Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: The Shakespeare Guide to Italy

William Shakespeare is universally acknowledged as one of greatest poets and playwrights of all time. Yet we know virtually nothing about the inner man or the experiences that formed him. The people we believe to be his friends never reported a single conversation with him, he kept no diary, and if he wrote and received letters they have not survived. But thanks to twenty years of detective work by a retired lawyer from Pasadena, California, we now know one thing for certain. The author of Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear once stood on the corner of the Piazza Goldoni and the Borgo Orgnissanti, in Florence, Italy.

The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard’s Unknown Travels by Richard Paul Roe was published in the US and UK by Harper Perennial (an imprint of HarperCollins) at the end of last year. The idea that Shakespeare knew Italy well has been raised before, notably by Ernest Grillo, but has been generally dismissed by orthodox Shakespearean scholars, who suggest that the man from Stratford was a geographical ignoramus who gleaned what little European information he could from travelers in London taverns. Through analyzing the texts of Shakespeare’s ten Italian plays and seeking evidence of specific locations on the ground, Roe’s book demonstrates, repeatedly and decisively, that whoever wrote these works knew Italy intimately.

Roe shows how amendments of the texts by Shakespeare’s editors over the centuries have removed vital clues which exist in the original Quarto and Folio versions of the plays. It is interesting to note that something as small as changing capitalization can make a difference to our being able to identify where, in All’s Well That Ends Well, Helen meets Widow and the other women as they wait for Bertram and the soldiers returning from the Tuscan wars. Roe triangulates the place exactly by analyzing what the trumpet calls in the text signified, identifying the gate through which the soldiers would have entered and where they were heading, and locating the landmarks that Widow points out as she talks to Helen. This is not information one would – or could – glean through a conversation with a Florence merchant.

There are numerous other revelations which demonstrate the author’s personal knowledge of Milan, Verona, Mantua, Venice (and the Veneto), Padua, Lombardy, Florence, Pisa, and Sicily. As Roe says, “the author has this trick of pointedly naming or describing some obscure or unique place that might look like an invention or mistake but which turns out to be real: a one-of-a-kind place which reveals an unusual, intimate knowledge of Italy.” One might almost think he were deliberately laying a trail. One of the most powerful moments – and a slightly shocking reflection on the character of one of the Two Gentlemen of Verona – is when Roe unveils the horror of the place Proteus is sending Thurio – his rival in love – when he directs him to "St Gregory’s Well": not a well or a fountain (as orthodox scholars have assumed), but a mass grave.

Roe has more surprises: the "imaginary" settings of both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest are shown to be both real and Italian, the latter identified by “a particular combination of characteristics found nowhere else on earth.” If the happy coincidences of geology, geography, flora and fauna are not convincing enough, Roe finds that the names of both Ariel and Caliban (the meaning of which has long been debated) were sourced from the local dialect – in Catalan, caliban means outcast, or pariah. And "in popular Catalan tradition, an ariel is a spirit of the air and of the water, generally mischievous."  The author, then, not only travelled in northern Italy; he set four plays in, or near to, the southern isle of Sicily.

This book makes fascinating reading for any lover of Shakespeare’s works, no matter whom they believe to be the author. Roe, although apparently an Oxfordian, does not use his research as a basis for arguing that "Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare."  Those who believe the author was William of Stratford can choose to chalk these extraordinary travels down to the infamous "Lost Years."  But I suggest that to enjoy the book as it was meant to be enjoyed, those of the orthodox persuasion should skip straight to Roe’s text and avoid the introduction written by Daniel Wright of Concordia University. The Shakespeare Guide to Italy has only two major flaws, and this is one of them. (The other is the absence of an index). Wright’s preface is inappropriately aggressive and triumphant, given the current state of the Shakespeare authorship question. Roe’s book may indeed be a game-changer, but unfortunately Wright’s contribution may prevent this book from getting into the hands of those one would most want to read it.

© Ros Barber, 2012    

Dr. Ros Barber holds a PhD in English Literature and is the author of forthcoming book The Marlowe Papers, which will be published in the UK by Sceptre on 24 May 2012 and in the US by St Martin’s Press in January 2013. She is the also the author of three volumes of poetry, the latest being a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. She is joint winner of the 2011 Hoffman Prize for a distinguished work on Christopher Marlowe. Her scholarly work on Marlowe and Shakespeare is published in academic books and journals including Rethinking History, Critical Survey and Christopher Marlowe the Craftsman (Ashgate, 2010), and has been delivered at conferences and public lectures at venues including the Institute of Ideas and The Globe. She is an Associate of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust and a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society. TED HUGHES MARLOVIAN

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Did Marlowe Die in Padua in 1627? The Watterson-Zeigler Correspondence by Donna N. Murphy

In his recent Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection article “Did Marlowe Die in Padua in 1627?”, Peter Farey wrote that the correspondence between Henry Watterson and Wilbur G. Zeigler held at the Library of Congress would make interesting reading. Watterson, a long-time newspaper editor, was the author of the 1916 piece which presented the information that one Pietro Basconi nursed Christopher Marlowe during Marlowe’s final illness in Padua in 1627, while Zeigler, the first known Marlovian, was the author of the novel It Was Marlowe, 1895, wherein Zeigler portrayed Marlowe as the author of the Shakespeare works. Farey maintained that Watterson purposely made up the story about Basconi and Marlowe.

I live a subway ride away from the Library of Congress, visited its Manuscripts room, and examined the contents of the file entitled “Zeigler” within its collection of Henry Watterson’s documents. Following is a transcript of all three documents the file contains. Note in particular the line in Document 3: that Watterson “wrote the Shakespeare-Marlowe story more as a joke than anything else.”

1) In response to the April 23, 1616 article by Henry Watterson, Wilbur Zeigler sent the following telegram:

Western Union Telegram

11 May 1916




2) Watterson wrote an article published April 5, 1919 in the Saturday Evening Post magazine, one of a series by him called “Looking Backward,” telling stories from his eventful life and 50-year career as editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper. The article (click here to read a segment of the article relating to Marlowe and Shakespeare) again mentions the Marlowe/Shakespeare theory. In response, Zeigler wrote Watterson the following letter:

May 6, 1919

Dear Sir,

My attention has just been called to the Saturday Evening Post of April 5th, containing chapters of your interesting story “Looking Backward,” in which reference is made to the Marlowe theory. This has been a pet theory of mine since I studied law forty years ago. It was an original one with me and provoked by the similarity of vocabularies, versification and thought of the Marlowe and Shakespeare dramas. Many years later I wrote the book “It Was Marlowe,”—a romance woven around the theory. It was founded upon a plot which you, twenty years later, adopted as your own as appears in the Post, and appeared more fully in the Herald and Courier Journal of Ap. 23, 1916,--i.e. that Marlowe killed his adversary at Deptford, changed clothes with him, retired into solitude, continued writing (but under the name of Shakespeare) and was aided by his friends to escape to the continent.

There are instances of a writer unconsciously absorbing the ideas of another and later claiming them as his own. This appears to be one as shown by your review of my book printed in the Courier Journal in 1898, or early 1899. I enclose a copy of that review, and ask if you cannot by foot-note in “Lookiing Backward” when it appears in book form, do me the justice of acknowledging the source of your inspiration.

As “It Was Marlowe” received favorable mention from Wm. J. Rolf, Ignatius Donnelly, Appelton Morgan and others including yourself, I am confident that a new edition would meet with a large sale, and will ask if you will kindly write me a preface for it and use your influence to secure me a publisher. I should like a little taste of that fame for which you ambitiously sought, and have certainly attained.

I have very few copies of the book, but will send you one if you desire to read it again and will submit it to the proposed publisher.

Yours truly,
Wilbur G. Zeigler

A photoplay founded upon “It Was Marlowe” is now in course of preparation.

3) Mr. Watterson’s secretary replied to Zeigler in the following letter:

May 12, 1919

Dear Sir:

As it has been made clear by Mr. Watterson in the Saturday Evening Post, he wrote the Shakespeare-Marlowe story more as a joke than anything else. He can not recall that he ever saw your book, It Was Marlowe, or read the review you state was published in the Courier-Journal. The review was no doubt written by the regular literary editor at the time, not by Mr. Watterson.

Mr. Watterson has retired entirely from the Courier-Journal, and is devoting what time and energy he has, in this eightieth year, to the preparation of his Looking Backward Memoirs. He really finds this duty somewhat irksome.

While the Looking Backwards stories will be printed in book form, it is quite possible that some of them may be eliminated, and the Marlowe-Shakespeare article may be among those left out.

Under the circumstances, Mr. Watterson does not feel that he should be asked to write a preface for you, or to secure you a publisher.

Secretary to H.W.

[Watterson published his memoirs under the title Marse Henry: An Autobiography in two volumes in 1919. The Marlowe-Shakespeare story was not included. He died two years later.]
On the basis of this correspondence, I conclude that while Watterson was certainly attracted to the Shakespeare/Marlowe theory, he wrote the two stories about it with a wink in his eye and did no research as to where Marlowe might have ended up or when he might have died. He didn’t even bother to read Zeigler’s book or engage him in conversation.

As Watterson wrote in his memoirs about an unrelated topic, in a humorous vein: “I have been not only something of a traveller, but a diligent student of history and a voracious novel reader, and, once-in-a-while, I get my history and my fiction mixed.” Marse Henry: An Autobiography, Vol. 2 p. 55.

© Donna N. Murphy, 2012

Donna N. Murphy is the co-winner of the 2010 Calvin and Rose G. Hoffman Prize for a Distinguished Publication on Christopher Marlowe. In its March 2012 issue, Notes and Queries printed her two most recent articles on authorship of anonymous works written during the English Renaissance: “ ‘George a Greene’ and Robert Greene," and “ ‘Look Up and See Wonders’ and Thomas Dekker."