In the Footsteps of William Shakespeare?

William Shakespeare Verona Italy

“Ever a shadow, he disappears, all but utterly, from 1585 to 1592….There is not a more tempting void in literary history, nor more eager hands to fill it”           Bill Bryson on Shakespeare.

It is an interesting fact that thirteen of the thirty-seven plays of William Shakespeare were set either completely or partly in Italy and if we rule out the ten English history plays (which naturally have to be set in England) then half of the remainder of the major works are set in the Italian states and no one knows for sure just why.

Those who question Shakespeare’s authorship make the point that he sets his plays in Venice, Milan and Florence not Warwick, Oxford and York and they just may have a point!

The plays in which some or all of the action is set in Italy are: All’s Well that Ends WellAntony and CleopatraCoriolanusCymbelineJulius CaesarThe Merchant of VeniceMuch Ado About NothingOthelloRomeo and JulietThe Taming of the ShrewTitus AndronicusThe Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Winter’s Tale.

This curious fact has led to a lot of conjecture and academic debate about whether or not the Warwickshire playwright may actually have spent some time in Italy and whether this explains the Italianate settings.  The most extreme theory, by the Sicilian professor Martino Iuvara (2002), is that Shakespeare was actually a Sicilian born in Messina as Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza but the evidence is desperately flimsy and serious academics dismiss this has completely unlikely.

The obstinate bastions of Shakespeare orthodoxy refuse to consider these alternative theories and in my (humble) opinion they are probably right but let’s not forget however that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust got the matter of Mary Arden’s house hopelessly wrong and for years showed visitors around the wrong property and managed to tell a very convincing story at the same time!

Having got that so catastrophically incorrect  what store can be placed on their explanation that: “Italian literature was so widely read in the society in which Shakespeare lived that it would be surprising if he did not have knowledge of the Italian language”.  The pace of speculation has continued to increase and most recently the Venetian TV historian Francesco da Mosto has waded into the debate with some wild and unproven theories about the travels of the bard.  “Shakespeare,” Francesco claimed, “managed to capture the essence of us Italians — how we speak, how we behave, how we love.”

Franceso da Mosta

One reason why there is this speculation and debate is that for seven years from 1585 to 1592 Shakespeare simply disappeared and no historian or biographer can offer a really credible explanation about where he might have been.

So there does therefore remain a possibility that he was in fact on a grand tour of Italy but the truth is that unless some previously undiscovered piece of compelling evidence comes to light then we will just never know and after four hundred years this is becoming less and less likely.  The most probable explanation is in fact that lots of the plays have an Italian setting because Shakespeare adapted a lot of existing stories and used Italian literature as one of his primary sources for plays like ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ so, when we spent a few days in the Veneto in North Eastern Italy, we may or, more likely, may not have been following in William’s footsteps.

Romeo and Juliet Verona Italy William Shakespeare

The holiday club all wanted to visit Venice of course so the plans began with an expectation that we would be spending four days in the famous waterlogged city but during the search for suitable accommodation it soon became clear that the price of hotels was some way beyond our normal hotel room budget so I started to look for alternatives and very soon found something suitable in nearby Padova – the Hotel Grand Italia right next to the train station.

It was a late flight so we landed in the dark at nine o’clock and the first job was to arrange the transport so I asked at the public transport desk to be told that there were no buses directly to Padova and we would need a bus to the Venetian mainland suburb of Mestre where we could catch a train.  This turned out to be a pack of lies because there was a bus service to Padova at a third of the price but handing out this duff advice was a Ryanair partner bus company so not knowing any better we fell for the trick.  It was my fault really because I had forgotten that Treviso airport is virtually in the middle of town and the direct service SITA bus had a convenient stop just fifty metres away from arrivals.

Apart from the additional cost this didn’t inconvenience us too greatly and soon we were at the train station and buying our tickets but after we found the platform with minutes to spare before the scheduled departure there was then a twenty-five minute delay to the service which meant that we were going to be arriving in Padova too late to be able to find somewhere to eat.

The train journey took about thirty minutes and after we arrived in the city we immediately located our hotel, which was excellent but had no restaurant or bar and the streets outside in contrast to the hotel appeared run down and inhospitable with danger and suspicion lurking in the shadows of every doorway and street corner so we decided against a midnight walk and went straight to our rooms.  Tomorrow we would visit Venice.

Shakespeare Guide To Italy

21 responses to “In the Footsteps of William Shakespeare?

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  3. I like the idea of a holiday club, sounds fun.

  4. Somebody claims the Bard to be Italian. It seems it could be a certain Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza ( scrolla,crolla/shake and lanza/spear) a Sicilian writer. When he escaped to England for religious reasons, he adopted his mother’s name Gugliemina (Guglielmo/William) . I know you believe this story to be impossible ( so do I), but when I read that one of Michelangelo’s famous plays was :” Tantu trafficu pe nenti”, which in English is : “Much Ado about Nothing”, well, I started to have some doubts.🤔😜

  5. I had a similar (but not the same) experience in Fussen, Germany, in 1995. Arrived late and without reservations. Found a hotel and was told there were no rooms. I asked if there were other hotels nearby, and were told no.

    So we drove an additional half-hour (in the dark and in unfamiliar roads with just vague directions and a map with few details) and found lodging at Hotel Müller, in Hohenschwangau. The next day, back in Fussen, we walked in front of the hotel of the previous night . . . there were at least three other hotels nearby.

    Now, I could be charitable and assume the clerk meant there were no rooms in any nearby hotels (but how would he know without calling anyone?) but I lean more toward the guy being a jerk.

    But, in this case, it worked out OK because we ended up at the better of two places and within walking distance of the castles. Plus, we had a couple of nice walks around the lake.

    But, that’s beside the point . . . I wanted to ask, who is this fellow Shakespear you keep mentioning. I gather he wrote some stuff?

  6. He was a genius, he wrote some marvellous plays, his legacy to the world is invaluable and he belongs to everyone – who cares where he came from. I’m a big Shakespeare fan and I love all the fantastic stories that are dreamt up about him. I’m also fond of the Bryson book.

  7. What a sad ending, Andrew 🙂 🙂 Roll on breakfast!

  8. What a very interesting approach to writing that post; made for a fascinating read

  9. Interesting! I had never heard the Italian theory.

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