Shakespeare’s Grand Tour (part 5)


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

The Garland of William Stanley


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



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

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



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


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



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




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




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


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

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