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

Frida Kahlo: Is There a Price to Pay for Genius? Astrology Musings

Photo by Olga Kalinina on Pexels.com

Frida Kahlo is one of the most iconic and celebrated symbolic-realist artists of the 20th century, but her short life was painful and ultimately tragic, yet nevertheless full. Is there such a thing as a trade off between genius and pain?

Such was her fame that even during her lifetime, in 1942, one of her paintings sold for over $3 million at Sotheby’s.

When I first looked at her chart I noted that the three so-called outer planets (which are invisible to the naked eye and therefore not luminaries) are in key sensitive points.

I have long thought that Uranus, Neptune and Pluto and their supposed influences are something to be avoided, or overcome, even though they might put the individual in touch which certain deeper, darker and ultimately dangerous forces of our universe. Uranus may bring originality but can disrupt suddenly; Neptune may inspire but confuses and befuddles; and Pluto might provide intensity but undermines darkly.

At the age of 6 Frida contracted polio which left her with one leg shorter than the other. Later, through sports, she built up her body strength with characteristic resolve and went to one of Mexico‘s best schools.

A Life Changing Accident

Then fate intervened again when she was severely injured in a horrific road traffic accident in Mexico City in 1925. It was a life changing experience which she never truly overcame, but such was her intense lust for life and experience, she got through it, despite numerous operations, including a leg amputation later on.

During this early period following the accident, she began to paint and this was the beginning of her career which saw her later exhibiting as far a field as New York and Paris.

Due to the intense pain and the resulting depression she also developed a drinking habit but always lived life to its fullest.

‘The Heroine of Pain’ What Does the Astrology Say?

There is little wonder that in her native Mexico she is referred to as ‘the heroine of pain‘ – ‘la heroina del dolor’. She certainly seems to have had that air of greatness about her which only few achieve during their lifetime – but at what price?

She has Leo rising with Mercury in the 1st house. Here is the lust for life and creativity and to express it.

However, her ruler the Sun is immersed in the ocean of a 12th house Cancer conjunct Neptune, forming the most difficult and trying figure in the chart.

This subconsciously embedded conjunction is opposed by a practical Mars conjunct Uranus in the 6th house of health and efficiency. This activation of the 6th/12th house axis might well have been behind the motivation to seek a career in medicine in her early teens.

A Potential Career in Medicine

She would appear to have been as much interested in mental as well as physical health, especially so as an exalted Jupiter is also in the 12th house quite close to her north node; she might well have become a doctor of psychology or psychiatry if things had been different, yet other medical paths could have suited. But it wasn’t to be. Any aptitude toward practical medicine was firmly rebuked by fate, steering her toward creative art with a symbolic edge.

Whilst Neptune close to the Cancerian Sun might at best be inspirational, its major influence is to subconsciously confound and upset, affecting her psychologically. This may suggest the subconscious symbolism of her art. Sun Cancerians are family orientated but happiness in this area of her life was to prove elusive.

Opposing the Sun/Neptune conjunction, Mars/Uranus only antagonise and disrupt, the martian strength being exalted in Capricorn, yet is physically embattled and irritated by revolutionary Uranus. The exact opposition between the Sun and Mars illustrates the intense attraction to men she had but also the difficulty in maintaining steady relationships, even though she only married one man – twice.

This opposition of conjunctions effectively energises the whole chart, mimicking the explosive drama of her life.

A Ribbon Around a Bomb?

Psychologically Frida was deep, intensely emotional but had an exacting attitude too. Her Venus, ruler of the MC and 10th house of career, is closely conjuct the undermining influence of Pluto in the 11th house, challenged by Saturn from the 8th. This also reflects her intense relationships and friendships, her difficulty with them, as well as her interest in feminine identity. Venus Pluto and a Taurean MC suggest the intense realism and symbolism of her art.

Her Moon exalted in Taurus in the 10th house is also void of course in the last degree of the Bull. Whilst this might add a certain steadiness to her emotional responses, she might also have felt as if she was always fighting against time. Void of course Moons are difficult to assess in natal charts, but this is my take.

She was once described as being a ribbon around a bomb. Whether that is accurate or not, she was certainly one of the most naturally gifted, intensively creative female artists of any period. Iconic indeed.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com
What the cards reveal: Centre card, consciously; left card: subconsciously; right card: manifesting.


Copyright Francis 2022

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