“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:

 

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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:

http://www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&calcTitle=1&title_id=9654&edition_id=10662





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.