Daily Archives: December 7, 2014

Shakespeare’s Grand Tour (part 10)

10 – The Adriatic

We last left our party at the harbours of Venice, ready to embark on a voyage to Egypt. The reason, I believe, they were no longer searching academic improvement, but instead we conducting matters of oa more financial nature. Stanley’s itinerary, according to the Garland, took him to places whose markets had recently been opened up to the trade of England through the newly formed Levant Company. The venture was intended to take advantage of the decline in Portuguese & Venetian trading, a seminal moment in the birth of the british Empire. The Garland reads;

 And then to Egypt he took his way,
 To view that Court was his Intent

But one year and a half Sir William staid,
 And took his leave most courteously,
 Of the King of Morocco and his nobles all,
 Then went to the King of Barbary.

Now let us look at this paragraph from Barry Coward, author of a book on the history of the Stanley family; ‘From 1584 to 1593 Earl Henry borrowed as he had never done before… the loans raised by Earl Henry & his son, Ferdinando, were all raised by bonds pledinga  cash surety, made with importrant London merchant financiers, like John lacy, Richard Martin, Peter Vanlore, Michael Cornleius, William Cuslowe, Nicholas Mosley, & Sir Rowland Hayward.’

A key link here is Richard Martin, a two time mayor of London, who was of the principle & founding members of the Levant Company in 1581. Earl Stanley’s financial embroilment with such a fellow could well have led to him sending his son, William Stanley, to manage his investments in the East.  Shakespeare’s own engagement with such matters is perfectly reflected in the Merchant Of Venice, when Shylock says;

He hath an argosy bound to Tripolis, another to the Indies. I understand moreover, upon the Rialto, he hath a third at Mexico, a fourth for England, and other ventures he hath squandered abroad.  (1:3)

A definite link between Shakespeare & the Company is through the Tyger, one of the pioneering ships of the Levant Company, which is mentioned in Macbeth;

 fed runnion cries.
 Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ th’ Tiger (1:3)



So, salt in their nostrils, our party had now embarked onto water, & into thesultry seas of the Adriatric, a far cry from the dull grey, sliding slab of the English Channel. That Shakespeare did so is reflected by his extremely accurate knowledge of the sea & sailing terms. Most scholars presume he got this from books, but Sir Henry Mainwaring released the first nautical dictionary in 1644, precluding this avenue. Instead, AF Falconer declares that Shakespeare, ‘must have learned it first hand for there was no other way,’ adding he possessed ‘an understanding of naval ceremony, naval strategy & the duties & characteristic ways of officers & men.’ One passage in particular contains a highly obscure sailing term;
 Believe me, sir, she is the goodliest woman
 That ever lay by man: which when the people
 Had the full view of, such a noise arose
 As the shrouds make at sea in a stiff tempest (Henry 8 4:1)

Whall writes, ‘It is a puzzle how Shakespeare, unless he had been a sailor, could have known enough of sea life to write such a magnificently apt simile as this. It could not have occurred to anyone who had not been at sea. The shrouds are the heavy ropes of the rigging which supports the masts of a ship on neither side so that they can carry sail.‘ In Hamlet (5-2), one finds ‘Methought I lay worse than the mutinies in the bilboes,‘ the latter word being sea-slang for leg-shackles. One also gets the feeling that Shakespeare actually experienced a ship-wreck. His plays are littered with them, such as;

The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,
 But that the sea, mounting to the welkin’s cheek,
 Dashes the fire out. O, I have suffered
 With those that I saw suffer: a brave vessel,
 Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her,
 Dash’d all to pieces. O, the cry did knock
 Against my very heart. Poor souls, they perish’d.
 Had I been any god of power, I would
 Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere
 It should the good ship so have swallow’d and
 The fraughting souls within her. (Tempest 1-2)

  after our ship did split,
 When you and those poor number saved with you
 Hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother,
 Most provident in peril, bind himself,
 Courage and hope both teaching him the practise,
 To a strong mast that lived upon the sea;
 Where, like Arion on the dolphin’s back,
 I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves
 So long as I could see. (Twelfth Night 1:2)

 Third Fisherman
 Nay, master, said not I as much when I saw the
  porpus how he bounced and tumbled? they say
  they’re half fish, half flesh: a plague on them,
  they ne’er come but I look to be washed. Master, I
  marvel how the fishes live in the sea.


Let us imagine for a moment the young Shakespeare setting sail out of Venice, the sea full of white sails puffing like clouds across the blue drifting  waters. In the distance Venice would slowly dwindle & merge into a thin green line of coast. In 1586 he would have been a bright-eyed laddie of just twenty-two years, his great genius beginning to emerge onto the page in his first productions – the early stanzas of Venus & Adonis, perhaps, & the first patterns speech & plot that would form Titus Andronicus. Like Keats on his highland tour, his memory banks were forming a great ‘stock of images’ in which to pour into his future works.

Across the Adriatic lies the 1000-islanded land of Croatia, known as Illyria in more antique times. It is there that Shakespeare placed another of his early plays, Twelfth Night, most likely at the beautiful port of Ragusa, known today as Dubrovnik. In 1511, Richard Guyldord described Ragusa as, ‘ryche & fayre in suptuous buyldynge with marveylous strengthe and beautye togyther with many fayre churches and glorious houses of Relygyon . . .  the strongest towne of walles, towres, bulwerke, watches, and wardes that euer I sawe in all my lyfe.” The ship of the city’s fleet were known as Argosies (after Ragosies), a term used by Shakespeare in the Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Henry VI, Part III. and The Taming of the Shrew. Indeed, the Ragusans had recently opened up trading relations with London, & if my proposal is correct, while Stanley was conducting business affairs in the city, Shakespeare would have been free to wander Ragusa soaking in the poesis for a future release.


I am also now quite convinced that somewhere within the vaults of the Venetian Archives, or a dusty room where the Levant Company records are stored, lies an hitherto undiscovered reference to Shakespeare. he would have been included in a list of passengers made made by the ship, or as a list of arrivals/departures by the Venetian authorities.