The Young Shakespeare (9): Shakespeare At Sea

Capture


Discovering the fascinating truth

Of Shakespeare’s missing years


APRIL 1586
Shakespeare crosses the Adriatic

800px-Adriatic_Sea_-_Venice0448

images3That Shakespeare took to the whale-roads is reflected by an extremely accurate knowledge of both the sea & its sailing terms. Most scholars presume he acquired this knowledge thro’ book-reading, but with Sir Henry Mainwaring releasing the first nautical dictionary only in 1644, this avenue may be precluded. Instead, of Shakespeare’s sealore, AF Falconer declares he, ‘must have learned it first hand for there was no other way,’ adding that the Bard possess’d, ‘an understanding of naval ceremony, naval strategy & the duties & characteristic ways of officers & men.’ One passage in particular contains a highly obscure sailing term;

Believe me, sir, she is the goodliest woman
That ever lay by man: which when the people
Had the full view of, such a noise arose
As the shrouds make at sea in a stiff tempest

‘It is a puzzle,’ writes WB Whall, ‘how Shakespeare, unless he had been a sailor, could have known enough of sea life to write such a magnificently apt simile as this. It could not have occurred to anyone who had not been at sea. The shrouds are the heavy ropes of the rigging which supports the masts of a ship on neither side so that they can carry sail.’ Another naval accuracy comes in Hamlet’s, ‘methought I lay worse than the mutinies in the bilboes,’ with the latter word being sea-slang for leg-shackles. One also gets the feeling that Shakespeare even personally experienced a ship-wreck, his plays are simply littered with them, including;

After our ship did split,
When you and those poor number saved with you
Hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother,
Most provident in peril, bind himself,
Courage and hope both teaching him the practise,
To a strong mast that lived upon the sea;
Twelfth Night 1:2

Across the Adriatic from Italy lie the thousand-islands of Croatia, or Illyria as it was known in more antique times. In 1553, an English gentleman called John Locke recorded his own pilgrimage to Jerusalem, & withit being only three decades before Shakespeare, its pretty close to how it woudl have been for our party.

We sayled all the day long by the bowline alongst the coast of Ragusa {Dubrovnik}, and towardes night we were within 7 or 8 miles of Ragusa , that we might see the white walles, but because it was night, we cast about to the sea, minding at the second watch, to beare it againe to Ragusa… This citie of Ragusa paieth tribute to the Turke yerely fourteene thousand Sechinos, and every Sechino is of venetian money eight livers and two soldes, besides other presents which they give to the Turkes Bassas when they come thither. The Venetians have a rocke or cragge within a mile of the said towne, for the which the Raguseos would give them much money, but they doe keepe it more for the namesake, then for profite. This rocke lieth on the Southside of the towne, and is called Il cromo, there is nothing on it but onely a Monasterie called Sant Jeronimo. The maine of the Turkes countrie is bordering on it within one mile, for the which cause they are in great subjection.

In 1586 Illyria was the only independent city-state on the eastern littoral of the Adriatic in the sixteenth century. It is mentioned ten times by Shakespeare, who sets his Twelfth Night there, which we may now conject was after he had experienced for himself the port of Ragusa. As one hears references to Illyria’s coasts, sailors, the ‘Uskok’ pirates, tall population & robust wines, one senses the snatch of time Shakespeare had with the country as he sailed south through the Adriatic. Elsewhere in the canon, the term for Ragusa’s ships, Argosies (after Ragosies), was used by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Henry VI, Part III and The Taming of the Shrew, while in Measure for Measure a plot turn in the last act depended on the substitution of the severed head of a “Rhagozin” pirate for Claudio’s. A Croatian on ths pot, Josip Torbarina, in his “The Setting of Shakespeare’s Plays,” (Studia Romanica et Anglica Zagrabiensia 17 (1964) & Shakespeare & Dubrovnik (1977) amasses compelling evidence for Shakespeare’s use of contemporary Dalmatia and the city of Ragusa as the setting for Twelfth Night.


MAY 1586
Stanley in Egypt

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Leaving ‘Illyria,’ our party sailed on to Egypt, & the sweaty flesh-pots of its capital, Cairo. On arriving they would have sought out the principle headquarters of the Levant Company, from which office emanated tendrils of pre-imperial trade into the ports & courts of the eastern Mediterranean. Powerful cities such as Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Jerusalem, Damascus & Aleppo had all become secure stopping-stations for the Levant Company, as was Constantinople, where Company man William Harborne had become the de facto English ambassador to the Ottomans. Within two decades the East Indies Company would be formed, the majority of its nucleus members being Levant Company men, & one could say that British India has its true roots in these Elizabethan mercantile expeditions to the east.

The connection between William Stanley & the Levant Company begins with Barry Coward, author of a book on the history of the Stanley family, who states, ‘from 1584 to 1593 Earl Henry borrowed as he had never done before… the loans raised by Earl Henry & his son, Ferdinando, were all raised by bonds pledging a cash surety, made with important London merchant financiers, like John lacy, Richard Martin, Peter Vanlore, Michael Cornleius, William Cuslowe, Nicholas Mosley, & Sir Rowland Hayward.’ A key link here is Richard Martin, a two-time mayor of London & one of the founding members of the Levant Company in 1581. The Stanley’s financial embroilment with such a fellow would have led to William Stanley being sent to check up on the family’s investments in the new markets.

nile-crocodile-16th-century-artwork-middle-temple-libraryStanley’s journey to Egypt is given more details by Thomas Aspen, who records; ‘afterwards he proceeded to Egypt, and with the assistance of a native guide, went to reconnoitre the River Nile. Whilst on their journey, a large male tiger suddenly appeared from behind a thicket, and with a hideous howl came rushing towards them. Sir William had two pistols, and discharged one as the tiger was making a spring at them. Unfortunately he missed his aim, and it was only by dexterously stepping aside that he eluded the grasp of the ferocious brute. Before the animal had time to take another spring, Sir William drew a second pistol, discharged the contents into the tiger’s breast, and as it reeled drew his sword and killed it.’ That our party visited the River Nile allows us to look deeper into one of Donne’s sonnets.

See, sir, how, as the sun’s hot masculine flame
Begets strange creatures on Nile’s dirty slime,
In me your fatherly yet lusty rhyme
For these songs are their fruits—have wrought the same.
But though th’ engend’ring force from which they came
Be strong enough, and Nature doth admit
Seven to be born at once; I send as yet
But six; they say the seventh hath still some maim.
I choose your judgment, which the same degree
Doth with her sister, your invention, hold,
As fire these drossy rhymes to purify,
Or as elixir, to change them to gold.
You are that alchemist, which always had
Wit, whose one spark could make good things of bad.

This sonnet’s opening lines invoke a definite sense of witnessing the Nile at first hand. The decisive evidence comes with the sonnet being placed among a sequence dedicated by Donne to a certain ‘E of D,’ implying his Grand Tour patron,William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby.


MAY 1586
Shakespeare’s Sonnets to Stanley

Gay men in Egypt- it actually illegal in the country these days
Gay men in Egypt-  manlove is actually illegal in the country these days

Shakespeare’s own time in Egypt is reflected by two unusual eye-witness accounts found in two of his earliest plays;

Thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog
Twelfth Night

An Egyptian that had nine hours lien dead who was by good appliance recovered
Pericles

Just as Donne was writing deliciously sensuous sonnets to & for Stanley, so was Shakespeare. What happens on the Grand Tour stays on the Grand Tour, & here was our bard in Egypt, where the demands of a young family had been replaced by poetical yearnings to see pyramids & sail the love-barges of Cleopatra. He was also traveling with a prominent member of his country’s royal family, & as we have discerned from the secret back story behind Venus & Adonis, Stanley actually fancied him. Sleeping your way to the top has always been a good way to get ahead, & in Shakespeare’s case he didn’t mind if it was with a member of the opposite sex. Read what you will of it as you may, but on his return to England Shakespeare never sired another child, implying perhaps he became fully LGBTQ on the Grand Tour.

It is Shakespeare’s love for Stanley that provides an important keystone in the dissemination of the many mysteries behind Shakespeare’s famous sonnet sequence. The form chosen for these poetical lovegasms is the short, 14-line photo-poem – the sonnet –  a poetical form capable of storing some of the most refined & musical expressions of human thought. That Shakespeare was writing sonnets at such an early stage in his career was opined by his greatest biographer, & most ardent analyticist, Sydney Lee, who proclaim’d; ‘in both their excellences & their defects Shakespeare’s sonnets betray their kinship to his early dramatic work,’ compating their, ‘unimpressive displays of verbal jugglery,’ with similar instances in the early plays.

Eventually published in 1609, Shakespeare’s sequence seems to be a collection of individual sonnet-clusters. The exact order in which these sequences of creative pulses, eternally crystalized & unified by gorgeous iambic pentameter, were written is beyond the remit of this book. One of these mini-sequences reflects Shakespeare’s homosexual love for a young aristocratic man & in 1586, there were no love sonnet sequences from one man to another except for one – Michaelangelo’s impassioned sonnets to Tommasso dei Cavalieri which Shakespeare may even have come across in Italy.

So who was Shakespeare’s muse? That the fellow is a member of the uppermost echelons of the aristocracy is suggested by sonnet 125, which begins, ‘were it ought to me I bore the canopy.’ The ceremonial material in question is that carried over the head of the incumbent monarch by England’s leading noblemen, in procession to Westminster Abbey & the coronation. On becoming the Earl of Derby himself, William Stanley himself would conduct this very act at the 1603 coronation of James I.

Over the past two centuries, the Bard’s corpse has been argued over & dissected so much, that hardly anything remains of the man: his flesh & bones have been shredded, flung & scattered across the ever-expanding wastelands of Shakespearean criticism. The one bonus of all these efforts is that the Elizabethan Age has been scrutinized to a near infinite degree by scholars hoping to turn up some precious new nugget of biographical detail concerning the Bard. There have been successes & among this vast sea of uncertainty one may find the following island of logical thinking;

A few years down the road, & increasingly mindful of Haines’ caution to Buck Milligan that Shakespeare’s sonnets are, ‘the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance,’ I nonetheless came to conclude from the evidence I accumulated that not only was Barnfield’s Ganymede the sixth Earl of Derby, William Stanley, but also that Barnfield published poems from 1594 (including over twenty homoerotic love sonnets) were in dialogue with some of Shakespeare’s own homoerotic sonnets to his Fair Youth... we hardly have reason to be very surprised if, after all, Shakespeare’s beloved & revered male addressee might turn out to be William Stanley

This passage was written by Leo Daugherty whom, after surviving such a process of intense academic endeavour with his wits intact, stated in his brilliant book, ‘William Shakespeare, Richard Barnfield & the Sixth Earl of Derby’ that he had made, ‘conclusions of some enormity.’ The crux of his excited proclamation was that the identity of the Handsome Youth was a certain Elizabethan nobleman called William Stanley. Yes, our William Stanley! It makes sense, for there are positive analogies in language between Venus and this set of sonnets.

There is one sonnet in particular that reflects the logistical relationship between Shakespeare & Stanley, with our young poet highlighting his role as a retainer ;

Being your slave what should I do but tend
Upon the hours, and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend;
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world without end hour,
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think ofnought
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love, that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.


JUNE 1586
Shakespeare joins the Levant Company fleet

We have now placed Shakespeare firmly among the buccaneering world of corsairs that constituted the Elizabethan navy, where men like Drake, Hawkins & Raleigh were the idols of the day. Our young bard is about to board one of the Levant Company shipsin Egypt with all five vessels of the mini-fleet having made successful trading operations in Turkey, Egypt & Syria. Three of the ships had met up in the Egyptian port of Alexandria: The Toby, the Susan & the Edward Bonaventure; & by the June of 1586 they had combined with the remaining two Company ships off the Greek island of Zante.

All five ships, & four other non-Compant vessels from England, had fused together for security reasons – the journey through the Straits of Gibraltar, a cannon’s shot from hostile Spain, would be treacherous for one or two vessels traveling on their own. It was a prudent move, as a very real danger was imminent; two separate squadrons of Spanish & Maltese galleys had left the Straits of Gibraltar & were hunting down the English like hungry, prowling wolves.


JULY 1586
The Battle of Pantelleria

Spanish_Galley

Deep in the middle of a sultry summer, Shakespeare found himself sailing west through the Mediterranean as a passenger of the Levant Company fleet. After safely bypassing Malta, they were suddenly intercepted by a squadron of eleven Spanish and Maltese galleys under Don Pedro de Leyva. The engagement took place off the island of Pantelleria on the 13th July, a five-hour running battle which saw the massive devastation of Spanish ships like some prophetic glimmer of the Armada. A Venetian ambassador to Rome, Giovanni Gritti, recorded;

Between Sicily & the island of Pantalara the galleys of Naples & of Sicily fell in with nine English galleys returning form Constantinople, full of merchandise, & although they attacked the English ships they failed to take them. The galleys have returned to Naples for reinforcement & will sail again to search for the English. They have sent news of these English to Genoa, so that they may be on the look out for them in the waters of Corsica & Sardinia

After five hours of fighting the Spanish galleys had been battered into submission. On the English side only two sailors had died, & a handful more being wounded. The tough English sailors had simply outmaneuvered, & more importantly, outgunned the Spanish. Remembrances of Shakespeare witnessing such a brutal sea-battle lies scatter’d throughout this plays. AF Falconer writes how he, ‘distinguishes between various types of ordnance & gun, understands how they work & are managed, & is familiar with gunnery terms & words of command.’ We can see for ourselves in examples, such as

The nimble gunner
With linstock now the devilish cannon touches
Henry V

Like an overcharged gun, recoil
And turn the force of them upon thyself
2 Henry VI

What’s this? a sleeve? ’tis like a demi-cannon
What, up and down, carved like an apple-tart?
Taming of the Shrew


JULY 1586
Shakespeare visits Linosa

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While stopping for provisions & water round about the time of the Battle of Pantelleria, Shakespeare took a wander of the island of Linosa – anciently ‘Aethusa.’ In a great moment of creative fusion, the island became embedded in his mnemonic vaults, & probably sketch & reported on in his notebooks, ready for the right moment to become the setting of one of his poems or plays. This eventually occurred when Shakespeare was writing the Tempest, the last to be performed publicaly in his lifetime.

Linosa is an extremely pretty island, its three lofty cones being the spiky remnants of ancient volcanoes. In Shakespeare’s time Linosa was deserted, like the other islands of the Pelagian archipelago in which it lies. Of a possible Tempestesque shipwreck on the island, GD Gussone wrote; ‘before 1828 some travelers going to Linosa found three human skeletons on those mountains which, in his opinion, where the remains of men who were perhaps thrown by a storm on to the island and that miserably perished for lack of food.’

imgresLinosa’s position between Sicily & Tunisia fits neatly with the geography of the Tempest, in which Alonso, King of Naples, washes up on a deserted island on his way to see the King of Tunis. The island also plays host to the witch Syrocrax, banished there from Tunisia’s neighbor, Algiers. The true Syrocrax is mentioned in John Ogilby’s ‘Accurate Description of Africa,’ in which she advises, soothsayer fashion, the commander of Algiers not to surrender the city to Emperor Charles V in 1541. The citizens did as they were bidden, & the fleet of Charles V was destroyed in a ‘terrible Tempest.’ Unfortunately for Syrocrax, ‘to palliate the shame and the reproaches that are thrown upon them for making use of a witch,’ she was exiled in a pregnant state on Linosa, & was perhaps even one of the skeletons found on the island. According to the Tempest, she was dead by the events of the play, but her son Caliban was still alive. His character, then, may have been based on a real meeting with Shakespeare, whose bones were laid to rest beside his mother’s on the mountains.


330px-Torquato_TassoJuly 6th 1586: Tasso released from the Asylum

While Shakespeare was fighting the Battle of Pantelleria, after seven years of poor mental health Torquato Tasso was released from Hospital of St. Anna at Ferrara, at the request of Vincenzo I Gonzaga, Prince of Mantua. Gonzago was a major patron of the arts and sciences, and had turn’d Mantua into a vibrant cultural center. Tasso, Italy’s finest renaissance poet, was given a beautiful apartment in the royal palace, furnished with comforts he could need. Perfect conditions for poetic composition, which climate soon inspired Tasso to rework his 1573 tragedy Galealto Re di Norvegia into a new drama, Torrismondo.


AUGUST 1586
Shakespeare in Algiers

After the battle of Pantelleria, the Company fleet headed for Algiers in order to restock supplies & make any necessary battle-repairs. These movements fit neatly into the itinerary of William Stanley, who according to the Garland visited ‘the King of Morocco and his nobles all / Then went to the King of Barbary.’ A connection between Stanley & North Africa comes through the Barbary Company, formed in 1585. The Queen herself had invested in the project, alongside Stanley’s father. The Levant Company connection is tentative, but the presence of William Stanley at this particular emporium further supports the notion he may have been working for his father – details on contracts needed to be fine-tuned, perhaps, or accounts checked.

Despite suffering little in losses & damage, the battle of Pantelleria would have shredded the nerves of our young party, & at this point Stanley would have ordered his youngest charge, John Donne, to make his way back to England in the relative safety of the armed merchantmen. With the help of a thick sea-mist, this little fleet avoided the waiting Spanish at Gibraltar, & was soon unloading their wares at the London docks. John Donne would eventually return once more to the service of the Earl of Derby, where on the 13th May 1587 the Derby Household Books included a ‘Mr John Downes’ alongside the same six waiters who appeared on the 1585 retinue list with a certain ‘Mr John Donnes.


 

Posted on March 15, 2020, in The Young Shakespeare. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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