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on 26 August 2013
The author's enthusiasm for Shakespeare is admirable but the appalling lack of scholarly rigour used to produce this book is jaw-dropping at virtually every turn of the page.

Roe sets out his stall in the prologue when he says he is merely interested in facts and not what would/could/should have happened and also isn't interested in theories of an alternative author. Yet he then writes a book that disregards the facts, mangles others and would have been half the size it is if he didn't indulge in so much fanciful theorising. He makes ridiculous remarks that Shakespeare was never known to have left his house in all of his 52 years except to do business as a grain merchant - a comment that says far more about Roe than Shakespeare. He goes on to say no letters survive from Shakespeare, alleging he was illiterate. That there are virtually no letters of any playwrights that have survived the 400 years since the English Renaissance, that Shakespeare and his contemporaries plied their trade in London, 90% of which was razed to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666 destroying everything in its wake and that Shakespeare's own home was looted of all its books, desks and letters in 1637 as recorded in the associated court case does not give him food for thought. I contend that Roe was ignorant of these events that are directly responsible for the lack of survival of such perishable materials.

In his 1st chapter one would expect a compelling account of why we should believe Shakespeare visited Italy but it falls flat on its face. He first locates a grove of sycamores that he claims is referred to in Romeo & Juliet, evidence of "intimate and detailed knowledge of Italy". But there is no grove of sycamores, just the odd number to the west and south of the city of this weed of trees that has been regularly cut back so they don't over-run the place. Roe is blissfully ignorant of the fact that the only reason Shakespeare depicts Romeo depressed around Verona in a sycamore grove is as a literary device in Act 1 Scene 1 to emphasise the love-sick theme of the whole play as "sycamore" is a pun on "lovesick", i.e. syc = "sick" and amore = amour, French for "love". Shakespeare uses the same lovesick device in Othello when he has Desdemona singing a love song: "The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree, Sing all a green willow, Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee, Sing willow, willow, willow, The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur'd her moans; Sing willow, willow, willow; ...etc."

Next, he attempts to locate Juliet's house and finds the tourist trap of Cappello Street. He admits that there is no evidence that R&J ever existed, it is just a story; he admits that this house has no orchard as portrayed in R&J; he admits a balcony was added in 1936 to attract more tourists to the 3rd most popular destination in Italy due to R&J; he admits there is no evidence atall that anyone called Juliet, let alone the Juliet of R&J ever lived there. Then, he proceeds to speak of it as Juliet's house! Next, he hunts for the St Peter's church referred to in the play assuming this will be a challenge. He seems blissfully unaware that St Peter's Basilica in Rome is the seat of the Catholic church, that there are countless St Peter's churches in Italy and that Verona itself has no less than four. Faced with an abundance of St Peter's churches to choose from rather than the challenging hunt he expected he chooses the one that he claims is Juliet's as it is in "her parish", closest to the house he previously dismissed as nothing to do with Juliet. Mind-boggling.

When a local corrects him that a fight scene portrayed in the play wouldn't have happened where set because it was right under the noses of the authorities he doesn't repeat his claim of the playwright having "intimate and detailed knowledge of Italy", he just quietly moves on.

In the 2nd chapter he indulges in battling one of Shakespeare's most egregious mistakes in portraying Verona and Milan as sea ports. Occam's Razor tells us that the simplest solution is the most credible and discourages us from creating unnecessary complexity to explain a problem. The simple explanation is that Shakespeare simply did not know or care that Verona is not a sea port - he was writing for a London audience with the tidal Thames outside of the Globe and dramatising a story to resonate with that audience who equally did not know or care, he was not preoccupied with geographic or maritime accuracy. But Roe embarks on the most tortuous and incredible water-borne journey between those cities imaginable, travelling via rivers (upstream and downstream), canals and locks to get from one city to the other - one half expects him to claim they even travelled through streams and puddles to get there. For chapters he is baffled by what the playwright means by "flood", again blissfully ignorant that the term simply means a river swollen at high tide, enabling large ships to set sail. He claims an obscure Anglo-Saxon meaning for tide meaning "schedule" or "time" that leads him to conclude the tides the playwright refers to are locks in canals and claims locks are operated to schedules, not whenever boats simply need to pass, which is what actually happens. Unable to resolve a 20 km stretch that can not be traversed by water he claims to have found a schematic of canals in that area but fails to demonstrate that they were operational at the time of all the other waterways nor navigable. But Roe's insurmountable problem is that whatever a Heath Robinson of a trip he contrives, Verona is not a sea port as portrayed in the play that shows inarguable evidence that the playwright didn't know or didn't care that it was.

And this goes on in the rest of the book. He claims to have found Shylock's penthouse in the Venetian Jewish Ghetto, the only penthouse there, by using an obscure meaning of penthouse as an apartment on stilts or columns rather than the commonplace English meaning of a top-floor penthouse of which there are countless in Venice, not least in the Jewish Ghetto. He claims Shakespeare had intimate knowledge of St Luke's church at the same time as showing a map from centuries earlier that clearly shows it, meaning Shakespeare needed to travel no further than his desk to know of it. He correctly refers to the Aenied as being one of the sources for The Tempest but deliberately omits its reference to "yellow sand" so requiring Shakespeare to literally stand on Vulcano to know it has "yellow sand". Again, Shakespeare's source has all the content he needed to travel no further than his own desk. When the evidence shows Shakespeare's ignorance of Italy, Roe breathtakingly says Shakespeare was writing for an English audience, not an Italian one, so the errors don't matter.

He then concludes that the Shakespeare canon was written 20 years before scholarly analysis and evidence shows it to have been merely based on a line referring to perfumed gloves and Roe's beloved Earl of Oxford having given Elizabeth a pair in 1576. That perfumed gloves were popular as early as 1560 and that Shakespeare's own father was a glovemaker, literally evades him.

Roe's most appalling crime is reserved for the last chapter. He correctly concedes that the trip that Prospero and Miranda make from Milan to the sea and on to Prospero's island could not happen. This relatively simple trip of "some leagues to sea" as portrayed in The Tempest would instead require a 400km eastward river trip down the Adage and a huge voyage around the east then southern coast of Italy to reach destination. One thinks Roe has finally found that his theorising is balderdash but instead he simply says that the playwright really meant Florence and claims Elizabethan authorities insisted on an edit to the play before publication. Utterly astonishing.

This is the world of the conspiracy theorists, especially the Oxfordians: avoid most facts and sensible explanations; warp the remaining facts; treat Shakespeare unlike everyone else in the world; if the facts don't fit, then bend them, create your own facts from myth.

This is another great addition to the conspirasist's canon: from the silly film "Anonymous" to TJ Looney's "Shakespeare Identified" to Malcolm X believing Shakespeare was actually a French playwright called "Jacques Pierre". All tales full of hot air and myth, told by fools, signifying nothing.
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on 4 September 2012
This book contains some interesting nuggets of background information that are new to me & probably many other folk, too, but it could really have benefited from academic interrogation before it hit the presses.

Not written by an academic, it goes about its premise in a flawed manner, which is a pity. Insinuations are made, but not backed up (Shakespeare must have been able to speak Italian, for example) & conclussions reached that are easily undermined (no Jews in London at the time of MoV) so some of the credibility has to be questioned.

The writer is not sure who the 'Poet' is, which is fair enough, but the cover seems to show the Stratford man viewing Italy. Did any candidate for authorship of the plays travel to Scicily, & if so, why?

The nuggets of geographical information ask further questions, and for that alone the book is worth reading. Doubtless, someone will build on some of the 'facts' unearthed and take this further.
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on 22 February 2012
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.
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on 14 May 2016
The Man That hath no Italy in itself
Nor is mooved by Bellini, Titian, Veronese, Bassano, Romano,
Come thick night come thou day in night
O love! For fear I surfeit! Portia is Love s portrait.
The italian Premier Earl of England
Prince Édouard new Henri III in villa Malcontenta, prosperous old magicien Titian Venise high fantastical
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on 8 January 2015
I had to respond to N Davies' rant about this book. I think there are vested interests at play there! This is very compelling evidence that Shakespeare - or whoever wrote the plays - definitely visited Italy. And there's the rub: Mr. Roe always says 'the playwright', not Shakespeare, so I don't think his intention was to join the did he/didn't he write it debate, but merely to show whoever did write the plays knew places such as Verona, Venice and Milan intimately.Whatever your belief on authorship, when you visit the RSC at Stratford or the Globe in London you say "I'm going to see a play by Shakespeare" simply for convenience and because everyone then knows what you're talking about. Mr. Roe has done the same. If you love Shakespeare you need to read this book.
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on 24 December 2012
This book is an account of detective work and discoveries made through travelling in Italy.

It throws light on Shakespeare's intimate knowledge of the locations that feature in his plays.

It is fascinating and convincing: Shakeseare must have been there. Such information could not have come to him second hand through someone's books or in the tavern.

Read it!
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on 5 January 2013
This book is a 'must read' for those who love Shakespeare and those who found him a trial at school and left it at that. Part travel, part history and part better understanding or introduction to the 'Italian plays' it gives us a glimpse of the man who wrote Shakespeare. As with all specialised enquiries, unusual historical facts come to light and, not least, that whoever wrote the Shakespeare canon knew Italy and its geography, culture and customs very well. Don't miss out.
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on 5 November 2013
Extremely elaborate research, with excellent photos. R.P.Roe persuaded me that whoever wrote the plays must have known the places where they are set. But this doesn't prove that they could not have been written by the butcher's son from Stratford-upon-Avon. He might have gone to Italy during the "seven lost years".
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on 19 November 2014
You can't argue with Mr Roe's assiduous research and his findings are pretty conclusive, the author had travelled in Italy, which leaves William Shakespeare warming his toes by the fire in Stratford while the real author was travelling having completed a university education and studied law.
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on 14 March 2013
For many years I have been convinced that William Shakespeare, probably accompanying some young noble English aristocrat - maybe the Earl of Southampton - sent on an early Grand Tour to keep him out of trouble at home, visited Europe and Italy in particular and spent probably at least two or three years touring the country. I lived there myself for 10 years and there are simply too many authentic references in his plays for them to have been gleaned purely from incoming travellers' hearsay in the pub or from scouring the too few early 'travel books.' Frankly it disgusts me that so many assumptions have been made by Shakespeare's supporters and critics alike confidently stating on no evidence whatsoever, as if they actually know for sure, that he never went to the land where so many of his plays are set, not even bothering to check the internet to see for themselves the still existing massive network of canals from Venice and the Adriatic into the Italian hinterland, snaking across country to the many inland 'ports', especially the oft-derided 'non-existent' one in Milan - very much there, in the centre of that great City, if they only bothered to look on the internet, crammed with working and summer recreational boats! One of the late unlamented Berlusconi's few good acts while in government was to order the clearing and reconstruction of thousands of neglected canals in the Veneto/Po Valley/Lombardy region, allocating millions of euros to the project. So this is no work by a dry, study-based, Academic theorist, the late Richard Paul Roe, who although a true scholar, got down, dusty and sweaty in a blistering Italian summer - probably several summers since he investigates the actual locations of ALL Shakespeare's 'Italian plays' - investigating and discovering truly astonishing local places mentioned or extensively used in the plays, many long gone but still in 'folk memory.' An amazing number are still extant and, by their very obscurity, provide proof that William spent more than a day's visit but lived in them for a sufficiently long period to acquire local knowledge which he used in his glorious plays. His alleged 'little Latin and less Greek' would have been polished into a good working knowledge of Italian and even the Italian names he chooses for his characters illustrates this, names highly unlikely to have been thought up or chosen at random if he was sitting twiddling his quill in London all the time! Perhaps most impressive 'proof' of Will's European travels is Roe's investigation into 'The Merchant of Venice' where he amply illustrates the many authentic references to the unpleasant exigencies of the daily existence of the many Jews' living and working there at that time, including the particular clothes they were obliged to wear (a relatively discreet yellow circle on them not, at least, a prominent Star of David), their special dietary requirements and religious observances, Venice then being one of the few places left in Europe where a Jew could feel relatively safe from murderous persecution, albeit locked into the ghetto at sundown! Not from Christian compassion it must be said but because they were needed to pursue the Venetians lucrative buying and selling philosphy, some aspects of which Christian ethics forbade but were acceptable to conduct via the Jews! There are totally convincing discoveries all along the way due to Roe's almost-obsessive investigations. Romeo & Juliet also surprises with its painstaking tracking down of an oft-mentioned wood outside the city, which Roe discovered still exists, now reduced in size but very much there.He also discovers the obscure and much-altered and re-named church where WS had Friar Lawrence marry the tragic couple and where they died in the play. In reality it's extremely sad that Roe has himself died because it would be wonderful to engage him in a discussion about his astonishing travels and make what could be magnificent and persuasive documentary film about them (maybe Tony Robinson could do a 'special'?). To me the book represents another nail in the coffins of the doubters who claim Shakespeare didn't write the plays, to whom, if I could, I would give each a copy of this splendid book with the accompanying suggestion they open their presently closed minds and 'get real' (and be rather less snobbish) about their rejection as author of the works emanating from the profound natural intelligence, curiousity and genius of that unique Man from Stratford upon Avon! A truly rivetting read. Well written, produced and well illustrated. Strongly recommended.
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