Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Shakespeare and Italy - 16 - Messina, Arbours, Margaret

If you love all things Shakespeare, and honestly, who doesn’t?!, and if you can fit it into your busy schedule, you can try to keep up on Ros Barber’s ever expanding Shakespeare: The Evidence, now in about its 13th e-book edition: 

You don’t need to read it like us serious authorship nerds. You can just keep it for reference. It’s very easy to do keyword searches and find the best impartial review of the evidence on maybe hundreds of questions related to the creation of the Shakespeare works.
She also has a new online companion web-book being published in stages, called

BARDLY TRUE: the Lies We Believe About Shakespeare

You can subscribe to it here:     http://shakespeare-evidence.com/contents/

So far it includes some excellent detective work, following the trail started by others, on the Shakspere (or Shakespeare if you insist) as Broker theory.

Shakespeare and Italy continued:

10A. In chapter 10 Roe looked for clues in Much Ado About Nothing, set in Messina, Italy. In this case almost no building from the 16th century remains. But at least their locations have been verified. This play was at least partly inspired by the stories of Matteo Bandello (1480-1562) in La Prima Parte de le Novelle del Bandello, first published in 1554. The background of the story, which most adult Elizabethans would understand with just the mention of Messina, is now known as the “Sicilian Vespers”. This occurred in March of 1282 when the population of Palermo, the capital of Sicily, all at once slaughtered their hated French oppressors. This eventually led to their rule by Peter (Pedro) III, King of Aragon and Catalonia.

He makes the argument for the author’s ”firsthand knowledge of places, things and comportment unique to Italy”. The first piece of evidence are the repeated references to a “thick-pleached alley” or “the pleached bower Where honeysuckles, ripen’d by the sun”, or “this alley” or “the woodbine coverture” and “the arbour”. Though it is common for gardens to have arbors with roses or honeysuckle, Roe explains that “in Messina, where the summer sun can be brutal, such arbors are a dark and cool refuge. In Messina, vines were “pleached,” that is, woven together in such a dense manner to “forbid the sun to enter,” as Hero says. Such sun protection was so valued there that even rows of trees, having a walkway between them, had their branches intertwined to create a tunnel-like effect.

Roe was told by the central library director there “I love them, the coolest possible places in the summer, but there are not too many of them left in Messina anymore.” So it clearly seems they were a valued characteristic of the city, and valued more so than at other places on the continent or in England.

10B. Roe then describes how “the author simulates a singularly Italian style of master-servant interaction.” He says that “The easy relation between classes observed in Italy was comportment unusual for travelers from the north [and for England], where class relations were far more formal. And these observations aren’t just the views of Roe or other non-Stratfordians. The prominent Shakespeare scholar Charles Cowden Clarke had made similar comments in his Shakespeare’s Contrasted Characters, Chiefly Those Subordinate: “Margaret has, perhaps, too accomplished a tongue for one of her class; she, however evidently apes the manner of Beatrice, and like all imitators of inferior mind, with a coarse and exaggerated character. She forms an excellent foil to her mistress from this very circumstance; and both domestics [she and Ursula] are samples of that menial equality that exists between mistress and dependent still common in Italy.

Roe adds the sensible thought that “Incorporating such singular Italian behavior in his story would lend yet more credence to a play set in Italy.” In fact, all of the “singular Italian” places and behaviors in the Italian plays add this “credence” but who would appreciate it most than those who have been there? And especially those with the greatest familiarity of the country of that era. 

Ponder, if you will, why an English playwright, writing plays primarily for theater attendees that have never left the country, would bother to subtly mention many accurate characteristics of far-away Italy.

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