Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

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

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company

Most Popular Posts:

1. Shakespeare's Shylock Solved 2. Shakespeare's Othello Finally Identified 3. Shakespeare In Love Sequel Solved 4. The Real Romeo and Juliet 5. Shakespeare's Malvolio Solved 6. Shakespeare's Real Petruchio

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Shakespeare's Real Petruchio

Who was the real Petruchio?

Did Shakespeare model this character after a real historical man?

Is Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew based on real people?

Richard Burton as Petruchio

Many of the characters in Shakespeare's plays have names that he did not create. Those names were already established in history or literature. For example, Shakespeare did not invent the name Lear or Hamlet, since Lear was based on the ancient mythological king of Britain, and Hamlet is named after the Scandinavian story of Amleth.

However, there are many characters whose names Shakespeare invented himself. For example, he invented the names Othello, Shylock, Malvolio. I have solved the meaning behind those names, and now I would like to show you what the name Petruchio means.

Where did Shakespeare get the name Petruchio? I have not found a single theory behind the name.

Recently I came across an Italian man who was very well known to Queen Elizabeth, and he may have been the inspiration for the character of Petruchio — which is also commonly spelled Petruccio, as in the Arden edition of the play, for example.

This man was named Petruccio Ubaldini.

He was born in Tuscany around 1524 and died around 1600. He served as a mercenary soldier for King Henry VIII, and Edward VI. It is unclear, but he may have left England during the brief reign of Mary I, and returned to London once Elizabeth became queen.

He was one of many Italians who were welcome in Elizabeth's court. But most of these Italian expatriates were artisans without any political connections back in Italy. They were musicians, painters, and so forth. 

Dancing at court

Ulbadini was unique in part because he did have political contacts in Italy which were useful for Elizabeth to exploit. 

He served as a liaison between England and Italy. He would spend the rest of his life in her service, and she even paid him a salary.

Therefore, Ubaldini, in the words of one scholar: "became almost the only well-placed Italian reporter for English affairs during the second half of the sixteenth century. For lack of better sources, rulers in both England and Italy turned to Ubaldini."

But it seems that she did not pay him as much as he wanted. He regularly begged Queen Elizabeth for work. He had to turn to writing, teaching Italian, translating books, and copying and illuminating books. His need for money would become a real problem by the 1590's.

Also, he made translations for masques performed at Elizabeth's court — and even acted in them!

Queen Elizabeth watching a play at Christmas
Christmastide, William Sandys

In E.K. Chambers' The Elizabethan Stage, he writes that Ubaldini performed in a masque in 1576 and that "For that same masque a reward was paid to one 'Petrucio' while for a later masque of 11 Jan 1579 'Patruchius Ubaldinas' was employed to translate speeches into Italian and write them out fair in tables. This was Petruccio Ubaldini, another of Elizabeth's Italian pensioners, who was both a literary man and an illuminator."

Ulbadini wrote 12 books, published in England, between 1564 to 1597. 

Perhaps the most interesting book was a 1596 collection of poems written for Elizabeth. In his dedication to her, he wrote that he is "worn out by the weight of years and by the hard blows of cruel fate; and above all by the vain hope of his own success, something he expected because of his long and faithful service; he is not beaten yet, but exhausted."

He also wrote about his observations of Anne Boleyn, whom he personally knew, and her daughter, the Princess Elizabeth. In addition to praising the princess, he describes how the young Elizabeth "also uses a wonderful art with every man whom she wants to make use of." He also wrote that she was "tightfisted" and "shrewd" and mentions her "more than womanly shrewdness."

John Cleese as Petruchio

By the end of his career, and life, he blamed Elizabeth and her own evil and backbiting court for his failure to get better and more financially rewarding work.

We don't know what happened to him, when he died, or where he died.

So, is this Petruccio -- this former soldier, friend to Kings Henry VIII and Edward VI, and who saw Elizabeth from the time she was a girl, and later served in her court for about 40 years -- the real Petruchio in Shakespeare's play?

Peter O'Toole as Petruchio

How did Shakespeare know, or could know Petruccio Ubaldini?

Shakespeare arrived in London around 1587/8. By this time, Ubaldini's position and influence at court was waning, but he would have been a very entertaining fellow, who would attract young man in England to hear his stories and learn about Italy and Italian literature, music, etc.

The Earls of Derby, Southampton, and Essex were exactly the kind of young men who would have flocked to Ubaldini to teach them how to be polished courtiers.

These earls were Shakespeare's artistic patrons, and it is through them that Shakespeare could have met Ubaldini. 

It is not hard to imagine that the young Shakespeare, young, eager and ambitious, would have become fast friends with Ubaldini, who would have probably found Shakespeare to be a very witty and talented writer.

Ubaldini had performed in masques for the queen in the 1570’s. He clearly had an affinity with theatre, and probably got along quite well with actors like Shakespeare. 

Since they were both writers, Ubaldini may have seen Shakespeare as a kindred spirit.

Morgan Freeman as Petruchio

Why would Elizabeth keep Ubaldini in her court? What did she think of this man? 

Since she had known him her whole life, she may have seen him almost as family. And since he was close to her father, and he knew her mother, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth may have considered him to be a precious and unique connection to her youth and her family's history.

Also, Queen Elizabeth admired and favoured blunt no-nonsense men. Men like Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and Sir Walter Raleigh, her royal favourites.

Ubaldini may have been just such a man, and he also seems to have been every bit the poet/soldier/courtier type of man, like Sir Philip Sidney, which was so admired at the time in her court.

So, if Shakespeare did model his Petruchio after Petruccio Ubaldini, what does that mean for the play? What was Shakespeare up to?

Simon Paisley Day as Petruchio

If we assume that Petruchio is Petruccio Ubaldini, then who is Kate? Does she represent a real historical person?

Perhaps the Petruchio/Kate story is based on something that happened to Ubaldini in his youth, and Kate represents some long lost love of his. 

Perhaps Kate is based on a real woman whom Ubaldini knew in London circa 1594, around the time that the play was written. 

Perhaps Shakespeare wrote the play to lampoon Ubaldini and his misadventures in love. He was arguably a well known man in London, and perhaps the public would enjoy seeing a comedy at his expense.

Perhaps he was known for being a ladies man, and maybe even a bit rough and callous in his treatment of women. For all we know, he may have been a brute.

The play is controversial and problematic for some people, because of what they consider to be the misogynistic treatment of women in the play. 

But what if the play itself, and Shakespeare himself, are not misogynistic at all? What if Ubaldini himself was a misogynist, and Shakespeare was merely representing it?

Was Queen Elizabeth the real Kate?

Yet, of all the possibilities for the real identity of Kate, it is also tempting to think that Kate represents Queen Elizabeth herself. 

I am not suggesting that Ubaldini and Queen Elizabeth were lovers, although they were not that far apart in age. He was only about 9 years older.

What I am suggesting is that the shrewish Kate represents the shrewish qualities of Queen Elizabeth, whom Ubaldini described as being "shrewd" and possessing "shrewdness" even as young woman. "Shrew” and “shrewd” are  related words.

Elizabeth Taylor as Kate

It must have been an irresistable idea for Shakespeare to put Petruccio Ubaldini and Queen Elizabeth on stage as Petruchio and Kate and let them engage in a battle of the sexes.

I think that Queen Elizabeth had a good enough sense of humour to find it very funny. And I'm sure that Ubaldini thought it was a laugh riot.

But there may be a greater point here, too. Perhaps Shakespeare is also making the case that Queen Elizabeth should employ Ubaldini, and not mistreat him. Petruchio mistreatment of Kate seems very odd considering how badly the queen was treating Ubaldini during the period in which the play was written.

Samantha Spiro as Kate

So, did Shakespeare base his Petruchio character on Petruccio Ubaldini?

Yes, it must be based on him. The conclusion is inescapable.

Shakespeare wrote all of his plays, including Taming of the Shrew, so they would eventually be performed before the queen herself.

What other possible reason could Shakespeare have in naming the character Petruchio, when he knew that as soon as the queen saw the play and heard the name Petruchio, she would immediately associate it with Ubaldini?

Also, there is a very convincing suggestion that Shakespeare’s Duke Orsino character in Twelfth Night, written in the winter of 1601-1602, is named after Virginio Orsini, Duke of Bracciano, whom Queen Elizabeth met during the previous winter of 1600-1601. 

So, if it is conceivable that SX would name Orsino after an Italian man whom Elizabeth had met for a few months, then it is even more likely that he would name Petruchio after an Italian man whom Elizabeth had known her whole life.

I do not know all the reasons why Shakespeare named Petruchio after Petruccio Ubaldini. I don't understand what it was about this Italian courtier that so fascinated the queen.

But it seems very clear that Shakespeare wrote this play for them, and the meaning of the play is hidden within the play, and waiting for us to discover.




E.K. Chambers, Vol II, pages 261-5


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