Thursday, June 30, 2016

Shakespeare and Italy 7 - Taming Shrew Mercantant galliases Pisa Bergamo

Another aside: It would seem, then, that to protect their honor and dignity from the results of a comparison of evidence, the leaders of the establishment has decided to try to ignore the Authorship issue. This is quite normal behavior even for academics who are not immune to basic human psychology. And of course Shakespeare makes a point of it quite often. Shakespeare scholar A. D. Nuttall admits as much in his book Shakespeare The Thinker. On pages 31-33 he discussed the Temple Garden scene in I Henry VI where reason gives way to honour merely by the picking of either a red or white rose, without any strong analysis of the question at issue. The roses then act like “badges of allegiance” which engage the wearer’s honour. And then this is a more potent motivator than any argument that could be involved, affecting the person’s “belief, commitment, allegiance, and confidence”. 

He further adds the same thing essentially has happened to him in his academic committee meetings. A view would be presented and then a show of hands in favor was asked for. If he declared for that view then he found himself setting aside counter-arguments that used to engage his attention. Similar effects happen all the time in sports and other social life and in many kinds of public disputes. To guard against such an instinctive influence so as to be fair to the dispute, one needs to take some time and read more and more of the evidence presented by different sides along with their reasoning. I’ve changed my own opinion on a number of disputes but it took years and after reading much from the opposition. And of course, there are issues I still haven’t changed my mind on.
Shakespeare and Italy
Chapter 4 continued:

4C. Roe also remarks how, according to travelers to the area, the author in this play shows his familiarity with the interior of a Venetian villa in the Veneto. See the accurate description of one late in Act II, Scene I, beginning with:

First, as you know, my house within the city
Is richly furnished with plate and gold ,
Basins and ewers to lave her dainty hands;
My hangings all of Tyrian tapestry.
In ivory coffers I have stuff’d my crowns,
In cypress chests my arras counterpoints,
Costly apparel, tents, and canopies,
Fine linen, Turkey cushions boss’d with pearl,
Valance of Venice gold in needlework,
Pewter and brass, and all things that belongs
To house or housekeeping …

4D. Later, in this same scene Tranio, pretending to be Lucentio, says “… ‘tis known my father hath no less than three great Argosies besides two galliases / And twelve tight [sic] galleys,”. Roe points out that, every edition of this play uses the adjective “tight” here. But they were actually known as “light galleys” as the author would have known. Calling them “tight” to suggest they were all “watertight”, that they didn’t all regularly sink, I think would be very meaningful to say.

4E. Next, in Act IV Scene 2, there is a description of the stranger that is being recruited to stand in for the father of Lucentio.  Tranio describes him as “a marcantant, or a pedant” who has travelled quite a bit. When Tranio explains to him that “Tis death for anyone in Mantua to come to Padua" the man expresses his distress and explains “For I have bills for money by exchange From Florence, and must here deliver them.”

Roe faults editors for continuing to list this character as a “Pedant” when he should be listed as a “mercantant”, that is “a traveling commercial agent”. Roe details what this kind of mercantant did, the places (like Tripoli) where they would travel and the reasons for it, and how the playwright obviously understood Italy’s banking practices involving merchants. The play’s Mercantant, Roe says “… is the collection agent for a bill discounter, or an issuer of bills, who lives in Mantua”.

4F. Roe’s other insight from the mercantant/pedant dialogue is that the author, unlike editors who would criticize this, knew that the play’s “Duke of Mantua”, who would have been a Gonzaga, maintained a substantial fleet of both merchant ships, and ships of war, fully capable of plying the Po, the Adige, the Adriatic, and far beyond”. Incidentally, Francis Bacon, likely through his master intelligencer brother Anthony, was well informed of the Gonzaga since they were mentioned in “Notes on the state of Christendom" (1582) ascribed to Francis Bacon.

4G. Twice in the play is there a line saying “Pisa, renowned for grave citizens” (1,1 and 4,2). Yet in my edition of the play there is no note offering any explanation for the citizens being renowned for their being grave. Roe explains it, which the author obviously knew as well since he uses the pun several times. Pisa had developed an enormous cemetery on sacred ground (from soil, supposedly containing the blood of Christ, brought from Palestine during the Crusades). Here, at the Campo Santo, were entombed in stately marble structures, often quite large, the elite or honored citizens of Pisa. It was a place of quite renown and still is a major tourist site today.

4H. Finally, the author also knew, unlike editors who find it hard to believe for a city far from the sea, that “Bergamo was the principal source of sails for the Mediterranean world”.  Would this likely be another casual comment a traveler would make, if they would even be likely to know it, and that the Stratford William would just happen to hear? And even if possible, would it be as likely as that learned by a genuine English traveler through Northern Italy?

All of the above points from Chapter 4, as a set, are to me strong evidence of the authors unusual knowledge Italian life, business, and localities.

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