The Chisper Effect 10 : Shakespeare’s Grand Tour

    Continuing the weekly serialization of


Damian Beeson Bullen’s


In which a number of the world’s greatest mysteries are finally solved


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Chapter X

The next two chapters of The Chisper Effect concern a rather famous Elizabethan gentleman, an ever-living poet whose inimitable works our senators of history have esteemed shall never die. Most people on the planet have heard of William Shakespeare, with the vast majority of the English-Speaking world having had to sit through at least one of his rather impenetrable plays, while at the same time whimsically gazing through classroom windows to the sunny fields outside. Even so, ‘God comes first,’ declared Heinrich Heine, before adding, ‘but surely Shakespeare comes next,‘ & at some moment in a human’s life there may come a time when they actually get Shakespeare, they finally understand the profound genius of a man who conjured such a sequence of brilliant plays they shall remain in our collected consciousness for eternity.


It is almost universally known that William Shakespeare was born in an obscure little Warwickshire backwater called Stratford-Upon-Avon. One of the greatest pleasures of his story is that the ‘Swan of Avon‘ set out, barely educated, from such a little idyll to end his life’s journey as the greatest genius his native islands had ever, & shall probably forever, produce. More than any other single individual, his natural creativity has improved & modernized the English tongue; while at the same time his uncanny penchant for the dramatic arts invented, fermented & cemented a theatrical tradition still thriving to this day. But it is when searching for the historical Shakespeare that we hit something of a brick wall. During his lifetime, nobody really bothered to ascertain any significant details of Shakespeare’s life. In the Elizabethan era, the art of English ‘biography’ was very much in its infancy, & it is really no great wonder that we know so little about Mr. William Shakespeare, gent.


The first proper attempt to record a biography of Shakespeare was made fifty years after his death, when in the 1660’s John Aubrey included a gossipy sketch in his, ‘Short Lives.’ Another half-century would pass before anybody else tried to flesh out Aubrey’s work, when the poet-laureate-to-be, Nicholas Rowe, took upon himself the task of modernizing Shakespeare into the English of his day. Combining Rowe & Aubrey gives us the bare bones of the historical Shakespeare, which in essence are just a scrappy handful of unlikely anecdotes & second-hand memories, into which we can stitch a few dozen ‘official’ details such as his marriage to Anne Hathaway; the christening records of their three children; legal affidavits; & his famous will. In the official spheres, six of his signatures have been raked up from the ashes of historical beaurocracy, the last of which was scratched loosely upon his will. This last document also contains the only known handwriting we possess in his hand. Even then, this consists of only the four letters of ‘by me,’ or even ‘by mr,’ a scanty authentic sample indeed of our greatest writer’s gargantuan wordsmithery.


Shakespeare spent a great deal of his adult life in London, but upon his death in 1616, at the age of 52, his body was returned home to be buried in Stratford. Seven years after this entombment, thirty-six of his plays were printed together for the first time in a rather large tome known as the First Folio. This brilliantly influential book contains a woodcut engraving which has provided us with the definitive image of the Bard; a balding & bearded man, nestling quite unegregiously in his middle-age. For various errant reasons, this printed testament & definitive image of Shakespeare are said not to be enough to prove he existed. By some obtuse glitch there exists today a rather large & angry mob of academics who, with growing defiance, absolutely & positively deny that William Shakespeare ever composed his own plays.

There are two principle themes behind this chronic conclusion of the Anti-Shakespeareans: the first is a complete lack of any manuscripts in Shakespeare’s hand. Yet, none of the great playwrights of the period left behind any actual manuscripts of their plays: in a time without copyright, these precious reams of paper were jealously guarded & then destroyed by the theaters. It was far better for a play to dwell in the memory of an actor or three, than to fall into the hands of a rival company. The second objection to Shakespeare’s existence comes from an intellectually snobbish attitude prevalent throughout the halls of academe, which assumes that literary genius may only be taught & never be acquired through natural means. From this vulgar stance comes the conclusion that an uneducated country yeoman could not have acquired the intellectual capabilities to produce such a fantastic treasury of writings that constitute Shakespeare’s majestic oeuvre. That is despite the fact that in a 1601 play called The Return from Parnassus (Part II) – when Shakespeare was at the height of his abilities – in a staged dialogue with the actors Richard Burbage, William Kempe compares university playwrights with non-university playwrights, & definitively places Shakespeare among the latter:

Few of ye Vniuersitye men penne plaies well, they smell too much of yat writer Ouid, & yat writer Metamorphoses, & talke too much of Proserpina & Iupiter: why heeres our fellowe Shakspeare putts them all downe, aye and Ben Iohnson too: O yat Ben Iohnson is a pestilent fellowe, hee brought vpp Horace giuing ye poetts a pill; but our fellowe shakespeare hath given him a purge yat made him beraye his credditt.

The case against has not been enough to convince the majority of scholars – & the rest of the world at large – that Shakespeare the man was not also Shakespeare the author. Such defenders of his noble name are known as Stratfordians, while pitted against them are the Anti-Shakesperean non-believers, who go by the name of ‘non-Stratfordians.’ Of this most bitter & increasingly fractious academic battleground, the modern scholar Leo Daugherty, postulates, ‘most of the “warfare” emanates from scholars and critics deeply entrenched in ideology far more than in commitment to good evidence.’ 

The ‘ideology’ mentioned by Daugherty manifests itself as an intellectual world shaking collective & disbelieving heads at Shakespeare’s meteoric rise, combining voices in an open declaration that the works of Shakespeare must have been created by some university-educated nobleman & not the Swan of Avon. This has seen the promulgation of a series of candidates onto which has been deflected more than a century of critical scholarship. Like any of our great world mysteries, a crazed wild-fire has broken out among the pages of our normally rational academics, leaving smoldering charcoal embers which bend & distort the truth about Shakespeare to this day. Contenders for the laurel crown include Christopher Marlowe, despite the fact he was stabbed to death in 1593; making it rather difficult for him to have penned a play such as the Scottish-influenced Macbeth, written to celebrate the succession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne in 1603. Macbeth also contains numerous allusions to the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, and we must note that a year before this – in 1604 – died Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. This starbright gentleman is the main focus of most Anti-Shakespearean scholarship, but he simply could not have written plays such as the Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline & Coriolanus. The latter, for example contains the fable of Menenius as drawn from the ‘Remaines’ of William Camden, which were published in 1605. We can also see De Vere was placed, in 1598, among the great writers of the age alongside Shakespeare, by their contemporary Francis Meres.

The best for Comedy amongst vs bee Edward, Earle of Oxforde, Doctor Gager of Oxforde, Master Rowley, once a rare scholler of learned Pembrooke Hall in Cambridge, Maister Edwardes, one of Her Maiesties Chappell, eloquent and wittie Iohn Lilly, Lodge, Gascoyne, Greene, Shakespeare, Thomas Nash, Thomas Heywood, Anthony Mundye, our best plotter, Chapman, Porter, Wilson, Hathway, and Henry Chettle.

Despite this glaringly obvious separation of Edward De Vere & Shakespeare, by an eye-witness so to speak, the Oxfordians – as this largest pack of Anti-Shakespeareans are more commonly known – have been fiercely advancing the Earl of Oxford’s candidacy for decades. En route, wherever they meet with sound evidence which shows De Vere could never have been William Shakespeare, like tigers cornered in a cave they will thrash out with increasingly bewildering conspiracy theories to negate the challenge to their theories. Somewhere into this mix of baseless conjecture is sometimes tossed a love child of Queen Elizabeth, & I am sure in one strand of the Oxfordian theories Shakespeare was said to have been his own father.

The vita of William Shakespeare is more famous for what it does not contain than what it does. One of the enduring Shakespearean conundrums revolves around the seven-year period between 1585 & 1592, the so-called ‘Lost Years,’ a wilderness of remembrance in which our budding bard might as well have been living on the moon! All we know is that at the beginning of 1585, when his twindownload (2)s were baptized in Stratford, Shakespeare seems nothing but a simple family man. Seven years later, however, he is setting London alight with the first resonant tromp-blasts of his miraculously brilliant plays. The occasion was a rather popular performance of ‘Henry VI’ at the Rose Theatre, dated to the 3rd of March, 1592. Takings for the performance were £3 6sh 8d, outdoing Christopher Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, played in the Rose only the previous week, by almost a full pound. Shakespeare was now the starry darling of the London literary scene, but what journey had he made from rural Stratford for him to have ever become so? Of this curious puzzle, Bill Bryson writes, ‘there is not a more tempting void in literary history, nor more eager hands to fill it.

On first encountering this contentious arena, my instinct was to say I believed what it said on the tin, that Shakespeare had written his own plays. Having looked at a great deal of the available evidence, I am rather inclined to agree with my first instinct, for with a wee waft here & there, when those paper trails of history that have been blown about by the blustery gales of many centuries settle in just the right order, all of a sudden they form a series of cogent patterns to illuminate a path through the murky mists of Shakespeare’s history. Some of the key patterns center upon a certain Lancastrian nobleman called William Stanley, who became the Sixth Earl of Derby in 1594. His feudal demesne was not in Derbyshire, however, but Lancashire, whose ‘capital’ was the palatial stately home at Knowsley, on the outskirts of Liverpool.


In Shakespeare’s day the Derbys were the second family of England, direct descendants of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, through Mary, one of the two sisters of Henry VIII. The elder sister, Margaret, had married into the Stewart line of Scottish kings, whose great-grandchild would eventually inherit the English crown as King James I. Before that momentous occasion of national unification, the Stanleys were the ideological focus of many a plot throughout Elizabeth’s childless reign. But being shrewd operatives & canny northern lads, this noble family never once challenged the hegemony of the Tudors, remaining content enough to lord it over their private kingdom in the North. Instead of plotting for the throne, the Stanleys were content to patronise the dramatic arts, running private troupes of player to perform up & down & all across the land. They even had a private playhouse built at Knowsley, which would have attracted Shakespeare like a moth to a dramaturgical flame. That our bard had been in the vicinity can be observed in the creochisping, money-obsess’d character of Shylock in the Merchant of Venice. He is based, I believe, upon Thomas Sherlock, a coin-counting churchwarden in the Lancashire parish of Prestcott, bordering the Stanley’s estate at Knowsley. The Churchwardens Accounts of Prescott read;

1581: imprimis, receyved bye me, the sed Thomas Sherlock at the handes of the olde churche wardens, ouer theire accountes the last year as appereth bye this booke

1584: item, paid to Thomas Sherlocke for the repairinge of the olde slate upon the sowth syde of the church

In his younger years William Stanley undertook an epic tour of Europe just at the commencement of the Shakespearean ‘Lost Years.’ According to the ‘History of the House of Stanley,’ by John Seacome, the good folk of Lancashire were addicted to his, ‘whole travels, martial exploits, and bravery abroad, which this county (especially) gives us many large accounts, as well in story, as song, and frequently made themselves merry therewith.’ The thing is, if we were to place Shakespeare in the company of Stanley on his continental tour, it is singularly remarkable how much of the Shakespearean oeuvre begins to fit snugly into the minute nooks & crannies of the Stanleyan Grand Tour. Actualizing Shakespeare in the entourage of Stanley begins within the rustic pipings of an obscure ballad called ‘The Garland of William Stanley.’ Anonymously penned, it was printed in the 18th century, a ‘garland,’ or collection, of stanzas telling the story of Stanley’s Continental wanderlust. The poetry of the Garland is not the finest, falling far below the standard of even the most ordinary of broadside ballads; but what it lacks in beauty of language is more than made up for by geographical & historical content. The story it tells is more a montage of three separate journeys; Stanley’s first in 1582-1584 with his tutor Richard Lloyd, the second between 1585-87 with Shakespeare, & a third in the early 1590s, just before he became the Sixth Earl.


The Garland explains how Stanley conducted a twenty-one year tour of the Continent (a clear exaggeration) via France, Spain, Italy, Rome & the mountainous Alpine parts of southern Germany known as ‘High Germany.’ Stanley then went to North Africa, visiting Egypt, Algeria & Morocco, before sweeping back north to meet the famous Elizabethan magus, John Dee, at the court of the Russian Emperor. Another grand sweep would see Stanley returning to the Mediterranean once again, in order to tour the Near East. After conducting the obligatory pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he found himself imprisoned in Constantinople for blasphemy against Mohammed. After his release, at the behest of an infatuated Turkish woman, Stanley moved up to the frozen north, where he became stranded upon the island of Greenland. Fortuitously rescued by a whale-ship, he would eventually be dropp’d off in Holland, from where he boarded a boat for England & his homecoming at Lathom Hall in Lancashire. I think it hardly a coincidence that in every place Stanley visited in the Garland – Greenland aside – we can site one or more of Shakespeare’s continental scenes, with the only exception being the Elsinore of Hamlet.


Shakespeare’s own continental ‘ticket’ would been paid for by the wealthy Stanley. These ‘Grand Tours’ were partaken only by the very rich, in particular young aristocrats wanting to complete their education by visiting foreign ‘academes’ & basking in the natural beauties of the Continent; whether it be the delights of scenic scenes, or the bosom of some pretty damsel. That Shakespeare accompanied Stanley should appease the Anti-Shakespeareans, for foreign travel alongside a man of noble birth would have furnish’d Shakespeare’s brain with all the courtly mores, continental languages & classical scholarship our poet would ever need to create his masterpieces. Looking into the Italian plays in particular, one cannot help but notice Shakespeare’s attention to topographical & cultural details. By placing Stanley & Shakespeare together readily explains how the Bard would have gained such an impressive love for Italy. His journey up to, throughout, & beyond that golden land I shall now present in a neat, chronological & hopefully unclutter’d fashion. As we journey alongside William Shakespeare & William Stanley, in the absence of any external evidence their Grand Tour, it is in the internal evidence of his writings, as ascertained thro’ the Chisper Effect, that we are able to trace the route of the most important adventure in the history of the English language.

Shakespeare joins the retinue of the Earl of Derby

In the chilly late January of 1585, Shakespeare’s twins, Hamnet & Judith arrived in the world. They were baptized in Stratford on the 2nd February, 1585, but Shakespeare was not present – & probably missed the birth. All we can do is pin him to April 1584, when he conceived the twins with his wife, Anne. By the time they were born, Shakespeare had found himself a very minor station in the grand retinue of William Stanley’s father, the 4th Earl of Derby, who was readying himself for a trip to Paris. His mission was to present the French King with the Order of the Garter on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, one of only 26 – no more, no less – noble investees of the a tradition founded by Edward III in 1348, & religiously maintain’d by Elizabeth.

There are several manuscripts extant which contain a list of the leading members of the Earl’s retinue, together with numbers for their anonymous, un-named staff. Among the names we may observe;

Sir Richard Shireburn, treasurer – 3
Sir Randulp Brereton of Malpas – 6
Thomas Arderne, steward – 2
William Fox, comptroller -1
Stanley of Chelsea – 2

We may notice here the presence of Thomas Arderne, the cousin of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary, while William Stanley appears as Stanley of Chelsea. On & off, throughout his entire life, Stanley did indeed live in the fashionable parts of West London.

Shakespeare in Paris

As Shakespeare crossed the English Channel, he would have gazed wide-eyed with wonder at the Earl’s fleet as it flew across the choppy green waters to France. After making footfall upon foreign shores, we can follow his first steps abroad via a contemporary record of the Garter procession through France;

7th February : The Earl of Derby… is coming to bring the Garter to this king. He has disembarked at Bolounge with a great following of English nobles, & is to be lodged, & apparently splendidly entertained, by the king
Bernardino de Mendoza

21st February : The Earl of Derby arrived at Saint Denis. He was sent by the Queen of England to bear the garter to the most Christian king. Lord Derby stayed two days at St Denis, & on the third day he took the roads with all his company, which consists of two other lords, fifty gentleman, & others to the number of two hundred
Giovanni Dolfin


Once in Paris, the Fourth Earl (see image left) & his party took up residence at the Louvre, bedazzling the French nobility with the extravagance & magnificence of his embassy. On the 28th February, the Order of the Garter would be finally handed over with much ceremony to Henri III, of which occasion Elias Ashmole wrote, ‘on the day of Installation, there hath from ancient time been accustomably prepared, a very sumptuous & noble Feast.’ The young Shakespeare must have been blown away by the experience, his ears swelling with the florid language & sickly pomp of such grandiose, courtly affairs. It must have been a moment of creative epiphany, for during his career all but one of his plays (Merry Wives of Windsor) would be set in an aristocratic environment. Our young poet would also have wondered at the sheer extravagance of the Earl of Derby, but the truth of the matter is that such spectacular showboating was actually bleeding the Earl dry, who was pretty much doing the whole thing on bills of credit. By Paris he had spent-up, of which circumstance Sir Edward Stafford wrote to Walsingham, ‘at their coming to town they had not a hundred crowns left, & no other provision.’

MARCH 1585
Stanley & Shakespeare embark on their continental tour

In our noble sanguinities, being the second son of an aristocratic family generally means you are left to your own devices, to enjoy a life of luxury without the pressure to carry on the family name & lands. In Elizabethan England, many of these privileged young libertines traveled extensively across Europe, & Stanley was no different. The Queen had encouraged such tours, when in her own words, ‘young men of promising hopes’ such as the Earl of Essex & Phillip Sydney did travel through, ‘foreign countries for the more complete polishing of their Parts & Studies.’ Stanley was no different, he had already toured the Continent once, in 1582-83 & was going back for more. With him went the 21 year-old Shakespeare. Perhaps the elder Stanleys had recognized the young poet’s talents & suggested that this promising youngster should accompany Stanley on his educational trip to the continent.

To actually be out of gloomy England & heading for sunnier climes & all the pristine culture of Europa would have felt as wonderful to Shakespeare as it does to any modern Briton holidaying abroad. Such a moment of liberating freedom would later be remembered by Shakespeare;

Believe me, sir, had I such venture forth,
The better part of my affections would
Be with my hopes abroad. I should be still
Plucking the grass to know where sits the wind,
Peering in maps for ports and piers and roads.
The Merchant of Venice

The Grand Tour was flooding into the young Shakespeare’s life when, as The Garland of William Stanley describes, the optimum reason for such a continental sojurn was the study of various languages;

Then first Sir William travell’d to France,
To learn the French tongue and to dance;
He tarried there not past three years,
But he learnt their language and all their affairs.

And then Sir William would travel to Spain,
There for to learn the Spanish tongue;

Placing Shakespeare with Stanley at this time helps us to understand how our dramatist in years to come was able to read a number of source-texts in their original form. Most of these were translated into English long after Shakespeare had utilised them for the plots of his plays, such as the Hecatommithi of Cinthio (the inspiration of Measure for Measure), translated into English as late as 1753.

MARCH 1585
Shakespeare visits the Ardennes

Nicholas Rowe once stated it was certain that Shakespeare, ‘understood French, as may be observ’d from many Words and Sentences scatter’d up and down his Plays in that Language; and especially from one Scene in Henry the Fifth written wholly in it.’ In that scene, where Katherine says, in pretty good French, ‘Alice, tu as été en Angleterre, et tu parles bien le langage,’ Alice replies, ‘un peu.’ It is Shakespeare’s knowledge of that language which would have made life much easier for our party as they traversed the primeval forest of the Ardennes between Paris & Antwerp. This very region turns up in Shakespeare’s As You Like it, where the ‘Forest of Arden’ is set in an un-named duchy of France. The play contains a wrestling match at a tournament, mirroring Thomas Aspen’s description of William Stanley’s travels in which our Grand Tourist, ‘took laurels in many of the chief tournaments.’ From both Aspen & the Garland we see Stanley immersing himself in the social swirls of Continental courts. A memory of this happenstance was recorded by Shakespeare himself;

Twere good, I think, your lordship sent him thither:
There shall he practise tilts and tournaments,
Hear sweet discourse, converse with noblemen.
And be in eye of every exercise
Worthy his youth and nobleness of birth.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Returning to As You Like It, this pastoral describes a certain Rosalind dressing up as a boy-child called ‘Ganymede,’ a figure that Shakespeare drew from classical mythology. Legend states how the baby Ganymede had been abducted by Jupiter in the guise of an eagle. This very motif was chosen by the Stanleys to decorate their family’s noble crest, & placing the emblem in As You Like It seems a clear nod by Shakespeare to his patrons.


APRIL 1585
Shakespeare witnesses the Siege of Antwerp

Among the gentlemen waiters who traveled to France in the Earl’s retinue, we may observe a 13-year-old John Donne, who was destined to enter the leading ranks of the English poetic pantheon. Modern scholar Dennis Flynn shows how Donne’s uncle, Jasper Heywood, was a leading Jesuit missionary, & in the anti-Catholic atmosphere of that age, ‘he & his sister, Donne’s mother, seemingly conspired to get him out of harm’s way by arranging this trip to the continent as a member of the ambassador’s retinue,’ adding, ‘since Donne did not return to England with the Earl in March 1585, the most plausible explanation for his turning up later in Derby’s household is that at some point he joined the Earl’s son William Stanley on the continent.’ There may be more to the Jesuit connection, for Edmund Campion, their chief English activator, was given safe houses in Lancashire, whose nobility were very far from accepting the Protestant reformation as instigated by Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII. Other pro-Catholic clues include Shakespeare’s teacher at school, Simon Hunt, leaving Stratford for the English College at Douay in order to be trained a Jesuit, while Shakespeare’s father had signed & hidden a Catholic testament in his house rafters in Stratford.


We may presume that our gallant young Englishmen swaggering about the continent had at least some kind of sympathy to Catholicism, & that Jasper Heywood’s nephew, the young John Donne was welcome in their company. According to Flynn, Donne was present at the 1585 siege of Antwerp as conducted by the Duke of Parma. Flynn insists that Donne reflected upon his time at the siege in a set of ‘Latin Epigrams’ which were composed, ‘during a period datable by their contents to April or May 1585.’ Flynn cites additional evidence in a poem by Donne’s, entitled ‘To Sleep, stealling upon him as he stood upon the Guard in the corner of a running Trench, at the siege of Duke’s-Wood,’ which includes the lines;

Our very standing still here business finde;
Duty imploys our bodies, cares our minde.
Duty which may the next hour double strike;
Whilst each man here stands grasping of a pike;
Waitings stoln onsets with our weary spears,
Examining even whispers with our ears.

Perhaps Stanley was observing the siege in order to gain an education in military affairs. Despite tensions between England & Spain, Stanley’s Catholicism & noble breeding would have ensured a friendly reception from the Duke of Parma.

JUNE 1585
Shakespeare visits Nerac

In the summer of 1585, Shakespeare accompanied Stanley – & Donne – into the kingdom of Navarre, which stretched across both sides of the Pyrenees like a blanket drying on a wall. On arrival they received an excellent welcome, for Stanley’s father had befriended Henri of Navarre in their youth. Shakespeare’s own time in the kingdom would heavily influence his composition of Love’s Labours Lost. Set in Navarre itself, Abel Lefranc describes that play’s, ‘easy familiarity with the atmosphere reigning at the court of Navarre… the Park of Navarre… is easily identifiable with the park of Nerac.’ The town of Nerac lies in south-west France, near Toulouse, in which place Henri of Navarre had installed a humanist academy whose academic atmosphere permeates the poetry of Love’s Labours Lost. In this charming play we encounter the austere intellectual endeavors of four young men completely rattled by the arrival of the Princess of France, when all pretensions of mental asceticism soon descend into glib rounds of love-gifts, sonnets & masques. The very start of Love’s Labours Lost shows the state of mind of four young men whose ebullient language bubbles with the deepest passion for scholarship. It is a charming read;

ACT I SCENE I. The king of Navarre’s park;

Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live register’d upon our brazen tombs
And then grace us in the disgrace of death;
When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,
The endeavor of this present breath may buy
That honour which shall bate his scythe’s keen edge
And make us heirs of all eternity.
Therefore, brave conquerors,–for so you are,
That war against your own affections
And the huge army of the world’s desires,–
Our late edict shall strongly stand in force:
Navarre shall be the wonder of the world;
Our court shall be a little Academe,
Still and contemplative in living art.
You three, Biron, Dumain, and Longaville,
Have sworn for three years’ term to live with me
My fellow-scholars, and to keep those statutes
That are recorded in this schedule here


The three years that Stanley spent on the continent (1585-1587) are a direct match for the three-year course of study planned by the play’s principle character, Ferdinand; alongside Biron, Dumain, and Longaville, two of whom are perhaps metapoetic reflections of Shakespeare & Donne. Indeed, when Biron says, ‘study is like the heaven’s glorious sun,’ we can sense the importance Shakespeare attached to his time in Nerac.

AUGUST 15858
Shakespeare visits Spain

After leaving Nerac, Shakespeare would have ascended the myriad-mountain’d Pyrenees; those gorgeous rocky giants abutting the beautiful, sierra-swept lands of Spain.

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

That Shakespeare was with Stanley has been half-noticed by Sir Henry Thomas. Of the ‘Tawny Spain’ phrase found in Love’s Labour’s Lost, he declares it, ‘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. I such it really was, the trip to Spain might be a youthful escapade.’ Shakespeare seems to have understood the rudiments of the Spanish tongue, with Sir Henry stating; ‘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.’ Learning Spanish enabled Shakespeare to study its literature, such as the 1585 edition of La Galatea by Cervantes, containing the Proteus-Julia-Sylvia love triangle, which would later inspire The Two Gentlemen of Verona.


There are also tantalizing remembrances of Donne’s own visit to Spain. Upon a portrait of the young poet, painted in 1591, we may see the phrase; ‘Antes muerto que mudado,’ whose translation as ‘sooner dead than changed’ could well contain a secret nod to his Roman Catholicism. Donne may have picked up the phrase at first hand while in Spain, & while there stocked up on books for his personal library. In his middle-age, in 1623, Donne wrote a letter to the Duke of Buckingham confessing, ‘in my poore library I can turn my eye toward no shelf, in any profession from the mistress of my youth, Poetry, to the wife of mine age, Divinity, but that I meet with more authors of the {Spanish} nation than of any others.’

Shakespeare begins Venus & Adonis

Like any good tourist, Shakespeare availed himself of the opportunities to wander foreign caches of culture. While visiting the Court of King Phillip II in Madrid, he would observe two paintings by the great Italian renaissance painter, Titian. Their names were The Rape of Lucrece and Venus & Adonis, & the substance of each one would be utilised by Shakespeare for two long poems printed in the early 1590s. It seems our poet was inspired to begin the composition of at least ‘Venus & Adonis’ almost immediately, for on its publication in 1593, on the title page Shakespeare calls the poem ‘the first heir of my invention.’ A key factor in placing Shakespeare directly in front of & staring at Titian’s painting can be observed in the poet’s rejection of Ovid’s version of events, & his following of Titian instead. Like Shakespeare’s depiction, the painting has Adonis backing away from the advances of Venus, shirking Ovid’s portrayal of the young god happily embracing his bonnie suitor. ‘Fie, lifeless picture, cold and senseless stone, Well-painted idol,‘ says Venus, who around the neck of Adonis, ‘her yoking arms she throws: She sinketh down, still hanging by his neck.‘ This is just as is pictorially described by Titian, as is Shakespeare having Adonis ‘urging release… from the twining arms.’  Shakespeare also appears to be mirroring the painting when he writes, ‘O, what a war of looks was then between them!’ 

More evidence that Shakespeare saw the painting & wanted to recreate the story it told in words comes within the poem itself. Erwin Panofsky, in his, ‘Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographical,‘ writes, ‘Shakespeare’s words, down to such details as the nocturnal setting and “love upon her backe deeply distrest,” sound like a poetic paraphrase of Titian’s composition,’ & gives stanza 136 as a good example;

With this he breaketh from the sweet embrace
Of those faire armes which bound him to her brest,
And homeward through the dark lawnd runs apace;
Leaves love upon her backe, deeply distrest.
Looke, how a bright star shooteth from the skye,
So glides he in the night from Venus’s eye.


The poem is very much moulded by homoerotica, suggesting Shakespeare had been seduced by Stanley on their Grand Tour. On analysis of the poem, we may observe how Venus – who would be based on Stanley – is rather more humanized than one would expect of a member of the immortal pantheon. The poem could in actuality be a versified memorial to Stanley & his sexual overtures towards the younger, twenty-two year old, Adonis-like Shakespeare. Evidence for such a sequence of events may be obtained through understanding the Elizabathan tendency to name one another via ingenious allusions.

(i) In the poem, Venus says to Adonis; ‘Art thou obdurate, flinty, hard as steel? Nay, more than flint, for stone at rain relenteth: Art thou a woman’s son, and canst not feel what ’tis to love? How want of love tormenteth?’
(ii) In 1597, a young Cambridge graduate named Joseph Hall published two books of satires in which he marks out for especial criticism a certain ‘Labeo,’ telling him to ‘write better’ three times, & at one point to even refrain from writing completely.
(iii) In 1598, John Marston wrote, ‘so Labeo did complain his love was stone, Obdurate, flinty, so relentless none.’ This hints that Labeo was the same person as Shakespeare’s Venus – ie William Stanley. At this very period, John Marston was heavily involved with Stanley in reviving the St Paul’s Boys troupe, & would have acquired an intimate insight into the secret Stanley-Shakespeare affections.
(iv) In 1599, we gain rock solid evidence concerning Stanley’s mediocre, playwrighting pretensions. In a letter which George Fenner sent to Humphrey Galdelli, Stanley was said to be, ‘busy penning plays for the common players.’ These were most probably The Maid’s Metamorphosis and The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll, two ‘anonymous’ productions performed in 1599 by the St Paul’s Boys. Both of these are inferior productions of the Elizabethan tradition, & may be among the pieces criticized by Joseph Hall when he attacked the writings of ‘Labeo.’



Stanley duels with a Spaniard

With the Armada only three years away, to be an Englishman in Spain in 1585 must have been a very tense experience. Relations between the two countries were steadily souring, a background against which our party found themselves into quite a scrape. Thomas Aspen describes how Stanley; ‘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.‘ This would not be the last time a bunch of (probably drunk) English tourists got themselves into a spot of bother in Spain, but having survived the fracas it was definitely time to hop-it out of a country growing more & more hostile by the hour.

Shakespeare passes through Aragon

More gloss to the Stanleyan grand tour is given via John Seacome’s ‘History of the House of Stanley,’ to which edition of 1801 was attached an anonymous appendix entitled ‘A Brief Account of the Travels of the Celebrated Sir William Stanley.’ This pamphlet contains new material, & tells us that following his duel in Spain, Stanley predicted ‘the vengeance of the whole court would fall upon him‘ & so purchased the habit of a friar in order to flee in disguise. While they made their way through Aragon with ‘considerable hardships,’ I believe Shakespeare took down a series of notes which would find a home in the extremely popular 17th century play, Mucedorus. The earliest known edition is dated to the year 1598; but the words, ‘newly set foorth,’ on the title page indicate there was an earlier performance. The plot has a certain Prince of Valencia disguising himself as a shepherd so he can sneak into Aragon in order to view its famously beautiful Princess, a sequence of events which heavily echo Stanley’s own travels in the district. That Shakespeare had actually had a hand in the writing of the play came to light in the 17th century, when three scripts were found in the royal library of Charles II, bound together & labelled ‘Shakespeare. Vol. I’. These were Fair Em, The Merry Devil of Edmonton & a 1610 quarto printing of Mucedorus.

Shakespeare crosses the French Riviera

After the sojurn in Spain, the Garland tells us, ‘to Italy then Sir William would go, To Rome.’ It is apparent that our intrepid poetical gentlemen took the land route, for on leaving the gorgeous sierras of Spain they must have passed through Roussillon, which makes an appearance in All’s Well That Ends Well. This region stands at the start of the French Riviera, while further along the coast we reach the sprawling sea-port of Marseille, another of All’s Well’s localities. This same play is also set in the city of Florence, Italy, & one expects Alls Well to be some kind of metapoetic tribute to Shakespeare’s journey in 1585, one that swept him along the French Riviera & into northern Italy.

Shakespeare in Italy

It is time to proceed with joy unto the Italian peninsular, the greatest of all the Shakespearean hauntlands. It is in this famous ‘Paradise of Exiles,’ that Shakespeare would set more than a quarter of his plays, such as the seminal classic, Romeo & Juliet. Italy & Shakespeare are like pasta & wine – they go together so darned well. A great deal of their connections were unearthed by an amiable Californian, Richard Paul Roe, who sadly departed this world in 2010. The last twenty-five years of his life were spent wandering about Italy with a well-thumbed copy of Shakespeare in his hands, hunting down clues as to whether the Bard had visited the country. To say his efforts were a success are a clear understatement, the Indian Jones of Shakespearean studies, he dug out & polished many prime artefacts, concluding;

The ‘imaginary’ settings for the ten Italian plays of Shakespeare have presented both specific, and strikingly accurate, details about that country, as a result of dedicated sojourns within it by the playwright. The author’s journeys took him from its Alpine slopes to the toe of its peninsula, across the length and breadth of its great island of Sicily, and included sailing trips on both the adjoining Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas. For the last four hundred years, nearly all of the playwright’s descriptions of Italy’s places and treasures have either gone unrecognized as being true, or have been dismissed as mistaken.

Italy burned an indelible mark into Shakespeare’s creative consciousness, & throughout his works we find over a hundred scenes set in that country, alongside 800 general other references. A great study of these was made by another Bard-in-Italy aficionado, Ernesto Grillo, a 20th century teacher & lecturer of Italian studies at Glasgow University, & absolute Shakespeare nut. After a lifetime of lectures, one of his students assembled Grillo’s copious notes into a book entitled Shakespeare and Italy. Published in 1949, it quotes Grillo in conclusion:

Italy with its public and private life, its laws and customs, its ceremonial and other characteristics, pulsates in every line of our dramatist, while the atmosphere of many scenes is Italian in the truest sense of the word. We cannot but wonder how Shakespeare obtained such accurate information, and we have no hesitation in affirming that on at least one occasion he must have visited Italy

This ‘one occasion,’ was in the company of Stanley. ‘Open my heart and you will see / Graved inside of it, ‘Italy!’’ sang Robert Browning, & it makes perfect sense that our budding Bard would have visited the land of Virgil, Dante, Petrach & Tasso, for it is the Italian influence that raises English poetry to its highest pitch.

The Levant Company launch five ships from London

To promote the trade of Elizabethan England, the Company of Merchants of the Levant was formed in order to take advantage of the declining international trade of both the Portuguese & the Venetian empires. The Company established ‘factories’ in the Syrian city of Aleppo (its headquarters), Constantinople, Alexandria and Smyrna. They also commissioned a small fleet of five ships to trade in the Near East, but at the very moment they were ready to embark, in November 1585, Phillip II of Spain declared war on England. This forced the Company to heavily arm the ships; the 300 ton galleon Merchant Royal, the William and John, the Toby, the Susan and the 300 ton armed merchant galleon Edward Bonaventure. They sailed later in the month, & we shall see in a short while how important this little fleet is to the unwritten history of William Shakespeare.

Piazza Ognissanti
Piazza Ognissanti

Shakespeare in Florence

Like any poet of substance, Shakespeare’s soul would have been fired up for his first visit to Florence; the home of Dante and a true diamond among the many jeweled delights of Tuscany. Florence is a veritable beauty to behold, especially when observed from its heights, when the weighty Duomo rises out of a sea of orange rooves like some volcanic, Polynesian island. Shakespeare would set several scenes of Alls Well that Ends Well in the city, while an accurate knowledge of Florence & the Florentines is heavily evident in other plays. In Alls Well (3-5) we hear, ‘if they do approach the City, We shall lose all the sight,’ a statement elucidated by Roe’s, ‘the ‘City’ in question is an area to north of the Arno, where stood the walled Roman colony of Florentia.’ Roe also pinpointed the description of a religious hostelry situated ‘at the Saint Francis here beside the port.’ On investigation, Roe discovered that the ‘Saint Francis’ in question was, ‘the ancient name of Piazza Ognissanti, where the Chiesa di Ognissanti (Church of All Saints), belonged to the Franciscans since 1561.’ To this we may add the findings of Ernesto Grillo who describes how Shakespeare knew, ‘the Florentines were notable merchants and mathematicians, making frequent use in their commerce of letters of credit and counting their money by ducats; and he was also aware that they were constantly in conflict with the Sienese. And here the poet uses a phrase which is pure Italian–The Florentines and the Sienese are by the ear (si pigliano per gli orecchi).’

While in Florence, Shakespeare would have connected on a spiritual & artistic level with the great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, perhaps even visiting his natal house which still stands to this day. It would have been a grand changing of the Parnassian baton, for Dante’s contribution to world literature is the brilliant Divine Comedy, a most beautiful epic poem through which the poet explored Hell, Purgatory & Heaven, embroidered by some of the most sublimely beautiful language. So gorgeous were his words, in fact, that when the fragmented Italian principalities were searching for a national language; out of the many dialects on offer it was Dante’s Tuscan that won the day. In the same fashion, Shakespeare’s influence over the English language has been equally meritorious, for there is something about a song sung on the highest slopes of Parnassus that reverberates along the tongues of a poet’s fellow countrymen for forever & a day.


Shakespeare visits Rome

In 1586, the Eternal City was a shadow of the epic metropolis of the Ceasars, but would have still held the same charm & fascination as it does to the tourist of today. ‘Of the ground contained within the walls,’ remarked Shakespeare’s contemporary, William Thomas, ‘scarcely the third part is now inhabited, and that not where the beauty of Rome hath been but for the most part on the plain to the waterside and in the Vatican, because that since the Bishops began to reign every man hath coveted to build as near the court as might be. Nevertheless, those streets and buildings that are there at this time are so fair that I think no city doth excel it.’ For Stanley, a visit to the Italian capital was one he would have truly relish’d, whose Vatican City would have been a most soulful draw for our pro-papal party. In England, in 1585, it was a treasonous offence to be or even harbor a Catholic priest; while a £20 fine was given to anybody who failed to attend a protestant service. As our party wandered the streets of Rome, they would have been overjoyed to step into any church they liked, to worship their version of Jesus in the open.

Shakespeare begins Titus Andronicus

Stanley & Shakespeare would have delighted in seeing the ruins of the ancient city, which according to the Brief Account reflected Stanley’s, ‘credit on his taste.’ It was on these walks that Shakespeare’s creative connection to Rome was forged, as seen in his four Roman Plays; Julius Ceasar, Anthony & Cleopatra, Coriolanus & Titus Andronicus. While wandering the remains of the Forum & the Colosseum, already 15 centuries old, Shakespeare’s innate enthusiasm would have been fired into tackling themes of grand antiquity. Of these, it is the play Titus Andronicus that he began in earnest, perhaps even on the spot, a brutally violent revenge play in the style of the Roman dramatist Seneca. Most poets have several pieces going on at any one time, & when in the early 20th century, the epic Shakespearean scholar Walter Raleigh says, ‘his early play of Titus Andronicus, which is like the poems,‘ we obtain a feeling that Shakespeare was writing a proto-Titus at the same time as penning Venus & Adonis. Philip C Koln has observed a ‘close kinship’ between the two, where ‘both Titus & Venus contain rape (or attempted rape), Ovidian in origin, transformations, heavily embellished poetry to express the deepest physical & psychic wounds, the curse of doomed love, & the powerlessness of gods & goddesses to protect.’

It had not been so long since Shakespeare had stood in the Alcazar gazing deeply at the brushwork of Titian’s Rape of Lucrece. As he combobulated his new play, Lucrece’s enforced ravishment became the inspiration for a similar rape. Indeed in Titus, as the sexually molested and mutilated Lavinia reveals the identity of her rapists, her uncle Marcus invokes the story of Lucrece in order to invoke an oath of vengeance;

And swear with me—as, with the woeful fere
And father of that chaste dishonoured dame,
Lord Junius Brutus swore for Lucrece’ rape
That we will prosecute by good advice
Mortal revenge upon these traitorous Goths,
And see their blood, or die with this reproach

On an allegorical level, in her excellent book, Shadowplay, Clare Asquith notes how the rape of Lavinia seems to represent English Catholocism in the early 1580s. This would have been an appropriate choice of metaphor, reinforced by Lavinia’s lopped off hands, reflecting the Catholic inability to worship freely in Elizabethan England. In the wake of the Tudor Reformation, Asquith reminds us, ‘the faces, arms & attributes of thousands of images of the Madonna & the saints were still being mutilated in exactly this way all over England; some of them, faces slashed & hands removed, still remain in parish churches.’ Such hidden, pro-Catholic layers would have resonated powerfully with a sympathetic 16th century audience. ‘A related similarity between Tamora & Elizabeth is inescapable,’ writes Asquith, & it is through Titus’s hidden Catholic layer that she finds an allusion to events of the year directly preceding that in which Shakespeare began writing the play, ‘In 1585,’ states Asquith, ‘Richard Shelley… was imprisoned for presenting a petition for toleration, dying later in jail without trial. The demented Titus accosts a simple countryman & asks him to deliver a letter that… also contains a weapon… a knife – a hint at the barbed attacks contained in the appeals. The message is twice called a ‘supplicatio.’ For running this errand, the poor clown, who delivers the letter with a cheerful invocation to God & the martyr St Stephen, is hanged on the spot.’

That Titus was Shakespeare’s first dramatic production seems cryptically embedded in the play itself. The plot has no historical basis, but the name of its chief character seems based upon Livius Andronicus, a Roman poet & dramatist of the third century BC, also known as Titus. The Roman writer Livy describes how Livius Andronicus had been an inspired dramaturgical innovator, who ‘was the first, some years later, to abandon saturae and compose a play with a plot. Like everyone else in those days, he acted his own pieces; and the story goes that when his voice, owing to the frequent demands made upon it, had lost its freshness, he asked and obtained the indulgence to let a boy stand before the flautist to sing the monody, while he acted it himself, with a vivacity of gesture that gained considerably from his not having to use his voice. From that time on actors began to use singers to accompany their gesticulation, reserving only the dialogue parts for their own delivery.’ It would have been apt for a forward-thinking playwright to name his first play after a similar-minded dramatist of the past, & a nod to the Roman may be seen in the cutting off of Lavinia’s tongue, mirroring the mute dramaturgy as utilised & made famous by Livius Andronicus.

Most scholarship agrees that Titus Andronicus was only co-authored by Shakespeare; there are clear discrepancies in style & vocabulary rippling all throughout the text. The earliest commentary on the play’s origins, made by Edward Ravenscroft in 1687, describes Titus as, ‘the most incorrect and indigested piece in all his Works; It seems rather a heap of Rubbish then a Structure.’ This creative jumbling forwards Stanley as a candidate for co-authorship, that Titus was the product of a collaboration between our erstwhile, literary-minded travelers. Stanley, of course, was a good old Lancashire lad, who would have spoken in that broad, Elysium-dripping accent of the North, & his presence during the penning of Titus which would account for its numerous dialectical idoms, such as; blowse, brabble, brat, caterwauling, chaps, codding, egall, faire-fast, gald, leere, luls, ruffle, slonke, tawnt, trull & welkin. That Stanley was involved in the creation of Titus would also help to explain why his family’s private troupe of players were the first to perform the play. When it was printed in 1594 – the year Stanley became the Earl of Derby – the title page of the first quarto edition reads; ‘as it was Plaide by the Right Honourable the Earle of Darbie, Earle of Pembrooke, and Earle of Suffox their Seruants.’

Shakespeare in Padua

Shakespeare’s knowledge of the fair city of Padua, perched upon those perfect plains of north Italy, transcends anything he could have acquired through bookish lore. In the Taming of the Shrew, where Biondello says, ‘my master hath appointed me to go to Saint Luke’s, to bid the priest be ready to come against you come with your appendix,’ Paul Roe tracked down the actual church, declaring it to be the Saint Luke’s Church of via Venti Settembre 22. Only a stone’s throw away, Roe was delighted to pass through the arched Porta Barbarigo & straight into Act I, Scene I of the Shrew; with its waterway, landing place and wide open space with clustering buildings. That Shakespeare stayed in the city just feels right; Padua was home to one of the greatest universities of the Renaissance, & a trip to such an academic environment fits in with Stanley’s intellectual itinerary. At the time of their visit, the majority of Europe’s greatest medical doctors & teachers were based in Padua, & a period of erudition in the city by the young Shakespeare helps account for the high level of medical knowledge in his plays. An example comes in Love’s Labour’s Lost, when Holferness states;

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

This passage shows a remarkable insight into the obscure biological material known as the ‘pia mater,’ a Latin term for the inner lining or membrane of the brain and spinal cord, along with its neurological connections to the brain’s activities. The key to the conundrum comes with an English physician known as William Harvey (1578-1657), the first man to describe to the English the processes of the circulation of the blood about the body. His book, De Motu Cordis, was published in 1628, yet Shakespeare was hinting at this very process decades before, where 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.’ How on earth could Shakespeare & Harvey both have obtained this select & secret knowledge? The answer can only be at Padua, whose university Harvey entered in 1592. While there he developed a relationship with Hieronymus Fabricius of Acquapendente, who had held the chair of Medicine and Anatomy at the time of Stanley’s visit. Back in the 1570s, Fabricius had discovered that veins possessed valves which kept the blood flowing in the direction of the heart, & one expects that is was in his private lectures that men like Shakespeare would have first heard of the pia mater & the circulation of the blood.

Shakespeare in Lombardy


Being now at the beating heart of the Veneto Plain we find ourselves within striking distance of several more of Shakespeare’s Italian plays. Of these productions, his most famous is Romeo & Juliet, which sees the Montagues & Capulets playing out their tragic feud in Verona & Mantua, while The Two Gentlemen of Verona, is set in, well, Verona. These two cities, along with Milan, are sited in what Shakespeare accurately describes as ‘fruitful Lombardy, the pleasant garden of great Italy.’ That Shakespeare spent time in Mantua is hinted at in The Winter’s Tale, where he describes Queen Hermione’s statue as; ‘a piece many years in doing and now newly perform’d by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom.‘ Julio Romano was actually famous for being a painter, not a sculptor, but in Vasari’s Lives of Seventy of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, we are given two (now-lost) Latin epitaphs on Romano which confirm his status as both sculptor & a painter! Such obscure & minute details like these only serve to reinforce Shakespeare’s personal observations of his time in Italy.

We have previously seen through Shakespeare’s creation of Venus & Adonis how the great art of Europe inspired our impressionable young poet. Likewise, we may also assume that he saw a famous painting by Correggio while visiting Milan. From 1585, the Jupiter and Io was exhibited in the palace of the sculptor, Leoni, of which viewing experience Shakespeare writes, ‘we’ll show thee Io as she was a maid / And how she was beguiled and surpris’d / As lively painted as the deed was done.’ While in Milan, Shakespeare certainly discovered the city’s Well of St Gregory, for he understood that it was a burial pit for plague victims, rather than a water-storage unit. To these Milanese connections we can add another observation, this time made by Grillo, who writes; ‘despite being 100 miles from the coast, the city of Bergamo, near Milan, produced sails. In the Taming of the Shrew, Vincentio says to Tranio,Thy father! O villain! He is a sailmaker in Bergamo.’

The legacy of Romeo & Juliet has had, in Verona, a most profound effect. Every day sees a new set of star-crossed lovers arrive in the city to take a bubble-bath in its lake of wistful romanticism. Close to the imagined site of Juliet’s Balcony, explosions of graffiti & notes cover the walls on a daily basis, leading to the irate & rather staid Veronese authorities instigating 500 euro fines to anyone who stick notes up with chewing gum! Another Shakespeare-induced visitor to Verona, Paul Roe, was not looking for love, however, but was drawn there by the a singular passage in Romeo & Juliet, which contained a very distinctive topographical clue;

Madam, an hour before the worshipped sun
Peered forth the golden window of the East,
roes-verona-sycamoresA troubled mind drove me to walk abroad,
Where, underneath the grove of sycamore
That westward rooteth from the city’s side,
So early walking did I see your son

To this day, there stands a grove of Sycamores outside the western walls of the city, which were joyously observed by Roe; ‘in the first act, in the very first scene, of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the trees are described; and no one has ever thought that the English genius who wrote the play could have been telling the truth: that there were such trees, growing exactly where he said in Verona.‘ Roe also points out that Verona’s Chiesa di San Pietro Incarnario is mentioned by Juliet’s, ‘now, by Saint Peter’s church, and Peter too. He shall not make me there a joyful bride.’ Shakespeare also understood the etymology of a minor place very much off the normal radar, ten miles from Verona on the banks of the Tartaro River. Called Villafranca, its name translates as ‘Freetown,’ & in Romeo & Juliet we hear, ‘you Capulet, shall go along with me; And Montague, come you this afternoon, To know our father pleasure in this case, To old Freetown our common judgment place.’ As details like these are absent from both the 1562 Arthur Brooke poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, & the Italian originals by da Porta and Bandello, once again we must place Shakespeare in person at the scene-setting of one of his plays.

Before we leave Lombardy, let us put to bed an Anti-Shakespearean factochisp of his time there, as told by Sydney Lee; ‘the fact that he represents Valentine in the ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ as travelling from Verona to Milan by sea, & Prospero in the ‘Tempest’ as embarking on a ship at the gates of Milan, renders it impossible that he could have gathered his knowledge of Northern Italy from personal observation.’ To counter this assumption Roe rummaged ferret-like through the Verona State Archives & finally found a map dated to 1713 which show how the Adige, Tartaro, and Po rivers were once connected by a system of canals. These would have allowed the water-borne journey along the fossi as undertaken by Valentine in the Two Gentlemen. As for the aquatic ‘gates of Milan,’ the fact that a sea-going ‘bark’ such as was described in the Tempest as leaving Milan finds confirmation through the pen of Michel de Montaigne, who in 1581 wrote; ‘we crossed the river Naviglio, which was narrow, but still deep enough to carry great barks to Milan.’ Shakespeare’s select knowledge of those unexpectedly navigable north Italian river ways bolsters our touring Bard yet further.


Shakespeare experiences Commeddia Dell Arte

The history of Elizabethan theater is a curious hybrid, an amalgam of continental trends & the medieval folk traditions of the English provinces. By the Elizabethan age, her playwrights had developed an uninhibited secular drama, inspired by a burgeoning humanist world-view & fueled by a constant stream of renaissance minds forged in grammar-schools & varnished in the land’s universities. It is in Shakespeare’s visit to Italy, then, that these forces were truly emblazoned upon a single individual spirit. To the Elizabethan mind, Italy was poetry, & Italian theatre the most innovative on the planet. In 1586, from the fertile fields of the Veneto Plain, directly to the east of Lombardy, a new kind of improvised comical theatre called Commeddia Dell Arte began to spring up. Most of Shakespeare’s early plays – The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night & Much Ado About Nothing – were inspired by the tradition. Of Love’s Labours Lost, where Geoffrey Bullough writes, ‘there may have been an earlier play, continental in origin & affected by the commedia dell’arte tradition,‘ he is referring to the use of CDA’s archetypical characters; foolish old men, mischievous servants, brash military officers & miserly merchants such as the braggart (Armado) & ostentatious pedant (Holofernes). Another early play, Twelfth Night, utilises many of CDA’s ‘lazzi,’ a stock comic element, as when the ‘Pantalone’ is tricked by other characters into doing those daft things they have convinced him will impress the woman he admires.

MARCH 1586
Shakespeare in Venice

Of all the cities in adorable Italy, Shakespeare seems to know the most about the floating pleasure-palace that is Venice. When, in the Merchant of Venice, he writes, ‘what news on the Rialto?’ he was well aware of the rumor-laden tittle-tattle that flock still to that famously beautiful bridge. In the MOV in particular, Grillo finds, ‘an inimitable Italian atmosphere… the topography is so precise & accurate that it must convince even the most superficial reader that the poet visited the country, acutely observant of all its characteristics as he traveled through its mountains & valleys. One instance is the gift of a dish of pigeons which Gobbo takes to his son’s master. Gobbo is a purely Venetian name, which must certainly have been suggested to Shakespeare by the statue of the kneeling hunchback of the Rialto, which forms the base of the pillar upon which in ancient days were affixed the decrees of the Republic.’


The inimitable Paul Roe found the very house where MOV’s Shylock lived: a ‘penthouse’ on the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, where Jewish Banks once leant the Christians money. That it was, & still is, supported by three columns, just as Shakespeare describes, is yet another incredible accuracy from our poet in Italy. The MOV gives the following directions to the house; ‘turn upon your right hand at the next turning, but at the next turning of all, on your left; marry, at the very next turning, turn of no hand; but turn down indirectly to the Jew’s house,’ which is an uncanny way of describing the mazy lanes of Venice. ‘Other Shakespearean Venetian references,’ says John Hudson, ‘are to the characteristic gondolas & chopins – a kind of platform shoe – as well as to the Venetian calendar & judicial procedures.’

Titian Sacred Profane - Copy (15)

While in Venice, Shakespeare would have pictorially seen the next stage in the development of his Venus & Adonis. The above painting is by Titian, his amazing ‘Sacred & Profane Love,’ in which the coat of arms of a leading Venetian politician – Niccolo Aurelio – can be seen. In the sculptural relief below the two women – one of whom is Venus – there is a man on the ground that invokes the image of a chastised Adonis. The rampant horse & the woman being checked by the hair in the relief seem to represent the halting of the passions, with the horse being the Platonic symbol of libido. This pictorial motif then turns up in the poem as;

But, lo, from forth a copse that neighbours by,
A breeding jennet, lusty, young and proud,
Adonis’ trampling courser doth espy,
And forth she rushes, snorts and neighs aloud:
The strong-neck’d steed, being tied unto a tree,
Breaketh his rein, and to her straight goes he.
Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds,
And now his woven girths he breaks asunder.

The Venice that is portrayed in Othello shows a personal appreciation by the bard. Grillo summoned up concisely much of the true Venetian atmosphere that he could see in the play, being, ‘the darkness of morning, the narrow and mysterious “calli,” Brabantio’s house with its heavy iron-barred doors, the Sagittary, the official residence of the commanders of the galleys, the hired gondolier witness of gallant intrigues… the galleys sent on a multitude of errands, the armaments, the attendants with torches, the special night guards, the council chamber, the senators, the Doge —the beloved Signor Magnifico— the discussions about the war… the history of Othello with all the sacrifices made in defence of the republic, the appearance of the divine Desdemona, fair & beautiful as a Titian portrait – all give the impression of a vivid portrayal of scenes enacted in the very heart of the Queen of the Adriatic.’ This wonderful passage brings us to the end of our search for Shakespeare’s secret Italy. He surely visited the country, for where else would he have picked up such a native phrase such as, ‘sano come un pesce / sound as a fish,’ an expression Grillo states was, even in his time, ‘still in common use in certain parts of Italy.’


Like all art, poetry grows naturally out of accumulated materielle, to which is added an individual poet’s personality & technique. Their creations should be seen as the fragrant flowers of a bush, the roots of which are buried deep under the earth. By following these roots to their sources of nourishment, we can slowly create a picture of the poet’s unseen life, the one that lives beneath the surface of the page. If Shakespeare had accompanied Stanley, the sheer wealth of scenery & culture that Europe contains should have found an eventual memorial among his plays. When the English poet Lord Byron visited the Continent in the early 19th century, his composition of a long poem called Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage is more or less a record of his travels. In the same fashion, it is through the Chisper Effect that we can see how the plays of Shakespeare are a metacreative journal of his travels with Stanley. Doctor AW Titherly concurs with such a notion by stating,

Shakespeare’s geography, being ubiquitous in its range, is evidentially inconclusive, except in so far as its abiding realism manifestly betrays extensive travel experience as distinct from mere book-learning.’ 


Next Wednesday, 10/01/18

Chapter 11

The Dark Lady


chisp cover


Chapter 1: The Exodus
Chapter 2: The Aryan Invasion
Chapter 3: The Mahabharata
Chapter 4: Agastya






chisper_effectChapter 1: Chispology 
Chapter 2: Princess Scota
Chapter 3: The Ithica Frage
Chapter 4: The Jesus Jigsaw
Chapter 5: Asvaghosha
Chapter 6: Dux Bellorum
Chapter 7: Dux Pictorum
Chapter 8: The Holy Grail
Chapter 9: The Mandylion
Chapter 10: Shakespeare’s Grand Tour
Chapter 11: The Dark Lady
Chapter 12: The Ripper Gang

2 thoughts on “The Chisper Effect 10 : Shakespeare’s Grand Tour

  1. Shakespeare was very educated. He went to school in Stratford which was quite a rarity and had Latin, Greek and Maths driven into him from 8 til 6. His father had a booming wool business and this is what took him to London and what occupied the missing years.

  2. Shakespeare doesn’t have a beard in the engraving and only a small one in the Stratforsd bust. Where does that idea come from?

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