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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Breakthrough in Understanding the Life of 'Shakespeare', 22 Feb. 2012
This review is from: The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard's Unknown Travels (Paperback)
By
William J. Ray (Willits California) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)

'The Shakespeare Guide to Italy' is the most enjoyable book about the plays I have read and the most beautiful. More importantly it proves by overwhelming deduction that the writer of the Shakespeare canon knew Italy and the Mediterranean personally.

The Guide is a big book for the price. It opens up in the reader's hands and recreates, by word and photograph, sixteenth century La Italia, exactly as fixed in the amber of the Bard's descriptions.

Richard P. Roe retraced 'Shakespeare's' journey, which modern scholarship says, even hopes, never really happened. The confirmation by inspection of minute Shakespearean detail is a revolutionary contribution to literary and historical knowledge.

Richard Roe first came to Italy on Army-Air-Force assignment, attacking the Axis's oil refineries in Romania during World War II. The American mortality rate was 80-90%. He survived. Noting his numerous returns to Italy in later years, I wondered if the journey back was a metaphor in him of transcending time, to stand alive on the ancient ground from which he had once risked his life.

In that lifetime odyssey he saw the same places, buildings, rivers, voyage routes, and neighborhoods meticulously described by the author of the Shakespeare canon. They were still there. No one has done this so thoroughly before.

He made a study of the ancient geographical notes, off-hand descriptions, ships' names, abandoned wells, little churches, impresa, all data being alluded to in the Italian plays. To most of us it makes for an unexpected proof of authorship right under our noses.

Using old maps and paintings Roe re-constructed the topography of a dozen cities. The book is as much an aesthetic and architectural as a literary study. The subjects charmingly and eruditely combine in the traveler's narration.

His journey also embodied an indomitable faith that 'Shakespeare' would not and did not fake fanciful lands and places--that so great a mind honored his travels on the earth as he honored humanity's fateful suffering there, in order to permanently capture from it life's truths.

The book's lasting contribution to scholarship will be that it proved 'Shakespeare' did not commit geographical or cultural mistakes in the Mediterranean plays. On the contrary, he was uncannily accurate. The prodigious implication of this, which Roe never stated, not being a big talker, is that our entire conception of who 'Shakespeare' was must now change.

The man from Stratford never left England, a concession that most scholars accept now. An administrative paper trail would exist if he had. But the author of the plays went to Italy and knew it well, including estates and palaces to which that only the privileged found entry.

A few representative proofs. Sycamore trees stand west of the city walls in Verona, mentioned in Romeo and Juliet. The grove of trees, today barely in sight beyond the Porta Palio, has been reduced to copses, it is true, but still there. You can see them through the arch.

Midsummer Night's Dream had a neighborhood locally called 'Little Athens'. It still exists in Sabbioneta, not the real Athens in Greece. Shall we sail from Verona to Milan, as in Two Gentlemen of Verona? A laughable joke today--but by traveling overland to Ostiglia, Italians did it routinely, via the river Adda and connecting canals.

What about visiting the Bohemian coastline, near Trieste? Impossible now, but then Bohemia had thirty miles of access to the Gulf of Venice. Ben Jonson said 'Shakespeare' got it wrong. Jonson was wrong. He himself never left Western Europe. The author had.

The book is full of such gems, not only referring in scholarly fashion to the works of Shakespeare and the medieval past, but also to the race of humbly proud people who aided him as he searched back and forth in time.

The narrative is buoyed with a certain relentless laconic wisdom. Roe was a warrior. He did not give up. An admirable spirit is expressed in a brief passage about what it was like for him to search for and find someone lost to history:

"This is the playwright who is said to be ignorant of Italy. But truth is revealed in trifles, not in the great words that sweep. Truth hides in the words that are overlooked--the dull words, odd words, the words that are dismissed as cluttering, inconsequential, irrelevant. These are the words, not the soaring ones, that tell what a person knows. But one must listen."

The visitor may imagine many heroic ghosts in Italy, Shakespeare's seeker among them. Roe lived just long enough to complete his work. Now his name is mixed with his subject's and with Eternal La Italia's.

Most highly recommended.
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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Apr 2013 14:36:22 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Apr 2013 14:37:32 BDT
Donald Bain says:
Certainly interesting but lacks academic rigour (even in the scholarly preface). The author undertook much research and deserves credit for this. However, he does rely heavily on projected speculation rather than substantiated "overwhelming deduction".
It could equally be speculated that Shakespeare did go to Italy (despite the rather strange assertion by the reviewer that Shakespeare never left England) during the 7 years of his early manhood during which period there is no established record of his whereabouts. His "knowledge", it might be equally speculated, rather suggests a gleaning from a variety of sources rather than an exhaustive on the ground experience which might have been difficult to achieve.
The book is a good read and provides some interesting footnotes for new editions of Shakespeare's "Italian Canon" but nothing much more.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Apr 2013 16:48:57 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Apr 2013 17:31:03 BDT
Donald Bain: "It could equally be speculated that Shakespeare did go to Italy (despite the rather strange assertion by the reviewer that Shakespeare never left England) during the 7 years of his early manhood during which period there is no established record of his whereabouts."

I wrote the review with the "rather strange assertion". It is generally if not universally conceded in this field of study that there is no evidence of any kind, i.e., no plausibility, that Gulielmus Shakspere of Stratford traveled abroad. Hence the elaborate 'imagination' theories and rationalizations that 'his' Italian travel knowledge could have been second-hand.

Thus, your contrary assertion that he MIGHT HAVE so traveled to Italy not only lacks 'academic rigor'. It lacks any basis, and there would have been ample basis: recorded permission to leave the country, funds to finance the trip, privileged welcomes and access, e.g., to Romano's fresco at the Gonzaga mansion in Mantua, making possible the later, completely accurate description of the art-work in the Rape of Lucrece.

The only reason proffered for even speculating Shakspere might have traveled abroad is the cultural attachment to this person (whose name resembles 'Shakespeare') as the author of the canon, as passed down in legend from when the First Folio floated the idea. No one ever associated Shakspere with writing anything before that. And the First Folio is thick with allusions and puns that this is not so.

In contrast, there are extant and extensive records that de Vere did travel to Italy, did visit each and all cities that are the locales of the Mediterranean plays, and knew in considerable detail those landmarks, customs, laws, procedures, idioms, regional conflicts, means of transport (for the wealthy), and native references to neighborhoods--that inhabit, give veracity to, the pages of the "Italian" plays.

I am inclined therefore to interpret your remarks as a search for the high-sounding put-down. "Good read." But not up to snuff?

Why on earth would a retired lawyer want to assume the stylisms identifiable as 'academic rigor'? Would they assist us to approach closer to the truth? Has the presumptive academic approach, with pretenses to authority and rigor, gotten the conclusive truth of the author of the Shakespeare canon? Clearly not.

On the contrary, it is the academy's shameful timidity to search for verifiable truth in this matter that has impelled concerned readers to inquire themselves as labors of love and conscience.

Roe substantiated the accuracy of the geographical and cultural references concerning Italy and the Mediterranean in the Mediterranean plays thoroughly and persuasively, answering many mysteries and avoided questions. No one has proven him in error, and if there had been error rest assured someone would leap at it like a fly on dead meat. For Roe demolished the Stratford narrative. Shakspere couldn't have known what the Shakespeare author knew and saw.

Respectfully differ with your cursory judgment.

William Ray

Posted on 19 May 2013 11:48:07 BDT
N. DAVIES says:
I think you exaggerate the significance of the references to Italy - it's a non-sequiteur that one's knowledge of a place means you had to have been there. The difficulty with this subject matter is people coming to it with a pre-conceived notion of whether Shakespeare visited Italy to suit their prejudices. Daniel Wright's recommendation of the book above appears to be objective at first reading but when you understand that he is a member of the Oxford Society who wish to ascribe the works of Shakespeare to Oxford then one understands his prejudice in needing this book to "prove" Shakespeare visited Italy because it suits his conspiracy theory. Only when you know from Oxford's personal letters that Oxford disliked Italy from his visits there that jars with the Shakespeare canon does a further crack appear in the Oxford myth.

The references in Shakespeare's works to Italy no more prove Shakespeare visited Italy than me knowing where the Sea of Tranquility is proves that I've been to the moon.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 May 2013 16:36:03 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 May 2013 16:52:57 BDT
To take your objections and skepticisms in turn:

Knowledge of a place does not necessarily mean you have been there.

Answer: Depth and detail of knowledge obtainable in no other way than physical familiarity indicates one HAS been there, save for the slight probability (which there is no reason to grant) that the exact locations Oxford went to, at the exact historical moments he visited them, were also visited by someone else who went home and told all to Shakspere some time some way years later. That is, e.g., SOMEONE also went to Titian's workshop, saw the same copy of his Venus and Adonis, remembered it for unknown reasons and in superb detail. This alternate line of thinking not only lacks 'academic rigor', it lacks ordinary logic.

Daniel Wright's introduction is compromised by the fact that he already had formed the view that Oxford had assumed the epithet 'Shakespeare' at some point after he returned from Italy.

Answer: You appear to disconnect Oxford's Continental visit, and whatever he saw, from the phenomenon of his bringing Italian play influences back to generate the "English Renaissance". After he returned, there followed an immediate explosion of court plays throughout the late 1570's and the decade of the 1580's, featuring Commedia dell-Arte, and among others Cinthio and Piccolomini plots and characters.

Versions of Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Othello appeared as court plays, created from such influences, that were staged shortly after Oxford returned. In the 1590's they were transferred to public play venues under the name Shakespeare or Shake-speare.

It is not a non sequitur or violation of academic objectivity for any informed reader, such as Wright, to put two and two together and say they sum to four. That English play renaissance came from somewhere, carried and generated by someone. If logical connection between for instance A Moor's Masque (1579) and Othello (1604) is wrong though, I agree, Wright is guilty of prejudgment and his endorsement of Roe's study is yet further proof of unreasonable bias.

The alternative explanation is the unsupported speculation that Shakspere just absorbed all this contextual and cultural detail from the same mystery gent at the Mermaid Tavern as remembered astounding topographical knowledge of Italy. I would suggest this line of reasoning fails your standard of academic rigor.

"The references in Shakespeare's works to Italy no more prove Shakespeare visited Italy than me knowing where the Sea of Tranquility is proves that I've been to the moon."

Answer: As a literate adult, you must know that analogy is the lowest level of persuasive proof, because its power of application applies rhetorically rather than practically. Therefore in any context of consequence, such as a court of law, it is not even accepted as relevant.

In this case--after you have presented no proof against the specific (re)discoveries Roe made in Italy that specifically confirm 'Shake-speare's' familiarity with the geographical and other features there, that were also on Oxford's documented itinerary--you have to reach far afield, to nominal lunar geography, for any kind of alternative reply.

Oxford not only knew the 'names' of, for example, the sycamore grove "that westward rooteth from the city's side" in R&J; or the exact means by which two gentlemen of Verona journeyed from Verona to Milan by waterway or in another direction to Padua; or the location of the Chiasa di San Luca of Padua briefly mentioned in The Taming of the Shrew--he casually but faithfully captured this knowledge in linguistic amber for posterity and artistic verisimilitude.

So faithfully in fact that one can actually take Roe's book to the various cities and re-discover for oneself where 'Shakespeare' went and see what 'Shakespeare' saw. The capitalized names of buildings and works are handy guides. Thanks to Italy's architectural and topographical constancy, they are still there: the Tranect, the Sagittary, the Duke's Oak, the serene moonlit scene at Belmont. Still accessible to living sensibility. That is so much more realistic, rigorous, and fulfilling than ill-formed skepticism, arising from--I dare say-- untenable prejudice.

"Only when you know from Oxford's personal letters that Oxford disliked Italy from his visits there that jars with the Shakespeare canon does a further crack appear in the Oxford myth."

Answer: Interesting assertion. Again, facts in support missing. Oxford nearly died in Venice? Oxford ran out of money? Oxford disgruntled writing home? Ergo, he didn't go to the exact same places detailed in the Italian plays or produce court plays with titles that predate the Shakespeare canon? More work needed here. Much more.

William Ray

In reply to an earlier post on 19 May 2013 18:39:28 BDT
N. DAVIES says:
Shakespeare's references to Italy are easily explained by his friendship with many characters in cosmopolitan London such as Florio. In setting a play in Italy he would naturally consult with those with knowledge of the country. That you require his knowledge to only have come from personal experience is patently absurd. I could write a play set in Tokyo with convincing references to Tokyo simply by consulting with a native from there and never needing to visit. It's discrediting to your own position to insist knowledge, detailed or otherwise, must only come from one's personal experience. You and I have detailed knowledge of Ancient Rome, the Milky Way and the Great Barrier Reef via passed-on information without either of us needing to nor ever having been there.

As for your confusing comments on Oxford's affection for Italy. Mine is not an assertion but recorded fact evidenced by Oxford's private letters that are available to us. He states in them following his Grand Tour that he would care not if he never saw Italy again.

The insurmountable difficulty you have regarding Oxford (and I am so glad you have revealed yourself as an Oxfordian as that explains a lot) is the comparison of Shakespeare's poems and Oxford's: Shakespeare's are extraordinary works of art by an artist who had reached the apogee of sonnet-writing whilst Oxford's are extraordinary works of doggerel mediocrity.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 May 2013 20:00:31 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 May 2013 20:11:57 BDT
Shakespeare's references easily explained? What a relief. How? I am an 'Oxfordian', therefore automatically wrong. Why? Oxford was fed up with Italy according to unnamed documents, therefore he had amnesia when arriving home and Italianate plays appeared sui generis at court where he was a noted playwright, no idea how it happened? Explain. Florio and Shakspere in close contact, so close the former presented the latter fact and feeling of Italy in casual conversation, --when, why, how, where, and because of what again?

Sorry, your arm-chair expertise is thoroughly unconvincing. Try reading the book by Roe and at the least expose yourself to a humble earthy mind of practical qualities and impeccable integrity.

He didn't say de Vere or Oxford one time in 308 pages. Had nothing to do with his argument, which was that WHOEVER wrote the Shakespeare canon had personal knowledge of Italy and the Mediterranean. Not could have had otherwise or might have had with assistance, nor what you can read or I can research. Did have, did remember, did record. A memorable thesis and a lovely book. But with enough presuppositional baggage you won't even deign to try it, then nothing on heaven and earth will force you--except perhaps individual curiosity, character, and dignity.

As the song goes, "You can lead a horse to water but that won't make him drink/ You can have it all laid out in front of you, but that won't make you think."

William Ray

In reply to an earlier post on 19 May 2013 20:16:51 BDT
N. DAVIES says:
You are a victim of your own ignorance. If you are an Oxfordian and unaware of the existence and content of Oxford's surviving letters then you are wilfully ignorant.

And Roe's book lacks scholarly rigour, as does Oxfordianism - not surprising that it appeals so much to you...

In reply to an earlier post on 19 May 2013 21:32:56 BDT
"You are a victim of your own ignorance. If you are an Oxfordian and unaware of the existence and content of Oxford's surviving letters then you are wilfully ignorant."

Dear me, the level has gone down considerably. There are four letters from Oxford's travels in Italy. You are probably referring to the one sentence: "For my liking of Italy, my Lord, I am glad I have seen it, and I care not ever to see it any more, unless it be to serve my prince or country." From this you conclude there is no significance to the time he spent there, or whatever other loose conclusion.

You finesse the point with disparaging judgments upon my knowledge.

Try reading those letters in 'Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters' by William Plumer Fowler. He found hundreds of unique verbal parallels among just the four letters and the later works of 'Shakespeare', taking sixty pages to do it. By the same token, Joseph Sobran in 'Alias Shakespeare' listed hundreds of unique verbal 'Shakespearean' usages in just twenty early de Vere poems--in reply to your closing remark, intending to nail Oxford's coffin shut. But it just doesn't seem to stay shut somehow.

Whether Roe's book "lacks scholarly rigour" I will leave to other parties. He never intended to sound like a professor, just himself, an informed and knowledgable traveler, thoroughly familiar with the Shakespeare canon. Of course, an heroic individual discovering lost knowledge hidden in plain sight for centuries would appeal to me. I love the truth and I like a good detective story. The book has both. But that is not sufficient for certain soured souls.

Somebody is the victim of his own ignorance, and his hasty temper. But I don't think he is I. Have a nice day.

William Ray

In reply to an earlier post on 19 May 2013 21:37:47 BDT
N. DAVIES says:
You're deluded.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 May 2013 22:24:21 BDT
Just a mirror. "They that level at my abuses reckon up their own."
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