Friday, June 24, 2016

Shakespeare and Italy 4 - Canal system

Chapter 2
2A. The river/canal system. In the second chapter Roe discusses Verona again from what’s found in The Two Gentleman of Verona. He points out how Shakespeare editors of various editions of the play had faulted Shakespeare’s knowledge of the geography, such as claiming that “Shakespeare seems to have supposed that Verona was a seaport”, etc. Alexander Waugh, in his article previously mentioned, summarizes the history of scholarly confusion about the supposed seaports and the canal system. The first challenge for Roe was to find if it actually had been possible to travel by boat on rivers and canals from Verona to Milan. No scholar, it seemed, could be bothered to do this research. Roe spent some time consulting experts on northern Italy’s canal system and eventually proved his argument that such a water network did exist in Shakespeare’s time. A map in Verona’s state archives shows the canal/river connections. The Adige, the Tartaro, and the Po were all connected by a system of canals. Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italian geography was accurate.
Not only could one travel by boat from Verona to Milan, but there were actual ‘roads’ (meaning ‘landings’) for boats as well as river ‘tides’ or ‘floods’-- meaning artificial ones produced from the canal gates, that the boat travelers needed to time for advantage. I haven’t seen any serious argument against this proposed water route. A map is pretty strong evidence by itself. And Shakespeare didn’t mention a ‘seaport’ in the play. To argue with some kind of logic that the canals wouldn’t be used for travel is countered with the evidence of the boats shown on the canals. There’s a reproduction of a 16th century engraving on page 57 showing a rather fancy designed travel vessel on the Brenta canal. I think it would be preposterous that this was the only one of its kind. More likely there were hundreds of them and they would often seek to use them for long distance travel. Roe also says that even the Roman historian Pliny wrote about boats traveling from the Adriatic Sea inland all the way to Turin, which is beyond Milan.
One other argument against such a route actually being used is that Milan’s higher elevation would make it impossible for a boat to travel against the river or canal current from Verona to Milan. It is true that Milan is at a higher elevation than Verona, by about 115 feet. Driving today you would need to cross 160 KM or 99.4 miles to make the trip. But looking at Roe’s map it’s clear the water route would be considerably longer. But if the distance were only 99.4 miles then the water level would on average drop about 1.15 feet per mile. Not having any expertise in this I still doubt that even that would create such a current that couldn’t be overcome by the practical means of that day. But really, if there was a water route, and there was, it would no doubt be used. And it would be ludicrous if boats could ONLY travel from Milan to Verona and not back. I mean, would these boats be built in Milan for a sustained journey, and after having arrived in Verona, be dismantled for firewood?
I think it’s clear that the author wasn’t wrong about the suggested mode of travel and didn’t just make it up and be discovered correct by chance centuries later.

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