Indisputable? ‘The Shakespeare Guide to Italy’ Book Review

To say the Shakespeare authorship question is controversial would be an understatement. It certainly divides opinion, the arguments often being quite heated from either side.

And it isn’t new; the controversy has been going on longer than most people realise. By the early nineteenth century the doubts about the ‘man from Stratford’ were beginning to become more vocal.

One such doubter was a remarkable woman from Ohio called Delia Bacon, who proposed her namesake Francis Bacon, was the actual author of Shakespeare’s works.

Another example is Mark Twain, the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, who put his doubts into print with his book ‘Is Shakespeare Dead?’. Since then the theories have continued to grow apace.

Groundbreaking

Perhaps the most groundbreaking book of the last century was written by a certain J Thomas Looney (Shakespeare Identified), who claimed that the 17th Earl of Oxford, one Edward de Vere, was the true genius of English literature. Needless to say there are now numerous books about the issue and many alternative candidates, including Christopher Marlowe and Roger Manners, the 5th Earl of Rutland.

However, what has been lacking is documentary proof of someone other than ‘the man from Stratford’ being the actual author of the works of Shakespeare. The great problem stems from the fact that there is a gaping whole, a paucity of information, in the known biography of the man called William Shakespeare. We know when he was born, when he got married and when he died; added to that are pieces of records of litigious information in regard to someone who seems far more like a businessman than England’s greatest ever playwright and poet. And in his will there is no mention of a library, let alone any books, surely prerequisites for such a literary giant as this.

Materialist rather than poet

The character emerging from the available information, including six rather poor signatures, is of someone who is quite materialistically minded, not at all prone to writing the best blank verse you’ve ever seen.

That said, it is still possible that there is a huge chunk of his biography waiting to be found and that he did indeed write the works attributed to him – genius is still after all, genius, as they say. But genius still needs an education, something which, other than a possible grammar school education up until around the age of fourteen, is also glaringly absent.

I have been interested by this subject, though not entirely persuaded by any candidate, for many years now. For me, just about the best book I have come across in regard to this controversy is The Shakespeare Guide to Italy (HarpPeren; Illustrated edition) by Richard Paul Roe, now sadly deceased. He is well qualified for this undertaking, having a degree in English literature and European history from Berkeley.

Ten plays set in Italy

It has long been speculated as to why at least ten out of the thirty six of the Bard’s plays are set in Italy. Surely the most obvious answer to this fact is that author of the plays visited Italy extensively at some stage in his life, or at the very least knew people who had, or he had access to much information about that country.

What Roe does is set about researching patiently and wholly systematically over some period of time, visiting all the places mentioned in the works; Venice, Padua, Verona, Mantua, Milan, Florence, Messina, Palermo, the latter two locations being in Sicily. Many of the pictures within the book are the authors and you get some idea as to his intelligence, sheer persistence and depth of character.

He produces a logically argued and beautifully illustrated book, which while highly detailed, is also easy to read. What I particularly like is that he does not force upon the reader a favourite candidate for authorship; he presents facts, information, from which the discerning reader can make up their own mind.

Intimate knowledge

Hitherto it has been assumed by most that much of the information that the author of Shakespeare put into his plays about certain locals was either imagined, or learned anecdotally. However, if you know a place more intimately, there are certain facts you can drop in which draws a more convincing picture.

An example of this is from Romeo and Juliet, where Benvolio is describing the scene of a grove of sycamore trees through the western wall of the city of Verona. Roe visited this area and found that to this day sycamores still grow there.

Now, it might be said that such scenes exist from many an Italian city and have done for centuries, and that Shakespeare just ‘got lucky’ in putting in this detail, but it does seem these trees have been a feature here way back into past. And it does create a picture of intimacy, as if the author is seeing things from his own mind’s eye, or recollection, and not merely making it up.

Sailing to Milan?

There are many other examples of course, including the volcanic island of Vulcano off the north coast of Sicily which bears a remarkable similarity to Prospero’s island described in what is regarded as Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest.

In The Two Gentlemen of Verona there is the unequivocable statement of being able to sail from Verona to distant Milan, an oft quoted ‘error’ on behalf of the Bard, of whom it has been said was clearly ignorant of northern Italy and its geography. However, thanks to the work and insight of Roe, it turns out that it was indeed possible to sail, by boat or barge perhaps, between those two beautiful cities in the late sixteenth centuries by means of canals and the navigable rivers of the Adige, Po and Adda.

In fact, until the late 1950s, Milan was still considered one of Italy’s prime maritime ports. After all, it must be realised that northern Italy is, at least below the Alps and before the Appenines rise to form the backbone of the peninsula, a vast plain, perfectly suited for navigation as well as growing the rice for risotto.

So what I came away with from reading this book is of having visited Italy myself, albeit in my mind, yet deeply – and yes – intimately. Whoever the author of Shakespeare was, he (or she?) must surely having experienced it at first hand, just like the author of this book.


Copyright Francis 2020

Dynamic Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, Elizabeth I’s Controversial Favourite – Astrology Musings

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Pixabay, http://www.pexels.com

There were few more dynamic and controversial figures during the reign of Elizabeth I than the daring, swashbuckling, and, some might say, reckless Robert Devereux, the second Earl of Essex.

Having arrived at court in the 1580s, he soon became a favourite of the Queen due to his charm, wit and dashing, distinctive good looks, eventually replacing the Earl of Leicester as Master of the Horse in 1587. He went on to capture Cadiz 1596, an achievement which sealed his reputation as a military commander.

Abortive campaign

He was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1599, but led an abortive campaign against the Irish Rebellion. Two years later he was executed for treason for leading an attempted coup d’etat, despite Elizabeth’s painful indecision over her former favourite.

So what made this larger than life man tick astrologically?

To begin with, he had Sagittarius on the ascendant, with Uranus close to the ascending degree. His ruling planet, Jupiter, is in Libra just beyond the MC or midheaven and loosely conjunct Venus.

Larger than life personality

Here is an expansive, confident, magnanimous and very ambitious personality and with Uranus involved, he would display a certain amount of eccentricity, probably manifesting like a loose canon at times, stemming perhaps from a certain confident belief in his own infallibility.

However, also involved with his angular Uranus are Pluto, Neptune and Saturn, making a loose grand cross. The involvement of all three ‘transpersonal’ planets here suggests that here is a man who believed, despite continual challenges, that he had a destiny, and much of his subsequent behaviour only confirmed this.

This grand cross in mutable (changeable) signs, though fluid by nature, would have brought him serious problems in key areas of his life, challenges and crises within himself, his relationships, his home life and in his career. Yet his indomitable belief in himself remained, even though at times he must have felt as if his ultimate destiny was being thwarted.

Hugely resourceful

Moving on, he had a lot of activity in Scorpio, with the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury and Venus (plus the north node) in house 12.

So beneath the bravado and charisma of his personality, he had the intense power, determination and resourcefulness of Scorpio to back it up, mentally, physically and emotionally.

The Sun conjunct Mars in Scorpio is a very powerful vibration, revealing the deep, forceful intensity of his being. Here is a brave man, willing to put himself in danger, almost relishing it at times. The Sun and Mars rule houses 5, 9 and 12, showing that he was a great speculator, a purposeful and brave traveller in mind as well as body.

Great depth of feeling

His Scorpio Moon is also exactly conjunct the Moon in Scorpio in house 12. He had a deeply emotional mentality and though he was probably quite secretive, once he expressed himself verbally, few could match him for feeling. Like many, he was also a competent poet and writer.

I come out of this actually admiring his character. There is something endearing about someone with an implacable spirit, who is loyal to his followers, who had this incredible sense of adventure about him.

Even so, his life perhaps epitomises the ultimate tragedy of the pursuit of power, particularly in that most iconic Elizabethan age, which still manages to capture our imagination.

copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019

 

Christopher Marlowe, died this day, 1593

Christopher_Marlowe
By Unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=240136

The man who many see as the forerunner to playwright William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, died on this day (May 30) 1593, in Deptford, London.

Marlowe was born in Canterbury, Kent, England, sometime in mid to late February 1564. There is an extant record showing that he was baptised on February 26 of that year.

In those days babies were usually christened quite quickly because of high mortality rates among infants. Therefore Marlowe was probably born just two to three days before this date.

Low Born

Although born to a cobbler, it would seem that young Christopher was quite a precocious child. He went to The King’s School in Canterbury.

It’s worth remembering that then, as still now, Canterbury is the seat of England’s premier archbishop, a very important place.

Later, though perhaps at a relatively late juncture in his early life, he went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge on a Parker scholarship.

Absences

In 1584 he got his BA degree and an MA in 1587, although the university was reluctant to award him the latter because of certain, irregular, though quite lengthy absences from the college.

Suffice it to say, that much has been written and speculated about these absences, as well as what he purportedly believed. Some say he was an atheist, despite spending years studying divinity.

Meteoric Career

Nevertheless, Marlowe went on to a meteoric literary career as a poet and playwright. He is often credited with inventing blank verse, poetry which doesn’t rhyme but written usually in iambic pentameter.

His play ‘Tamburlaine the Great’, was a huge success in London in 1587, so much so that he wrote a second part to it the following year.

There followed a string of ‘hit’ plays; ‘The Jew of Malta’, ‘Edward the Second’, ‘The Massacre at Paris’ and, probably his most famous play, ‘Doctor Faustus’.

Courted Controversy

The subject matter of his plays was often controversial, as was his apparent second career as a spy, or ‘intelligencer’ for the Elizabethan government. He seems to have been recruited for this whilst still at university.

Such controversy finally caught up with him in May 1593, when, after apparently being arrested on charges of ‘blasphemy’, released on bail, and then spending a whole day in an obscure house or pub with some rather shady ‘friends’ – he ended up being infamously murdered, during an argument about the bill, the ‘reckoning’.

Reputation

The circumstances of this too are endlessly speculated on. Incredibly, the inquest of this murder was discovered as recently as 1925.

Even Shakespeare may allude to this in his play, ‘As You Like It’, where he seems to have known some of the details of Marlowe’s premature death.

So Marlowe’s meteoric rise and fame lasted about six years. After this, his reputation, maybe because of the controversy he courted, fell away dramatically.

Today, however, his reputation is back on the rise. He is seen as the true forerunner to Shakespeare, someone who ‘set the scene’ for The Bard’s longer career.

copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019

Soon I intend to do another piece speculating Marlowe’s birthdate and time for my ‘Astrology Musings’ section.

*If you would like a personal astrology report, please contact me on: leoftanner@gmail.com or details.