Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Shakespeare and Italy - 18 - Sicily Bohemia Romano

Shakespeare and Italy continued.

11A. Roe's chapter 11 examines the author's clues of unusual Sicilian knowledge in The Winter's Tale.  Most all of the scenes in this play take place in the royal palace, which would be in Palermo, where it has been since 1140. Roe says that "Sicily's medieval kings were the wealthiest of Europe's rulers, and Palermo was one of the largest and most important cities of the known world." As such, its royal palace would have well-deserved the adulation of Archidamus:  "... with such magnificence--in so rare--I know not what to say." The magnificence of this royal palace may not have been common knowledge to the typical Londoner. But it would likely be known by England's royalty and those that had a need to know the seats of power around the continent, along with their trade routes and fortresses.

11B. Roe then takes time to explain again how the historical Bohemia actually did have a coastline, that lasted about 9 years. The extension of the landlocked Bohemia gradually kept expanding under Ottakar II until he had inherited Carinthia and Carniola, the last of these connected to the Adriatic Sea. Obviously, there weren't many in England back then, nor even recently among critics, that were aware of this history. But it seems that the Author knew of it and that allowed him to sensibly make use of a Bohemian King and his fleet to make a plausible trip to Sicily and back and forth again.

11C. Roe later cites a passage made by Cleomenes and Dion as they are returning from the Apollo Oracle at Delphos. The passage is:

"The climate's delicate, the air most sweet,
Fertile the isle, the temple much surpassing
The common praise it bears."

He then argues that this enables us to locate their exact position on the way from their disembarked location at Trapani back to the palace at Palermo. The route was well known, at least to those familiar with Sicily. The Temple of Segesta was mentioned in Virgil's The Aeneid. King Edward the first of England had himself landed at Trapani. Roe takes this further in arguing that when Cleomenes mentions "the temple", that it identifies the spot on the known route where it could be seen, and therefore it would be an argument for the Author's first-hand knowledge of it. This was not persuasive to me because it was also about this time that the riders took on "fresh horses", which would be more likely to occur after they finished the first leg of their travel and which would be around the site of the temple itself. Still, all that was said in the passage seems to fit perfectly the island. Apparently it was the most fertile in the entire Mediterranean, and this fertility of a wide variety of fruits would make "the air most sweet".

A report, the first of its kind on the great temple there, had been recently published and this did bring it "common praise" of its surpassing beauty. So, though an uninformed playwright perhaps could have imagined much of this, its accuracy and topicality among the well-informed make it more likely that someone associated with the circles of international trade and court interests around continental Europe would know of the island's distinctive attributes. This is especially true considering the previously demonstrated knowledge of Sicily from Chapter 10 and Much Ado.

11D. Finally, there is the additional argument that the Author's knowledge of Julio Romano's skill in sculpture (and not just in painting) was unusual. Nor, as has been suggested, was such skill something that could have been said of any other artist of the period and just attached to the name of an Italian artist that Shakespeare just happened to have heard in a conversation. Roe doesn't discuss this particular evidence but Naomi Magri does in her book Such Fruits Out of Italy. She goes into much detail about Julio Romano's works and talent and says: "The passage shows that the dramatist was familiar with Giulio Romano's works and was well aware of the basic principle of Giulio's art -- painting had to be true to reality, so verisimilar as to deceive the eye." Such knowledge is not easy to be acquired casually. And no other artist at the time had such a reputation for lifelike art other than Michelangelo. One would at least need to be part of an extended conversation about Italian art and at the point when Giulio's art itself was being discussed. Those that had actually travelled through Northern Italy, especially with a keen interest in art, would be far more likely to reference it, and to do so most appropriately, especially considering all the other points of Italian knowledge known by the author.

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