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:


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.

Coming soon: My Book!

23 02 2009

For more information on Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy: Intertextuality on the Jacobean stage, see here:

Hardware shop theatre

18 02 2009

Home of the teatro stabile di ferramenta

Home of the teatro stabile di ferramenta

Or, how buying a door latch in Italy becomes a public spectacle when you’re foreign




One of the things I’ve realized after a number of years in Italy is that I have no anonymity. Even when I lived in the big city I was the object of the curiosity of apartment porters, local shopkeepers, and neighbours. They may not have responded to my greetings but they knew (or tried to know) everything about me. Now that we live in a small village, I have acquired a certain amount of local celebrity.

The extent of my visibility became clear when I made my first visit to the nearby negozio di ferramenta (hardware shop). On orders to purchase a new door latch mechanism, I entered stage right on to the set of a comedy:

Foreign man enters holding an antiquated door latch.

Foreigner: I need a replacement for this.

Hardware man turns to crowd of onlookers sitting around the counter, all grateful for a bit of excitement.

Hardware man (in dialect): This is the man from Canada who lives on the next street over. Ha, ha, ha!


Hardware man (In standard Italian, very slowly and loudly as if talking to an obtuse small child): Meester – Meester – Meeesteer! THIS – IS – A – VERY – OLD – DOOR – LATCH – YOU – NEED – A – NEW – ONE! [In English] Veeeree Olde!

Chorus: heee, heee, heee. It’s old. It’s old. Poor guy has an old door latch.

Foreigner: Yes, I know. That’s why I’m here.

Hardware man (in dialect): He must want a new one. Poor guy!

Chorus: heee, heee, heee. He wants a new one. Poor guy.

Hardware man (In standard Italian, very slowly and loudly as if talking to an obtuse small child): They – Don’t – Make – These – Anymore – Meester! You – need – a – different – one!

Chorus: heee, heee, heee.

Hardware man rummages about storeroom and comes up with one exactly the same but with a slightly different latch shape.

Hardware man (triumphantly): This – is – a – NEW – ONE! They- Don’t – have – these – in – Hollywood – Meester!

Chorus: heee, heee, heee.

Busy, busy, busy

18 12 2008

Will be back soon.

More Shakespeare Authorship Silliness

5 05 2008

Ex-director of Globe Theatre doesn’t believe in Bill

Mark Rylance signing the so-called Declaration of Reasonable Doubt.

A side effect of the ingrained cultural tradition of praising the unique greatness of Shakespeare is the question of the “real” authorship of the plays attributed to the bard. The idea is that, if the literary and intellectual qualities of the plays are so far beyond that of any dramatist before or since, someone much more sophisticated than a mere actor from the provinces must have written them. The element of snobbery in this debate has always been blatantly obvious. Hence, even before the proliferation of misinformation brought by the internet, there have always been efforts to promote the authorial claims of various court figures and aristocrats like Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, Lady Mary Sidney, James I, Michelangelo Crollalanza, and – why not – Lord Peter Wimsey or Yvette Mimieux.

The authorship question is in the news at the moment because Mark Rylance, the first artistic director of the Globe Amusement Park and Ye Olde Gift Shoppe in London, has recently made apparent his own scepticism about the Shakespeare myth. In a recent feature in The New Yorker, to promote his appearance on Broadway in the classic tragicomedy Boeing-Boeing, we discover that “He thinks now that Shakespeare was likely a front for a small band of writers, perhaps headed by Francis Bacon, which included, among others, Lady Mary Sidney.” Indeed, he claims that his challenge to received ideas, along with his opposition to the Iraq war (a political stance unique in theatrical and academic circles), made his position at the ersatz theatre untenable and obliged him to resign.

What’s so special about Bill anyway?

Of course, if Shakespeare was seen as just another dramatist, we wouldn’t feel obliged to come up with elaborate explanations for his presumed greatness. In working on the representation of Italy in early modern drama, I have come across the authorship question a lot because many people seem to think that Shakespeare’s plays display a distinctive knowledge of the literature, history, and geography of the peninsula – a knowledge that only a widely travelled aristocrat or renowned period intellectual could have attained. Even among professional scholars who would feel embarrassed spouting crackpot historical conspiracy theories, we get grandiose claims about how Shakespeare must have visited Italy and spent an extensive amount of time in Venice in particular. However, it is worth remembering that we are talking the dramatist behind The Tempest, a play which depicts the landlocked city of Milan as a seaport (I have seen Italian productions of the play that silently changed the locale to Genoa to avoid inappropriate laughter in the stalls). What comes to the fore in looking at Shakespeare in the context of early modern drama as a whole, as I will do in my forthcoming book Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy: Intertextuality on the Jacobean Stage, is that everyone in the theatre was writing about Italy – and, for the most part, they were doing it by cribbing from books readily available in England.