20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
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)
William J. Ray (Willits California) - See all my reviews
'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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
Was this review helpful to you?