grillo, & that Shakespeare stayed in the city just feels right. But it is now time to take our leave of the place, although being at the heart of the Veneto plain we are within striking distance of several more of Shakespeare’s Italian plays, which suggest he stayed in the area a long time. That he did so is hinted at by the names of the principle parts of ‘Shrew, being Baptista, Vincentio, Lucentio, Bianca, Petruchio, Gremio, Hortensio, Tranio & Biondello. In addition, in the Merchant of Venice, the name of Portia’s cousin, Bellario, is actually Paduan. We must assume that Shakespeares familiarity with, & use of, should be down to him actually being in Italy.