The critics rave about Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy

27 08 2011

It has been 2 years now since my book Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy: Intertextuality on the Jacobean Stage came out and, after the usual time delay of academic book reviews, the response has been enthusiastic and encouraging. In the meantime, I have been busy working on a new volume about Shakespeare and enjoying the pleasures of life in Italy. Now I am just hoping that the speed-challenged builders finish our new house (a year late) so I do not have to write this next book on the kitchen table as well.

Here are some selections from the reviews:

“Michael Redmond not only approaches this inexhaustible subject from a new perspective and uncovers the kind of creative uses of Italy that his predeces­sors have not addressed, but he also employs a different critical method in his examinations. …  Now that New Historicism has been relegated to an archive of critical methodologies, critics can breathe with relief and pursue the most important of early modern principles of compos­ition, imitation, creatively and imaginatively, as Redmond forcefully exem­plifies. After a detailed Introduction (1–27), ‘The Politics of Intertextuality’, which offers an explanation of the use of intertext in contradistinction to the old study of sources — a shift which actually reveals a much more extensive presence of the source in the recipient body of texts — the reader will find four chapters devoted to specific instances of this kind of intertextuality. … The politico-cultural and historical material brought in to frame the argument shows that this is a book written by a spe­cialist in Renaissance literature who is also a cultural comparatist and whose linguistic ability allows him to access Italian sources and thus expand the possibilities of criticism and produce original arguments. … Each chapter of this important book is carefully executed and ends with a succinct conclusion, which eases reading. Redmond fully achieves the goal of redefining what source studies can mean at the present critical moment, giving us a thorough, convincing, and original way of reading transnational cultural contacts. The wealth of new material he uses to frame the transpos­ition of Italy to England not only expands the body of criticism on this topic in a significant way, but also offers new ways of thinking about the significa­tion of Italy in early modern drama, as well as about new critical possibil­ities afforded by that signification. The style of Redmond’s book is engaging throughout and free from the weight of theoretical jargon. Discreetly and effectively, he manages to turn theory into a new reading practice and critical methodology. … Apart from proposing a number of connections that have remained unaccounted for until now, Redmond’s book will likely have a long shelf life not only because of its perceptive literary analyses but also because it adds another dimension to our knowledge of the humanism that lies behind early modern drama, specifically in the circulation of texts, books, and knowledge between England and Italy.”  Early Theatre

“Michael Redmond’s impressive new book forms part of the recent resurgence of critical interest in Shakespeare’s rich relationship with Italian literature and intellectual culture. … Redmond suggests that “early modern intertextuality was a dynamic process of allusion, quotation and revision” (2), and one of the strongest elements of the book is his willingness to attribute an understanding of this process not only to early modern English dramatists but also to the theater’s audiences as well. … the book is an innovative, interesting, and worthy addition to recent scholarship on Shakespeare’s dramatic engagement with Italian materials, and indeed one that offers a far broader and richer analysis of English attitudes toward Italy and its political culture in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries than its title leads us to anticipate.” Comparative Drama

“In its analysis of Italian political philosophy and its circulation, the book stands as a complement to recent scholarly work on Shakespeare’s history plays and ideologies of power. … it is one of the strengths of this book that it establishes a new agenda for this kind of debate. The book’s real substance is not in allusion-spotting but in probing cultural attitudes and the politics of nationhood. As such, it will be regarded as a significant contribution to the fast-growing area of Anglo-Italian Renaissance literary studies.” Renaissance Quarterly

“Michael Redmond’s book refreshingly gives a view of Shakespeare’s works from a cross-or trans-national perspective.  … The force of his observations can be stunning…” College Literature

“The author is convincing in making his case that Shakespeare is too often studied in isolation from his fellow English dramatists and writers. Bringing into his discussion works by Ben Jonson, John Marston, Thomas Middleton, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Coryate, Barnabe Barnes, Roger Ascham, and others, Redmond focuses on how these writers experienced Italy through books about and from Italy. In sharp readings, he considers what this reveals about hopes and fears regarding the uniqueness of English culture and statehood. …Recommended.” Choice

“Redmond’s book adds to the discussion in a memorable way … His footnotes are rich, and his eru­dition is real.” Seventeenth-Century News

“In Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy: Intertextuality on the Jacobean Stage, Michael J. Redmond moves beyond the confines of Rome to uncover the pervasiveness and significance on the early modern stage of references to Italian texts. … the book makes important intertextual connections.” SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

“Of course, Shakespeare was Sicilian…”

13 12 2009

The Adventures of a Shakespearean in the Mediterranean

I hear it all the time: “Ah, you study Shakespeare and Italy? Well, then you know Shakespeare was Sicilian.” Others are more cautious: “my daughter’s teacher said Shakespeare was Sicilian, what do you think?” By now, the Sicilian authorship theory has been the subject of a documentary on RAI Due and, given the notorious power of television over the Italian mind, the frequency with which I encounter it should not be surprising. Its proponents claim young Sicilian nobleman Michelangelo Crollalanza (Italian for shake spear) emigrated from Messina, found his way into the emerging Elizabethan theatre, and secured an English outlet for his writing by marrying a brilliant translator by the name of Anne Hathaway. What makes it awkward for me is the palpable desire for this story to be true.

There’s no question that Shakespeare was aware of Sicily: Much Ado About Nothing and The Winter’s Tale take place on the island. This does not mean, however, that the world’s most famous dramatist was a native of Messina, the setting for the romantic games of Beatrice and Benedick, anymore than the locale of Hamlet alludes to his Danish origins. What comes to the fore in Shakespeare’s Italianate plays, as I discuss in my new book Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy: Intertextuality on the Jacobean Stage, is the reproduction and elaboration of textual material from previous books. Just like most of his contemporaries, who enjoyed the novelle of Boccaccio and worried about the power politics of Machiavelli, Shakespeare was a voracious consumer of Italian books and English books about Italy. In many ways, the importance of Italy in every aspect of early modern English culture reflects the provincialism of that island, watching the intellectual ferment of the Renaissance from afar.

As seen on RAI Due:


And now a word from our (confused) sponsor…

1 11 2009

1970s US Ad for the Alfa Romero [sic]

“Here’s a Man’s Car”

The beautiful thing is not only that the car’s name is mispronounced every time, but the voiceover gets it wrong even when the screen shows the Alfa Romeo badge. The near front-end collision in the finale also adds a touch of style.

Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy: the new book

24 07 2009

Available from Ashgate in August,

just in time for your/my beach reading

Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy

Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy

They say that writing is a journey, not a destination, but everything has to come to an end. It’s an unique experience to be able to enjoy the pleasures of a Sicilian summer without the preoccupations of a book in progress. I have climbed temples, splashed in the Mediterranean, and ate an (over-)abundance of the local cucina, free from any guilt about neglecting text or family.

By now the picture of the cover has appeared on Ashgate’s website, along with the table of contents, index, and an extract from the introduction. All we need is the book itself.

In a shameless plug, here is the blurb from the inside cover of the volume:

 The use of Italian culture in the Jacobean theatre was never an isolated gesture. In considering the ideological repercussions of references to Italy in prominent works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, Michael J. Redmond argues that early modern intertextuality was a dynamic process of allusion, quotation, and revision. Beyond any individual narrative source, Redmond foregrounds the fundamental role of Italian textual precedents in the staging of domestic anxieties about state crisis, nationalism, and court intrigue.

By focusing on the self-conscious, overt rehearsal of existing texts and genres, the book offers a new approach to the intertextual strategies of early modern English political drama. The pervasive circulation of Cinquecento political theorists like Machiavelli, Castiglione, and Guicciardini combined with recurrent English representations of Italy to ensure that the negotiation with previous writing formed an integral part of the dramatic agendas of period plays.

Cycling Deaths in Italy

11 05 2009

One fatality a day, according to latest statistics

I’d like to say the news is a surprise, but it isn’t.

The newspaper La Repubblica reports this morning that the risk of death for Italian cyclists is 2.18%, higher even than the 1.96% attributed to the notoriously foolhardy category of the nation’s scooter and motorcycle users.

Dont worry about the colour, just get one.

Don't worry about the colour, just get one.

I have had my own death defying experiences, such as when a motorist tried to drive through me in front of my house. I could recount lots of anecdotes about pointlessly dangerous maneuvers, serving only to feed the fragile ego of the driver of a second hand Mercedes or BMW, but the basic problem is that cars go too fast here.

Obsolete Products, Up to date Prices

8 05 2009


Be careful with those sharp curves
Be careful with those sharp curves

In Italy, shopkeepers still hope to sell you a Betamax at a profit

One of the most surreal sights I’ve seen in Italy was a girl feeding a boy lasagna with a fork from the back of the Vespa he was driving. Yet weird Vespa experiences are not all that unusual here: I’ve seen a three wheeled Vespa pickup (the in-famous Ape) flip over at an intersection under the weight of a load of boxes piled more than three times its height. Yesterday I followed a red Vespa through crowded cobblestone streets, amazed at the driver’s ability to control his scooter while carrying a large gate for a picket fence. Alas, the suicidal maneuvers of helmetless teenagers upon speeding two wheelers have long lost their novelty value.

Another surreal but common sight in Italy is the obsolete product at an absurd price in the front window of a Mom and Pop shop. The absurdity comes not just from the fact that the shopkeepers continue to proudly display a slide projector to passersby, as in the case of a photo shop I marvel at every morning, but that they persist in attaching a widely optimistic price tag to something which by now has little, if any, value. Indeed, unable to shift traditional cameras in the wake of the digital revolution, photo shops are a prime example of this extortionate optimism. The hope seems to be that some gullible antiquarian will pop in and make up for their years of patience.

I had a keen insight into to the logic of the Italian shopkeeper upon visiting a negozio di casalinghi(housewares store) which was filled with decades old products. My wife, an enthusiast of Italian designer housewares like Alessi and Guzzini, was stunned to see products she remembered from her childhood. “It looks like a museum of the 1980s”, she whispered as she picked up a faded box containing an old Guzzini breadbox, “my mother threw this away years ago”. The products were so old that none of them were made in China. The toy section was even more historic. As a Canadian I was amazed to see a ye olde knockoff tabletop hockey game in the Italian provinces. If it had been a Coleco model, rather than an unknown brand, I might have even paid the €30 price. For girls, the selection was even better, they had a complete set of louche Barbie furniture from the late 70s and an aged Barbie Ferrari for only around €30. The box of the car was battered and it was clear the price had been “adjusted” several times. If it had cost €30 (60,000 lire) in 1980, the price would have amounted to about a fifth of the average monthly wage. The owner’s prompt refusal of our request for a discount as we left confirmed our hypothesis. “These are classic products”, she said, “we do not know their real value anymore”.

Solo €950!
Solo €950!

The concept of opportunity cost does not seem to guide Italian shopkeepers, who prefer to adjust the prices of aging merchandise for inflation rather than reduce their losses by moving it out. My all time favourite example is the electronics store that filled its display window with a collection of first generation video recorders priced to stay there for another 25 years. It looked like a joke: a stack of historic VCRs like the Sony Betamax for prices close to €1,000! Sure they may have cost that in the 1970s, as early adopters paid a premium to get the latest technology, but it seems unrealistic to maintain such prices in the new millennium. The VCR history remained in the window for about a year – I like to think a collector found his treasure trove and, in the process, allowed the shop to bring in new products like the Commodore 64 personal computer. 

Our Week of Culture: McDonalds and Shopping Malls

30 04 2009




Ever since we took our young daughter to North America last summer, she has come to associate long car trips with two things: shopping malls and McDonalds.At this point, of course, your typical European culture snob would start to talk about barren lands devoid of history and culture. Everyone over here, from any part of the old continent, is always prepared to pontificate on how much more sophisticated Europeans (ie. the speaker) are than Americans and Canadians (ie. me). What a surprise then, as we took advantage of last week’s Italian Culture Week, to discover that even Southern Italy was now dominated by megamalls and the wondrous cuisine found under the golden arches.

On the two weekends with free admission to museums and archeological sites, our visit to  the ancient monuments was punctuated by the discovery of how much globalisation and big box stores had entered into the Italian mainstream.In both the ancient cities of Agrigento and Syracuse, famed for their archaeological treasures, the main focus of interest among the locals was faux North American shopping and fast food. In Agrigento, the McDonald’s in Villaggio Mosé was filled with small children inside and would-be Fast and Furious types outside, showing off their souped up Fiat Puntos. The real glamour, however, came from the new megamall Le Vigne which opened outside the city at the end of last year.

Dress up to shop

Dress up to shop

When we looked in on Sunday, the place was packed – making forward movement and, indeed, shopping almost impossible. It seemed as though the entire traditional Sunday evening stroll (la passeggiata) had transferred indoors. Not only was everyone who anyone in the province of Agrigento there, but everyone was wearing their best clothes. Since an Italian’s best clothes are always something special, it was surreal to see such glitz and glamour amidst the aisles of a supermarket.

The temples were much more peaceful. We were the only ones speaking Italian.