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Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Did Shakespeare Visit Italy?

I just read an interesting article, here:

It asks the question: did Shakespeare ever travel to Italy?


Related to that question is whether Shakespeare could have written about the country if he had never gone there himself.

I certainly think he could have written about Italy without ever having gone there. 

Even if Shakespeare did not go himself, he could have talked with many people during his career who would tell him all about their travels, to Italy and elsewhere. Italy was a destination spot for the aristocrats, and Shakespeare knew many, like the Earls of Essex and Southampton, who were among his artistic patrons.


Some people think that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford did wrote the plays instead of Shakespeare.

One reason I don't think Oxford did write the plays is because Oxford had in fact travelled to Italy. 

If wrote Measure for Measure, why would he set it in Vienna, when the characters have Italian names? Why wouldn't he just write about a city he had actually visited? 

Likewise, why would he write Two Gentlemen of Verona when he is referring to Milan instead? 

Oxford would not have made this error. 

But a Stratford boy like Shakespeare, who never left England, would.


I considered the question of whether Shakespeare ever left England some years ago, and my first instinct was to think that Shakespeare never traveled far from Stratford and London. 

The Shakespeare that I have in my mind was such a hard-working artist that he never could break away from his work and take a tour of Italy, or anywhere else outside England for that matter.

In addition to writing the plays, rehearsing them, acting in some of them, managing the plays with all the big and small decisions producing a play involves, managing his share of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (circa 1593 to 1603) and later the King's Men (1603 to 1613), Shakespeare also had all the responsibilities of running his home and the business and land interests he had in Stratford.

How he had any time to himself is a mystery.

It was also said that he was not a "company keeper" meaning that he was not the kind of man who stayed out drinking, with the actors, etc. He preferred to stay indoors and write.

So, if he was not the kind of man who would go to the local pub for a pint, because he could not break himself away from his work, then it is hard to imagine his taking several weeks off to tour another country.

However, I do think that if there was any place other than England he did indeed want to visit, it was Italy. Above all it was Italy.

Italy so dominates his plays, and Italian characters are so plentiful, that he was clearly fascinated by the place and the people.

I hate to think that he spent his entire life without ever seeing a foreign country, and perhaps even practicing to speak some Italian.


But even if he never did go to Venice, Rome, Padua, Verona or anywhere else in Italy, he spent years of his life writing about the country and fantasizing about it. 

I like to think that Italy is the land where his dreams lived.

What do you think?


David B. Schajer

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