Monthly Archives: September 2018

Saint Patrick’s Boyhood Home

Getting out the Tithe Parish map of Briercliffe, 1845 (Burnley Library)

Using the secret histories locked within words, Damian Beeson Bullen identifies the boyhood home of Saint Patrick

I have been often startled by the latent powers of words, when even the smallest & most innocuous of place-names can be an eternal storehouses of so much history. I urge anyone this day to take a walk in the countryside, note the names of the cloughs & the hills, & let us weave a secret history, drawn from the phonetical landscape. SW Partington, in his ‘Danes in Lancashire,’ writes of this most pleasurable of literary past-times;

An eloquent modern writer has declared, with a good reason, that even if all other records had perished, “anyone with skill to analyse the language, might re-create for himself the history of the people speaking that language, and might come to appreciate the divers elements out of which that people was composed, in what proportion they were mingled, and in what succession they followed one upon the other.” From a careful analysis of the names of the more prominent features of the land; of its divisions, its towns and villages, and even its streets, as well as the nomenclature of its legal, civil, and political institutions, its implements of agriculture, its weapons of war, and its articles of food and clothing, — all these will yield a vast fund of history.

In recent days, while looking at the places & names of places around my home town of Burnley in Lancashire, to which I added a rather copious amount of reading, I believe I have made a discovery of some significance – the location of Saint Patrick’s boyhood home. Before he spread the name of Jesus throughout pagan Ireland, the young Saint Patrick was just doing the things that young lads do in a place called by him Bannavem Taburniae. He tells us as much in a precious, self–penn’d ‘Confessio’ in which we may read;

I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, … had for my father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest of the settlement of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villula nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen year of age… I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people.

Here we learn how Patrick was taken to Ireland by some kind of slave raid – so his home must have been within striking distance of the coast. We also discover that his father, Calpurnius, was a Christian official called a ‘deacon,’ & he was connected to the settlement of Bannavem Taburniae. Finally, we learn that near Bannavem lay was the family villula, which translates as the country house of a farmstead.


On first examination, the name Bannavem Taburniae seems corrupt, & indeed c.700 AD, the situation was clarified by Patrick’s hagiographer, Milúch, who tells us, ‘this place, as I am informed beyond hesitation or doubt, is Ventre.’ This lets us create a new name-combination for the boyhood home of Patrick, being; Banna Venta Burniae. There is another Bannaventa in Britain, near the village of Norton in Northamptonshire, & is named thus in the mid-second century ‘Itinerary’ of Antonius Pius. What we may logically conclude is that the second Bannaventa came later, with an addition of ‘Burniae’ applied for the purpose of differentation.

I would now like to point our investigation in the direction of 10th century in England, when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle spells the same person’s name differently in succeeding entries;

A.D. 931. This year died Frithstan… and Brynstan was blessed in his place.
A.D. 932. This year Burnstan was invested Bishop of Winchester

What we can infer here is that during the 930s Burn & Bryn (Brun) were interchangeable, & the alteration may have been brought about by Athelstan himself for he was recorded by Layamon’s Brut (c.1200) as instigating etymological changes during his reign;

How Athelstan here arrived out of Saxland
& how he set all England in his own hand…
& the names of the towns in saxish speech…
& in Saxish he gan speak the names of the men.

Numismatic support for an earlier ‘burn’ comes upon coins minted by Athelstan’s father & grandfather – Alfred the Great – which give the moneyer’s name as Bernvald.


h1411x22.jpgSuch knowledge allows us now to create with confidence a slightly different name for Patrick’s boyhood home; Banna Venta Bruniae. Later in the 930s, in 937, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the Battle of Brunanburh. This epic conflagration saw King Athelstan of England defeat a confederacy of Vikings, Scots & Northern Britons. Variant names for the battle are given by Symeon of Durham – Wendune/Weondune – & the anonymous Scandinavian text, Egil’s Saga – Vinheath. These alternative names have proven problematic to academic inquiry, but may now be reconciled with the Brunanburh name through Patrick’s Banna Venta Burniae, locking these two historical jigsaw pieces fast together. Furthermore, both the ‘dune’ & ‘heath’ elements of Wendune & Vinheath mean the same as banna: pinnacle, peak, mountain, bare hill, etc. A little extra glue comes from the fact that just as Milúch describes Banna Venta as being ‘a place not far from our sea’ – i.e. The Irish Sea – so after the battle of Brunanburh, the defeated Vikings fled to their ships & entered the Irish Sea on the same day as the battle.

The West-Saxons pushed onward
all day; in troops they pursued the hostile people.
They hewed the fugitive grievously from behind

Departed then the Northmen in nailed ships.
The dejected survivors of the battle,
On Dingesmere, sought Dublin over the deep water,
to return to Ireland, ashamed in spirit.


I don’t have the space to offer a complete survey of the Brunanburh case, but there can be no doubt that wherever the battle was fought, on account of covering both Dark Age bases, the boyhood home of Patrick must be now be the leading location. As to where this was situated, there is a great deal of evidence both subtle & blatant that points to Burnley as being the area in which the Saxon fortified ‘burh’ of Brunanburh once stood. Quite tangibly, its trenches can still be made out to this day at a place called Castle Hill near Townley Hall.

Castle Hill lies on the round hill just behind Townley Hall.
The Western Trench @ Castle Hill…

An Anglo-Saxon burh formed the central administrative point of the administrative ‘Tun,’ from which we get the name Tunlay, & thus, Townley. In the 12th century, Towneley formed part of an ancient township called ‘Tunlay-with Brunshaw,’ with the latter name meaning ‘Brun’s Wood.’ The clearing, or ‘lea,’ in this wood would eventually become Brunlea, & if my calculations are correct, the name-flip from Burn to Brun instigated by Athelstan in the 10th century would last last more than three centuries 0 before reverting to its original form in the late 13th century as Burnley.

Further back in the first millennium AD, evidence for Roman settlement in the Burnley area leading up to the birth of Patrick comes in the name of the town of Colne, which appears as Calna in a charter of Henry I. This leads to the the Ravenna Cosmography Calunio, placed in the right area of Lancashire between Ribchester & Ilkley. When analyzing its history, we should  notice that in the lists of Northern Roman camps, Calunio was not in existence in the time of Ptolemy (2nd century AD), but exists in the 6th century, when it appears in the Ravenna Cosmography.

To the north, at Barnoldswick, ran a major arterial Roman road, from which minor roads branched into the Burnley area, such as the one that goes past Portfield on Pendle – the ‘Ad Alpes Peninos’ given in Richard of Cirencester Itineray –  passing the villages of Sabden & Newchurch on the slopes of the same hill, down into Barrowford, along Wheatley Lane, up again to Castercliffe hill fort  – which may have been Calunio itself – & then on into Yorkshire where it concludes at Ilkley, given as Alicana in the Roman geographies. There are also traces of another road that goes through Burnley itself, up to Cliviger, then over the moors to Slack, near Huddersfield, where the ‘Cambodnum’ Roman fort is sited.

Numerous Roman coins have been found in the Pendle-Burnley area; in the sunken lane at the foot of Castercliffe, at Wheatley lane, in Burnley & finally at Emmot, near Colne, where according to TT Whitaker, writing in the year 1800, ‘a large silver cup filled with them was turned up by the plough in the latter end of the 17th century.’ Speculating further, Roman forts were generally attended on by the local population, who lived next to or near the fort in a settlement described as a vici – the semantics of which can be observed in the name, Wycoller, a time-capsule village just to the east of Colne.

Returning to the investigation of Patrick’s boyhood home, there is more information given in his ‘Confessio’ which proves relevant. To carry the investigation further, let us analyze the names Venta, Ventry, & by association, Wen. All these names suggest that by Patrick’s time a group of Roman foedarati from a tribe known as the Wends had settled in the Burnley area. According to Wulfstan, they heralded from a place called Weonodland,’ as in; ‘Weonodland was on his starboard side and to portside, he had Langeland, Lolland, Falster and Scania. These countries all belong to Denmark.’ Clearly, when Symoen of Durham named ‘Weondune,’ he was referring to the ‘dune’ of the ‘Weonds.’ Other names for the tribe include;

Old English: Winedas
Old Norse: Vindr
German: Wenden, Winden
Danish: Vendere

These variants connect neatly with the Vinheath of Egil’s Saga, which in Burnley terms links to the hamlet of Winewall near Colne, & I am quite sure the Battle of Winwead was fought at Barrowford.

The arrival of the Wends seems connected to their defeat in Europe by the Romans in 277 AD, after which they were given lands in Britain. Zosimus writing of a Roman general called Probus, states, ‘his second battle was with the Franks, whom he completely conquered with the help of his generals. Then he fought the Burgundians & Vends… When the armies engaged each other, some of the barbarians were slain, others were taken prisoner by the Romans, & the rest sued for peace, accepting the condition that they surrender their booty & prisoners, but since, although their request was granted, they did not hand over everything, the emperor angrily punished them by attacking them on their retreat. Many were killed & their leader, Igillus, taken prisoner, & all the captives were sent across to Britain where they proved very useful to the emperor in subsequent revolts.’

The last sentence is key, for it places the Wends in Britain at a place well-sited for handling a rebellion, suggesting a northern location. If this was in Lancashire, we can understand the proper origins of a number of Probus coins found in the county; such as at Worden, on the outskirts of Leyland, whose name also seems a variation of ‘weodune’ Similar coins were also discovered at Burnley itself, where WT Watkin describes 126 copper coins known as ‘radiates’ of the late third century AD, while the coins found at Castercliffe were minted at the same period.

My wife at Pendle, a couple of miles from Roughlee.

Wendish tribal sub-groups included the Sorbs & the Ruggi, both of whose names are present at Pendle Hill, the great whale-back peak which dominates the Burnley skyline. The village of Sabden (Sapedene 1296) means ‘long, narrow valley of the Sabs,’ the ‘Sab’ phonetic of this name being quite rare in Britain, & of unknown origin. Yet it is easy to introduce the idea that Sabden was once ‘Sorbden.’ ‘The present-day Sorbs,’ writes Gerald Stone, ‘may be regarded as descendants of the Slavs who moved into Lusatia in the 6th & 7th centuries… it seems likely that the ethnic name srbi was then in use among them & was later retained both by the Sorbs & by those other Slavs (the Serbs) who moved southwards to the Danube.

Another Wendish subgroup were known as the Rugii, whose name seems to have inspired the Pendleside village of Roughlea, known formely as Rugelea. In the 8th century, the venerable Bede stated that the Rugii formed part of the composite Anglo-Saxon layer to the English gene-pool;

The Angles or Saxons, who now inhabit Britain… are still corruptly called ‘Garmans’ by the neighbouring nation of the Britons. Such are the Frisians, the Rugini, the Danes, the Huns, the Old Saxons, and the Boructuari

We may also detect the Rugi element in an alternate slave-name given to saint Patrick; Fiacc’s hymn tells us; ‘He was six years in slavery; Human food he ate it not. Cothraige he was called.’ At the other side of the valley in which Burnley lies, we come to the hamlet of Roggerham. This is where things get interesting, because hard by the modern village there are the remains of a building, dated to the mid 4th century, given the name Ring Stones Camp. The Wends are known for building circular camps such as the this one, a visit to which was recorded over centuries ago, by  TT Wilksonson;

Passing through Thursden Valley, to a corresponding crest on the opposite ridge called Bonfire Hill, at the distance of about a mile, we find another circular intrenchment, 130 feet in diameter… This encampment is surrounded by an earthwork rampart, which is still comparatively perfect on three of its sides, and easily traceable on the fourth. The rampart measures 700 feet in length by 450 in average breadth


At once we gain a semi-hit to the final variant name given for Patrick’s boyhood home by the ancient sources. The Hymn of Fiacc, traditionally ascribed it to a fifth century bard, tells us Patrick was born at ‘Nemthur.’ Now this does not necessarily mean it was the same place as Banna Venta, but the ‘thur’ element does appear in the ‘Thursden,’ which may have once been called ‘Nemthur’s den.’ The name seems to derive from nemeton, which means ‘sacred space’ in Brythonic, & which easily becomes Eamoton, a place where Athelstan received fealty from the petty kings of Britain – & then Emmot. This place lies near Colne, where a sacred well called ‘Hallown’ has been sited since deep antiquity supporting the Nemeton link. There is also the intriguingly tantalizing possibility that ‘Bonfire Hill’ derives from Bannaventa, as in;


Another early antiquarian visit to Ring Stones was made by James Stonehouse’s in the mid-19th century;

As we pursue our ramble along the road towards Roggerham, we arrive at a farm house on the right hand called “Rotten”; and a short way beyond it find a gate on the same side. Opening this gate we discover a narrow road, having in the centre a pavement of large boulder stones, the footway on one side being skirted by a stone wall which enclose portions of the moor; on the other a thick hedge. An unobservant person even would notice something unusual in the appearance of this bye-road. The mystery of it-if there be such a thing as a mystery-is soon made manifest. The road is found to lead upon the open moor land, and where the enclosure walls end it gradually becomes lost in the moorland and herbage, although its track can be really discovered rising over the hill before us. But before it becomes so hidden in the heather and the thick grass it passes an enclosure of some 200 feet by 160 feet, that the antiquary and the archaeologist would not fail to gaze upon with deep and absorbing interest. The road is Roman. As the Romans left it, there it is. The enclosure is Roman. As the Romans constructed it, there it is; at least what remains of their handywork. The enclosure is the remains of a fort erected by this great nation, when occupying this part of Britain. The fort is known by the people of the vicinity as “Ring Stones Camp.” The walls, at least as much as is left of them, are about a foot high from the interior surface. Outside the Vallum is a foss or ditch. It is deep in some portions, and filled up in others. It seems to be of the true V shape by the inclinator of the sides. The walls appear as strong as when the soldier mason laid stone upon stone and spread the strong concrete that has hardened till it rivals the stone in durability. At one of the sides, there is an opening where stood the Decuman gate. On the side facing it is another opening. This is the Proetorian gate, so called as being near where the Praetor fixed his quarters. In the centre of the enclosure are great inequalities of ground which, if carefully examined, will perhaps exhibit some of the arrangements of the encampment or fort.’


Ring Stones camp is located near a certain Swinden Resevoir, whose name clearly contains the ‘wendune’ semantics. It has been dated to the Fourth century on account of its great physical similarity – especially an identical gateway – with ‘Bomber Camp,’ sited by a Roman road near Gisburn, where a collection of early to mid Fourth Century pottery was unearthed. Just to the north of Swinden reservoir, at Twist Hill, there also stands another Roman-British farmstead, 44m by 40m. A bronze coin of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180) was reportedly found here in 1888, which is much earlier than Patrick, but shows an even earlier settlement of the area.

It is at this point that I will add a wee drop of speculation into my theory, I always enjoy finishing thusly, for the close connection between the camps at Gisburn & Roggerham may be in fact down to an actual human familial relationship. Where the Hymn of Fiacc tell us Patrick was; ‘Grandson of Deochain Odissus,’ a few miles to the west of Gisburn, in the delightful Forest of Bowland, we may see a River Dunsop – possibly connected to the ‘Sorbs’ – flowing into the River Hodder, which might just have been named after Odissus.

To summarise, a large Romano-British farmstead building was erected at Roggerham in the 4th century which fits the country estate image given by Patrick’s ‘villula.’ Roggerham lies near Burnley, which matches the Burniae element of Patrick’s boyhood home. Burnley seems to have been the site of the Battle of Brunanburh, also named Wendune, which translates perfectly as Patrick’s ‘Banna Venta.’ The only speculative thought is Burnley’s identification as Brunanburh – but if the battle was fought near that bonnie Lancashire town, then its clearly a case of killing two birds of mystery with one scholarly stone – & a few archaic words.

Upper Hell





Around me grew the pathless shadows of life’s dark wood

Three Beasts block’d my way

Leopard on the path clad in light revealing lingerie

Lion fills my ears with fear, roaring modern cacophony

She-wolf eyes my rucksack daring to rid me of money



At the point of defeat I heard a human voice,

I am the shade of Virgilius of Rome,

                 Poet to Augustus & the false & lying gods!

     You must take another road & if you follow I will guide you,

The place eternal waits, where shrieking ancyents wail for second death







         Clapping hands *  Screams of anguish

     Haunted sighs  *   Lamentations

             Loud Wailings  *   Strange Tongues

         Horrible Lingua  *  Words of Pain




Behind a shifting banner I saw so many people,

A train of wretched shades by black & loathsome river

Where daemon upon hovercraft beams eyes of burning coal

This is the Acheron,” said the poet, “& that is Charon!

Father of the livid marsh, watcher of its river crossing!”



Souls, like leaves of Autumn, ping into his craft

Driven on by divine justice, until the tree drew bare

&, as a new crowd gathers while the pilot sped away,

A red blaze shone, dark winds struck up, my senses overcome,

I shudder & fall like one seiz’d with sudden sleep



Heavy thunder awakens me

Rested eyes survey the Valley of Pain

Deep & dark & blanketed in vapours

The poet turns to me, painted death-pale with pity,

Let us descend into the blind world down there…”



We stepp’d into that abysmal place

Serpent-realms girdling the infernal world

Where countless wailings rise, & sighs forever tremble

Where swell vast crowds of men, women & little children


The Poet turns to me with sad, sad eyes,



These did not sin, they have merit enough,

But were born before the Harrowing of hell

Faith’s gateway by them never meant to know

& so… are lost…”








A blazing light shone beyond that forest of thronging spirits

& we went thither to a noble castle set apart;

Seven walls of intelligence protected from immorality

A gentle stream of eloquence stood watch over the dark

Guarding a gallant tribe, gazes of grand authority

Observe us as we drift there, men like the dashing Aeneas,

Ceasar, Cicero, souls of science & philosophy;

Aristotle, Plato…

then turned back to their playstations

Apart from an old man who came over to greet us

His name was Homer, & we talked of poetry & of

Our noble school of eagle-song, then when converse done

We pursued a sloping drawbridge to a place without light.



Here Minos stands guard

Horrible, snarling, Judge of the Dead



Encircled by his spiral tail his sinners are hurl’d below

To a place of muted light where a restless, hellish storm

Blows them hither, thither, upward, downward,

Lamenting & blaspheming the great Power of God



“These are the carnal sinners that forever reap LUST’S whirlwind

                                    Of a life subjected to their heart’s desires,

      No hope of rest or comfort from the lust which drives their souls”



Thro’ battling winds long line of shades pass like hungry cranes,


When you abandon yourself to a love that is nothing but love

                                         You are in hell already!”


Three-headed Cerberus perceives us

Bares bloody fangs, fierce & hideous

Groveling in the sunken mire

About the Great Worm of Hades

Dante 6


My master throws handfuls of dirt into three ravenous gullets

Calming the devouring Beast,

Who, mumbling, lets us pass to a pitiful place,


Upon this spot falls an eternal, cursed rain

Unceasing measure, cold & heavy hail, foul water, snow,

Fallen souls lie hungry & helpless in the mud



“These know a strange & loathsome penalty,

Flesh-loving fools, far from luxurious banquetry,   

Yielded their souls to food without spiritual motive!”



Then we went around that curving road, lost in conversation

To come on Pluto at the point where path fell steep


“Pape Satan, Pape Satan, Aleppe!”



Clucking monotone warning from the old god of Hades,

The baron of Zeus, Lord of the Grecian underworld,

Who once lost his kingdom to the arch-villain’s armies,

Not now forced into lowly lieutenant-hood



“Pape Satan, Pape Satan, Aleppe!”



My Master rants,

“Silence accursed wolf, our journey has been willed on high!”

As wind-swollen sails fall aheap when tall masts snap,

The cruel beast fell





Passing beyond the whimpering God of Wealth,

We follow the serpentine tail

Scampering down the dismal slope

To where fresh toils founder & pain is newborn



God’s justice flings sinners into wild tormenting whirlpools

Jostling & jousting & dueling with sharp credit cards



Who are these souls that pierce my heart?”

“They are the hoarders & squanderers of Avarice,

Who embroil’d their lives worshipping material existence,

Now all the gold that ever was beneath the moon

Will never grant them rest!”


We left that circle & its endless scuffle

To walk on ever deeper thro’ the flame

Descending to a greater wretchedness

Entering marshy STYX beside a gloomy stream,

Gurgling Purple



This circle’s inhabitants are the Angry

Smiting each other in the sucking slime

Head, hand, breast


Virgilius turns to me & sings,

“These signal wings will sweep us deeper through the grand malign”



Phylegyas crosses the dismal hollow in his dirty, little boat

Single silent oarsmen guides us down a stagnant channel…


Defiant fallen angels mount approaching iron walls

Our poet pipes a ballad of Christ’s Harrowing of Hell

Whose memory demands those daemons let us pass this day

Thus we found unhappy Dis, woeful Satanic stronghold


From tower’s top three blood-stain’d furies wail

Tesiphore, Alecto & Megaera

Naked-breasted, Hydra-hair’d, black tongues rasping

                 “Summon Medusa to turn these fools to stone!”


Turn thy back,” said the poet, “& shut thine eyes,

           Lest the Gorgon show herself & trap us here forever!”


Hand-blinded we hurried on ‘til they were safe to open

Before a flamey plain full of pain & torment



                         “Who are these buried in those open, funerary chests?”

                         “They are the self-deluding, messianic, arch-heretics,

Tardisesque their followers are buried deep beside them”



Further into the Morning Star’s domain

Scatter’d massive mountains of red & ruin’d rocks

One was thus inscribed,

                                      ‘I hold pope Urban II

                Whom Adolfus Hitler drew from the straight path’


     ‘This marker means we soon shall reach darkest depths of evil

                        Come let us rest awhile beside this unbelieving pope.”



Our spirits scent-adjusted to the vile stench of the Devil

We drew a breath of stagnant air & puked into the Pit

Gunk tumbling down a cliff face, three terraces divided

When Tasso met Shakespeare


Good golly, is it that time of year already? Gosh, what a summer that was, probably the best in my decade & a half of living in Scotland. But yes, it is now early September, the brambles are out & its time to get back to work. I’m in the process of getting my two epics properly online (update to come), while over the summer I have decided to present my Chisper Effect book as a series of chronicles, very much easier on the eye & doubles the informativeness of the materielle. Of course, the Shakespeare sections are already in said format, which leads me to this next essay, which I hope to compose in the next day & a bit in the NLS. A couple of days back, while working on the final stages of Axis & Allies, I had in front of me several epic poems to dip into; The Kalevala, the Kalevipoeg, Don Juan, The Inferno, & also Tasso’ Jerusalem delivered. Casually glancing at his brief biodates, as we got closer to the Shakespearean Grand Tour period, my sense began tingling, & then BOOM! Tasso was in the Venuto Plain in the exact period as Shakespeare (according to my calculations). A couple of googles later & there were enough linking strands to support a fresh hyperfact – Shakespeare & Tasso met each other in 1586.

The following chronicle entries are the results of my studies between 3PM on Thursday the 6th September 2018, & 5PM on Friday the 7th. With three hours to go I discovered, from a nineteenth century life, that Tasso left prison in early July. Through this I was able to reach the conclusion that after Algiers, Shakespeare returned to northern Italy ,en route to Prague, which is indeed the natural route.

330px-Torquato_Tasso5th or 6th July 1586: Tasso released from the asylum

After seven years of poor mental health, Torquato Tasso is finally released from Hospital of St. Anna at Ferrara at the request of Vincenzo I Gonzaga, Prince of Mantua. Gonzago was a major patron of the arts and sciences, and turned Mantua into a vibrant cultural center.
On his release, Tasso was given a beautiful apartment in the palace of the old duke of Mantua, William, furnished with all the conveneinets & comforts he would need. Perfect conditions for poetry, then, & such an encouraging climate inspired Tasso to rework his 1573 tragedy Galealto Re di Norvegia into a new drama, Torrismondo.

1586: Shakespeare & Tasso meet in Mantua

Also appearing in Mantua (on inheritance business) in August 1586 was the great musician & librettisT, Allesandro Striggio. Just as he was about to leave for Florence,  Duke William invited him to stay & reside in Mantua as a gentleman of the table, ‘including the expenses of three servants and three horses, and the salary which he usually gives to his other gentlemen.’ Analyzing the letters of Striggio, in the one sent to Federico Cattaneo, Mantua, 21 August 1586, we learn that Duke William was looking for young instrumentalists, &  gives a lovely flavour of the age;

I have received from Messer Flavio Riccio Your Illustrious Lordship’s note and I have informed him that in Florence there are two lads, aged 16 or 17, but they are poor and brought up by Franzosino of the Abandonati. They play cornett, transverse flute, viola and trombone. Franzosino has them play constantly, every day on the Grand Duke’s balcony [on the Palazzo Vecchio; or the Loggia de’ Lanzi] and at table. They also performed at the comedy which the Grand Duke put on for the Ferrara wedding (Florence, 1586). They do not have a regular salary from His Highness, although they are constantly in service. But they go about playing in churches, accompanied by the organ, wherever necessary, in Lucca and Pistoia and elsewhere, as requested. One of them would be suitable for His Highness [Guglielmo Gonzaga], and although they are not altogether excellent they are at least more than passable. Because they are dependent and obligated to Franzosino, who has taught them, it is necessary to refer to and come to an agreement with him; also to clothe and provide shoes for them, for they are still supplied with clothes from the Ospedale, and they still eat and sleep there, unless things have changed since I left Florence.

There are several pointers which suggest that Shakespeare encountered Tasso while visiting Mantua. Tasso’s sister was called Cornelia, the same name as Titus Andronicus which I suspect Shakespeare was comping at the time. The birth of the bard’s version of Hamlet may have also been born from this prodigious meeting. We have the dramatical Scandinavian regal motif, the clear connections between Hamlet’s madness & that of Tasso – both occasionaly feigned – & we can trace a connection between Hamlet’s drawing of his sword in his stepmother’s chamber, where he killed the chief counseller Polinus; & Tasso’s drawing of a knife on a servant in the Duchess of Urbino’s apartment in 1577. The famous play-within-a-play embedded within Hamlet concerns the very family into which Tasso had been released. It appears in Act 3 scene 2 as a play called The Murder of Gonzago (or The Mousetrap), during which we hear;

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.

It is a delightful thought to imagine the Italian poet reciting some of his magnificent poem, Jerusalem Delivered, to Shakespeare in Mantua. One character in the epic that may have stuck was the Saracen sorceress, Armida, who in the strongest moments of emotion forgot her spellcraft & resorted to tears & prayers & persuasions. A few years later, when Shakespeare was writing Anthony & Cleopatra, he has the latter do just the same;

O my lord, my lord,
Forgive my fearful sails! I little thought
You would have follow’d.

Egypt, thou knew’st too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by the strings,
And thou shouldst tow me after: o’er my spirit
Thy full supremacy thou knew’st, and that
Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods
Command me.

O, my pardon!

Now I must
To the young man send humble treaties, dodge
And palter in the shifts of lowness; who
With half the bulk o’ the world play’d as I pleased,
Making and marring fortunes. You did know
How much you were my conqueror; and that
My sword, made weak by my affection, would
Obey it on all cause.

Pardon, pardon!

Fall not a tear, I say; one of them rates
All that is won and lost: give me a kiss;
Even this repays me. We sent our schoolmaster;
Is he come back? Love, I am full of lead.
Some wine, within there, and our viands! Fortune knows
We scorn her most when most she offers blows.

index1586: Tasso inspires Hamlet

I would now like us to look introduce Hamlet into the mix, a play supposedly from Shakespeare’s middle period. The Hamlet story initially burst into literary life with Saxo Grammaticus in the 13th century. Could it be that during Shakespeare’s time with Tasso that he began to court the same affection for Scandinavian royal dramas of the Middle Ages as the Italian poet. Perhaps Shakespeare had picked up a copy of François de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques (published in 1574) while in France, in which Saxo’s story was given great embellishment. Perhaps meeting Tasso was the catalyst for Shakespeare to create what is called by scholars the ‘Ur-Hamlet’ (the German prefix means primordial). No copy of the Ur-Hamlet has survived, but its existence must date to before  1589, when Thomas Nashe in his 1589 preface to Greene’s prose work Menaphon entitled To The Gentlemen Students of Both Universities, referred to the ‘English Seneca read by candlelight yields many good sentences, as ‘Blood is a beggar,’ and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches.’ The Seneca-Hamlet connection can be clearly seen with;

the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns (Hamlet, III. i. 78-80)

sera nos illo referat senectus.
nemo ad id sero venit unde numquam,
cum semel venit, potuit reverti (HF. 864-6)

dic sub aeternos properare manes
Herculem et regnum canis inquieti
unde non umquam remeavit ullus.
(HO. 1525-7 altera versio, remeabit ill)

By 1596, Thomas Lodge would be writing of ‘the Visard of the ghost which cried so miserably at the theatre, like an oister-wife, Hamlet, revenge.’ Two years later, Dr Gabriel harvey recorded, ‘the younger sort take much delight in Shakespeare’s Venus & Adonis; but his Lucrece, & his tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke, have it in them to please the wiser sort.’ Finally, & after a long road of development which began in the 1580s, Hamlet as we know it would eventually be entereed into in the Register of the Stationers’ Company in 1602.

Back in Mantua – or Bergamo – let us imagine Shakespeare being inspired by Tasso’s work on the Torrismondo to create Hamlet. Louise George Clubb describes in both plays, ‘a preoccupation with genre, with experimentation with hybrids & structure is made manifest by conducting a critical action simultaneously with a dramtic fable, underlaid with a paradigmatic myth calling attention to genre. In both, the choice of Scandinavian medieval chronicle is the sign of the sequence to come: from history to myth to genre to critical contemplation of structure. In short, Shakespeare & Tasso were upping their game with some pretty innovative drama, whose familial offerings in the history of theatre are with each other & each other only. ‘The materials of Torrismondo & Hamlet, adds Club, ‘allowed for a confrontation of ostensible history with undeclared myth in plots which silently claimed kinship with the very arguments cited by Aristotle.’ It certainly feels as if Shakespeare was inspired by Tasso’s Torrismondo, which was being created in the very moment & the very city where I am placing the William Shakespeare of 1586.

1586: Tasso & Shakespeare in Bergamo

It is distinctly possible perhaps that Shakespeare’s knowledge Shakespeare’s knowledge of sail-making at Bergamo given in The Taming of the Shrew came from a visit there with Tasso. It was Tasso’s paternal town & the reception was said to be splendid.

1586: Shakespeare sees Tasso’s ‘Aminta’ at the Mantua Carnevale

Following its quiet debut in Ferrara in 1573, & more public performance at the 1574 Pesaro Carneveal, Tasso’s Aminta became a highly influential success, with Lisa Sampson observing, ‘Aminta was rapidly seized upon for scenarios, episodes & characterisation by a wide range of writers from all over the peninsular.’ A 5 act play, it seems that Shakespeare witness, & was enriched by, the play at first hand. Love’s Labours Lost borrows from the Intermedio II chorus of Aminta, which first appears in a printed edition in 1665, while As You Like It also contains direct translations & numeorus echoes. Shakespeare must have witnessed the play at first hand. Shakespeare seems also to be heavily influenced by Tasso’s mythology-steeped Renaissance Pastoralism, described by Cody as, ‘the Platonic theory of a good inner life, accomodated to the literary myth of the courtier as lover & poet. In the Italian Renaissance… pastoralism becomes the temper of the aristocratic mind: the reconciling of discors & contradictions in the medium of the work of art, that shadow of the ideal.’ Cody also describes Shakespeare as integrating Love’s Labours Lost into the, ‘Elizabethan aesthetic Platonism under its pastoral-comical aspect,’ adding, ‘the advantage of recognizing that the orthodox, elegaic Italians & the festive English comedian speak a common language of pastoral Neo-Platonism is considerable.’

Other plays to possess a strong streak of this consciously artificial, highly allegorical, hyper-mythomemed Pastoralism are Twelfth Night & the Two Gentleman of Verona, the latter worldscape described by Cody as ‘clearly the Italianate courtier-lover’s world, translated,’ adding, ‘the series of groups into which the play resolve sitself is pastoral & kinetic in the  manner of the Aminta.’ There is a clear connection, for just as in Aminta, the heroine is called Sylvia; & just as in 2GV Silvia is pursued & threatened with rape by Proteus, so in Aminta a satyr kidnaps & nearly rapes Sylvia. Cody also compares 2GV’s Silvia scene to Tasso’s work, stating, ‘it is the one scene in which Shaksepeare successfully invokes the ‘magic potency of the theatre,’ seeking as Tasso does in his third intermedio in the Aminta to gather up his audience into the art of his play by reminding them of  a reality beyond their own.’ Perhaps the most pastoral of the plays, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream was created in 1595 – for William Stanleys wedding – & includes a passage heady in the language of pastoral myth, which also seems to nod at the early death of Tasso, also in 1595,

The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung
By an Athenian eunuch to the harp.”
We’ll none of that: that have I told my love
In glory of my kinsman Hercules.
“The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals,
Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage.”
That is an old device, and it was played
When I from Thebes came last a conqueror.
“The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of Learning, late deceased in beggary.”

The passage above also makes reference to Hercules, allusions to whom also crop up in the other two early Pastoral comedies, LLL & 2GV. ‘Not that the comedies are the earliest of his plays,’ writes Cody, ‘in which pastoralism appears. In the histories there is at least one important pastoral theme among the cluster of commonplaces concerning Fortune, Nature, & the Prince: it has been termed ‘the rejection of the aspiring mind.’ It is central to the Henry VI trilogy, as witness the scene on Towton Field (2.5); & Shakespeare continues to develop it, more satisfyingly than anywhere perhaps in Henry IV.’ Cody also connects the garden scene of Richard II to the Renaissance habit of observing nature on a divine plane, stating, ‘It is to this aspect of the tradition – a Neo-Platonic landscape of the mind, mythopoeically conceived, as by Tasso in his Aminta – that appears to have been the model for Shakespeare’s orginiative experiments in romantic comedy.’

Shakespeare sketches the Tempest
One word in the play particularly stands out, ‘amazement,’ used in a context as confusion in a labyrinth. This same usage appears in both Venus & Adonis & The Rape of Lucrece, supporting an early date for at least an Ur-Tempest. Gary Schmidgall describes Prospero’s, ‘guiding & moderating task‘ with, ‘Tasso’s old wizard for the mariners, whose reason has been baffled by human frailty, greed & ambition. The mariner’s maze is ultimately of their own making, & Prospero’s project has been to cure them of this ‘affliction’ through the power of reason. Shakespeare’s allegory is the same as Tasso’s: reason (Tasso’s ‘soveraigne part of the minde’) is the only true guide in the labyrinth of human expoerience.’
Shakespeare’s recent brush with Tasso & Pastoralism also worked its way via osmisis into the bellyflesh of The Tempest in the form of the Arcadian romancings of Ferdinand & Mranda.


Butchart, David: The Letters of Alessandro Striggio (in) Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, No. 23 (1990),

Clubb, Louise George – Genre in Torrismondo & Hamlet (in) Shakespeare and the Literary Tradition (1999)

Cody, R : The Landscape of the Mind (1969)

Lawrence, Jason : Tasso’s Art and Afterlives in England: The Gerusalemme Liberata in England (2017)

Leavis, FR:  The Common Pursuit (1952)

Preeshl, Artemis Shakespeare and Commedia dell’Arte: Play by Play (2017 )

Sampson, Lisa : Pastoral Drama (in) A History of Italian Theatre (2006)

Schmidgall, Gary: Shakespeare and the Courtly Aesthetic ( 1981 )

Ward, AW: History of English Dramatic Literature, v2 (1899)

Wiffen, JH: The Life of Tasso (1859)