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.


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