Sunday, July 10, 2016

Shakespeare and Italy 10 - Nature Animal life; Venice Tranect

One more aside, it came to me recently while thinking of the recent article in the Journal of Early Modern Studies by Ros Barber, Shakespeare and Warwickshire Dialect, demonstrating the lack of any good evidence for such a connection,
… that a similar observation had been made by an early Shakespeare scholar in the Quarterly Review of  April, 1894 regarding the author’s seeming lack of knowledge of fauna around his hometown. The scholar wrote “Shakespeare was curiously unobservant of animated Nature. . . . He seems to have seen very little. . . . Stratford-on-Avon was, in his day, enmeshed in streams, yet he has not a single kingfisher. Not on all his streams or pools is there an otter, a water-rat, a fish rising, a dragon-fly, a moor-hen, or a heron. . . . To the living objects about him he seems to have been obstinately purblind and half-deaf. His boyhood was passed among the woods, and yet in all the woods in his plays there is neither woodpecker nor wood-pigeon; we never hear or see a squirrel in the trees, nor a night-jar hawking over the bracken.” It seems, that apart from aristocratic gardens and what might be found within London, his primary source for learning about Nature seems to have been books from large, private libraries.

Shakespeare and Italy cont.

6A. In chapter 6 Roe investigates evidence related to “Unto the Tranect, to the common ferry Which trades to Venice”. My Folger edition of the play changes “Tranect” to “traject” and explains it as meaning “traghetto”, which is Italian for “ferry”. But doesn’t this strike one as odd since it would then have Portia saying “. . . to the ferry, to the common ferry . . .”? Assuming the word instead meant a “ferry landing” that would help but still sound redundant. In contrast, Roe reasons that Shakespeare’s “Tranect” is referring to a distinct place where Portia and Nerissa would catch the common ferry to Venice. It turns out that there is such a distinct place and it’s called “Fusina” or “Lizza Fusina”. Roe found that a scholar named Violet M. Jeffery, back in 1932, explained that this “Lizza Fusina” had “the ingenious contrivance for transferring boats from the canal to lagoon.”  Other historical records confirm this device. This device is also mentioned by Michel de Montaigne which is now found in “Montaigne’s Travel Journal”. Montaigne mentions there is a hostelry there and that from there one embarks (the common ferry) for Venice. Other writers also describe it. So, Roe says, the Latin word “Tranect” would mean “join across” and this fits perfectly the use of the device at Lizza Fusina. 

Another interesting tidbit of evidence here is that Francis Bacon’s brother Anthony became friends with the writer Michel de Montaigne somewhere around 1590-92, lived with him for a time and they stayed lifelong friends. In fact, the last letter that Montaigne received was from Anthony Bacon. So Anthony may easily have either read Montaigne’s travel journal or have described to him personally by Montaigne his journey through parts of Italy, including the canal-Fusina-Ferry trip to Venice. And then retold it later to Francis. Of course, his friend Tobie Matthews could also have described it to him. And, also, other Elizabethan travelers to Venice would likely take this common route and remember it when they returned home. So it’s not impossible that the Stratford Shakspere could have heard of it also. It’s just that it’s much less likely from what we do know.   

Anyway, the ‘tranect’ was not needed long after this time and eventually was lost to history. So most modern scholars had no idea what ‘Tranect’ actually most likely meant. And so it’s good evidence that the author again had correct and somewhat intimate knowledge of unusual obscure places in Italy.

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