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Customer Review

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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