The Young Shakespeare (10): Tasso & the Alchemist, John Dee


Discovering the fascinating truth

Of Shakespeare’s missing years


September 1586: Shakespeare Meets Tasso

On leaving Algeria, Stanley & Shakespeare sailed into the Tyrranean Sea, passing Sardinia & entering Italy at either Livorno or Genoa. From here they re-entered Lombardy, and in September reached Mantua. Its ruler, Duke William, father of Prince Vincenzo, was in a receptive mood to the arts. Analyzing the letters of Striggio, we learn that Duke William was looking for young instrumentalists, &  gives a lovely flavour of the age;

I have received from Messer Flavio Riccio Your Illustrious Lordship’s note and I have informed him that in Florence there are two lads, aged 16 or 17, but they are poor and brought up by Franzosino of the Abandonati. They play cornett, transverse flute, viola and trombone. Franzosino has them play constantly, every day on the Grand Duke’s balcony [on the Palazzo Vecchio; or the Loggia de’ Lanzi] and at table. They also performed at the comedy which the Grand Duke put on for the Ferrara wedding (Florence, 1586). They do not have a regular salary from His Highness, although they are constantly in service. But they go about playing in churches, accompanied by the organ, wherever necessary, in Lucca and Pistoia and elsewhere, as requested. One of them would be suitable for His Highness {Duke William}, and although they are not altogether excellent they are at least more than passable. Because they are dependent and obligated to Franzosino, who has taught them, it is necessary to refer to and come to an agreement with him; also to clothe and provide shoes for them, for they are still supplied with clothes from the Ospedale, and they still eat and sleep there, unless things have changed since I left Florence.

There are several pointers which suggest that Shakespeare encountered Tasso while visiting Mantua. Tasso’s sister was called Cornelia, the same name as Titus Andronicus, which I suspect Shakespeare was comping at the time. The birth of the bard’s version of Hamlet may have also been born from this prodigious meeting. There are clear connections between Hamlet’s madness & that of Tasso’s – both occasionaly feigned – & we can trace a connection between Hamlet’s drawing of his sword in his stepmother’s chamber, where he killed the chief counseller Polinus, & Tasso’s drawing of a knife on a servant in the Duchess of Urbino’s apartment in 1577. There is also the famous play-within-a-play embedded within Hamlet, which concerns the very family into which Tasso had been released. It appears in Act 3 scene 2 as a play called The Murder of Gonzago (or The Mousetrap), during which we hear;

He poisons him i’ th’ garden for ’s estate. His name’s Gonzago. The story is extant, and writ in choice Italian. You shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife.

It is a delightful thought to imagine the Italian poet reciting some of his magnificent poem, Jerusalem Delivered, to Shakespeare in Mantua. One character in the epic that may have stuck was the Saracen sorceress, Armida, who in the strongest moments of emotion forgets her spellcraft & resorts to tears & prayers & persuasions. A few years later, when Shakespeare was writing Anthony & Cleopatra, he has the latter do just the same;

CLEOPATRA
O my lord, my lord,
Forgive my fearful sails! I little thought
You would have follow’d.

MARK ANTONY
Egypt, thou knew’st too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by the strings,
And thou shouldst tow me after: o’er my spirit
Thy full supremacy thou knew’st, and that
Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods
Command me.

CLEOPATRA
O, my pardon!

MARK ANTONY
Now I must
To the young man send humble treaties, dodge
And palter in the shifts of lowness; who
With half the bulk o’ the world play’d as I pleased,
Making and marring fortunes. You did know
How much you were my conqueror; and that
My sword, made weak by my affection, would
Obey it on all cause.

CLEOPATRA
Pardon, pardon!

MARK ANTONY
Fall not a tear, I say; one of them rates
All that is won and lost: give me a kiss;
Even this repays me. We sent our schoolmaster;
Is he come back? Love, I am full of lead.
Some wine, within there, and our viands! Fortune knows
We scorn her most when most she offers blows.

Hamlet also seems to have been inspired by Tasso’s work on the Torrismondo, created in the very moment & the very city where I am placing the William Shakespeare of 1586. Louise George Clubb describes both plays possess, ‘a preoccupation with genre, with experimentation with hybrids & structure is made manifest by conducting a critical action simultaneously with a dramtic fable, underlaid with a paradigmatic myth calling attention to genre. In both, the choice of Scandinavian medieval chronicle is the sign of the sequence to come: from history to myth to genre to critical contemplation of structure. In short, Shakespeare & Tasso were upping their game with some pretty innovative drama, whose familial offerings in the history of theatre are with each other & each other only.‘ The materials of Torrismondo & Hamlet, adds Club, ‘allowed for a confrontation of ostensible history with undeclared myth in plots which silently claimed kinship with the very arguments cited by Aristotle.


1586: Shakespeare Encounters Tasso’s ‘Aminta’

Following its quiet debut in Ferrara in 1573, & more public performance at the 1574 Pesaro Carneveal, Tasso’s Aminta became a highly influential success, with Lisa Sampson observing how the play, ‘was rapidly seized upon for scenarios, episodes & characterisation by a wide range of writers from all over the peninsular.’ A 5-act play, it seems that Shakespeare witness’d the play at first hand. Love’s Labours Lost borrows from the Intermedio II chorus of Aminta, first printed in 1665, while As You Like It contains direct translations & numeorus echoes. Shakespeare was heavily influenced by Tasso’s mythology-steeped Renaissance Pastoralism, described by Cody as, ‘the Platonic theory of a good inner life, accomodated to the literary myth of the courtier as lover & poet. In the Italian Renaissance… pastoralism becomes the temper of the aristocratic mind: the reconciling of discors & contradictions in the medium of the work of art, that shadow of the ideal.’ Cody also describes Shakespeare as integrating Love’s Labours Lost into the, ‘Elizabethan aesthetic Platonism under its pastoral-comical aspect,’ adding, ‘the advantage of recognizing that the orthodox, elegaic Italians & the festive English comedian speak a common language of pastoral Neo-Platonism is considerable.’

Other plays to possess a strong streak of this consciously artificial, highly allegorical, hyper-mythomemed Pastoralism are Twelfth Night & the Two Gentleman of Verona, the latter worldscape described by Cody as ‘clearly the Italianate courtier-lover’s world, translated,’ adding, ‘the series of groups into which the play resolve sitself is pastoral & kinetic in the  manner of the Aminta.’ As in Aminta, the heroine is called Sylvia; & just as in the Two Gentlemen of Verona, Silvia is pursued & threatened with rape by Proteus, so in Aminta a satyr kidnaps & nearly rapes Sylvia. Cody also compares the Two Gentlemen of Verona’s Silvia scene to Tasso’s work, stating, ‘it is the one scene in which Shaksepeare successfully invokes the ‘magic potency of the theatre,’ seeking as Tasso does in his third intermedio in the Aminta to gather up his audience into the art of his play by reminding them of  a reality beyond their own.’ Perhaps the most pastoral of the plays, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream was created in 1595 – for William Stanleys wedding – & includes a passage heady in the language of pastoral myth, which also seems to nod at the early death of Tasso, also in 1595,

The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung
By an Athenian eunuch to the harp.”
We’ll none of that: that have I told my love
In glory of my kinsman Hercules.
“The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals,
Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage.”
That is an old device, and it was played
When I from Thebes came last a conqueror.
“The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of Learning, late deceased in beggary.”

The passage above makes reference to Hercules, allusions to whom crop up in the other two early Pastoral comedies, Loves Labours Lost & the Two Gentlemen of Verona. ‘Not that the comedies are the earliest of his plays,’ writes Cody, ‘in which pastoralism appears. In the histories there is at least one important pastoral theme among the cluster of commonplaces concerning Fortune, Nature, & the Prince: it has been termed ‘the rejection of the aspiring mind.’ It is central to the Henry VI trilogy, as witness the scene on Towton Field (2.5); & Shakespeare continues to develop it, more satisfyingly than anywhere perhaps in Henry IV.’ Cody also connects the garden scene of Richard II to the Renaissance habit of observing nature on a divine plane, stating, ‘It is to this aspect of the tradition – a Neo-Platonic landscape of the mind, mythopoeically conceived, as by Tasso in his Aminta – that appears to have been the model for Shakespeare’s orginiative experiments in romantic comedy.’


1586: Tasso Inspires Hamlet

Hamlet is a play supposedly from Shakespeare’s middle period. The story initially burst into literary life with Saxo Grammaticus in the 13th century, but could it be that during Shakespeare’s time with Tasso that he began to court the same affection for Scandinavian royal dramas of the Middle Ages as the Italian poet. Perhaps, in France, Shakespeare had picked up a copy of François de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques (published in 1574) while in France, in which Saxo’s story was given great embellishment. Was meeting Tasso the catalyst for Shakespeare to create what is called the ‘Ur-Hamlet’ (the German prefix means primordial). No copy of this has survived, but its existence must date to before 1589, when Thomas Nashe in his preface to Greene’s prose work Menaphon, entitled To The Gentlemen Students of Both Universities, referred to the ‘English Seneca read by candlelight yields many good sentences, as ‘Blood is a beggar,’ and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches.’

Back in Italy, let us imagine Shakespeare’s hamlet being inspired by Tasso’s work on the Torrismondo. Louise George Clubb describes in both plays, ‘a preoccupation with genre, with experimentation with hybrids & structure is made manifest by conducting a critical action simultaneously with a dramtic fable, underlaid with a paradigmatic myth calling attention to genre. In both, the choice of Scandinavian medieval chronicle is the sign of the sequence to come: from history to myth to genre to critical contemplation of structure. In short, Shakespeare & Tasso were upping their game with some pretty innovative drama, whose familial offerings in the history of theatre are with each other & each other only.’

The materials of Torrismondo & Hamlet,’ adds Club, ‘allowed for a confrontation of ostensible history with undeclared myth in plots which silently claimed kinship with the very arguments cited by Aristotle.’ It certainly feels as if Shakespeare was inspired by Tasso’s Torrismondo, which was being created in the very moment & the very city where I am placing William Shakespeare of 1586.

It is also distinctly possible perhaps that Shakespeare’s knowledge of sail-making at Bergamo given in The Taming of the Shrew came from a visit there with Tasso, for it was the Italian poet’s paternal town.


OCTOBER 1586
Shakespeare Visits John Dee

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On leaving Mantua,Stanley & Shakespeare embark’d on a tough, overland, Brokeback Mountain ride up & over the Alps, during which time our budding bard may have etched the opening to sonnet 33;

Full many a glorious morning have I seen,
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye

There is also this passage from Anthony & Cleopatra which seems to invoke the Alpine crossing;

Sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish,
A vapor sometime like a bear or lion,
A towered citadel, a pendant rock,
A forkèd mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon ’t that nod unto the world

According to the Garland of William Stanley, our young Lancastrian nobleman – & Shakespeare – had made a great geographical leap from Algeria to Russia (via Mantua) in order to spend some time with John Dee. It reads;

Within the Court of Barbary,
When two full years Sir William had been,
Into Russia he needs must go,
To visit the Emperor and his Queen,

One Doctor Dee he met with there,
Which Doctor was born at Manchester ;
Who knew Sir William Stanley well,
Tho’ he had not seen him for many a year.

Pray what’s the Cause, the Doctor said,
Brings you, Sir William, into this Country
I’m come to travel, Sir William replied,
And I pray thee, Doctor, what brought thee!

I came to do a cure, the Doctor said,
Which was of the Emperor’s feet to be done,
And I have perform’d it effectually,
Which none could do but an Englishman.

Then he brought him before the Emperor,
Who entertained him with Princely cheer,
And gave him Gold and Silver store,
Desiring his company for seven year.

But one three years Sir William would stay,
Within the Emperor’s court so freely,
And then Sir William he would go,
To Bethlehem right speedily

The Chispologist here identifies two chispers, the first being the exageration of the dates, & the other being the wrong Tsar. In the mid-1580s, John Dee, that famous Elizabethan alchemist & academic from Manchester, & his mate Edward Kelley were in Bohemia, at the court of another ‘Tsar,’ the Holy Roman Emporere, Rudolf II. His title was in fact ‘Ceasar, to the harking back to pagan Roman emporers whose authority he inherited. But of course the word Tsar is the Russian deviation of Ceasar. It was Dee’s eldest son, Arthur who was in Russia c.1600, who heal’d the the Tsar’s foot before returning to Norwich, & was subsequently confused with his father in the Garland.

Both Dee & Kelly were known to the group. Dee was from Manchester, near the Stanley lands, & indeed the Garland says, ‘knew Sir William Stanley well / Tho’ he had not seen him for many a year,‘ while Edward Kelley was the same man who created the woodcut images for Spenser’s Shepheard’s Calendar. Dee records a number of meetings with Derby in hi sdiaries, & other nuggets such as the date and time of William’s daughter’s birth. Derby would eventually swing Dee into being a director of Christ’s College, Manchester.

In late 1586 Dee & Kelly were in residence at Trebona in Bohemia (in the modern-day Czech Republic), during which time Dee was making contact with the court of the Russian Tsar, but from hundreds of miles away. On reaching Dee, the arch-magus would have filled them in on recent developments, of how at first he had been a valued guest of the court of Rudolf II, an intellectual hotbed centered on Prague. PJ French states, ‘Dee’s world view was thoroughly of the Renaissance, though it was one which is unfamiliar today, one of a line of philosopher-magicians that stemmed from Ficino & Pico della Mirandola & included, among others, Trithemius, Abbot of Sondheim, Henry Cornelius Agrippa Paracelsus. etc…. Like Dee, these philosophers lived in a world that was half magical, half scientific.’

Dee eventually fell upon the wrong side of Rudolf, & after being banished from Prague was given shelter at in the household of Vilém of Rožmberk, Bohemia’s most powerful nobleman, in the town of Trebona. Equidistant between Prague & Vienna, Trebon welcomed Dee & Kelley on the 14th September, 1586, along with Kelley’s wife Joanna, Dee’s wife Jane & their four children, including an infant boy called Michael.

Dulwich_Picture_Gallery’s_Venus_and_Adonis

Also in Prague at that time was a copy of Titian’s Venus & Adonis – or perhaps even the original – commissioned by the Holy Roman Emporer, Charles V (d.1558), as discerned through a letter written by F. Mueller, the correspondent in Italy for the court of Bavaria. Now held in the Galleria Nazionale of Palazzo Barberini in Rome, it is mark’d out from all the other V&As painted by Titian (there were many copies made, usually completed by his students) by the hat worn by Adonis. In Shakespeare’s poem we actually have various mentions of such a hat, as in, ‘with one fair hand she heaveth up his hat,’ & ‘therefore would he put his bonnet on.’ It is possible that Stanley & Shakespeare were living the swancy-fancy life of art connoisseurs at this point & making an effort to study the work of evidently their favorite painter & painting. Indeed, on their Italian itinerary they may have seen copies of the V&A at the Palazzo Mariscotti in Rome, or in the possession of the Barbarigo-Guistiniani family in Padua.


SHAKESPEARE & MAGIC

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Shakespeare’s knowledge of esoteric tradition is a highly sophisticated one, one that weaves through his sonnets and plays to a surprising degree. In The Winter’s Tale the statue of Hermione (from from Hermes) springs to life in the same way that the Hermetic Asclepius is described as being effected by Egyptian magic. Elsewhere, Sonnet 33 is full of alchemical references & also of the earth-heaven phenomena called ‘correspondancdes’ – surreptiously placed in a mountainous landscape such as Bohemia.

Full many a glorious morning have I seen,
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green;
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy:
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride,
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendour on my brow,
But out alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath masked him from me now.
Yet him for this, my love no whit disdaineth,
Suns of the world may stain, when heaven’s sun staineth.

Shake-speare is using the idea of “correspondences”, in which earthly phenomena are related to the heavens, as the logical structure of this sonnet. In particular, macrocosmic heavenly phenomena are paralleled by microcosmic human ones. There are also numerous astrological references in Shake-speare’s plays, while Sonnet 15 is laden with astrology & the ‘secret influences’ of celestial bodies.

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment.
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment.
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked even by the self-same sky:
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory.
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay,
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.


November 1586
Shakespeare sketches the Tempest

At this point in the Stanleyan Grand Tour, the first outlines of the plot & structure of a play called the Tempest appeared in Shakespeare’s notebooks. It was first performed in public in 1611, yet a proto-version could have been one of the earliest creations of his blossoming mind – you can’t rush genius like – especially when the Tempest is the first play one comes to when entering the First Folio. A clue might be found in five consecutive lines of the Garland, where we observe quite succinctly the setting of the Tempest (Barbary is North Africa) & its principle subject Prospero, a dead-ringer for John Dee.

Within the Court of Barbary,
When two full years Sir William had been,
Into Russia he needs must go,
To visit the Emperor and his Queen,
One Doctor Dee he met with there

Where Prospero had his Ariel, Dee declared he possessed a benevolent angel called, ‘Uriel, the angel of light.’ Such an early date for the proto-Tempest is unwittingly hinted at by Sydney Lee’s; ‘the influence of Ovid, especially the Metamorphoses, was apparent throughout his earliest literary work, both poetic & dramatic, & is discernible in the ‘Tempest.’ This play reflects the early experiences Shakespeare enjoy’d with Commedia dell’Arte; which sometimes featured a magician, his daughter & supernatural attendants. CDA also contained archetypical clowns known as Arlecchino and Brighella, on which the Tempest’s Stephano and Trinculo are clearly based, while its lecherous Neapolitan hunchback has a perfect correspondence in Caliban. The Tempest is also one of only two of his plays that utilise the Classical Unities – a dramaturgical tradition of setting a play in a single place & time, with the other being the very early Comedy of Errors. Coincidence or not, CoE is set in the eastern Mediterranean, the same part of the world where Stanley & Shakespeare would be moving to next…


December 1586
The Trebona Familists

Many of the Shakespeare’s esoteric themes and sources lead the chispologist to the library of John Dee. Also using the library at that time was Edward Kelley, who seems to have dedicated a poem in the Venus & Adonis stanza form to his ‘especiall’ friend, GS. The reference appears in Elias Ashmole’ 1652 anthology, Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, when we must remember that the name Gulielmus Shaksper appears on the Bard’s baptism recodr. As already postulated, Shakespeare could well have been working on Venus & Adonis during the Grand Tour, perhaps even reading a few stanzas out to his compatriots in Trebona. This could later have inspired Kelly to try out the poetic form for himself, of which I’ll give a few of my favorites stanzas;

S.E.K. concerning the Philosophers Stone, written to his especiall good friend, G.S. Gent.

The heauenlie Cope hath in him natures fower,
Two hidden, but the rest to sight appeare:
Wherein the Spermes of all the bodies lower
Most secret are, yet spring forth once a yeare:
And as the earth with water Authors are,
So of his part is drines end of care.

If this my Doctrine bend not with thy braine,
Then say I nothing, though I sayd too much:
Of truth tis good, will mooued me, not gaine,
To write these lines: yet write I not to such
As catch at crabs, when better frutes appeare,
And want to chuse at fittest time of yeare.

Thou maist (my friend) say, What is this for lore?
I aunswere, Such as auncient Phisicke taught:
And though thou red a thousand bookes before,
Yet in respect of this, they teach thee naught:
Thou maist likewise be blinde, and call me foole,
Yet shall these Rules for euer praise their Schoole.

The same collection of poems also has a commentary which tells how Kelley performed an alchemical tansmutation to, “gratifie Master Edward Garland and his Brother Francis.”These brothers also turn up in Dee’s diary, along with two other ‘Garlands’, Robert & Henry, & none of the four of have ever turned up anywhere else in the Elizabethen world, suggesting the true names were incognito. The ‘Brothers’ element more than hints at the Familist connection. But this is rabbit-hole’s worth of a tangent, so its only a maybe for me, but adding a note of the going’s on with the Garland brothers as given in Dee’s diary – note its connection to the actual Russian Tsar.

8 Dec: Monday, about noon, Mr Edward Garland came to Trebona to me from the Emperor of Muscovia, according to the articles before sent unto me by Thomas Simkinson

9 Dec: On the 19 day (by the new calendar), to please Master Edward Garland (who had been sent as a messenger from the Emperor of Muscovy to ask me to come to him, etc, and his brother Francis, E.K. made a public demonstration of the philosophers’ stone in the proportion of one grain (no bigger than the least grain of sand) to 1 oz and a ¼ of common and almost 1 oz of the best gold was produced. When we had weighed the gold, we divided it up and gave the crucible to Edward at the same time.

 

Dee’s connection to the Familists is more assured, such as;

1: He was associated with many Continental Familists, including Christopher Plantin, the Antwerp printer who published the works of Niclaes) & the Antewerp bookseller Arnold Birckmann,

2: In 1577 Dee suggested to the cartographer Abraham Ortelius, another Familist, that correspondence could reach him via Birckmann’s servants.

3: Familists married within the group, & if widowed would quickly remarry, with age having no bearing on the choice. John Dee married three times, with little space between them, his third wife, Jane Fromond, being 28 years younger than him.

4: Dee & Kelley were friends with the Familist Francesco Pucci, spending time together in Krakow in 1585, & Prague the following year.

5: Dee & Kelley were also on excellent terms with Prince Albert Laski of Poland, whose relation, Johannes Alasko, lived in the Familst ‘capital’ of Emden.

6: Dee was a big favorite of Queen Elizabeth, whose own personal Yeomen Gaurd were Familists. In the anonymous Supplication of the Family of Love (1606) we read, “It appeareth that she [Elizabeth] had alwayes about her some Familistes, or favourers of that Sect, who alwaies related, or bare tidinges what was donne, or intended against them.”


Shakespeare in Bohemia

Shakespeare’s own brief stay in the region can be traced via three separate plays;

(i) Measure for Measure is set in Vienna.
(ii) The Winter’s Tale is set in ‘Bohemia’.
(iii) ‘The old hermit of Prague,’ is mentioned in Twelfth Night.

As the old hermit of 
Prague, that never saw pen and ink, very wittily 
Said to a niece of King Gorboduc, ‘That that is is;

A slender hint indeed, but when attached to Stanley’s recorded visit to Dee, we can trace the thought roots to seeds physically planted. Although no firm evidence has as yet been unearthed of their visit, we do know a little of what the skryrer’s Kelley & Dee were up to. Rudolf had given them a lab to practice their alchemy, including experiments on a mysterious red powder Kelly had found buried at Northwick Hill. Kelley was also dabbling with Catholcoism, even fasting for a whole month before a visit to a Jesuit priest.

Throughout January, a suddenly very wealthy Kelley made several visits to Prague, & let us for a whimsical moment conject that Shakespeare went with them. I normally have evidence to back my statements, but for once I’d like to just imagine Shakespeare going with Kelley to see Prague – I’ve been there myself, & thoroughly enjoyed the experience, including a rather ridiculous  encounter with some Mancunian drug-dealers back in 2001, which you can read all about in my Epistles to Posterity.

Posted on March 24, 2020, in The Young Shakespeare. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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