Daily Archives: December 9, 2014

Shakespeare’s Grand Tour (part 14)





The year is 1587, & Stanley & Shakespeare have returned to the Mediterranean waters in order to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land – & of course look in on the Levant Companies business in places like Aleppo & Constantinople. En route, they would have stopped off at Sicily, for the city-port of Messina appears in Much Ado About Nothing, which opens in front of the Governor’s Palace, today’ s Royal Palace which lies beside the Piazza del Governolo. The play also mentions other topographical details, which were all destroyed in the 1908 earthquake, such as the ancient Temple of Hercules Manticolo. Our very own Paul Roe also shows how Much Ado’s Beatrix uses a typical Sicilian expression – ti manciu ‘u core  (I will eat your heart). Elsewhere, the Winter’s Tale describes the Palace of the Normans at Palermo, while the mention of the return of Cleomenes and Dion from Delphi to Sicily as taking 23 days is an uncanny accuracy.

Returning to the Garland, we read;

And then Sir William he would go, 
To Bethlehem right speedily, 

Likewise to fair Jerusalem, 
Where our blessed Saviour Christ did die 
He asked them if it was so, 
They answered and told him aye. 

This is the Tree, the Jews then said, 
Whereon the Carpenter’s son did die ; 
That was my Saviour, Sir William said, 
For sure he died for the sins of me. 

16th Century Jerusalem
16th Century Jerusalem


For two Catholics, a chance to visit the place where Jesus was born could not be missed. There are no traces of the visit in the plays, but instead I shall return to Fynes Moryson’ own visit to the area, whose Protestantism caused quite a kerfuffle;

These foure comming in company to Jerusalem, had beene received into this Monastery, and when they had seene the monuments within and neere Jerusalem, they went to Bethlehem, where it happened that upon a health drunke by the Flemmings to the King of Spaine, which the English refused to pledge, they fell from words to blowes, so as two of them returned wounded to the Monastery of Jerusalem. Then these Italian Friars, (according to the Papists manner, who first make the sicke confesse their sinnes, and receive the Lords Supper, before they suffer Physitian or Apothecary to come to them, or any kitchin physicke to be given them): I say the Friars pressed them to confesse their sinnes, and so to receive the Lords Supper, which when they refused to doe, it was apparant to the Friars, that they were of the reformed Religion, (whom they terme heretikes). Whereupon the Friars beganne to neglect them (I will not say to hate them): and while the two which were wounded staied for recovery of their health, and so detained the other two with them, it happened that the third fell sicke.


Sierra Exif JPEG

After their pilgrimage, the two men would have set off toward Constantinople,  probably  stopping off at Tripoli, Lebanon, for supplies, of which place Moryson writes; ‘The Haven is compassed with a wall, and lies upon the west-side of the City, wherein were many little Barkes, and some Shippes of Marsiles in France. The Haven is fortified with seven Towers, whereof the fourth is called the Tower of Love, because it was built by an Italian Merchant, who was found in bed with a Turkish woman, which offence is capitall as well to the Turke as Christian, if he had not thus redeemed his life. Upon the Haven are built many store-houses for Merchants goods, and shops wherein they are set to sayle. The City of Tripoli is some halfe mile distant from the Haven, to which the way is sandy, having many gardens on both sides. In this way they shew a pillar festned upon a hill of sand, by which they say the sand is inchanted, lest it should grow to over whelme the City.’ 


From Tripoli, our party would have sailed east, & again would have docked for a while at the ports of Cyprus. It is this visit that may have inspired Shakespeare to place some of his great tragedy, Othello, on the island. The setting is only given as a ‘sea-port‘ of Cyprus, & a ‘A hall in the castle.’ Local tradition says the heavily fortified medieval citadel at Famagusta was ‘Othello’s Castle,’ which best connects with the play’s, ‘The Turk with a most mighty preparation makes for Cyprus. Othello, the fortitude of the place is best known to you. (1. 3)’ It is while staying at the fortress that Shakespeare would have heard the local story of Francesca de Sessa, a dark-skinned Venetian officer serving in Cyprus known as ‘Il Moro.’ The Venetian records tell us that in 1544 he was punished for an unknown crime & sent into exile. The story is given detail by Cinthio in his Gli Hecatommithi (1565) which Shakesepeare may have read in its original Italian. Come Shakespeare’s treatment, our bard changes certain details & has Othello commit suicide on Cyprus.



On leaving Cyprus, our party would have reached the shores of Turkey,  where  one play in particular contains memories of their visit to the region. The Comedy of Errors sees Egeon, a Sicilian merchant, imprisoned in the ancient Turkish city of Ephesus, & tells a story full of business wheeling & dealing. That Shakespeare visited the city in the bosom of a merchant ship is hinted at by PF Grav, who writes, ‘Shakespeare uses the word money more often in Errors than in any other play… the words gold, mart, ducat & merchant appear at a pace rivalled only by the Merchant of Venice & Timon of Athens, two plays that wear their economic concerns much more openly on their sleeve. The market atmosphere which permeates Errors further contributes to the impression that economics lie at the plays thematic heart.’




In the early days of Christianity, the city of Ephesus played a massive part, being one of the seven churches to which St John of Patmos addressed his Book of Revelations. Fifteen centuries later, & the Christian church had been usurped by the Islamic Ottomans, this once well-populated & sophisticated city locked in a terminal decline. Its river, the Caystros, was steadily silting up into malarial swamps, leaving the once bustling harbours of Ephesus far inland,  created  Despite this, the Seljuk Turks built & maintained a mighty fortress at Ephesus on the hill of Ayasuluk. A century before Shakespeare, the population was said to be 2,000, had maybe halved by Shakespeare’s visit, for by 1824 both town & citadel were abandoned & Ephesus left deserted except for the wild animals.



What is most interesting for our investigation, is that central to the plot of the Comedy of Errors is the imprisonment of Egeon, the merchant from Syracuse in Sicily. He only appears in first & final acts, framing the traditional story, & the threat of death hangs over him all through the play. With his imprisonment due to a law forbidding merchants from entering Ephesus, I cannot help but notice the tallies between Egeon & William Stanley, who also found himself imprisoned in Turkey. Thomas Aspen writes;


After paying a visit to Palestine, he journeyed to Turkey, and had a narrow escape of becoming a victim to the bigotry of the followers of Mahommed. In a discussion with one of the Paschas he defended Christianity and the Bible, and denounced the religion propounded in the Koran as false and deceptive. He was arrested for “blasphemy against the religion of Mahommed,” and after being kept a long time in a filthy and dismal prison, a date was fixed for his execution, but a lady interceded on his behalf, and three days before the appointed time he was liberated


The Garland tells us that the imprisonment of Stanley actually occurred in Constantinople. A little confusion reigns here, which undoubtedly will one be sorted out to satisfaction. It most likely that he was sent to Constantinople after his arrest. In 1585, Ephesus was part of the ‘Eyalet of the Cezair-i Bahr-i Sefid,’ the province of the islands of the Mediterranean, & to say you were the cousin of the queen of a distant, Christian island would have won little respect in the region. For these reasons, I believe that Stanley was imprisoned in the Ayasuluk fortress, his Catholic temper may have got the better of him after seeing such a sacred Christian site, the city where St Paul performed many miracles & baptisms (Acts 19), so completed dominated by mosques. Jane Hwang Degenhardt writes, ‘the contemporary location of Ephesus in the Ottoman Empire meant that it was a place where English merchants & adventurers were putting their own baptisms to the test by trading with Muslims… the significance of religious conversion in Ephesus was… informed by…. contemporary reports of Christians being captured & converted to Islam in the commercial port cities of the eastern Mediterranean.’




What is fascinating about Stanley & Shakespeare’s encounter with the Turkish lady, who ‘interceded’ on Stanley’s behalf, is that we have now been given the perfect background for the infamous ‘Dark Lady’  of the sonnets, which I shall go into further in my next post…






Shakespeare’s Grand Tour (part 13)



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After leaving Algiers, the Garland makes a huge leap, sweeping Stanley across the Mediterranean, over the Alps & into Czechoslovakia, where he spends time with the famous astrologer/mystic John Dee. The obvious route would be a sea-journey to Trieste, followed by a journey north through the Alpine pases. However, there is is also a chance that Stanley & Shakespeare visited Navarre en route, for just as a bevy of beautiful ladies arrive at court in Loves Labour’s Lost, so a few months after the Battle of Pantelleria, Sir Sidney Lee tells us;

At the end of the year 1586 a very decided attempt had been made to settle the disputes between Navarre and the reigning King. The mediator was a Princess of France – Catherine de Medici – who had virtually ruled France for nearly thirty years, and now acted in behalf of her son, decrepit in mind and body, in much the same way as the Princess in Love’s Labour’s Lost represents her decrepit, sick and bed-rid father. The historical meeting was a very brilliant one The most beautiful ladies of the court accompanied their mistress. ”La reine,’ we are told, ‘qui connoissoit les dispositions de Henri a  la galanterie, avoit compte sur elles pour le seduire…’ 



Catherine de Medici, 1588


However they got to Bohemia, at some point Stanley & Shakespeare (who would by now be lovers) were riding brokeback mountain style through the Alpine massif. These journeys could well account for the abundant use by Shakespeare of equine terminology. He uses 26 different words for horses & many riding terms, such as; saddle, , stirrup, saddlebow, crupper & spur. He definitely knew his horses, the best description of  which comes in the poem Venus and Adonis, in which stanza we can also gain a sense of the homoerotic nature of the poem.

Round-hoof’d, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
Broad breast, full eye, small head, and nostril wide,
High crest, short ears, straight legs and passing strong,
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide:
Look, what a horse should have he did not lack,
Save a proud rider on so proud a back.



A memory of crossing the Alps which seems embedded in the sonnets, where in #33 Shakespeare writes, ‘Full many a glorious morning have I seen / Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye.‘ Eventually they reached Bohemia, where John Dee (a Mancunian) was practicing alchemy.  Dee had at first he had been a valued guest of the court of Rudolf II, an intellectual hotbed centered on Prague. PJ French states, ‘Dee’s world view was thoroughly of the Renaissance, though it was one which is unfamiliar today, one of a line of philosopher-magicians that stemmed from Ficino & Pico della Mirandola & included, among others, Trithemius, Abbot of Sondheim, Henry Cornelius Agrippa Paracelsus. etc…. Like Dee, these philosophers lived in a world that was half magical, half scientific.‘  Unfortunately, he fell on the wrong side of Rudolf, & after being banished from Prague was given shelter at in the household of Vilém of Rožmberk, in the town of Trebona.  It was there that Dee carried on his quasi-magical scientific experiments alongside his old pal, Edward Kelly, & could well have have received Stanley’s party, for as we have seen, Donne’s Egyptian sonnet reads;

As fire these drossy rhymes to purify,
 Or as elixir, to change them to gold. 
 You are that alchemist, which always had 
 Wit, whose one spark could make good things of bad.



Part of Dee’s reason for being in Prague was to keep an eye on the ‘Muscovy Company,’ the Russian version of the Levant Company to which it was also intrinsically tied. The Garland tells us;

 One Doctor Dee he met with there, 
 Which Doctor was born at Manchester ; 
 Who knew Sir William Stanley well, 
 Tho’ he had not seen him for many a year. 
Pray what’s the Cause, the Doctor said, 
 Brings you, Sir William, into this Country 
 I’m come to travel, Sir William replied, 
 And I pray thee, Doctor, what brought thee! 
I came to do a cure, the Doctor said, 
 Which was of the Emperor’s feet to be done, 
 And I have perform’d it effectually, 
 Which none could do but an Englishman. 
Then he brought him before the Emperor, 
 Who entertained him with Princely cheer, 
 And gave him Gold and Silver store, 
 Desiring his company for seven year. 
But one three years Sir William would stay, 
 Within the Emperor’s court so freely, 
 And then Sir William he would go, 
The story  of Dee healing the emperor’s feet was actually based on a fellow Mancunian, Dr Arthur, who c.1600 healed the Tsars feet, the story being absorbed into Stanley’s garland. What is true, however, is the residence of  Dee in Prague during the Grand Tour years 1585-87. As I have stated, he was an official consultant to the Muscovy Company which had only been chartered in 1585 – inventing the paradoxal compass for them along the way – & a visit from a representative of the financiers would have been prudent.

Thirty years previously, in 1553, the navigator Richard Chancellor took charge of the same Edward Bonaventure that fought at Pantelleria, & sailed to the Arctic searching for the NE passage to Japan. Richard Hakluyt records his arrival in the White Sea in the far north of Russia, from where he proceeded 600 miles over hard snow to Moscow. Seeing as its such a cool piece of travel writing, I’m gonna give a few select passages;


Richard Chancellor, the man who discovered Russia

Master Chanceler held on his course towards that unknowen part of the world, and sailed so farre, that hee came at last to the place where hee found no night at all, but a continuall light and brightnesse of the Sunne shining clearely upon the huge and mightie Sea. And having the benefite of this perpetuall light for certaine dayes, at the length it pleased God to bring them into a certaine great Bay, which was of one hundreth miles or thereabout over. Whereinto they entred, and somewhat farre within it cast ancre, and looking every way about them, it happened that they espied a farre off a certaine fisher boate, which Master Chanceler, accompanied with a fewe of his men, went towards to common with the fishermen that were in it, and to knowe of them what Countrey it was, and what people, and of what maner of living they were: but they being amazed with the strange greatnesse of his shippe, (for in those partes before that time they had never seene the like) beganne presently to avoyde and to flee: but hee still following them at last overtooke them, and being come to them, they (being in great feare, as men halfe dead) prostrated themselves before him, offering to kisse his feete: but hee (according to his great and singular courtesie,) looked pleasantly upon them, comforting them by signes and gestures, refusing those dueties and reverences of theirs, and taking them up in all loving sort from the ground. And it is strange to consider howe much favour afterwards in that place, this humanitie of his did purchase to himselfe. For they being dismissed spread by and by a report abroad of the arrivall of a strange nation, of a singular gentlenesse and courtesie: whereupon the common people came together offering to these newe-come ghests victuals freely, and not refusing to traffique with them, except they had bene bound by a certaine religious use and custome, not to buy any forreine commodities, without the knowledge and consent of the king.
 And so Master Chanceler beganne his journey, which was very long and most troublesome, wherein hee had the use of certaine sleds, which in that Countrey are very common, for they are caried themselves upon sleds, and all their carriages are in the same sort, the people almost not knowing any other maner of carriage, the cause wherof is the exceeding hardnesse of the ground congealed in the winter time by the force of the colde, which in those places is very extreme and horrible…after much adoe and great paines taken in this long and wearie journey, (for they had travailed very neere fifteene hundred miles) Master Chanceler came at last to Mosco the chiefe citie of the kingdome, and the seate of the king: of which citie, and of the Emperour himselfe, and of the principall cities of Moscovie, 


Richard Chancellor in Moscow
The Empire and government of the king is very large, and his wealth at this time exceeding great. And because the citie of Mosco is the chiefest of al the rest, it seemeth of it selfe to challenge the first place in this discourse. Our men say, that in bignesse it is as great as the Citie of London, with the suburbes thereof. There are many and great buildings in it, but for beautie and fairenesse, nothing comparable to ours. There are many Townes and Villages also, but built out of order, and with no hansomnesse: their streetes and wayes are not paved with stone as ours are: the walles of their houses are of wood: the roofes for the most part are covered with shingle boords. There is hard by the Citie a very faire Castle, strong, and furnished with artillerie, whereunto the Citie is joyned directly towards the North, with a bricke wall: the walles also of the Castle are built with bricke, and are in breadth or thickenesse eighteene foote. This Castle hath on the one side a drie ditch, on the other side the river Moscua, whereby it is made almost inexpugnable. The same Moscua trending towards the East doth admit into it the companie of the river Occa.
 Nowe after that they had remained about twelve dayes in the Citie, there was then a Messenger sent unto them, to bring them to the Kings house: and they being after a sort wearied with their long stay, were very ready, and willing so to doe: and being entred within the gates of the Court, there sate a very honorable companie of Courtiers, to the number of one hundred, all apparelled in cloth of golde, downe to their ankles: and therehence being conducted into the chamber of presence, our men beganne to wonder at the Majestie of the Emperour: his seate was aloft, in a very royall throne, having on his head a Diademe, or Crowne of golde, apparelled with a robe all of Goldsmiths worke, and in his hand hee held a Scepter garnished, and beset with precious stones: and besides all other notes and apparances of honour, there was a Majestie in his countenance proportionable with the excellencie of his estate: on the one side of him stood his chiefe Secretarie, on the other side, the great Commander of silence, both of them arayed also in cloth of gold: and then there sate the Counsel of one hundred and fiftie in number, all in like sort arayed, and of great state. 

Richard Chancellor is taken to meet Tsar Ivan

This was the official opening of trade between England & Russia, who in the 1550s was ruled by Ivan the Terrible. Three decades later, the Muscovy Company had officialised the proceedings, & were now working with Ivan’s slightly less crazy son, Feodor I.  During the late 1580s, Dee made notice of several mysterious brothers, all sharing the surname Garland, all of whom have no mention outside of Dee’s letters. We find the occasional Muscovite in the company of these mysterious brothers, & according to Dee Edward Garland was a courier from ‘Muscovy,’ suggesting that Trebona was some kind of half-way house between England & Moscow. There may have existed a chain of couriers that connected the Muscovy Company in Moscow to Trebona, & then on to either England or the Mediterranean. Perhaps on his visit to Dee, William Stanley was actually delivering a message from the Barbary Company to the Muscovy version

Shakespeare’s own visit to the region can also be traced through the Winter’s Tale, set in the same Bohemia in which Trebona is situated, & a mention in Twelfth Night to a Hermit of Prague, as in;

                                                     As the old hermit of 
    Prague, that never saw pen and ink, very wittily 
    Said to a niece of King Gorboduc, ‘That that is is; (Twelfth Night 4:2)

There is also a poem written by John Dee’s pal, Edward Kelly,which goes by the later-given title ‘Concerning the Philosopher’s Stone,’ first printed in Elias Ashmole’s 1652 Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum. It is dedicated to a certain “G.S., Gent” which could well stand for Gulielmus,  the Latin version of William, & Shakespeare. The poem’s stanza-form is identical to that of Shakespeare in his Venus & Adonis, as in
 Thou maist (my Freind) say, what is this for lore?
  I answere, such as auncient Physicke taught: 
 And though thou read a thousand Bookes before, 
 Yett in respect of this, they teach thee Naught:
         Thou mayst likewise be blind, and call me Foole 
        Yett shall these Rules for ever praise their Schoole.

As I stated in my last post, the presence of Shakespeare in Barbary Coast, followed by a prompt visit to John Dee was the moment when the Tempest would have been at least conceived. It kinda makes sense, Stanley’s relatives, who assembled the First Folio, placed the Tempest first in order , suggesting they knew something in-house. Also, the Tempest uses his recently acquired knowledge of Commeddia Del Arte, & is one of only two plays  that use the Classical Unities – a dramaturgical tradition of setting a play in a single place & time. The other is the very early Comedy of Errors, & it is possible that these two convention-bound plays were the first products of our burgeoning playwright.

Coincidence or not, the Comedy of Errors,is set in the eastern Mediterranean, the same part of the world where Stanley went after his time with John Dee, as in…

But one three years Sir William would stay, 
 Within the Emperor’s court so freely, 
 And then Sir William he would go, 
 To Bethlehem right speedily…