- Travel and Places
Shakespeare in Italy
Travelers to Italy may sometimes wonder if William Shakespeare ever walked the cobbled streets of Verona, or rode a gondola down a Venetian canal. After all, there are all those plays he set in Italy. If not a traveler, why would an Englishman set plays in Italy?
What is true, Elizabethan English people were enamored with Italy and most things Italian, as much as anyone who has ever tossed a coin in Rome's Trevi Fountain. That is, as long as it had nothing to do with the Catholic Church. If anything, Italian plays were good for business at the Globe Theatre.
These days, Italians do what they can to support any possible connection Shakespeare might have had with their country. There is a balcony in Verona they call Juliet's balcony. How many people go there thinking that Shakespeare shook there composing the line, "...what light through yonder window breaks?"
Today tourists crowd under the balcony like a thousand Romeos to take pictures, imagining Shakespeare's balcony scene. Couples leave notes declaring their love. The betrothed sometimes exchange wedding vows on the balcony, for a price. That would be one thousand Euros. Never mind that the play is not at all a romance, but a tragedy.
An Italian TV documentary goes even further to make a Shakespeare connection, perhaps well beyond the limits of probability. The documentary raises the question in its title, Shakespeare era Italiano? Was Shakespeare Italian? Here he is a Sicilian nobleman who flees to England during some civil unrest in his homeland. His name is Michelangelo Crollalanza. "Crollalanza" means "shake spear" in Italian.
Getting back to the notion that the real William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon toured Italy, how good is the evidence that he ever left England? The truth is, not so good say most scholars.
Travel from England to Italy was expensive and dangerous. Because Will Shakespeare read widely, and was acquainted with other men who had traveled, he very well could have acquired enough knowledge about Italy to set some of his plays there, but not enough to avoid flubbing some geography. In The Tempest Shakespeare has Prospero taking ocean passage on a ship from land-locked Milan.
Italian TV: Was Shakespeare Italian?
On the other hand there are his lost years,1578 to 1592. No record of Will Shakespeare's presence in England survives from the time he left school until his marriage to Anne Hathaway in 1582, and then almost nothing during the next ten years. Two of his children were born and he was named in a lawsuit with his father, but those events can't speak for any continuous presence until 1592 when he became an actor in London.
Prior to 1592, William might have been employed in his father's dealings in grain, leather and wool. Some of the family's business ventures were on the shady side of the law. Wool dealing required a license, which the family did not possess. This could account for the lack of any documentation.
The lost years make it especially difficult to not want to believe that a person can walk in Will Shakespear's footsteps in Italy. We can say that much of England's wool was being shipped to Italy at the time. Maybe some of it illegally. Surely we can practice a little willing suspension of disbelief?
So, just for fun, lets say William's father sent his son off on a business trip or two.