The Young Shakespeare (7): Shakespeare in France & Spain


Discovering the fascinating truth

Of Shakespeare’s missing years


1585: Shakespeare Starts His Grand Tour

AS I stated in the opening chapter of this essay into Shakespeare’s missing years, the key to the solution is the placement of Shakespeare on the Grand Tour of Europe undertaken by William Stanley 1585-87. Immediately we are struck by the fact that that in every place Stanley visited in the ‘Garland’ ballad – Greenland aside – we can site one or more of Shakespeare’s continental scenes, the only exception being the Elsinore of Hamlet.

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The England Shakespeare had departed from was recorded in a despatch, written in 1585, by Giovanni Francesco Moresini, the Venetian ambassador to Constantinople.

The true description of England & its present State. The circumference of the island of England is 3,500 miles. It is most powerful in its infinite number of warlike inhabitants. It has thirty-nine counties full of cities, forts & villages. In the City of London alone there are three hundred thousand warriors always ready. It is rich in all kinds of fruits, & in mines of silver, tin, copper, lead, iron, sulphur, saltpetre. That part which does not feed horses or other beasts, yields crops or metals, so that there is no part of it impossible for mans use. All kinds of animals abound, noble horses , bulls, chiefly because there are no wolves, sheeps with wool like silk, from which they weave cloth of all sorts. The workmen are able masters of every craft. There is great abundance of rabbit skins, leather of bull, calf, sheep, lamb, & goat skin, which not only supplies Europe but also Asia, Africa, & America. England owns many islands, among them Ireland, but little smaller than England itself. And in short England is independent of other countries though they cannot do without her. In England, the present Queen, Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, has reigend twenty-six years, may god preserve her. Her revenue is six millions in gold, apart from the expenses of her court which are paid by the country. At her command she has one hundred & thirty thousand armed men, from twenty to fifty years old. She is in alliance with all the Princes of the true Christian religion, of which she is the head. She has a fleet more powerful than all the other Princes of Christendom, so strong that one must see it to believe it.

The people are naturally brave, indomitable, & valorous in war. They attack the foe with such ardour thay they usually come out not dead but victorious. They are impatient of injuries & revenge them fiercely. They religiously keep their treaties & highly honour their allies. Their judges are most learned & full of sound judgements, they take no bribes. The nobles & gentlemen are affable, & delight in arms & the liberal arts; the people best friends to their friends, cruel foes to their foes; & all obey the Queen, so that on her command they would go to death without a word.

It seems nothing much has really changed since then. The year 1585 would turn out to be a good year for those salty Elizabethan Sea-Dogs, explorers ready to further the domains, markets & knowledge of England in the burgeoning New World. Sir Richard Greenville voyaged to Virginia, North America, commanding ‘seven sailes, to wit, the Tyger, of the burden of seven score tunnes, a Flie-boat called the Roe-bucke, of the like burden, the Lyon of a hundred tunnes or thereabouts, the Elizabeth, of fiftie tunnes, and the Dorothie, a small barke: whereunto were also adjoyned for speedy services, two small pinnesses.’ M.J. Davis made an attempt to find a North West passage to the Pacific Ocean, ‘with two Barkes, the one being of 50. tunnes, named the Sunneshine of London, and the other being 35. tunnes, named the Mooneshine of Dartmouth.’ Later that same year, & far to the south, Sir Francis Drake led a large fleet on the rampage, taking the cities of Saint Iago, Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and the town of Saint Augustine in Florida. For Shakespeare, a vastly smaller sea-voyage was about to be undertaken….


January 1585 – Shakespeare at Dover

Of the journey to France, Elias Ashmole says, ‘on the 26th of January, the Earl, with his Train, passed from London to Gravesend, where taking Post-Horses they rid to Sittingborne, and from thence to Dover.’ A German traveller at that time, Paul Hentzner, describes the castle built by Henry VIII which still dominates the first port of England to this day;

Upon a rock, which on its right side is almost every where a precipice, a very extensive castle rises to a surprising height, in size like a little city, extremely well fortified & thick set with towers, and seems to threaten the sea beneath, Matthew Paris calls is the door & key of England. The ordinary people have taken it into their heads that it was built by Julius Ceasar

That Shakespeare saw Dover with his own eyes can be discerned from his accurate description of samphire-gathering on the white cliffs, as in King Lear’s: ‘halfway down hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade.’ Samphire is a local delicacy of Dover, a fleshy plant which grows upon the cliffs & is described by Gerard in his ‘Great Herbal’ (1597) : ‘the leaves kept in pickle and eaten in salads with oil & vinegar is a pleasant sauce for a meat.’ Perhaps samphire was included in the meals of the Earl of Derby’s 250-strong entourage as they readied themselves to cross the Channel. Such a company would have needed a large number of ships, & Shakspeare may have remembered the scene when he wrote the following segment of Henry V, describing the ‘well-appointed king…

…Embark his royalty; and his brave fleet
With silken streamers the young Phoebus fanning:
Play with your fancies, and in them behold
Upon the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing;
Hear the shrill whistle which doth order give
To sounds confused; behold the threaden sails,
Borne with the invisible and creeping wind,
Draw the huge bottoms through the furrow’d sea,
Breasting the lofty surge: O, do but think
You stand upon the ravage and behold
A city on the inconstant billows dancing;
For so appears this fleet majestical

Reading through this passage, one really does get the sense that Shakespeare witnessed such a scene, that he actually saw a noble fleet drifting out of Dover. Such a vivid poetical remembrance is suggested by Walter Bagehot’s, ‘Shakespeare’s works could only be produced by a first-rate imagination working on a first-rate experience. It is often difficult to make out whether the author of a poetic creation is drawing from fancy, or drawing from experience; but for art on a certain scale, the two must concur. Out of nothing, nothing can be created.’


FEBRUARY 1585 – Shakespeare in France

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As Shakespeare crossed the English Channel, he would have gazed wide-eyed with wonder at the Earl of Derby’s fleet as it skimm’d across the choppy green waters to France. After making footfall upon foreign shores, we can follow his first steps abroad via contemporary records of the Garter procession;

7th February : The Earl of Derby… is coming to bring the Garter to this king. He has disembarked at Bolounge with a great following of English nobles, & is to be lodged, & apparently splendidly entertained, by the king
Bernardino de Mendoza

Ffom Bolougne it is more or less a straight shot south to Paris. However, theer is an intriguing possibility that Shakespeare saw Rouen on a small detour of about 40 miles. The reason being is that In Henry VI part 1, the list of Talbot’s titles include the “great Earl of Washford, Waterford and Valence, which” was formerly fixed via epitaph upon Lord Talbot’s tomb. Talbot had died at the Battle of Bordeaux in 1453 & had been buried in Rouen.


FEBRUARY 1585 – Shakespeare in Paris

 

21st February : The Earl of Derby arrived at Saint Denis. He was sent by the Queen of England to bear the garter to the most Christian king. Lord Derby stayed two days at St Denis, & on the third day he took the roads with all his company, which consists of two other lords, fifty gentleman, & others to the number of two hundred
Giovanni Dolfin

Once in Paris, the Earl & his party took up residence at the Louvre, dazzling French nobility with the extravagance & magnificence of his embassy. On the 28th February, the Order of the Garter would be finally handed over with much ceremony to Henri III. Shakespeare must have been blown away by the experience, his ears swelling with the florid language & sickly pomp of such grandiose, courtly affairs. It must have been a moment of creative epiphany, for during his career all but one of his plays (Merry Wives of Windsor) would be set in an aristocratic environment. Our young poet would have marvell’d at the extravagances of the Earl of Derby, but the truth of the matter is that such spectacular showboating was bleeding the Earl dry, who was pretty much doing the whole thing on bills of credit. By Paris he had spent-up, of which circumstance Sir Edward Stafford wrote to Walsingham, ‘at their coming to town they had not a hundred crowns left, & no other provision.’ Sir Francis Walsingham & his bills of credit ended up footing the bill, when the cost of post-horses, carts & carriages, alone amounted to £463 15s.


MARCH 1585 – Stanley & Shakespeare Embark on their Continental Tour

In our noble sanguinities, being the second son of an aristocratic family generally means you are left to your own devices, to enjoy a life of luxury without the pressure of carrying on the family name & lands. In Elizabethan England, many of these privileged young libertines traveled extensively across Europe, & Stanley was no different. The Queen had encouraged such tours, when in her own words, ‘young men of promising hopes’ such as the Earl of Essex & Phillip Sydney did travel through, ‘foreign countries for the more complete polishing of their Parts & Studies.’ Stanley had already toured the Continent once, in 1582-83 & was going back for more.

To actually be out of gloomy England & heading for sunnier climes & all the pristine culture of Europa would have felt as wonderful to Shakespeare as it does to any modern Briton holidaying abroad. He would later remember such a moment of liberating freedom;

Believe me, sir, had I such venture forth,
The better part of my affections would
Be with my hopes abroad. I should be still
Plucking the grass to know where sits the wind,
Peering in maps for ports and piers and roads.
The Merchant of Venice

As The Garland of William Stanley describes, the optimum reason for such a continental sojurn was the study of various languages;

Then first Sir William travell’d to France,
To learn the French tongue and to dance;
He tarried there not past three years,
But he learnt their language and all their affairs.

And then Sir William would travel to Spain,
There for to learn the Spanish tongue;


MARCH 1585 – Shakespeare visits the Ardennes

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It seems that the time spent at Douay in his formative years had given Shakespeare at least a rudimentary basis in French. Nicholas Rowe once stated it was certain that Shakespeare, ‘understood French, as may be observ’d from many Words and Sentences scatter’d up and down his Plays in that Language; and especially from one Scene in Henry the Fifth written wholly in it.’ In that scene, where Katherine says, in pretty good French, ‘Alice, tu as été en Angleterre, et tu parles bien le langage,’ Alice replies, ‘un peu.’ Shakespeare’s knowledge of French would have made life much easier for our party as they traversed the primeval forest of the Ardennes between Paris & Antwerp. This very region turns up in As You Like it, where the ‘Forest of Arden’ is set in an un-named duchy of France. The play contains a wrestling match at a tournament, mirroring Thomas Aspen’s description of William Stanley’s travels in which our Grand Tourist, ‘took laurels in many of the chief tournaments.’ 

In As You Like It, a certain Rosalind dressing up as a boy-child called ‘Ganymede,’ a figure that Shakespeare drew from classical mythology. Legend states how the baby Ganymede had been abducted by Jupiter in the guise of an eagle. This very motif was chosen by the Stanleys to decorate their family’s noble crest (above), & placing the emblem in As You Like It seems a clear nod by Shakespeare to his patrons.


APRIL 1585 – Shakespeare Witnesses the Siege of Antwerp

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Among the gentlemen waiters who traveled to France in the Earl’s retinue, we may observe a 13-year-old John Donne, a young fellow destined to enter the leading ranks of the English poetic pantheon. Modern scholar Dennis Flynn shows how Donne’s uncle, Jasper Heywood, was a leading Jesuit missionary, & in the anti-Catholic atmosphere of that age, ‘he & his sister, Donne’s mother, seemingly conspired to get him out of harm’s way by arranging this trip to the continent as a member of the ambassador’s retinue,’ adding, ‘since Donne did not return to England with the Earl in March 1585, the most plausible explanation for his turning up later in Derby’s household is that at some point he joined the Earl’s son William Stanley on the continent.

We may presume that our gallant young Englishmen swaggering about the continent had at least some kind of sympathy to Catholicism, & that Jasper Heywood’s nephew, the young John Donne was welcome in their company. According to Flynn, Donne was present at the 1585 siege of Antwerp as conducted by the Duke of Parma. Flynn insists that Donne reflected upon his time at the siege in a set of ‘Latin Epigrams’ which were composed, ‘during a period datable by their contents to April or May 1585.’ Flynn cites additional evidence in a poem by Donne’s, entitled ‘To Sleep, stealling upon him as he stood upon the Guard in the corner of a running Trench, at the siege of Duke’s-Wood,’ which includes the lines;

Our very standing still here business finde;
Duty imploys our bodies, cares our minde.
Duty which may the next hour double strike;
Whilst each man here stands grasping of a pike;
Waitings stoln onsets with our weary spears,
Examining even whispers with our ears.

Despite tensions between England & Spain, Stanley’s Catholicism & noble breeding would have ensured a friendly reception from the Duke of Parma. At the siege, opposing the Spanish, were two men with connections to our party; Sir William Stanley, a kinsman of our own William Stanley, & serving under him was Richard Hesketh, the brother of the Shakeshaftean Thomas Hesketh in Lancashire.


MAY 1585 – Shakespeare Crosses France

On leaving the Antwerp seat of war, our party set off south, passing through the great Gallic hinterland. As they proceeded they would have noticed the devastation of two decades worth of civil strife. Between 1562 & 1580, the French had seen SEVEN civil wars fought between the Catholic & Protestant factions, a bloody struggle which had turned many French towns to rubble. These visions of urban desolation seem to be remembered later by Shakespeare in Henry VI (part 1);

Look on thy country, look on fertile France,
And see the cities and the towns defaced
By wasting ruin of the cruel foe.
As looks the mother on her lowly babe
When death doth close his tender dying eyes,
See, see the pining malady of France;
Behold the wounds, the most unnatural wounds,
Which thou thyself hast given her woful breast.

It is possible that as they travelled south, in the possession of one of our party members lay the delightful Informacion for Pylgrymes unto the Holy Londe, published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1498. The Rough Guide of the Middle Ages, it was packed full of advice for tavellers, including the best equipment to take with them on their journey including; ‘a lytell cawdron, a fryenge panne, dysshes, platers, cuppes of glasse… a fther bed, a matrasse, a pylawe, two payre sheets & a quylte.’ The book also suggests travelling with six chickens in cages, which brings the romantic image of travelling the continent crashing down to earth somewhat. Whether they travelled so heavily or not is not important here, & I feel it will be better for the rest of our sojurning to imagine our party as a dashing trio on horseback, galloping along the open roads of Europe, wind whipping back their hair like trailing flames – & yes, Shakespeare would have had hair in those days.


1585 – Ronsard’s Sonnets

Pierre de Ronsard

While in France Shakespeare seems to have made his acquaintance with the recently published sonnets of prince of the ‘poets,” Pierre Ronsard, freshly remade from 1578’s sonnets pour Helene.’ J Dover Wilson declared the influence of these sonnets on Shakespeare as ‘pretty conclusive,’ while HM Richmond (Ronsard & the English Renaissance – Comparative Literature StudiesVol. 7, No. 2 (Jun., 1970), – explain’d for Shakespeare’s world view is usually mapped out in Ronsard’s expository poems, like ‘Les Daimons’ & the ‘Hymn de la Mort.‘ They provide specific allusions & imagery clarifying such famous speeches as ‘To be or not to be‘ & ‘Be absolute for death.‘ The especial transmutational qualities of Ronsard’s literary gift were absorbed by Shakespeare who would also transfoim all he touch’d into something new & strange.  Of the 111 sonnets, number 42 is the most famous;

When you are very old, by candlelight in the evening,
Sitting by the fire, reeling and spinning,
Say, singing my verses, marveling:
“Ronsard celebrated me when I was beautiful!” “

Then you will not have a servant hearing such news,
Already under half-sleeping labor,
Who does not wake up at the sound of Ronsard,
Blessing your name of immortal praise.

I’ll be underground, and, boneless ghost,
By the mysterious shadows; I will take my rest;
You will be at home an old squatting,

Regretting my love and your proud disdain.
Live, if you believe me, don’t wait until tomorrow:
Pick the roses of life today.

Ronsard died at La Riche, Tours, on the 27th December 1585, the very same year that Shakespeare was in the country. They may even have met as our party headed south, for Shakespeare seems to have become very familiar with Ronsard’s The Adonis (1564), upon which mythological canvas was unleashed a variety of tones in the very same way as which as the bard would treat the same Ovidian fable. Meanwhile, in 1918, one of the Derbyites – those who think that William Stanley was in fact Shakespeare – Abel Lefranc identified Ophelia in Hamlet to be a portrait of Hélène de Tournon, a young woman who is supposed to have died of love and whose story was told by Pierre de Ronsard.


JUNE 1585 – Shakespeare Visits Nerac

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In the summer of 1585, Shakespeare accompanied Stanley – & Donne – into the kingdom of Navarre, which stretched across both sides of the Pyrenees like a blanket drying on a wall. On arrival they received an excellent welcome – Stanley’s father had befriended Henri of Navarre in their youth & he himself had been in Nerac only three years previously. Shakespeare’s own time in the kingdom would heavily influence his composition of Love’s Labours Lost. Set in Navarre itself, Abel Lefranc describes that play’s, ‘easy familiarity with the atmosphere reigning at the court of Navarre… the Park of Navarre… is easily identifiable with the park of Nerac.’

The town of Nerac lies in south-west France, near Toulouse, in which place Henri of Navarre had installed a humanist academy whose academic atmosphere permeates the poetry of Love’s Labours Lost. In this charming play we encounter the austere intellectual endeavors of four young men completely rattled by the arrival of the Princess of France, when all pretensions of mental asceticism soon descend into glib rounds of love-gifts, sonnets & masques. The charming start of Love’s Labours Lost shows the state of mind of four young men, whose ebullient language bubbles with a deep passion for scholarship.

ACT I SCENE I. The king of Navarre’s park;
Enter FERDINAND king of Navarre, BIRON, LONGAVILLE and DUMAIN

FERDINAND
Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live register’d upon our brazen tombs
And then grace us in the disgrace of death;
When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,
The endeavor of this present breath may buy
That honour which shall bate his scythe’s keen edge
And make us heirs of all eternity.
Therefore, brave conquerors,–for so you are,
That war against your own affections
And the huge army of the world’s desires,–
Our late edict shall strongly stand in force:
Navarre shall be the wonder of the world;
Our court shall be a little Academe,
Still and contemplative in living art.
You three, Biron, Dumain, and Longaville,
Have sworn for three years’ term to live with me
My fellow-scholars, and to keep those statutes
That are recorded in this schedule here

The three years that Stanley spent on the continent (1585-1587) are a direct match for the three-year course of study planned by the play’s principle character, Ferdinand; alongside Biron, Dumain, and Longaville, two of whom are perhaps metapoetic reflections of Shakespeare & Donne. When Biron says, ‘study is like the heaven’s glorious sun,’ we can sense the importance Shakespeare attached to his time in Nerac.

If Love’s Labours Lost is Shakespeare’s poetical tribute to his time in Navarre, then the part of Ferdinand would have been based upon King Henry. Likewise Shakespeare, Stanley & John Donne would have been reflected by Longaville, Dumain & Biron. That our intrepid tourists were in reality setting out upon a quest for educational enlightenment finds a thorough reflection in the play’s passionate desire for learning – one stymied by the arrival of women at Nerac. This could well be a remembrance of true events, for in the play we get the first whiff of Shakespeare’s infidelities;

First, from the park let us conduct them thither;
Then homeward every man attach the hand
Of his fair mistress: in the afternoon
We will with some strange pastime solace them,
Such as the shortness of the time can shape;
For revels, dances, masks and merry hours
Forerun fair Love, strewing her way with flowers.

Emile Montegut describes the familiarity of Love’s Labour’s Lost with the idiosynchracies of the French court; ‘it is something extraordinary to observe Shakespeare’s fidelity to the most minute details of historic truth. The conversations of his lords & ladies are thoroughly French; vivacious, sprightly, witty, an unbroken game of battledore & shuttelcock, a skirmish of bons mots, a mimic war of repartee. Even their bad taste is quite French.’

We must acknowledge Shakespeare’s uncanny knowledge of local politics, for both the Dukes ‘De Biron’ & ‘Longueville’ were actual allies of Henri of Navarre in real life, while Derran Charlton tells us, ‘the names Boyet, Marcade & de la Mothe appear in contemporary registers of court officials.’ The play contains a certain Lord Dumain, who was a counterpart in the very real Duke of Maine. When Charlton adds into the mix,’The King’s impetuous riding (4.1.1-2) & his covering the whole sheet, ‘margin & all,’ in his letter-writing (5.2.7-8) were actual habits of Henri of Navarre,’ it becomes almost necessary to accept that Shakespeare had visited Nerac, where he undoubtedly met Henry of Navarre in person.


AUGUST 1585: Shakespeare In Spain

On leaving Nerac, the party ascended the myriad-mountain’d Pyrenees; those gorgeous rocky giants abutting the beautiful, sierra-swept lands of Spain.

And then Sir William would travel to Spain,
There for to learn the Spanish tongue ;
He tarried there not past half a year,
But he thought he’d been in Spain too long

Their route south would have crossed the ancient pilgrim’s way ot Compostela, which Shakepseare would later record in All’s Well That Ends Well;

I am Saint Jaques’ pilgrim, thither gone.
Ambitious love hath so in me offended
That barefoot plod I the cold ground upon
With sainted vow my faults to have amended

 

That Shakespeare was with Stanley in Spain has been half-noticed by Sir Henry Thomas. Of the ‘Tawny Spain’ phrase found in Love’s Labour’s Lost, he declares it, ‘so apt a description of the landscape, at least in some parts of Spain & at certain seasons of the year, that it suggests personal observation. I such it really was, the trip to Spain might be a youthful escapade.’ Shakespeare seems to have also understood the rudiments of the Spanish tongue, with Sir Henry stating; ‘it is common ground that Shakespeare had some knowledge of Spain and the Spaniards that a few Spanish words were among his stock-in-trade… Shakespeare’s allusions to Spain are very numerous, he uses Spanish phrases and gives an English garb to others.

Learning Spanish enabled Shakespeare to study its literature, such as the 1585 edition of La Galatea by Cervantes, containing the Proteus-Julia-Sylvia love triangle, which would later inspire The Two Gentlemen of Verona, & Lope de Rueda’s  ‘Comedia los Enganos,’ the seminal influence on Twelfth Night. It is a tantalising thought to imagine Shakespeare buying La Galatea in the very year & in the very country it was printed.

kw3300101Remembrances of Donne’s visit to Spain are foundupon a portrait of the young poet, painted in 1591, where we see the phrase; ‘Antes muerto que mudado.’ Its translation is ‘sooner dead than changed,’ reflecting a secret nod to his Roman Catholicism. Donne may have picked up the phrase at first hand while in Spain, in the middle of stocking up on books for his personal library. In his middle-age, in 1623, Donne wrote a letter to the Duke of Buckingham confessing, ‘in my poore library I can turn my eye toward no shelf, in any profession from the mistress of my youth, Poetry, to the wife of mine age, Divinity, but that I meet with more authors of the {Spanish} nation than of any others.’


August 1585 – Shakespeare’s Spanish Reading

While in Spain, Shakespeare bought books to study upon those long journeys that the pre-mechanised era entailed. While never as big a fan as Donne would become, Spanish literature definitely influenced Shakespeare, as Sir Henry Thomas connecting together most assiduously;

The Winter’s Tale to Amadis de Grecia… The Tempest is at any rate related to Eslava’s Noches de Invierno, even if Shakespeare knew nothing of the Spanish book. His apparent allusion to The Mirror of Knighthood may warrant the suspicion that he read, and perhaps utilized that romance ; and we may at least speculate as to whether he came under the influence of Cervantes and the Celestina… It has for some time been on record that Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and Twelfth Night deal respectively with the same subjects as Lope de Rueda’s Comedia Eufemia and Comedia de los Enganados, and his Romeo and Juliet with the same theme as Lope de Vega’s Castelvines y Monteses. Recently Pericles, which is partly Shakespeare’s work, has been similarly brought into line with Gil Vicente’s Comedia de Rubena… The earliest Spanish work that has been connected with Shakespeare is the Conde Lucanor, the fourteenth-century collection of apologues by Don Juan Manuel, which was first published in 1575. One of the stories told in the Conde Lucanor, obviously taken from an oriental source, has a similar theme to The Taming of the Shrew, and as late as 1909 Mr. Martin Hume was still claiming that the Shakespearian play was derived from the Spanish story… Over a century ago, Robert Southey, fixing on the name Florizel in The Winter’s Tale, observed that Shakespeare in this play imitated Amadis de Grecia— one of Feliciano de Silva’s continuations of the famous romance Amadis de Guala— which was not translated into English till 1693.

O! had thy mother borne so hard a mind,
She had not brought forth thee, but died unkind.


SEPTEMBER 1585 – Shakespeare Sees Venus & Adonis

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Like any good tourist, Shakespeare availed himself of the opportunities to wander foreign caches of culture. While visiting the Court of King Phillip II in Madrid, he would observe two paintings by the great Italian renaissance painter, Titian. Since the 1550s, Titian had created a series of large mythological paintings for the Spanish king, Philip II. Many of these were taken from Ovid’s ‘Metamorpheses’ including ‘Danae’, ‘Venus and Adonis’, ‘Perseus and Andromeda’ and the ‘Rape of Europa.’ In letters to his patron, Titian monickered the paintings as ‘poesie,’ to distinguish them from standard historical paintings. Hung in the Alcázar Palace in Madrid, viewing them would have been a totally immersive experience & one only a fabulously wealthy monarch such as the silver-stealing emperor of the Spanish Empire could afford.

Two of the paintings are intrrinsically tied to Shakespeare,The Rape of Lucrece and Venus & Adonis, with the substance of each utilised by Shakespeare for two long poems printed in the early 1590s.  It seems our poet was inspired to begin the composition of at least ‘Venus & Adonis’ almost immediately, for on its publication in 1593, on the title page Shakespeare calls the poem ‘the first heir of my invention.’ A key factor in placing Shakespeare directly in front of & staring at Titian’s painting can be observed in the poet’s rejection of Ovid’s version of events, & his following of Titian instead. Like Shakespeare’s depiction, the painting has Adonis backing away from the advances of Venus, shirking Ovid’s portrayal of the young god happily embracing his bonnie suitor. ‘Fie, lifeless picture, cold and senseless stone, Well-painted idol,‘ says Venus, who around the neck of Adonis, ‘her yoking arms she throws: She sinketh down, still hanging by his neck.‘ This is just as is pictorially described by Titian, as is Shakespeare having Adonis ‘urging release… from the twining arms.’  Shakespeare also appears to be mirroring the painting when he writes, ‘O, what a war of looks was then between them!’ 

More evidence that Shakespeare saw the painting & wanted to recreate the story it told in words comes within the poem itself. Erwin Panofsky, in his, ‘Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographical,‘ writes, ‘Shakespeare’s words, down to such details as the nocturnal setting and “love upon her backe deeply distrest,” sound like a poetic paraphrase of Titian’s composition,’ & gives stanza 136 as a good example;

With this he breaketh from the sweet embrace
Of those faire armes which bound him to her brest,
And homeward through the dark lawnd runs apace;
Leaves love upon her backe, deeply distrest.
Looke, how a bright star shooteth from the skye,
So glides he in the night from Venus’s eye.

The poem is very much moulded by homoerotica, suggesting Shakespeare had been seduced by Stanley on their Grand Tour. On analysis of the poem, we may observe how Venus – who would be based on Stanley – is rather more humanized than one would expect of a member of the immortal pantheon. The poem could in actuality be a versified memorial to Stanley & his sexual overtures towards the younger, twenty-one year old, Adonis-like Shakespeare. Evidence for such a sequence of events may be obtained through understanding the Elizabathan tendency to name one another via ingenious allusions.

(i) In the poem, Venus says to Adonis; ‘Art thou obdurate, flinty, hard as steel? Nay, more than flint, for stone at rain relenteth: Art thou a woman’s son, and canst not feel what ’tis to love? How want of love tormenteth?’
(ii) In 1597, a young Cambridge graduate named Joseph Hall published two books of satires in which he marks out for especial criticism a certain ‘Labeo,’ telling him to ‘write better’ three times, & at one point to even refrain from writing completely.
(iii) In 1598, John Marston wrote, ‘so Labeo did complain his love was stone, Obdurate, flinty, so relentless none.’ This hints that Labeo was the same person as Shakespeare’s Venus – ie William Stanley. At this very period, John Marston was heavily involved with Stanley in reviving the St Paul’s Boys troupe, & would have acquired an intimate insight into the secret Stanley-Shakespeare affections.
(iv) In 1599, we gain solid evidence concerning Stanley’s mediocre, playwrighting pretensions. In a letter which George Fenner sent to Humphrey Galdelli, Stanley was said to be, ‘busy penning plays for the common players.’ These were most probably The Maid’s Metamorphosis and The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll, two ‘anonymous’ productions performed in 1599 by the St Paul’s Boys. Both of these are inferior productions of the Elizabethan tradition, & may be among the pieces criticized by Joseph Hall when he attacked the dodgy writings of ‘Labeo.’


SEPTEMBER 1585 – Stanley Duels with a Spaniard

With the Armarda only three years away, to be an Englishman in Spain in 1585 must have been a tense experience. Relations between the two countries were steadily souring, & our party got themselves into a bit of a scrape. Thomas Aspen describes how Stanley;

Was challenged by a Spanish nobleman to single combat. In the first encounter the Spaniard succeeded in wounding Sir William on his right arm, and causing him to fall to the ground, but he was soon upon his feet again. In the second round the Spaniard aimed three deadly blows at the wounded Englishman, but they were all skillfully averted, and Sir William gave his adversary a thrust on the right breast, inflicting a severe wound, and causing him to reel to the ground. Blood flowed freely, and the friends of the Spanish nobleman counselled his withdrawal from the contest, but he was too enraged to heed their advice, and in the third encounter rushed at Sir William with the force of desperation, but the blows were successfully parried, and the representative of the house of Stanley once more secured the crown of victory by inflicting a second wound on the breast of the Spaniard, and thus effectually disabling him.

This would not be the last time a bunch of (probably drunk) English tourists got themselves into a spot of bother in Spain, but having survived the fracas it was definitely time to hop-it out of a country growing more & more hostile by the hour.


OCTOBER 1585 – Shakespeare Passes Through Aragon

In the anonymous 1801 appendix, ‘A Brief Account of the Travels of the Celebrated Sir William Stanley,’ we are told that following his duel in Spain, Stanley predicted ‘the vengeance of the whole court would fall upon him‘ & so purchased the habit of a friar in order to flee the country in disguise. As they made their way through Aragon, enduring ‘considerable hardships,’ I believe Shakespeare took down a series of notes which would find a home in the extremely popular 17th century play, Mucedorus.

The earliest known edition of this play is dated to the year 1598; but the words, ‘newly set foorth,’ on the title page indicate an earlier performance. The plot has a certain Prince of Valencia disguising himself as a shepherd so he can sneak into Aragon in order to view its famously beautiful Princess – a sequence of events which heavily echo Stanley’s own incognito travels in the same district. That Shakespeare had a hand in the writing of the play came to light in the 17th century, when the play was assigned to Shakespeare in Edward Archer’s play list of 1656. In that very period three scripts were discovered in the royal library of Charles II, bound together & labelled ‘Shakespeare. Vol. I’. The MS contained Fair Em, The Merry Devil of Edmonton & a the vital 1610 quarto printing of Mucedorus.


OCTOBER 1585 – Shakespeare crosses the French Riviera

Roussillon

After the sojurn in Spain, the Garland tells us, ‘to Italy then Sir William would go, To Rome.’ It is apparent that our intrepid poetical gentlemen took the land route, for on leaving the gorgeous sierras of Spain they must have passed through Roussillon, a region which which makes an appearance in All’s Well That Ends Well. Roussillon, stands at the start of the French Riviera, while further along the coast we reach the sprawling sea-port of Marseille, another of All’s Well’s localities. This play is also set in the city of Florence, Italy, & one expects Alls Well to be some kind of metapoetic tribute to one of Shakespeare’s 1585 journeys, the one that swept him along the French Riviera & into northern Italy.


 

Posted on March 4, 2020, in The Young Shakespeare. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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