Proceedings of the `Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

by user

Category: Documents





Proceedings of the `Shakespeare and His Contemporaries
Proceedings of the ‘Shakespeare and His Contemporaries’
Graduate Conference
2012 and 2013
Edited by Mark Roberts
Volume II, Spring 2014
The British Institute of Florence
Proceedings of the ‘Shakespeare and His Contemporaries’
Graduate Conference
2012 and 2013
Edited by Mark Roberts
Published by The British Institute of Florence
Firenze 2014
The British Institute of Florence
Proceedings of the ‘Shakespeare and His Contemporaries’ Graduate Conference
2012 and 2013
Edited by Mark Roberts
Copyright © The British Institute of Florence 2014
The British Institute of Florence
Palazzo Lanfredini, Lungarno Guicciardini 9, 50125 Firenze
ISBN 978-88-907244-1-1
Tel +39 055 26778270
Registered charity no. 290647
Advisory Board
Maurizio Ascari (Università di Bologna)
Mariacristina Cavecchi (Università degli Studi di Milano)
Donatella Pallotti (Università degli Studi di Firenze)
Alessandra Petrina (Università degli Studi di Padova)
Mark Roberts (The British Institute of Florence)
Laura Tosi (Università di Venezia Ca’ Foscari)
2012 The Notion of Conflict
‘Sweet lord, you play me false’: a chess game in Shakespeare’s The Tempest
ALICE EQUESTRI Università di Padova
Il conflitto nell’Otello di William Shakespeare: ricezione e rielaborazione in opere
arabe del Novecento
SHILAN FUAD HUSSAIN Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo
The Roman Civil Wars in the anonymous Caesar’s Revenge
DOMENICO LOVASCIO Università di Genova
French political thinking during the Religious Wars and the notion of conflict in
Marlowe’s Edward II
ANTONELLA TAURO Università di Pisa
2013 The Italian Connection
‘That rare Italian master’. Shakespeare and Giulio Romano
CAMILLA CAPORICCI Università degli Studi di Perugia
The ‘old fantastical duke of dark corners’. The tradition of the Italianate disguised
ruler and Measure for Measure’s questioning of divine kingship
IRENE MONTORI Università di Roma Sapienza
Elementi di spettacolarità italiana per Elisabetta I. Riflessioni intorno ai Princely
Pleasures di Kenilworth (1575).
DIEGO PASSERA Università degli Studi di Firenze
‘A Stranger, and Learned, and an Exile for Religion’: Alberico Gentili, Shakespeare
and Elizabethan England
CRISTIANO RAGNI Università di Perugia
When the British Institute of Florence launched its Shakespeare Graduate Conference in 2009,
our guiding principle was to provide an annual platform for young Italian doctoral candidates,
and those who had recently earned their doctorates, to present their own contributions to
Shakespearean studies before an audience consisting of their peers and professors as well as
members of the public. Papers from the first three conferences – those of 2009, 2010 and 2011
– were published online in 2013.
The fourth Shakespeare Graduate conference, devoted to “The Notion of Conflict”, was
held in the Palazzo Lanfredini in Florence on Thursday 26 April 2012. Like the previous one
it was open to universities all over Italy. The morning session was chaired by Professor Paola
Pugliatti (Florence), and the afternoon one by Professor Sara Soncini (Pisa), who gave a paper.
Papers were also given by Alice Equestri (Padua), Shilan Fuad Hussain (Urbino), Domenico
Lovascio (Genoa), and Antonella Tauro (Pisa).
The fifth conference, on “The Italian Connection”, took place on Thursday 18 April
2013, during the British Institute’s annual Shakespeare Week. One session was chaired by
Professor Fernando Cioni (Florence), and one by Professor Shaul Bassi (Ca’ Foscari, Venice).
Papers were given by both chairs, as well as by Camilla Caporicci (Perugia), Irene Montori
(Sapienza, Rome), Diego Passera (Florence), and Cristiano Ragni (Perugia).
For this second online publication, papers presented at the fourth and fifth conferences
have been selected by “blind review”. Once again, the vitality and range of Shakespearean
studies in Italy today is reflected in the variety of subject, methodology and critical stance
apparent in the papers chosen. We trust that this continuing initiative of publishing the papers
of the British Institute conference online will help to further participants’ academic careers.
We take this opportunity of thanking IASEMS (the Italian Association of Shakespearean
and Early Modern Studies) for their continuing active support.
My own thanks go to my colleagues Lucia Cappelli, April Child, Rebecca De Masi,
Sofia Novello and Alyson Price, as well as the Director of the British Institute, Julia Race. I
also thank two Library volunteers, Mary Forrest and Maria Rosa Ramponi Bartolini, for their
editorial assistance.
Mark Roberts, M.A. (Oxon.)
British Institute of Florence, January 2014
Shakespeare Graduate Conference 2012
The Notion of Conflict
‘Sweet lord, you play me false’: A Chess Game in Shakespeare’s The Tempest
Alice Equestri
Università di Padova
In Act 5 Scene 1 of The Tempest Prospero shows off the last prodigy of his island by drawing
a curtain and ‘discover[ing] Ferdinand and Miranda playing at chess’ after everyone has
become persuaded that they both died in the tempest. This is quite an odd scene: first of all we
have the very concrete problem of the visual recognisability of the game. The original audience
(like modern audiences) probably found it difficult to distinguish the tiny little chessmen that
moved on the board, especially if they sat or stood far from the stage. The board, seen from
afar, might also have been easily confused with that of some other game.1 Moreover, whether
the play was originally performed at the Blackfriars indoor theatre or at the Globe, if Prospero
is to ‘discover’ the two lovers playing in a space separated from the spot where the rest of the
characters stand, the scene demands the use of an inner stage2 and this puts even more distance
between the chessboard and the audience, not to mention the visibility problems intrinsically
caused by the physical conformation of a Jacobean playhouse. Also, because chess was chiefly
a royal pastime, part of the audience might not have known what it looked like exactly. Besides,
the short dialogue that follows the stage direction does very little to explain to the audience
what game they are playing – it could apply to any other popular early modern board game:
Sweet lord, you play me false.
No, my dearest love,
I would not for the world.
Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle,
And I would call it fair play. (V.i.174-178)3
Also, it may seem quite ridiculous for two lovers to sit at a table playing such a sterile game
as chess instead of touching hands, embracing or anyway enjoying a more physical type of
relationship. In this sense Ferdinand and Miranda are one of the coldest couples that Shakespeare
ever created – unlike, for example, Romeo and Juliet or Lorenzo and Jessica in The Merchant
of Venice, or Troilus and Cressida before her departure. So why does Shakespeare insert the
game of chess which, apart from posing all these issues, is only a glimpse which easily runs the
risk of being overlooked, since the momentum of the scene is created by the reunion between
Ferdinand and his father?
Shakespeare inserts chess-related terminology in some other plays, referring for example
to some of the chessmen, like the pawn, the Queen or King, or to the idea of checkmate,4 but
nowhere else, apart from The Tempest, does he actually show any direct reference to the game
on stage. This, together with the total lack of any certain evidence that he was a chess player5,
Alice Equestri
has led some critics to think that, though Shakespeare was acquainted with the rules and moves
of the game, they held very little attraction for him and therefore the scene was introduced in
The Tempest just with the aim of showing the young couple in a pretty and engaging attitude.6
In particular, commentators tend to concentrate on the popularity of the game among the
aristocracy, but it has also been suggested that it could be a tribute to Ferdinand’s city, Naples,
a famous centre of chess playing in the Renaissance.7
Addressing the issue more in depth, Loughrey and Taylor give an overview of chess
as a metaphor of courtly love in literature: they mention Les Échecs Amoureux, a 1370 French
allegorical poem where chess symbolises the lovers’ progress in courtship, and romances such
as Guy or Warwick or Huon de Bordeaux, where the hero must beat his beloved at chess before
spending the night with her. Thus they underline how chess at once propounds and subverts the
idea of chaste love between Ferdinand and Miranda, and how it hints at the idea of love as war –
possibly in an Ovidian sense; they establish a relation between the final aim of the game and the
political action within the text, controlled by an ‘unseen mover’, and they emphasise how in both
cases a situation of conflict is transformed into play. Moreover, they see Prospero’s discovery
of the players over a chessboard as an allusion to the dramatist’s power of art.8 William Poole,
instead, expands on the allegorical significance of chess in Shakespeare’s age, focusing on the
political and sexual implications of the idea of unfair play associated with the scene – namely,
Miranda’s accusation to Ferdinand of ‘wrangling’ – thus questioning this idyllic picture of
aristocratic entertainment and courtly love.9 I believe, however, that none of them digs deeply
enough into the concrete dynamics of the game itself to note that several parallels can be made
between the characters of the play and the chess pieces and their moves. This is what I propose
to do in this article.
There are many versions of the origins of chess. While today we know that it probably
came from India (where it was originally called chaturanga),10 medieval and early modern
treatises purport that either it was invented during the siege of Troy to divert the soldiers on
tedious evenings11 – and they give a number of possible inventors’ names: from Diomedes
to Ulysses, Palamedes, son of the King of Eubcea, and two Greek brothers named Ledo and
Tyrrheno – or that it was first created in Babylon, by a philosopher called Xerxes, who used
the game to correct the manners of evil King Merodach, teach him royal values12 and keep
him from idleness.13 Though it is hard to say exactly how the game spread across Europe,
there is evidence that it was already well known in France and England at least one century
before the Conquest:14 Charlemagne himself enjoyed playing it and it is likely that the English
scholar Alcuin first brought chess to England on a visit to his native country at the end of the
8th century.15 Alternatively the Saxons might have received it from the Danes.16 The game
enjoyed a massive popularity among members of the highest ranks, following a set of rules and
dynamics that did not differ much from the gameplay we are used to today: this cannot but help
the modern reader in the interpretation of Shakespeare’s intentions.
Being the strategy game par excellence, where it is possible to plan all the moves in
advance to defeat the opponent, chess stands as the perfect symbol of Prospero’s scheme against
his enemies. But it is not just a question of them doing what the sorcerer wants them to: the
shipwrecked characters, the concealed ship, and Miranda – almost everyone on the island – act
indeed like inanimate chessmen. When Prospero decides where to confine them, they just stay
where they are without wandering around. Expressions dealing with the idea of confinement
and stasis recur throughout the text. When Ariel reports his management of the tempest he says:
The King’s son have I landed by himself [...]
In an odd angle of the isle, and sitting
His arms in this sad knot. (I.ii.222-225)
Alice Equestri
A few lines later he tells his master that he has led the King’s ship to harbour in a ‘deep nook’
(I.ii.228) and fastened down the crew ‘under hatches’ (I.ii.231). Later on, when we first meet
Caliban, he complains that Prospero ‘st[ies]’ him ‘in this hard rock’ (I.ii.344-345),17 and in
general Prospero’s threats to those who show themselves unwilling to comply with his bidding
always turn out to be menaces of imprisonment: he tells Ferdinand that he’ll ‘manacle [his]
neck and feet together’ (I.ii.464) and shortly after he charms him into immobility (I.ii.468),
while he warns Ariel that if he does not heed his orders he will shut him away in an oak tree, just
like the one where the evil witch Sycorax imprisoned him twelve years before (I.ii.295-297). In
all these cases reference is made to closed, well bordered, secluded spaces where any chance of
free movement is impossible. It is as if all these characters were put into giant chess squares and
only Prospero could decide when and how to move them. In the quotation above, Ariel suggests
that he has ‘landed’ Ferdinand in his recess, just like a player lands a chess piece on a square,
and the prince will not stir until Ariel plays the melody which he wants him to follow. At the
same time the King of Naples and his train are left in a deserted spot of the island where, instead
of thinking about how to save themselves or try to find their missing companions, they show
their stillness and complete lack of initiative by engaging in nonsensical activities like betting
on who will start speaking first, debating whether Dido was the Queen of Tunis or Carthage,
or starting an absurd conversation about how they would manage the island if they were its
colonisers. Only Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano, from a certain point onwards, seem to elude
his guard but they will be well taken care of in the end. They, along with Ariel of course, are
the only ones who, in spite of everything, enjoy the greatest freedom of movement. The rest
of the characters are not only enclosed in physical prisons, but Prospero makes very sure that
they are also mentally imprisoned, and he attains this by magically forcing his enemies (but also
his daughter) to sleep. This is in fact the charm he, also through the help of Ariel, uses most
throughout the play.
However, chess is above all a game of conflict. It is a game where a king tries to defeat
an enemy king. This is, again, what happens in the play and the motif is repeated multiple times:
Antonio usurps Prospero’s dukedom in the first place, then Prospero, by chasing away Sycorax
the witch, actually deprives Caliban of the title of king of the island which was legitimately his
by virtue of inheritance; then we see Prospero’s attempt to overpower his brother, Antonio, and
get his dukedom back; at the same time Sebastian tries to do with his own brother, the King of
Naples, what Antonio did with Prospero, and Caliban secretly plans to defeat the duke-coloniser
and get his island back. The idea that it is actually a war that everyone is fighting also emerges
from the use of certain military expressions. Ariel says that the crew and passengers of the ship
have been dispersed ‘in troops’ (I.ii.221), instead of ‘groups’ or something similar. Later on,
Prospero accuses Ferdinand of putting himself ‘upon this island as a spy’ (I.ii.457-458) and,
when Sebastian sees the spectacle of the banquet, he says that ‘one fiend at a time’ he will ‘fight
their legion o’er’,18 while Antonio replies ‘I’ll be your second’ (IV.i.103-104). Stephano wants
to appoint Trinculo his ‘lieutenant’ or ‘standard’ (III.ii.15-16) and warns him from becoming a
‘mutineer’ (III.ii.36). In one of the final scenes, then, when Prospero and Ariel prepare to punish
Caliban for his attempted conspiracy, the spirit addresses him by calling him ‘my commander’
(IV.i.167), instead of just ‘master’ as he normally does.
Chess is also a fight between two colours: the White House against the Black House.
The Tempest itself exploits quite significantly the black/white dichotomy: the ‘darkness’ and
earthiness of Caliban is opposed to the essence of Ariel, who represents lightness and is an
‘airy’ spirit (in performance, directors frequently choose to employ a black-skinned Caliban, to
emphasise the contrast with the rest of the characters). More stereotypically, black and white
symbolise the opposition between good and evil – thus Prospero/Miranda/Ariel and the spirits
Alice Equestri
on one side, and the rest of the characters on the other – or alternatively Vice and Virtue.19 indeed,
when Ariel/the Harpy stages the spectacle for the Neapolitans he accuses them of being ‘men of
sin’ (III.iii.53). But it might also stand for the clash between types of magic: the evil magic of
Sycorax (which we would now call ‘black’) against the nobler art of Prospero. Ferdinand links
the idea of white with his chastity:
FERDINAND The white cold virgin snow upon my heart
abates the ardour of my liver. (IV.i.55-56)
while elsewhere Prospero calls Caliban ‘filth’ (I.ii.348) in connection with his past attempt
to rape Miranda. Finally when Prospero relieves all his enchantments in V.i, he draws this
The charm dissolves apace,
And as the morning steals upon the night,
Melting the darkness, so their rising senses
Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle
Their clearer reason. (V.i.64-68)20
where he identifies ignorance with darkness, and sense or reason with clarity.
Other than colours, also some of the dynamics that are typical of the game of chess
seem to be physically reproduced in the play. The game is played on a well defined, bordered
square board made up of sixty-four squares that, as Caxton explains in Game and Playe of the
Chesse (1474), ‘is made after the form of the cyté of Babyloyne in the whiche this same playe
was founden’ and where ‘the bordeur about representeth the walle of the cyté, whyche is right
In the same way, Shakespeare’s play is entirely set on an island, which is also a well
defined, bordered space and becomes, as noted above, Prospero’s giant chessboard where he
moves his enemies as he likes. Each of the two houses represents the perfect feudal society and
all the classes are represented: there are the King and Queen, the Knights, the Bishops which
represent religious power, and the Rooks, while the front row is made up of pawns, which stand
for the lower classes. Prospero’s island too is, if not perfect, a realistic example of a society
made up of all the needed classes and types of power: we have Kings, Princes and a Princess,
Counsellors, Dukes, the lower classes represented by Ariel and his fellow servant spirits, the
crew of the ship and Stephano and Trinculo, while at the very bottom of the ladder there is
Caliban, the slave. Prospero is at the same time player of the game and chessman, because he
is also King of one of the two houses. The very way in which he fights against the company
of the Neapolitans reminds us of the way the King of chess moves. This piece can move only
one square at a time, suggesting his old age and the need to be protected. Indeed, the initial
formation of the chess pieces implies that the first who will go to war will be the pawns, that is,
the common people.22 The King is the very last to move, and he will not do that unless he has to
avoid a checkmate. Also, a King can never directly face the other King, because it will always
be at least one square away from it.23 Checkmate is always given by other pieces, so there is
never a direct fight between the two kings. All this we may find in the play too. Prospero never
gets close to his enemies until the very end, Act 5 Scene 1, when he decides they have been
sufficiently punished and prepares to forgive them. He is never directly involved in the fight but
he exploits all the time the powers of the spirits of the island, chiefly Ariel’s, to the point that one
may wonder what the real powers of Prospero are: if he can truly master magic or if he is just
Alice Equestri
able to control those who can perform it.24 He is the brains behind the plan, but he is ultimately
quite external to the battle. When he asks Ariel to report on the tempest it is immediately clear
that the spirit had a very active role in its management and in the management of Prospero’s
war in general. He says ‘I have dispersed them [the crew and passengers] ‘bout the isle’, ‘The
King’s son have I landed’ (I.ii.221-222), ‘The rest of the fleet I dispersed’ (I.ii.234), and the fact
that Prospero asks the spirit about how he has ‘disposed’ of the King’s ship and the rest of the
fleet (I.ii.226-227) suggests that probably the sorcerer gave Ariel just a few guidelines on what
he would have to do to bring the Neapolitans ashore, but the details were entirely up to him.
Prospero, as a ruler, also experiences the chess King’s final defeat: checkmate. This
happens when the King remains alone surrounded by enemies with no other pieces of his house
to defend him, and at the same time unable to free himself.25 When Prospero tells Miranda the
story of his banishment from Milan he describes a similar situation: the army levied by his evil
brother Antonio with the help of the King of Naples closed in on him and forced him to take to
the sea in a boat. Prospero was alone, only with little Miranda and, though he admits that it was
‘so dear the love my people bore me’ (I.ii.141), nobody spoke in his favour or defended him,
and he was defeated exactly like a checkmated king.
Prospero does not resemble only the King of Chess, but he shows some analogies
with the roles of the bishop and the rook. The bishop was considered, like Prospero, a man
of science,26 and he was represented sitting on a chair with a book open in front of him.27 As
concerns the Rook, it is probably a curious coincidence that this chess piece was often called
‘duke’ in the early modern period, which is also the title owned by Prospero, as opposed to
Alonso’s kingship,28 though in Shakespeare’s time the duchy of Milan was actually ruled by a
King, Philip II of Spain, and not a duke. Saul explains the reason for this name: the duke, or
rook, is the highest in degree after the monarchs, and should function as a leader, but the author
then adds that, because the rooks do not move much from their rank, the name duke would
better fit the Queen.29 Rook comes from the French name for the piece: Le Roc, which stands
for ‘the rock’ or the ‘keeper of the Rock’
intending thereby, the Governor of a Province, which Commonly is resident in the
strongest castle in the Countrey, and those Castles are the strongest, the which are built
on a Rocke: which Governments or Presidentships of Provinces likewise, are there
conferred, on the greatest men, and they are commonly Dukes. So although these Dukes
seeme remote from the King and Court [...] they may be accounted in worth and power
next to the King. In this sence (I say) may the Rookes bee called Dukes.30
Reading The Tempest from the point of view of colonialist politics, as is often done, Prospero is
actually the governor of a province/island and resides away from his home country. There are other characters in the play whose behaviour bears some resemblances to
the moves of the corresponding chess pieces. The case of the pawn is interesting. The pawns
are the weakest pieces of the chessboard because they can move only forward and at the pace
of one square at a time31, but they can defeat any stronger piece. Besides, if they are lucky
enough to get to the other end of the board, they are rewarded with a promotion32 and they are
immediately endowed with the freedom of movement of a Queen. In this sense pawns can climb
the social ladder, which is exactly the same aspiration some of the low characters in the play
have. Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano know that if they want to become the new lords of the
island they need to kill Prospero, and to do that they get as far as into his cell, where they plan to
do an ambush. Again, they decide to fight Prospero right at the moment when he is as ‘confined’
as he can be: sleeping – so it would be the first time that this physical state works against him
Alice Equestri
– and alone in his cell. Also, at the beginning of the play, the tempest overturns hierarchy: the
sailors understand they have nothing more to lose and, in order to get everyone safely ashore,
become the new authorities of the ship.33
Finally, the figure of the Queen is also very important. This chess piece was introduced
by a crucial new rule only in 1475. Before that date the Queen’s square was occupied by a male
counsellor, called fers.34 This change represented a major sexual revolution in the game not only
because the Queen was the only female chess piece but also because, having the ability to move
as freely as possible on the chessboard, it suddenly became also the most powerful one.35 She
is the highest in degree, after her husband, and she is able to defend him when he is in danger.36
Just as the Queen is the only female chess piece, also Miranda is the only female character in
the play (if we exclude Ariel and the rest of the spirits who seem to fit a category in-between the
two genders) and, to some extent, we may talk about sexual revolution in the text as well. While
playing with Ferdinand, Miranda accuses her lover of cheating (‘wrangling’): this suggests that
after all she is not the submissive woman she appears to be, and she is not the stereotypical lady
of a courtly-love relationship. 37 Also, it is a confirmation that, though Prospero has driven her
life as he wanted, educating her as a future monarch and choosing a suitable husband for her,
Miranda shows her inner independence throughout the play both from her father and from her
husband-to-be. We might say that, in the perfect enclosed world Prospero has built for her, she
has a good margin to be, as Slights says, ‘an agent’;38 after her father has chosen Ferdinand
for her, she chooses him herself, and she makes of an arranged betrothal a union driven by
romantic attraction: she meets Ferdinand in spite of Prospero’s prohibition, she openly declares
her feelings to him instead of waiting for him to do it,39 and finally accuses him of ‘wrangling’,
thus going against the courtly love clichés and showing her strength. In this sense Miranda,
though enclosed in Prospero’s ‘chessboard’, finds ways to move freely.
So far it has been suggested that the final game of chess acknowledges and confirms a
series of issues that are featured in the preceding part of the play. Yet it also seems to anticipate
the epilogue. One of the medieval stereotypes concerning chess, though less exploited than
its tie with courtly-love traditions, is the motif of Death playing the game with Man. Melin
observes that in these types of representations the chessboard stands for the unpredictable game
of life, where death comes unexpectedly and may lead either to salvation or eternal damnation
in Hell.40 Moreover, as Poole recalls, chess offers a memento mori: just as all the pieces will end
up in a bag when the game is over, also all mortals, without distinction, will finish their life in a
grave.41 Prospero’s final epilogue reveals the unpredictability of the characters’ future: will the
audience decide to ‘release’ him from his ‘bands, with the help of’ their ‘good hands’ (Epilogue,
9-10)? Or will he end up confined in the text just as both houses will be put in a bag at the end
of a chess game? If the actor playing Prospero is hopefully ‘freed’ by the final applause, the
same cannot be said for the character, of whose destiny we will never be sure. After all, his war
has come to nothing: both houses end up in a ‘bag’, the limbo between art and reality. While
hierarchy collapses, only the actors remain.
Alice Equestri
1 A number of table games existed in the Early Modern period, and some of them bore even some visual resemblance
to chess: e.g. draughts or certain dice games, like backgammon, for instance. See Joseph Strutt and John Charles
Cox, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England from the Earliest Period: Including the Rural and Domestic
Recreations, May Games, Mummeries, Pageants, Processions and Pompous Spectacles (Boston: Methuen, 1801)
or R. Seymour and C. Johnson, The Compleat Gamester: In Three Parts (London: J. Hodges, 1754).
2 D.E. Solem, “Some Elizabethan Game Scenes,” Educational Theatre Journal, 1 (1954): 20.
3 My reference edition is William Shakespeare, The Oxford Shakespeare. The Complete Works. Second Edition,
eds. Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
4 E.g. In King John (II.i.122-123) Elinor says: ‘That thou mayst be a queen, and check the world!’ or in The
Taming of the Shrew (I.i.58) Katharina asks: ‘I pray you, sir is it your will to make a stale of me amongst these
mates?’. In As You Like It Touchstone mentions a ‘Countercheck Quarrelsome’ (V.iv.79). See Paul G. Brewster,
Games and Sports in Shakespeare (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1959). In King Lear Kent says ‘My life
I never held as a pawn/to wage against mine enemies’ (I.i.147) in order to express his loyaly to his master.
5 A painting attributed to the Dutch painter Karel Van Mander, Chess Players (c. 1603), was identified as an image
of Johnson and Shakespeare playing chess (see Edward Winter, “Chess and Shakespeare,” Chess History, accessed
December 2, 2011, http://www.chesshistory.com/ winter/extra/shakespeare.html). This is generally considered to
be pure speculation but Jeffrey A. Netto sees it as a symbolical representation of the rivalry between the two greatest
theatrical wits of the time. See Jeffrey A. Netto, “Intertextuality and the Chess Motif: Shakespeare, Middleton,
Greenaway,” in Shakespeare, Italy and Intertextuality, eds. Michele Marrapodi and Keir Elam (Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 2004), 218.
6 Winter.
7 See Winter.
8 Bryan Loughrey and Neil Taylor, “Ferdinand and Miranda at Chess,” in The Cambridge Shakespeare Library,
Vol. 2, ed. C.M.S. Alexander (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 30-35 (31).
9 William Poole, “False Play: Shakespeare and Chess,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 55 (2004): 50-70.
10 “Chess,” Encyclopædia Britannica Online, accessed December 7, 2011, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/
11 Seymour and Johnson, The Compleat Gamester, vi.
12 Strutt and Cox, The Sports and Pastimes, 250. This second one is for example the version of the story by
Jacobus de Cessolis, in Caxton’s translation: See William Caxton, Game and Playe of the Chesse, ed. Jenny Adams
(Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2009), book 1, chapter 2.
13 Caxton, Game and Playe of the Chesse, book 1, chapter 3.
14 In the tenth century we find the earliest allusion to this game in England. See Duncan Forbes, The History of
Chess: From the Time of the Early Invention of the Game in India Till the Period of Its Establishment in Wester
and Central Europe (London: W.H. Allen, 1860), 219.
15 Strutt and Cox, The Sports and Pastimes, 250.
16 Forbes, The History of Chess, 219.
17 The same idea is repeated by Miranda just a few lines later, in I.ii.363.
18 III.iii.103-104. C. Edelman, Shakespeare’s Military Language: A Dictionary (London: Continuum, 2004), 197.
Also P.A. Jorgensen, Shakespeare’s Military World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956).
19 Neil Taylor and Bryan Loughrey, “Middleton’s Chess Strategies in Women Beware Women”, Studies in English
Literature, 1500-1900, 24 (1984): 341-354.
20 Italics are mine.
21 Caxton, Game and Playe of the Chesse, book 4, chapter 1.
22 Caxton, Game and Playe of the Chesse, book 4, chapter 1.
23 Caxton, Game and Playe of the Chesse, book 4, chapter 2. Arthur Saul, The Famous Game of Chesse-Play
Truely Discouered, and All Doubts Resolued; So that by Reading this Small Booke Thou Shalt Profit More then
by the Playing a Thousand Mates. An Exercise Full of Delight; Fit for Princes, or Any Person of What Qualitie
Soeuer (London: A.S. Gent, 1614), sig. C4v.
24 For a discussion on master-servant relationships on Prospero’s island see Andrew Gurr, “Industrious Ariel
and Idle Caliban,” in Travel and Drama in Shakespeare’s Time, eds. Jean-Pierre Maquerlot and Michael Willems
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 193-208.
25 Saul, The Famous Game of Chesse-Play, sigg. F5r-F6r.
26 J.M. Mehl, “Justice et Administration d’Apres le Liber De Moribus de Jacques des Cessoles,” in Chess and
Allegory in the Middle Ages, eds. Volker Honemann and Olle Ferm, (Stockholm: Sallskapet Runica et Mediaevalia,
Alice Equestri
2005), 161-172 (166).
27 Caxton, Game and Playe of the Chesse, book 2, chapter 3.
28 Also in Middleton’s A Game at Chess (1624) there are the Black ‘Duke’ and the White ‘Duke’.
29 Saul, The Famous Game of Chesse-Play, sigg. C7v-C8r.
30 Saul, The Famous Game of Chesse-Play, sigg. C8r-C8v.
31 With the exception of the first move from the base line, which can take the pawn two squares forward, if the
player likes.
32 This is a rule called in fact promotion of the pawn. This mechanism is explained in Caxton, Game and Playe of
the Chesse, book 4, chapter 7 and Saul, The Famous Game of Chesse-Play, sigg. Fv-F2v.
33 See I.i.18-26.
34 Strutt and Cox, The Sports and Pastimes, 252.
35 “Chess.”
36 Seymour and Johnson, The Compleat Gamester, 122.
37 Jessica Slights, “Rape and the Romanticization of Shakespeare’s Miranda,” Studies in English Literature, 15001900, 41 (2001): 357-379 (371).
38 Slights, “Rape and Romanticization,” 364.
39 Slights, “Rape and Romanticization,” 366-369.
40 P. Melin, “Death Playing Chess with Man and Related Motifs,” in eds. Honemann and Ferm, 9-16 (13).
41 Poole, “False Play,” 64 and, “Middleton’s Chess Strategies,” 341. In Middleton’s A Game at Chess (1624), an
allegory of a chess game between Protestants (the White House) and the Papists (the Black House), the latter lose
and are put in a bag, where the bag stands for Hell.
Il conflitto nell’Otello di William Shakespeare:
ricezione e rielaborazione in opere arabe del Novecento
Shilan Fuad Hussain
Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo
La tragedia shakespeariana Otello è ritenuta un monumento della letteratura, sinonimo di
prestigio culturale, oggetto di cospicue rielaborazioni da parte di numerosi scrittori arabi.
Tradotto e messo in scena al Cairo nel 1884, Otello è stato uno dei primi componimenti teatrali
occidentali ad essere acquisito nel mondo arabo islamico, su cui ha esercitato un forte impatto
per la sua ricchezza culturale. Se il 1884 potrebbe apparire una data molto tardiva, bisogna
ricordare che il dramma è stato acquisito mediante il contatto con l’Occidente e ampiamente
rivisitato in base al gusto estetico, nonché al sottofondo storico-culturale1 degli scrittori arabi.
Come sostiene lo studioso egiziano M. M. Badawi:
The appeal of the tragedies [...] is immeasurably greater [...] there is a general feeling
among students that Shakespeare’s tragedies have a much more universal appeal
than the rest of the plays. […] for even now we notice that the academic interest in
Shakespeare lags far behind the theatrical: there are many more stage productions than
critical dissertations, articles or books on the plays in Arabic2.
Mediante il contatto con le diverse realtà culturali, l’Otello subisce un costante processo di
trasformazione e metamorfosi, accogliendo in sé nuovi elementi. L’opera viaggia nelle letterature
arabo-islamiche e si riscontrano diverse rielaborazioni compiute da scrittori di rilievo, che nel
Novecento la integrano al proprio patrimonio di conoscenze. Preme sottolineare che in una
prima fase di ricezione gli articoli e i commenti alle esibizioni teatrali erano cospicui, laddove
erano minori gli studi critici che aderivano a un grado culturale ed accademico elevato3.
Oltre alle rielaborazioni dell’opera, vi sono notevoli riferimenti e allusioni ad essa,
questo perché l’Otello va a toccare profondamente la sensibilità degli arabi, infatti il personaggio
chiave è un uomo arabo che si introduce nel contesto culturale occidentale, confrontandosi con
ciò che è diverso insieme a tutti i conflitti e le problematiche che ne conseguono4. Tuttavia,
l’Otello non è soltanto il ritratto di un Moro che conduce la sua vita a Venezia, ma anche il
confronto diretto tra oriente e occidente, un’opera tutt’oggi di grande attualità e che conferma
ancora una volta l’estro di Shakespeare nel precorrere i tempi.
Nell’opera Shakespeare ritrae la figura di un estraneo che si trova in occidente, mentre
nel momento in cui lo scritto viene recepito dagli arabi, essi scorgono un’immagine distorta,
poiché è descritta in base alla concezione che l’occidente ha di loro. Come sostiene la studiosa
Shilan Fuad Hussain
Ferial Ghazoul nel saggio The Arabisation of Otello:
Othello offers a special case of relations among literatures. It is the product of an
acculturation involving a double circulation of the Other and a complex intertwining that
combines the effect of an African/Arab [...] on European imagination and, in a reversed
way, its impact on Arab/Africans. This exchange in both directions is necessarily
modified by the perception of the Other and the modes of literary production of the
Essenzialmente sussistono due questioni sulle quali i critici letterari arabi indugiano
maggiormente: la prima è costituita dall’immagine del protagonista concepito come outsider,
la quale va a definire l’identità dell’arabo. La seconda è una questione ben più complessa,
poiché si pone l’obiettivo di ridefinire l’identità dell’arabo all’interno dell’opera, affinché sia
rappresentato in modo più autentico.
Da questo doppio binario si sviluppa una produzione letteraria multiforme, con l’intento
di esprimere il proprio punto di vista riguardo l’altro, influenzato dalla storia, dalla cultura e
dalla visione del singolo autore. In entrambi i casi ci si trova dinnanzi alla propria figura vista
attraverso gli occhi dell’altro; ed ecco da dove scaturisce l’impulso di riformulare e in alcuni
casi di correggere il proprio ritratto, a partire dall’opera shakespeariana, con il proposito di
fornire un’idea più veritiera di se stessi. Inoltre, da parte degli scrittori del Novecento, vi è
l’intento di rivelare la propria sensibilità e abilità artistica, intessute di complesse ideologie.
Nel mondo arabo, l’attenzione verso l’opera shakespeariana assume talvolta modalità
polemiche nei confronti dell’Occidente, a causa dell’egemonia del potere di quest’ultimo sul
Medio-Oriente. Altre volte, si manifesta la volontà di instaurare un dialogo per porre rimedio
alle divergenze; è evidente quindi che sono eterogenei e complessi i punti di vista emersi
nel panorama arabo nati dal capolavoro shakespeariano. In modo più dettagliato, vi è una
produzione letteraria che in una prima fase manifesta la propria soddisfazione per l’attenzione
dedicata alla sua etnia. Diversamente, a seguito dei conflitti politici e della colonizzazione,
essa esprime la propria indignazione per aver ricevuto un ritratto ingannevole. Bisogna
sottolineare che l’obiettivo di questo breve scritto non è quello di delineare la pluralità delle
reazioni scaturite dallo studio dell’Otello, né quello di prendere in considerazione i numerosi
testi fioriti ispirandosi ad esso o illustrare delle molteplici traduzioni e riadattamenti teatrali,
che meriterebbero uno studio a se. Questo lavoro si prefigge semplicemente di analizzare uno
dei percorsi di comunicazione letteraria tra il mondo arabo-islamico e quello europeo. Nello
specifico analizzando le opere di alcuni autori di rilievo, che nel Novecento, attraverso romanzi
e in altri casi racconti, hanno donato dei nuovi contenuti all’Otello.
Alcune rielaborazioni dell’Otello shakespeariano nel mondo arabo-islamico
Nel mondo arabo-islamico, a seguito di una prima fase di apertura verso l’occidente, vi è
un periodo di stasi tra le due guerre mondiali. Al termine della seconda guerra mondiale i
rapporti fra queste diverse realtà si deteriorano ulteriormente, una crisi che raggiunge l’apice
con l’inasprirsi dei conflitti arabo-israeliani. Ne consegue che il Medio-Oriente individua nell’
Occidente la causa dei propri conflitti politici, dell’arretratezza economica, e per questo auspica
di salvaguardasi mediante l’impegno politico. Una frustrazione che si riscontra anche nel
panorama culturale e che si traduce con una rielaborazione nei confronti proprio dell’Otello di
Shakespeare. A partire dagli anni Sessanta, vi è un’ondata di reinterpretazioni, che descrivono
Shilan Fuad Hussain
il Moro non più come la rappresentazione del mondo arabo, piuttosto egli diviene il simbolo
delle ansie politiche e culturali in corso nel Medio-Oriente6.
È interessante l’interpretazione dell’autorevole critico palestinese Edward Said, il quale sostiene
In Shakespeare’s Othello (‘that abuser of the world’), the Orient and Islam are always
represented as outsiders having a special role to play inside Europe7.
Edward Said individua nell’Otello la presenza dell’Islam e dell’Oriente, percepiti come
‘outsiders’, al fine di mettere in scena un determinato ruolo che gli è stato attribuito dall’Occidente.
Negli anni Cinquanta e Sessanta vi sono numerose rappresentazioni teatrali della tragedia,
con interpretazioni piuttosto distanti dal testo originale. Sono riadattamenti caratterizzati da uno
stile tipico del periodo e da un forte richiamo alle problematiche e alle conflittualità in atto,
senza per questo perdere lo spirito shakespeariano originario.
Nel teatro, un esempio rilevante da ricordare è l’opera dello scrittore marocchino ‘Abd
al-Karim Birshid8, intitolata ‘Utayl wal-khayl wal-barud (Othello, Horses and Gunpowder)
e messa in scena a Casablanca, fra il 1975 e il 1976, dalla compagnia teatrale Dramatic
Avantgarde. In essa emerge l’interpretazione di forte impatto modernista dell’Otello, dove
la riflessione si concentra sulle modalità di recitazione degli attori e sulla rappresentazione
scenica. L’utilizzo di maschere nere africane e musica sub-sahariana come accompagnamento
fa emergere l’impronta pirandelliana, soprattutto nel ricorso al teatro nel teatro, accanto al
nouveau roman francese e alle Mille e una notte. Quella di ‘Abd al-Karim Birshid costituisce
un’interpretazione di rilievo, nella quale vi è il richiamo ad antichi miti della letteratura. Vi sono
riferimenti alla realtà dell’epoca a lui contemporanea e in essa il dramma non trova conclusione,
affinché non cessi mai di essere reinterpretato.
Secondo il parere del drammaturgo e narratore egiziano ‘Abdul Mun’im Salim9,
nelle molteplici riscritture dell’opera, vengono sottolineate in maggior misura le differenze
generazionali tra la giovane Desdemona e Otello, l’abuso di potere e la corruzione, in luogo
dei conflitti razziali. I contrasti si presentano sotto forma di divari tra le differenti classi sociali
nel mondo arabo-islamico, tra poveri e ricchi, oppure sotto forma di dissidi fra i generi. La
maggior parte delle performance teatrali sono riconducibili al contesto sociale nel quale esse
vengono rappresentate, ponendo in risalto le problematiche del periodo. In queste performance,
vi è inoltre la volontà di rendere partecipi gli spettatori, affinché siano stimolati a suggerire
soluzioni verosimili alle conflittualità in atto10. Nel complesso, è lecito affermare che questi
autori hanno avuto il merito di rivelare la continua possibilità di reinterpretazione del testo
Nel riadattamento di Mahmud Isma’il Ğad, intitolato ‘Atallah11 (Otello), databile alla fine
degli anni sessanta, Otello (nominato Atallah) incarna la classe agiata proveniente dalla città,
mentre Desdemona (nominata Fatima) è il simbolo del ceto contadino, che a stenti sopravvivere
nella misera provincia egiziana. Anche l’Otello di Mahmud Isma’il Ğad indossa le vesti del
diverso, in quanto egli è l’unico borghese a trovarsi in quest’ambientazione rurale, interpretando
così una differente tipologia di disuguaglianza sociale. Analogamente all’Otello originale, in
questo contesto ricorre il motivo della gelosia di Iago (nominato Dahi) e la benevolenza di
Cassio (Hassan)12. La rivisitazione di Mahmud Isma’il Ğad nel 1983 viene adattata anche al
cinema, ad opera del regista egiziano ‘Atif al-Tayyib13.
Oltre alle rivisitazioni teatrali dell’Otello, sono stati redatti numerosi romanzi, tra i quali
compare quello dell’insigne scrittore palestinese Emile Habibī (1920-1996), intitolato Al-Wakāi
Shilan Fuad Hussain
al gharībah fī ikhtifā Saīd Abī al-Nash al-Mutasāil14 (Il Pessottimista, 1974), già dal titolo viene
percepito l’umorismo dell’autore, nel quale pessimismo e comicità convivono. È uno scritto
concepito in un contesto politico, ideologico e sociale conflittuale, dimostrazione che anche in
tali circostanze la letteratura non cessa di trovare nuovi modi d’espressione. In questo romanzo,
il protagonista, un palestinese di nome Sa’id, collabora con il governo israeliano in veste di
informatore segreto. Sa’id viene fatto infiltrare in una prigione israeliana tra gli arabi, con il
proposito di scoprire i piani di attacco di questi ultimi. Si ritrova così ad impersonare il ruolo di
Desdemona, manifestando debolezza ed arrendevolezza; ma contrariamente a quest’ultima lo
spirito di Sa’id si trasforma, e da vittima sottomessa agli israeliani, diviene combattivo con il
desiderio di riscatto. Una rilettura brillante dell’opera inglese, che ha come scenario il conflitto
palestinese e israeliano, a seguito della guerra del 1967.
Le opere appena delineate sono soltanto alcuni esempi della letteratura araba del
Novecento influenzate dall’Otello di Shakespeare: ve ne sono numerose altre che meriterebbero
di essere analizzate, ma per motivi di spazio sono state scelte soltanto alcune, ritenute rilevanti
per vari aspetti.
Influssi dell’Otello nella letteratura araba del Novecento
In questa sezione saranno presi in esame due romanzi e un racconto, fortemente influenzati
dall’Otello. In questi scritti il dramma di Shakespeare viene riadattato al contesto storico e
culturale arabo del Novecento, nel quale viene accentuato il tema del conflitto. In essi viene
colto lo spirito dell’opera a volte ispirandosi, altre attingendo pienamente alle figure e ai dialoghi
dell’Otello, a cominciare da uno dei più autorevoli studiosi del mondo arabo-islamico, il sudanese
Tayyib Sālih, con Mawsim al-hijrah ilā al-shimāl (1966), (La stagione della migrazione a
Nord). Un romanzo o un bildungsroman, grazie al quale Tayyib Sālih è stato acclamato da un
numero di critici di spicco, come esponente acuto della letteratura araba moderna15. L’opera
appartiene a una vasta serie di scritture novecentesche che trattano del rapporto tra Oriente e
Occidente e della complessa interazione tra cultura tradizionale e moderna. Inoltre, il romanzo
di Tayyib Sālih è considerato un riadattamento novecentesco dell’Otello, con il quale lo studioso
sudanese ha un rapporto complesso, dove esercita un ruolo preminente l’identità post-coloniale
e i rapporti interrazziali. La studiosa Jyottsna Singh sostiene che a partire dal testo originale e
le sue novecentesche riscritture, vi è il proposito di porre al centro le diversità di vario genere e
i conflitti razziali, un tema ancora attuale16.
Il protagonista della storia Mustafa Sa’id, alter ego di Otello, racconta la propria vita
al narratore. Mustafa nasce nel Karthum (1898), localizzato nel Sudan dove si insedia la
colonizzazione degli inglesi; ben presto i ‘bianchi’ riconoscono l’acuta intelligenza di Mustafa
e per questo gli offrono una borsa di studio all’estero. Come Otello, Mustafa è un uomo arabo
che in Occidente riscuote grande successo. A Londra Mustafa si svela come ‘seduttore’, con il
suo ‘fascino esotico’ analogo a quello di Otello. Quest’ultimo conquista Desdemona rievocando
le sue avventure, lo si può evincere anche da un dialogo nel quale lo sostiene esplicitamente:
‘She lov’d me for the dangers I have passed’. Nell’opera Tayyib Sālih ha il proposito di
suggerire ‘l’avvelenamento’ di Desdemona, conquistata da Otello con la narrazione delle
sue gesta eroiche; ma a differenza di Mustafa il suo è un amore sincero come lo sono i suoi
racconti. Mustafa invece inventa storie di pura fantasia, grazie alle quali seduce tre donne; alla
domanda di una di loro che desidera sapere di che razza è, Mustafa risponde che è come Otello,
arabo Africano, facendo leva sul fascino che l’uomo nero esercita sulle donne occidentali17.
Con le sue menzogne il protagonista ha il proposito di ‘infettarle’ con il ‘germe fatale’ da cui
Shilan Fuad Hussain
egli stesso è stato contagiato dall’Occidente, insinuandosi nelle loro menti. Egli inscena uno
stereotipo orientale per farle prima innamorare per poi vendicarsi, facendo così giustizia contro
il colonizzatore occidentale, il quale dall’Europa va in Africa per piantare il suo seme. Nei suoi
racconti e astuzie analogamente a Iago, la mente di Mustafa si rivela acuta e tagliente come la
lama di un coltello18.
Come Otello, Mustafa indossa le vesti dell’uomo esotico, tuttavia c’è una sostanziale
differenza tra i due: per il protagonista di Shakespeare esse costituivano delle virtù, mentre per
il personaggio di Tayyib Sālih diventa un’arma. In realtà, Mustafa inscena un esotismo che
esiste solo in parte, perché in lui è profondo il legame con un altro personaggio del dramma:
Iago. Quest’ultimo è un cinico e freddo manipolatore, i cui stratagemmi hanno lo scopo di
placare la sua furia nei confronti di Otello, infettando la sua mente con la menzogna.
Mustafa costituisce un ibrido tra un soggetto coloniale e un soggetto post-coloniale. È
differente da Otello, ma al contempo si serve della sua figura per raggiungere i propri scopi19.
Il colonizzatore è simboleggiato dalle donne del nord, le quali una volta abbandonate finiscono
per togliersi la vita. Mustafa stesso afferma:
I, over and above everything else, I am a colonizer, I am the intruder whose fate must be
decided […] Yes, my dears, I came as an invader into your very homes: a drop of your
poison which you have injected into the veins of history20.
Il veleno e l’infezione sono temi che ricorrono di frequente in Season21, analogamente a
quanto avviene nell’Otello, in quest’ultimo anche con il proposito di rievocare l’immagine
dell’avvelenamento del pensiero del Moro indotto dall’intrigo di Iago22.
Di notevole interesse è l’incontro fra Mustafa e la donna di nome Jean Morris,
quest’ultima non è interessata ai suoi racconti e lo respinge, attirando in maggior misura le
sue attenzioni. Il gioco continua tra di essi fino al loro matrimonio; nella loro coppia la donna
assume il ruolo dell’Occidente che combatte contro ‘l’invasore nero’, e fa sì che l’uomo si
pieghi al suo volere, fino a trasformarlo in un omicida. Come afferma Mustafa: ‘It was as though
I were a slave Shahriyar you buy in a market for a dinar’23. Jean attua una nuova colonizzazione
sul sud, invadendo il territorio di colui che vuole conquistare il suo; essa distrugge i simboli del
falso esotismo di Mustafa, come afferma Maurizio Calbi: ‘Jean tranforms Mustafa himself into
a stranger in his own home’24.
La donna lo tradisce facendosi volutamente scoprire, lasciando indizi nella loro casa, tra
i quali appare un ‘fazzoletto’, evidente eco all’Otello di Shakespeare. Jean tenta di provocare
la gelosia di Mustafa, finché un giorno egli non la ucciderà, rievocando la storia di Otello e
divenendo come lui, solo che questa volta Jean-Desdemona è realmente colpevole. In un gioco
perverso tra i due, lui finisce per cedere alla richiesta di lei di essere uccisa. Il personaggio
di Mustafa è affine a Otello per l’amore che prova per la sua consorte, d’altra parte rivela la
propria natura maligna come Iago, in quanto la sua mente ha insinuato in sé stessa il pensiero
dell’omicidio e in seguito del suicidio. L’omicidio diventa simbolo dei conflitti tra Oriente e
Occidente, tra uomo e donna, tra nord e sud.
Mustafa viene processato per aver assassinato Jean Morris e per aver spinto al suicidio
altre tre donne. La sua difesa sostiene che è stato devastato dalla civiltà occidentale; non è stato
lui ad uccidere, piuttosto ‘the germ of deadly disease that assailed them a thousand years ago’25.
Ed è questo il momento nel quale il protagonista individua il proprio errore, analogamente
a quanto aveva compiuto Otello, al contempo egli nega di essere come Otello, riconoscendo in
lui un personaggio falso: ‘I am no Othello, Othello was a lie’26. Mustafa respinge l’idea secondo
la quale egli avrebbe assimilato la nozione che il nord ha di lui, sottolineando la sua concezione
Shilan Fuad Hussain
di Otello come un prodotto della mente degli occidentali:
It occurred to me that I should stand up and say to them: This is untrue, a fabrication.
It was I who killed them. I am a desert of thirst. I am no Othello. I am a lie. Why didn’t
you sentence me to be hanged and so kill the lie?27.
Egli dichiara di essere colpevole in quanto certo di non essere un’innocente vittima delle
macchinazioni degli europei, così avvicinandosi al senso di giustizia che pervadeva l’animo di
Otello. In un secondo momento affermerà che è un angelo venuto in Occidente per vendicarsi
dell’invasore; perciò inietta il suo veleno attraverso l’omicidio e il suicidio, come strumento
di rivalsa; al contempo il suo personaggio incarna una vittima, frutto dei conflitti in atto fra
Occidente e Oriente, così come lo è stato Otello.
Tayyib Sālih attraverso il suo romanzo comunica che dai tempi di Shakespeare la
situazione socio-culturale non è mutata, la discriminazione razziale, la repulsione e l’attrazione
verso l’uomo esotico ancora pervade l’animo dell’uomo occidentale. Mustafa viene condannato
e dopo aver scontato la pena fa ritorno nel paese d’origine, vivendo in incognito in un villaggio.
Si sposa con una donna del luogo di nome Hosna Bint Mahmud. Nel villaggio il narratore fa
la conoscenza di Mustafa, l’unico nel quale non riconosce i tratti di un agricoltore dalle umili
origini. A seguito di vari incontri e scontri tra i due uomini, Mustafa rivela al narratore la
propria reale identità e decide di togliersi la vita. Si getta nelle acque del Nilo per non essere
più ritrovato, poiché non può più convivere con la propria falsità; come nell’Otello il motivo
del suicidio si presenta al termine dell’opera come uno strumento di autopunizione. A seguito
della morte di Mustafa, si scopre che egli aveva conservato un pezzo di Occidente, una stanza
segreta che conteneva libri e oggetti condotti con sé dall’Inghilterra. Mustafa dimostra che in
fondo nonostante lo scontro con il colonizzatore, egli aveva ancora bisogno della sua presenza
culturale. Era un ibrido: non era più il sudanese partito tanti anni addietro, e nemmeno un
inglese, sentendosi estraneo ad entrambe le culture.
Nello scritto di Tayyib Sālih viene introdotto un altro capitolo rilevante, incentrato
sulle conflittualità presenti in una società patriarcale, un tema che sul finire dell’opera diviene
centrale. A seguito del suicidio di Mustafa, sua moglie Hosna si trova ad essere costretta a
sposarsi con un uomo in età avanzata. Non potendo convivere con questa condizione, Hosna
decide di uccidere il promesso sposo, per poi togliersi la vita. Non si è a conoscenza delle reali
motivazioni che l’hanno spinta a compiere il suicidio, se lo ha compiuto per il senso di colpa
verso l’uomo al quale ha tolto la vita, oppure per la disperazione di dover vivere in una società
che l’avrebbe isolata e umiliata.
È lecito affermare che mediante questa storia Tayyib Sālih ha il proposito di denunciare
la grave condizione femminile nel Sudan, tutt’ora ancorato a tradizioni appartenenti al passato.
Esaminando più a fondo, anche nell’Otello scorgiamo le conflittualità di genere, attraverso
l’immagine della donna che è subordinata rispetto alla supremazia maschile. Il discorso di
Desdemona proferito in presenza del senato di Venezia ne costituisce un valido esempio28.
Tornando a Tayyib Sālih, il narratore, un uomo vissuto a lungo in Inghilterra, mediante i
racconti di Mustafa comprende quanto in realtà la sua terra avesse assorbito la cultura occidentale.
Nel suo animo avviene una lacerazione, egli si sente perduto tra il nord che ha lasciato e il sud
che tenta di ritrovare; un dolore acutizzato dalla perdita di Hosna della quale si era innamorato
e che egli non ha avuto il coraggio di proteggere. Emulando Mustafa, il narratore ha intenzione
di togliersi la vita gettandosi nelle acque del Nilo: ‘I found I was half away between north and
south. I was unable to continue, unable to return.’29. Quest’esperienza gli fa comprendere che
non è pronto a rinunciare alla vita, perciò chiede soccorso salvandosi all’ultimo.
Shilan Fuad Hussain
Sul finire del romanzo il linguaggio è fortemente ispirato all’espressività teatrale; in
realtà questo tipo di narrazione è presente lungo tutta l’opera, e si ripropone verso il termine,
creando un ulteriore nesso con l’Otello di Shakespeare. La presenza del teatro è anche una
riflessione sull’arte, sull’artista e sulle sue possibilità. Per avviarsi verso la conclusione, nella
Stagione della migrazione a Nord trovano raffigurazione i conflitti razziali, di genere e tra
Oriente e Occidente. I rapporti tra nord e sud sono basati sull’illusione di conoscere l’altro,
analogamente a quanto avviene nei rapporti tra uomo e donna. Viene illustrato un favoloso
Oriente che nella realtà non esiste, accolto dal protagonista e inscenato per l’Occidente, così
destituendo l’esotico presente nell’Otello shakespeariano30.
Altra scrittrice considerevole che subisce l’influenza dell’opera shakespeariana è Samar
Attar, di origine siriana, la quale rielabora l’Otello nel suo romanzo di formazione dal titolo
Lina: Lawhat fatat dimashqiyyah (1982)31. Lo scritto viene tradotto in lingua inglese nel 1994
con il titolo Lina: a Portrait of a Damascene Girl. Mediante l’opera di Samar Attar l’Otello
viene rivisitato dalla prospettiva femminile di Desdemona, il cui personaggio è impersonato
da Lina. Attraverso quest’ultima sono rappresentate le conflittualità fra uomo e donna radicate
in una società fortemente patriarcale, dove vi è il desiderio di emancipazione da parte delle
giovani generazioni femminili. Un’ulteriore collegamento con l’opera del drammaturgo inglese
è la gelosia morbosa del fidanzato di Lina, simbolo di oppressione maschile.
Lina è una giovane donna che in una recita scolastica ricopre il ruolo di Desdemona, in
un certo senso incarnando il suo personaggio anche nella realtà, quale emblema di femminilità
aggredita dalla prepotenza maschile32. Nell’inscenare la rappresentazione Lina ha un monologo
interiore, in cui ripercorre con la mente l’esperienza dolorosa vissuta da Desdemona,
confrontandola con la propria e infine identificandosi con essa. Lina immagina il suo fidanzato
nelle vesti di Otello, il quale esercita su di lei attrazione e al contempo repulsione; quest’ultimo
raffigura l’alterità del Moro, rievocando la sua figura lungo tutto il romanzo.
[...] his jealous eyes haunted her again. Distorted reflections of his image poured on her
like small moons, the boy who followed her on the stairs with a bunch of daisies in his
hand begging her for a kiss, the boy who told the neighbourhood boys that she was his
beloved and stood under her balcony in the sun, in the rain, in the wind as if he were a
statue, the boy who threatened to strangle her and to strangle himself if he saw her on the
arm of another man and wrote her broken poems, the boy who sent her a bad translation
of Othello and once in a while gave her yellow books33.
Desdemona diviene simbolo di una donna tenace che si ribella al potere maschile. Un’opposizione
che ha luogo in un contesto sociale che non concede libertà alla figura femminile e che come
punizione la isola per la sua ribellione. Attraverso il monologo interiore, Lina esplora il
sentimento di amore e odio verso il fidanzato. Nella sua mente viene dipinta un’immagine che
li raffigura come animali, dove lei incarna ‘a white ewe’ (un agnello bianco) e lui ‘a black ram’
(un ariete nero); nel testo le descrizioni animali e umane dei due personaggi sono fuse assieme,
richiamando di nuovo l’Otello. Un esempio concreto è il discorso di Iago in cui afferma: ‘You’ll
have your daughter cover’d with a Barbary horse; you’ll have your nephews neigh to you;
you’ll have coursers for cousins, and gennets for Germans’. (I. i. 110-113)
Lina adotta il monologo interiore per riflettere, visto il suo estremo isolamento. Si
immedesima nel ruolo di Desdemona proiettando la sua storia nella propria vita, così riuscendo
a cogliere le ingiustizie sociali che la circondano. Ripensa alle donne di sua conoscenza, anche
loro costrette a subire la prepotenza maschile. Lina medita sull’ipotesi avanzata dallo studioso
arabo Nasib Nashawi34, secondo il quale sussistono analogie tra l’Otello e un componimento del
Shilan Fuad Hussain
poeta siriano Dik al-Gin (IX secolo circa). Quest’ultimo racconta di un arabo che si innamora
della sua schiava cristiana, il quale la uccide dopo averla sposata, accecato dalla gelosia causata
da un perfido intrigo. Ironicamente Lina sostiene che la comunanza tra i testi dei due autori
è ‘l’appartenenza etnica’, ovvero entrambi sono figure maschili riconducibili a culture che
pongono al centro l’uomo e il suo volere, con le sue ossessioni, diffidenze e gelosie.
Quando Lina riflette sulla gelosia morbosa del fidanzato, rievoca le parole di Otello
prima di uccidere Desdemona, ripercorrendo la scena nella mente35. Questo pensiero lo paragona
con la storia-cornice delle Mille e una notte36, della quale Lina rammenta l’ingiusta gelosia del
sultano Shahriyar verso la fedele consorte Shahrazad. A questa meditazione si aggiunge un’altra
riflessione, il ricordo della poesia Udhri37, che ha radici antiche nella tradizione letteraria
araba, e come è ben noto celebra l’amore platonico. Tematica presente anche nella prosa araba
classica, che ha suggestionato numerosi mistici e filosofi islamici. Del genere poetico Udhri
la protagonista ritiene ironicamente che gli amanti non si strangolino soltanto perché non si
presenta loro l’opportunità38.
La scrittrice Samar Attar aveva impersonato il ruolo di Desdemona in una rappresentazione
teatrale all’università di Damasco, condizione che le aveva fatto riflettere sul ruolo della donna
nella società. Anni dopo avrebbe catturato l’essenza di quei momenti, inserendoli nel suo
romanzo. In sottofondo vi è la critica alla media borghesia degli anni cinquanta, alla quale essa
appartiene e di cui disapprova i valori morali. Inoltre Attar non tollera la violenza in qualunque
forma si manifesti, non ammette l’inautenticità dei valori dei quali la società e il sistema politico
del suo paese sono permeati. Questo dissenso è espresso anche dalla protagonista del romanzo,
Lina-Desdemona, che si allontana dalla famiglia e dalle amicizie, per emigrare in Occidente
(Parigi), alla ricerca di un luogo utopico nel quale potersi esprimere liberamente39.
L’opera di Samar Attar tratta della vita di Lina dalla nascita fino all’età adulta, fornendo
dettagliate descrizioni di carattere etnografico e ponendo in rilievo non solo le conflittualità
di genere, ma anche le problematiche politiche, nello specifico sull’assenza di libertà e di
democrazia nel suo paese. Sono posti in evidenza così i conflitti religiosi in atto, le disuguaglianze
fra le varie classi sociali e in ambito più ristretto i contrasti familiari. Per questa ragione il testo
non è stato edito in Siria fino al 1997, mentre era stato già pubblicato e tradotto negli altri paesi.
Samar Attar ha delineato non solo le problematiche di una donna nel corso della sua vita, ma
quelle di un’intera era storica, focalizzandosi sugli anni cinquanta e sessanta, su conflitti tuttora
presenti in Siria. Ha ricevuto prestigiosi riconoscimenti letterari, come il premio internazionale
Gibran conferito a Sidney, come miglior romanzo dell’anno 1986.
L’ultima scrittrice araba presa in considerazione è Salwa Bakr, di origine egiziana, che
attraverso le sue opere ha saputo creare un’autentica voce fuori dal coro. È riuscita ad emergere
nel panorama intellettuale egiziano, dominato dalle figure maschili che marginalizzano le
scrittrici. Non di rado la critica letteraria egiziana e in modo più ampio quella araba, etichetta
le opere redatte da donne come letteratura femminista, oppure femminile, non analizzando gli
scritti in termini oggettivi e critici40. Da qui il passo verso la comprensione delle conflittualità
di genere che sono impresse nei componimenti di Salwa Bakr è breve, ed è questa prospettiva
che assume la sua acquisizione dell’Otello Shakespeariano. Nel suo riadattamento l’accento
viene posto sul personaggio femminile di Desdemona, analogamente a quanto è stato compiuto
da Samar Attar, con la quale ha molte corrispondenze. Salwa Bakr nella raccolta di brevi scritti
The Wiles of Men and Other Stories, include la storia The Sorrows of Desdemona, tradotta
in inglese nel 1992. Questa narra di una giovane ragazza di nome Muna, che in una recita
teatrale scolastica dell’Otello, sostiene il ruolo di Desdemona. Muna viene istruita dalla sua
professoressa la Signora Inayat, che le espone gli stati d’animo di Desdemona e la istruisce
Shilan Fuad Hussain
affinché interpreti fedelmente la sua parte:
Mrs. Inayat came up to her and touched her head with the palms of her hands, causing
her to bend forward, and said in her English that seemed as though it had been running
in her blood for generations, ‘No, not like that, Muna. Desdemona couldn’t be like that
in this situation. Be more frightened, more submissive and miserable, with your head
like this - bend forward’41.
Nel monologo interiore di Muna, traspare il conflitto con l’autoritarismo maschile e patriarcale,
e si rivela mediante la contrapposizione tra la sua personale visione di ciò che sostiene debba
essere la condotta naturale per una donna, e quello che le viene indicato dalla Signora Inayat.
Quest’ultima la ragguaglia su come sottomettersi all’uomo, rievocando nella mente della
giovane ragazza la sottomissione della madre al marito. Pertanto Muna riflette sul rapporto che
intercorre tra i suoi genitori, una relazione di disparità simile a quella tra Otello e Desdemona.
Nella recita la maestra di Muna le consiglia di seguire Otello come un cane che segue il padrone,
esponendo quello che secondo lei è il sentimento di Desdemona verso il marito:
She exclaimed in a loud, excited voice, ‘That was what Desdemona’s feelings were
- a mixture of fear, pain and contempt. She was suffering just like a sparrow that is
incapable of battling against the wind. Do you understand? Listen: human beings can
express such pain in many ways. Now close your eyes and for three minutes think about
Desdemona’s sorrows and how you’d express such a pain’42.
Attraverso il monologo interiore di Muna, la sua mente viene trasportata altrove, dove ha
l’opportunità di riflettere, e associare le ingiustizie perpetuate da Otello verso Desdemona al
modo in cui la sua famiglia non ripone fiducia in lei, rendendola una vittima e mortificandola.
È chiaro quindi come Muna s’identifichi con il personaggio di Desdemona, immaginando di
essere come lei:
Muna too closed her eyes and thought about Desdemona’s sorrows, saying to herself
that her young brother would open the door and scream “Muna come!” He would point
to his throat with a quick gesture as though someone were cutting the throat of a chicken
and would stick his tongue out gloatingly. As soon as the door closed her mother would
be in the hallway, meeting her with abuse, and she would say that she had been at school
in the group taking coaching in physics, and her father would shout out that he had the
curriculum of the group and that there were no classes on Tuesday. She would go on
swearing to him that she was telling the truth, and he would shout and say he wasn’t a
liar, then he would go up to her and give her two slaps across the face. Of course as usual
she wouldn’t cry; she would look at him with contempt and her mother would drag her
away by the hand, weeping and cursing fate which had afflicted her with daughters. In a
histrionic movement her father would approach her in an attempt to strike her again, but
her mother would entreat him by the beloved Prophet and his own virtuous mother not
to do so, and she would heap more abuse on Muna, reminding her that her father was a
sick man and that she’d bring about his death by such behaviour43.
L’atteggiamento oppresso di Muna corrisponde al comportamento che la Signora Inayat le
indica come conforme al sentimento di Desdemona. Muna trova nel proprio animo le stesse
emozioni che Desdemona aveva percepito di fronte al rancore ingiusto di Otello.
Shilan Fuad Hussain
Rispetto all’opera di Tayyib Sālih, dove l’accento viene posto sui conflitti razziali, di
identità nazionale, dove ricorrono le opposizioni sorte fra ‘nord’ e ‘sud’, in Salwa Bakr viene
posta in rilievo l’alterità della donna, prendendo in esame le conflittualità di genere, a cui
Muna tenta di dare risposta, in una società fortemente patriarcale44. Attraverso questa storia
privata, mediante la figura simbolica di Desdemona, Salwa Bakr delinea un conflitto pubblico
tutt’oggi di grande rilevanza in Egitto e in modo più vasto nel mondo arabo-islamico. La
scrittrice approfondisce il tema della dominazione della donna da parte dell’uomo, mediante
l’acquisizione del personaggio shakespeariano di Desdemona. Secondo il suo parere l’Otello
rappresenta perfettamente il rapporto che intercorre tra uomo e donna nella società araba.
In risposta all’oppressione dell’autorità maschile, vi è la sottomissione femminile, logica
conseguenza del ruolo assegnatole dalla società. Analogamente alla madre della protagonista,
la quale non ha la forza di ribellarsi, perciò induce la figlia a sottomettersi ai costumi e ai ruoli
sociali prestabiliti.
In conclusione problematiche e conflitti di varia natura stimolano gli scrittori arabi
del Novecento ad acquisire e rielaborare l’Otello shakespeariano. In particolar modo gli
autori presi in considerazione sono spinti dal proposito di rivisitare i personaggi di Otello e
di Desdemona facendone lo specchio delle conflittualità in atto ai nostri tempi, mettendo in
“scena” problematiche politiche, approfondendo il complesso rapporto tra oriente e occidente
e illustrando lo scontro tra culture e quello tra i generi. Gli scrittori arabi sottolineano la grande
attualità delle tematiche presenti nel capolavoro shakespeariano e le infinite possibilità di
rielaborazione e di sviluppo dell’opera, che tutt’oggi suscita un vivo interesse.
Per motivi editoriali non è stato possibile utilizzare sistemi di trascizione scientifica per i nomi
e termini in lingua araba.
1 Monica Ruocco, Storia del teatro arabo: dalla nahdah a oggi (Roma,Carocci, 2010)
2 M. M. Badawi, Modern Arabic Literature and the West (London, Ithaca Press, 1985), 192-193
3 Ferial J. Ghazoul, “The Arabization of Othello”, Comparative Literature, Vol. 50, No. 1, Oregon, Duke University
Press, 1998, 11
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Simone Rovida, ‘Shakespeare in Medio Oriente: La percezione dell’alterità dell’Otello nel mondo arabo’, in
Saggi di anglistica e americanistica: temi e prospettive di ricerca, Firenze, Edito dall’Università di Firenze, 2008,
7 Edward W. Said, Orientalism, India, Penguin Books, 2001, 71
8 L’Otello ad opera di ‘Abd al-Karim Birshid è intitolato Othello, Horses and Gunpowder. Il titolo originale è:
‘Utayl wal-khayl wal-barud, Casablanca, Al-Thaqafah al-Jadidah, 1975
9 Abd al-Mun’im Salim, “Al-Tajarub al-jadidah” (Nuovi esperimenti), In Al-Thaqafah al-jadidah, Aprile, 1970
10 Ferial J. Ghazoul, Idem., 15
11 Mahmoud Ismail Jad, Atallah (Otello), dalle ricerche condotte sembra che l’opera non sia stata pubblicata.
Basandosi sui dati a disposizione, si può avanzare l’ipotesi che sia stata redatta alla fine degli anni ‘70
12 Simone Rovida, op. cit., 255
13 Film diretto da Atif al-Tayyib, intitolato: Al-Ghirah al-qatilah (Gelosia omicida), Egitto, 1983
14 Emile Habibi, Al-Wakāi al gharībah fī ikhtifā Saīd Abī al-Nash al-Mutasāil, Haifa, Arabesque, 1974. L’edizione
in lingua italiana è intitolata: Il Pessottimista. Un arabo d’Israele, Milano, Bompiani, 2002. Per uno studio
dettagliato del romanzo si veda: I.Camera d’Aflitto, ‘La vita di un arabo in Israele: Il Pessottimista di Emil
Habibi’, In Studi arabo-islamici in onore di Roberto Rubinacci nel suo settantesimo compleanno, Napoli, Istituto
Shilan Fuad Hussain
Universitario Orientale, 1985, 119-126
15 Roger Allen, The Arabic Novel an Historical and Critical Introduction, USA, Syracuse University Press,1994,
16 Maurizio Calbi, ‘Othello’s Ghostly Reminders: Trauma and Postcolonial ‘Dis-ease’ in Tayyib Sālih’s Season of
Migration to the North’, in Shakespeare’s World/World of Shakespeare, University of Delaware Press, 2008, 342
17 Tayyib Sālih, Season of Migration to the North, traduz. Denys Johnson-Davies, London, Heineman, 1969, 38.
Prima edizione intitolata: Mawsim al-hijrah ilā al-shimāl, Dār al-’Awdah, Beirut, 1967.
18 Tayyib Sālih, ibid., 22
19 Desirée Pasa, “‘Io non sono Otello, Otello era una bugia’: scritture interculturali Shakespeariane nell’Africa nel
Novecento”, in Scorci improvvisi di altri orizzonti, Sguardi interculturali su letterature e civiltà di lingua inglese,
USA, Lulu Enterprises, 2008, 258
20 Tayyib Sālih, op. cit., 94-95
21 I seguenti passi ne sono un esempio: ‘You, my lady, may not know, but you, like Carnarvon – when he entered
Tutankhamen’s tomb – have been infected with a deadly disease which has come from you know not where and
which will bring about your distruction, be in sooner or later.’. Tayyib Sālih, Idem., 39
22 Othello, Scena II, i, 304.
23 Tayyib Sālih, op. cit., 34
24 Maurizio Calbi, op. cit., 349
25 Tayyib Sālih, op. cit., 32-33
26 Tayyib Sālih, op. cit., 95
27 Tayyib Sālih, op. cit., 33
28 Othello, I, iii. 179-187.
29 Tayyib Sālih, op. cit., 167
30 Desirée Pasa, op. cit., 7
31 Samar Attar, Lina: Lawhat fatat dimashqiyya, Beirut, Dar al-Afaq al-jadida, 1982, traduz. Samar Attar, Lina: A
Potrait of a Damascene Girl, Colorado Springs CO, Three Continents Press, 1994.
32 Simone Rovida, op. cit., 258
33 Samar Attar, op. cit., 163
34 Lo studioso Nasib Nashawi negli anni ottanta aveva avvalorato l’idea secondo la quale un componimento di Dik
al-Gin (IX sec.) aveva influito sull’opera shakespeariana, dove effettivamente si riscontrano numerose analogie
con l’Otello. Nasib Nashawi, “Utayl Shakespeare wa-Dik al-Jinn al-Humsi: Liqa’ al-Ahdath wal-shakhsiyyat”, In
Colloque International de littérature comparée dans les pays arabes, Alger, Office des Publications Universitaires,
14-15 mai, 1983, 161-185
35 Samar Attar, op. cit., 192
36 Si veda: Le mille e una notte, a cura di Roberta Denaro, Roma, Donzelli Editore s.p.a, 2006; Le mille e una
notte, Edizione a cura di Francesco Gabrieli, Torino, Giulio Einaudi Editore s.p.a., 2006
37 Per una descrizione della poesia Udhri si vedano le dettagliate: Encyclopedia Ethnography of Middle-East and
Central Asia, New Delhi, R. Khanam, 2005; The Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol. X, Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen
Gibb, Bernard Lewis, Johannes Hendrik Kramers, University of Michigan, Brill, 1998
38 Ferial J. Ghazoul, op. cit., 23
39 Radwaá ‘Āshur, Ferial Ghazoul e Hasna Reda-Mekdashi, Arab Women Writers: A critical reference Guide,
(1873-1999), Cairo, The American University in Cairo Press, 2008, 84
40 Hoda El Sadda, “Women’s Writing in Egypt: Reflections on Salwa Bakr”, in Gendering the Middle East:
Emerging Perspectives, New York-London, Deniz Kandiyoti,1996, 127
41 Salwa Bakr, The Sorrows of Desdemona, in The Wiles of Men and Other Stories, traduz. Denys Johnson-Davies,
London, Quartet Books 1992, 27
42 Ibid., 30-31
43 Ibid., 31
44 Ferial J. Ghazoul, op. cit., 25
The Roman Civil Wars in the Anonymous Caesar’s Revenge
Domenico Lovascio
Università di Genova
The anonymous Tragedy of Caesar and Pompey or Caesar’s Revenge (hereafter Caesar’s
Revenge) was entered in the Stationers’ Register on 5 June 1606, published in the same year and
reprinted one year later, but probably written in 1595.1 Although the title page claims it to have
been ‘Pri­vate­ly acted by the students of Trinity College in Oxford’, no record of performance
survives. The play grimly chronicles the events of the Roman civil wars from Pharsalus to
Philippi. It must be included in that class of Elizabethan plays about the Roman civil wars,
exude a specific ideological content, bordering on didactic ostentation. Ancient history
is offered as an epitome of exempla execranda, aptly distanced by virtue of their remote
origin but effective as unequivocal warnings for the future of England against possible
relapses in the internecine struggles which had preceded the establishment of Tudor
This conforms to the patently conservative ideological framework that informed Elizabethan
historiography. One of the main goals of most Elizabethan historians was the censure of civil
war and rebellion, both seen as extremely pernicious fruits of unbridled ambition, ‘the root of
all vices, and mother of all mischiefs’.3 This conservative ideological agenda was inevitably
influenced by the fear—which tormented the English people for the entire duration of Elizabeth
I’s reign—that a new war of succession might erupt at the death of the childless queen, repeating
the horrors of the Wars of the Roses. These anxieties obviously worsened as the queen aged,
still obstinately persisting in not naming an heir. For the Elizabethans, order and peace had
to be protected at all costs. To this effect, history was invested with a clear symbolic and
didactic function, following Cicero’s definition of historia as ‘testis temporum, lux veritatis,
vita memoriae, magistra vitae, nuntia vetustatis’.4 This approach to history obviously placed
far more importance on the lessons that could be drawn from the past than on historical truth.
The demonization of internecine conflicts also permeates—as a glance at their titles
reveals—two popular Elizabethan compilations dealing with Roman history written by Richard
Reynoldes5 and William Fulbecke6 as well as William Barker’s translation of Appian’s Civil
Wars (the main source of Caesar’s Revenge), published in 1578. Its English title reads as
An Ancient History and Exquisite Chronicle of the Roman Wars Both Civil and Foreign
. . . in Which is Declared: Their Greedy Desire to Conquer Others. Their Mortal Malice
Domenico Lovascio
to Destroy Themselves. Their Seeking of Matters to Make Wars Abroad. Their Picking
of Quarrels to Fall out at Home. All the Degrees of Sedition and All the Effects of
Ambition. A Firm Determination of Fate Through All the Changes of Fortune. And
Finally an Evident Demonstration That People’s Rule Must Give Place and Princes’
Power Prevail.7
This title leaves no doubt about the message Barker meant to convey through his translation.
His perspective was almost completely shared by the author of Caesar’s Revenge, even though
he had probably read Appian in Greek or, perhaps, in Latin and not English translation.8 Many
times the characters of the tragedy deplore the internecine conflict and its ruinous consequences
on their country. Cicero enters the stage complaining about ‘how civil broiles have torn our
State: / And private strife has wrought a public woe’.9 Far more surprisingly, even Caesar, the
winner of Pharsalus, later gives vent to his regret about the conflict. Left alone on stage, the
Roman general hears ‘a hoarse and heavy doleful voice’ (1.2.222): it is the voice of Rome,
his country, his beloved mother shedding bitter tears. This suffuses Caesar’s soul with a deep
sense of sadness, arousing his bitter repentance: every blow delivered against the enemy was
actually a wound inflicted upon the tender womb of his country; his triumph is in fact her
ruin. This fratricidal struggle has perversely trampled on every bond, even the sacred one of
blood: ‘Here lieth one that’s butchered by his sire / And here the son was his old father’s
death: / Both slew unknowing, both unknown are slain’ (1.2.227-29), complains Caesar in his
monologue—echoing a passage from William Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 310—reaching the
painful awareness that the only actual source of all this suffering was ambition: ‘O that ambition
should such mischief work / Or mean men die for great men’s proud desire’ (1.2.230-31).
However, there exists a crucial difference between the perspective implied in the title of
Barker’s translation and the one informing Caesar’s Revenge. The future coming of an absolute
monarch, an emperor capable of appeasing civil turmoil and restoring peace, is not even remotely
hinted at in the play, in line with what happens in other Elizabethan plays about the Roman civil
wars, but in contrast with what generally happens both in many Elizabethan chronicle plays11
and, curiously, in John Lydgate’s The Serpent of Division (1422, aptly reissued in 1590), his
only prose work as well as the most detailed treatment of the figure of Caesar in medieval
English literature.12 The absence of a positive prospect in the happy and peaceful Augustan
empire is a crucial element adding to the atmosphere of profound pessimism permeating the
The tragedy is dominated by the allegorical and choric figure of Discord, the supreme
puppet-master in the microcosm of the play. Its speeches between acts clearly seek to underline
the scope of the uncontrollable chaos brought about by this series of intestine conflicts. The
extraordinary abundance of images of violence, blood, death and destruction with which the
tragedy is interspersed also contributes to the same effect. Discord opens the play with the
Lucan-like description of the plain of Pharsalus reddened by Roman blood and covered with
corpses to the extent that ‘The earth that’s wont to be a tomb for men / Is now entombed
with carcasses of men’ (1.1.4-5).13 Discord’s first monologue closes with the exhortation to
the Furies to urge Rome’s self-destruction (1.1.34-38). Basically, Discord has abandoned the
infernal abysses with the unique purpose of enjoying the fratricidal conflict and the subsequent
collapse of Rome, as if that war was just an amusing puppet-show:
O how it joys my discord-thirsting thoughts
To see them wait, that whilom flowed in bliss,
To see like banners unlike quarrels have
Domenico Lovascio
And Roman weapons sheathed in Roman blood.
For this I left the deep infernal shades
And passed the sad Avernus’ ugly jaws
And in the world came I being Discord hight,
Discord the daughter of the grisly night,
To make the world a hell of plagues and woes. (2.1.626-34)
The idea that the Roman Republic, impenetrable to external threats, could only fall by turning
her weapons against herself had been a topos much loved by Roman historians, which perfectly
suited the Elizabethan ideological agenda as a caveat, a meaningful precedent to be constantly
kept in mind.
Discord does not just conjure up images of devastation: it is, in fact, the ultimate origin
of the paroxysm of violence that permeates the play, urging Romans to revenge, bloodshed and
massacre through what resembles a demonic possession.14 The cases of Cassius on one side and
Antony on the other are emblematic. The latter openly expresses his longing for the destruction
that will follow before the battle of Philippi (4.4.2110-25) and during the fight he asks Nemesis
to make his sword the instrument of his ‘furious baleful ire’ (5.1.2389-94). Cassius, on the other
hand, is even more obsessed than Antony. His sadistic enjoyment of violence and his thirst for
blood unequivocally make him the armed wing of Discord (5.1.2201-5). As a consequence
of Discord’s demonic influence, the world becomes, as Andrew Hadfield observes, an earthly
version of hell,15 where violence breeds violence and no divine justice seems to be operating:
‘They lie that say in heaven there is a power / That for to wreck the sins of guilty men, / Holds
in his hand a fierce three-forked dart’ (1.4.345-47), Cato’s broken-hearted son cries out after the
Pompeians’ final defeat.
The atmosphere is made even grimmer by the awareness that the only instance of
pacification in the play (between Antony and Octavian) is a mere temporary truce, instrumental
in the following vengeance exacted on Brutus and Cassius for Caesar’s murder, and by the patent
failure of Stoicism to face the situation.16 Cato himself, traditionally regarded as an unparalleled
symbol of Stoicism, decides to commit suicide, deploring ‘that black and cursèd day, / When
Caesar conquered in Pharsalia’ (2.5.1083-84). His act exudes acquiescence (2.5.1129-35),
joined with an ill-concealed desire for personal glory: this can be construed as the sign of an
unavowable obsession with his public image, which inevitably invalidates the scope and value
of Stoicism as a way to cope with chaos. Before stabbing himself, he cries out: ‘Yet will not
I his conquest glorify: / My overthrow shall ne’er his triumph grace, / For by my death to the
world I’ll make that known, / No hand could conquer Cato but his own’ (2.5.1086-89). Not even
his son understands or approves of his father’s choice: at first he deems him a coward, then he
explains his action only as a consequence of his desire not to be forced to suffer the shame of
Caesar’s triumph (2.5.1137-43). But Cato’s son later also discredits any chance of redemption
offered by Stoicism once and for all. While dying from the wounds received on the battlefield
of Philippi, he violently rails against virtue, accusing it of being nothing more than a beautiful
lie at the mercy of Fortune, the only entity actually controlling human events:
O virtue, whom philosophy extols,
Thou art no essence but a naked name,
Bond-slave to fortune, weak, and of no power
To succour them which always honoured thee:
Witness my father’s and mine own sad death
Who for our country spent our latest breath. (5.1.2338-43)
Domenico Lovascio
Later, a similar feeling of impotence in the face of Fortune and fate is experienced by Cassius: ‘In
vain, in vain, O Cassius all in vain! / ’Tis heaven and destiny thou strivest against’ (5.1.2405-6).
Any invocation to heaven is useless, which necessarily heightens the deep sense of pessimism
emanating from the tragedy.
No shelter can be found from the horrors unleashed by this endless succession of
struggles between countrymen, friends, brothers: even the sun must look for a hiding place
to avoid witnessing such a spectacle (5.1.2396-2403). Nobody can emerge a winner from this
grim and ceaseless sequence of battles: no light comes to shine through this night of massacres.
The only winner, the only one who accomplishes its goal—the deflagration of an entire world—
is Discord, who at the end of the play stands gloating over the massacre it has produced:
Ay, now my longing hopes have their desire.
The world is nothing but a messy heap
Of bodies slain, the sea a lake of blood. . . .
Hell and Elysium must be dug in one,
And both will be too little to contain
Numberless numbers of afflicted ghosts
That I myself have tumbling thither sent. (5.1.2531-33, 2541-44)
Discord is completely indifferent to human affairs. It does not support any of the parties and its
only, blood-curdling goal is the creation of a state of total disorder and permanent carnage. As a
consequence, there is no reason why it should applaud the ultimate revenge of Caesar’s ghost:
Caesar, I pitied not thy tragic end:
Nor tyrant’s daggers sticking in thy heart,
Nor do I that thy death’s with like repaid;
But that thy death so many deaths hath made!
Now cloyed with blood, I’ll hie me down below
And laugh to think I caused such endless woe. (5.1.2549-54)
It is quite clear that Discord does not believe in the existence of any principle of justice or
ultimate goal in human events. These just repeat cyclically, always identical to themselves:
‘Though Caesar be as great as great may be, / Yet Pompey once was e’en as great as he’ (2.1.61719), Discord sneeringly remarks.
Therefore, history in Caesar’s Revenge is bound to end in tragedy, being depicted as
nothing more than a cyclical and endless sequence of civil wars in a world reduced to ‘nothing
but a messy heap’ (5.1.2532). The attention is not on individuals as much as on the pattern
traced by the succession of their destinies: the dreary series of their rises and falls generates a
painful feeling of pessimism, which is in turn intensified by the heavy stress on the influence
of Fortune on human affairs and on the vanity of earthly conquests, which reveals the play’s
affinity to the de casibus literature,17 whose most emblematic English examples are Lydgate’s
The Fall of Princes (1431-39) and the Mirror for Magistrates.
The widespread fatalism of Caesar’s Revenge constantly permeates and ultimately blurs
its political message. The Pompeians are obsessed with the centrality of Fortune in earthly
matters. The emblem of their resigned submission to Fortune18 is surprisingly their leader and
inspirer himself. Despite his cognomen (Magnus), he seems to possess very little greatness in
the play: his behaviour shows, if anything, that he managed to be ‘Great’ only ‘while Fortune
Domenico Lovascio
did him raise’ (1.1.22).19 Dejected at the unavoidability of his destiny and the sudden reversal
of his condition (2.1.727-28), discouraged at the overwhelming power of Fortune and crushed
by the insufferable shame of defeat, he never seems able to react: every word, every gesture
of his is suffused with an excruciating sense of resignation and bitterness. His first desire after
Pharsalus is to escape ‘into some desert place, / Some uncouth, unfrequented craggy rock,
/ Where . . . [his] name and state was ne’er heard’, in order to hide ‘from face and view of
men’ (1.1.62-82). More than once he just wails about the repercussions this defeat will have
on his reputation rather than on the disastrous consequences of the war (1.1.57-66) and he is
devastated by the awareness that ‘Reproach is death to him that lived in fame’ (1.1.94).
Pompey’s insistence on the actions and cruelty of Fortune and the ‘envious heavens’
(1.5.447), which he repeatedly blames for his unhappiness (1.1.163-64), is almost morbid. His
aggrieved description of the unexpected change in his relationship with Fortune almost inspires
a feeling akin to tenderness in the reader:
Fifty-eight years in fortune’s sweet soft lap
Have I been lulled asleep with pleasant joys.
Me hath she dandled in her folding arms
And fed my hopes with prosperous events.
She crowned my cradle with success and honour:
And shall disgrace await my hapless hearse? (1.1.131-36, emphasis mine)
The concentration in only three lines of several words and phrases pertaining to the semantic
field of maternity reveals a great deal about the personality of Pompey, clearly wrong-footed by
the repudiation of his once solicitous, nurturing mother.
The microcosm of the play appears, if possible, even gloomier since conflicts are shown
to spring mainly from personal rather than political motivations. This is the case, for instance,
of Cassius, who is thirsty for Caesar’s blood:
I’ll be the man that shall this task perform.
Cassius hath vowed it to dead Pompey’s soul;
Cassius hath vowed it to afflicted Rome:
Cassius hath vowed it: witness heaven and earth! (3.1.1191-94)
The obsessive and solemn anaphora of the mantra ‘Cassius hath vowed it’ clearly underscores
his personal desire for revenge: the bloody smugness which Cassius and all the Pompeians
exhibit first in their fantasising on the tyrant’s death and then in the acting out of their purpose
(3.3.1427-28, 3.5.1535-41, 1544, 1563-66) obviously weakens the legitimacy of their claims.
In Cassius’s view, Caesar is a tyrant who has gone so far as to suck his fellow countrymen’s
blood like a sort of vampire. In lines which seem to borrow the central image of Caesar’s stony
heart either from Thomas Kyd’s Cornelia (1594) or from the Mirror for Magistrates,20 Cassius
ragingly expresses his violent desire to stab Caesar in order to make him spit all that blood back:
If it be true that furies’ quenchless thirst
Is pleased with quaffing of ambitious blood,
Then all you devils whet my poniard’s point
And I will broach you a bloodsucking heart
(Which full of blood, must blood store to you yield)
Were it a pierce to flint or marble stone.
Domenico Lovascio
Why so it is, for Caesar’s heart’s a stone,
Else would be movèd with my country’s moan. (3.5.1577-84)
The ‘bloodsucking heart’ Cassius attributes to Caesar stands in stark contrast to the image
Decius Brutus will use in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1599) to interpret Calpurnia’s
dream as meaning that ‘from you great Rome shall suck / Reviving blood’,21 which casts on
Caesar those traits commonly associated with the sovereign in the Tudor age ‘as both father
and nursing mother of the people’.22 Cassius’s thirst for blood is absolutely inextinguishable,
as is demonstrated by the playwright’s decision to appoint him (and not Decius as the sources
would have it) as the man instructed to go to Caesar’s house and bring him to the Senate. His
obsession borders on the grotesque in the stabbing scene—opened by the general and feverish
cry ‘Hold down the tyrant, stab him to the death’ (3.6.1694)—when Cassius reveals how the
silent penetration of the daggers in Caesar’s defenceless flesh is transfigured in his ear as a
sweet melody he had been desiring to hear for a very long time:
Now doth the music play, and this the song
That Cassius’ heart hath thirsted for so long:
And now my poniard in this mazing sound
Must strike that touch that must his life confound.
Stab on! Stab on! Thus should your poniards play
A loud deep note upon this trembling key. (3.6.1695-1700)
As regards Brutus, an excessive desire for personal glory motivates him, deeply clashing with
his republican claims. He conceives the assassination as a watershed between his former and
future lives (3.3.1420). His selfish desire to see his name associated with this grim enterprise,
this unspeakable ‘deed’,23 will end up overshadowing any other possible reason underlying his
decision to murder Caesar. However, more than his yearning for glory, it is Brutus’s ingratitude
towards Caesar that chiefly throws a dark light on him. Although Caesar spared his life, Brutus
is so convinced of having acted for the good of Rome and with the gods’ blessing that he
feels no doubt or guilt and kisses his own hand after the assassination, thereby foregrounding
the accomplished enterprise. He obsessively insists on an etymological figure based on words
derived from the Germanic root associated with action: ‘I, that before feared not to do the deed,
/ Shall never now repent it being done. . . . / I kiss thy hand for doing such a deed’ (4.2.1943-44,
1947, my emphasis). He will begin experiencing the first hesitations and ominous presentiments
only a few moments before the battle of Philippi (5.1.2276-80).
Besides, as concerns the murders of both Pompey and Caesar, the main focus is not on
their political motives or consequences but on the ingratitude that caused them: ‘What, Brutus
too? Nay, nay, then let me die; / Nothing wounds deeper than ingratitude,’ (3.8.1727-28) cried
Caesar while being stabbed. Brutus’s is therefore here as in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar ‘the
most unkindest cut of all’.24 Octavian will later refer to Caesar’s unworthy assassins as to a
few ‘thankless men’ (4.1.1884) who, in return for the appointment as proconsuls, repaid him
with death. Caesar’s ghost will later add to it, accusing the ‘ungrateful Brutus’ (5.1.2282) face
to face and calling him ‘Accursèd traitor! Damnèd homicide!’ (5.1.2294). This widespread
insistence on the concepts of betrayal and ingratitude, already alluded to in relation to Pompey’s
homicide—a ‘most unworthy and ungrateful act’ (2.4.990) in Trebonius’s words—, mirrors a
political world where personal bonds are the real foundation of the political and social hierarchy,
thereby making loyalty to a leader a political virtue and ingratitude a serious threat to the status
quo.25 The sharp censure of ingratitude roots the play even further in its historical context, since
Domenico Lovascio
ingratitude was for the Elizabethans—in Thomas Elyot’s words—‘the most damnable vice and
most against justice’,26 in a view inherited from both the classical and the medieval tradition.
At the same time, the insistence on this theme inevitably results in a reduction of the internal
politics of Rome to a series of private vendettas: ‘Roman history becomes belittled’27 and the
atmosphere of the tragedy becomes even gloomier.
What is more, the Pompeians’ ideals are never completely clear, in that they seem to
focus more on the demonization of the enemy—in a disturbing atmosphere of self-exaltation—
than on the legitimacy of their own claims. On the whole, references to politics and freedom
turn out to be vague and poorly convincing; this necessarily makes the conspirators’ ideals
appear confused, if not hollow, and the claims underlying Caesar’s assassination rather weak.
What emerges from the meetings of the Pompeians is little more than hazy references to the
loss of honour and liberty and the sense of shame provoked by the military defeat at Pharsalus
(1.1.39-41). It is mainly the ‘loss of Roman liberty’ (3.1.1190) that proves to be intolerable for
Pompey’s followers. The concept widely penetrates the speeches of all the anti-Caesarians,
from Trebonius (2.4.1021) to Cato (2.5.1039, 1052), from Cato’s son (5.1.2215-16) to Titinius
(5.1.2412), but the features of this liberty are never clearly stated. One must probably agree
with Warren Chernaik when he maintains that ‘though Brutus, Cassius, and Cato all claim
to be defending “the Romains’ liberty”, the rapidity of the action makes their protests seem
hollow’.28 To crown it all, they never define themselves as republicans, preferring to call each
other princes and lords.29
The major consequence of this loss of freedom and of the military defeats seems to be
for the Pompeians that sense of ‘shame’ (3.5.1561) and ‘baseness’ (2.4.1024) which distresses
their party and appears to be the mainspring of Brutus’s action. His extreme resolution will be
triggered by Cassius, who will cunningly appeal to his fellow’s ill-concealed desire not to be
outdone in the comparison with his forefathers, the legendary founders of the Republic, and to
earn everlasting glory with the future generations (3.3.1414-17). The opacity and narrowness
of the conspirators’ motives and their political tunnel vision reaches fever-pitch in the words
of Pompey’s wife Cornelia, who oddly regards herself as responsible for her husband’s defeat:
‘’Tis I, ’tis I, have caused this overthrow! / ’Tis my accursèd stars that bode this ill, / And those
misfortunes to my princely love’ (1.5.396-98).
The haziness and limitations of the republicans’ ideals and the motives underlying their
actions, together with the stress on their personal ambition, makes it difficult to interpret the play
as an unequivocal defence of either republicanism or tyrannicide.30 First of all, it is hard to share
Hadfield’s opinion that Caesar is blatantly the villain of the play, responsible for unleashing
Discord in the Roman world:31 it rather seems that in the Rome portrayed in Caesar’s Revenge
‘[n]either Caesar, nor Pompey, nor Brutus has clean hands politically’.32 Secondly, the twofold
outcome of the tragedy adds to the impression of its lacking an unequivocal stance on the
matter. On the one hand, Brutus’s descent into hell confirms the iniquity of his action; on the
other hand, Caesar’s descent into Elysium makes it even more problematic to construe the play
as unequivocally supporting tyrannicide. If Hadfield is right in stating that ‘obtaining grace in a
pagan universe is not necessarily a secure achievement or an unmixed blessing’,33 it is also true
that in the description which closes the play Elysium seems a real heaven, where Caesar will be
able to enjoy the sweetest pleasures,
And walk those fragrant flowery fields at rest
To which nor fair Adonis’ bower so rare,
Nor old Alcinous’ gardens may compare.
There, that same gentle father of the spring,
Domenico Lovascio
Mild Zephyrus, doth odours breathe divine,
Clothing the earth in painted bravery
The which nor winter’s rage, nor scorching heat,
Or summer’s sun can make it fall or fade;
There, with the mighty champions of old time
And great heroes of the golden age,
My dateless hours I’ll spend in lasting joy. (5.5.2560-70)
Caesar’s destiny cannot completely absolve him: his katabasis to Elysium does not entail a
monarchist vision on the author’s part and his fall at the apex of his delusion of grandeur must be
interpreted as a clear condemnation of his ambition, despite his military qualities and Cicero’s
sincere and meaningful praise (2.4.1025-35, 3.6.1818-23). The stress on the conspirators’
punishment34 seems to be rather related to the medieval view that Caesar’s assassination was in
any case morally unjustifiable, having led Rome to civil war and to the brink of the precipice.35
In this respect, Caesar’s Revenge looks similar to Fulbecke’s Collection. Fulbecke was highly
critical of Caesar, as demonstrated by his decision to carefully select in his narration those
episodes of Caesar’s life which would be the most suitable in making him appear arrogant,
deceitful and cruel.36 Though believing that Caesar as an individual had received the deserved
punishment for his excessive pride, on an institutional level Fulbecke regarded the conspirators’
act as an indefensible regicide, since Caesar, notwithstanding the unlawful means through
which he had seized power, had now de facto become head of State: this made any attack on
him illegitimate.37 Moreover, in the play the populace is portrayed as an irrational, amorphous
and too ‘wavering’ (4.2.1924) mass, who reacts to Caesar’s murder exactly in the opposite way
as the conspirators had expected:
The frantic people and impatìent,
By Anthony’s exhorting to revenge,
Run madding through the bloody streets of Rome
Crying ‘Revenge’, and murdering they go,
All those that causèd Caesar’s overthrow. (4.2.1919-23)
This is a crucial passage: according to most Renaissance political treatises, a tyrannicide could
have been regarded as legitimate if the killers had acted with God’s and/or the people’s implicit
or explicit consent.38 And since Brutus is sent to hell and the populace abhors Caesar’s murder,
it is very hard to see the play as blatantly defending tyrannicide.
The tragedy does not therefore seem to be merely intended either as an apology or a
condemnation of tyrannicide. It appears, if anything, rather meant to open a space to meditate
on the various and intricate implications of a deed as terrible as Caesar’s murder was: the play
fiercely censures ambition and civil war but does not clearly pass judgment regarding the more
delicate issue of tyrannicide, though evidently expressing more than a few reserves on it. This
can be interpreted as a further demonstration that that ensemble of political ideas circulating in
Elizabethan England which scholars sometimes classify under the generic label of republicanism
was quite unstable and that, though republican notions certainly already circulated in the latter
part of Elizabeth’s reign, they were probably not yet part of a systematic ‘political agenda’.39 As
a matter of fact, although the terminus a quo of the penetration of republican ideas into England
is probably earlier than proposed in the 1970s by J.G.A. Pocock, it must be kept in mind that,
as Hadfield remarks,
Domenico Lovascio
[i]f republicanism stood for any clear and coherent doctrine in late sixteenth-century
England, it was the intellectual conviction that it was necessary to control the powers
of the crown by establishing a means of ensuring that a coterie of virtuous advisers and
servants would always have the constitutional right to counsel the monarch, and so
influence and control his or her actions within the limits of the law.40
It was a completely aristocratic ‘movement’ (or, rather, ‘a series of related, overlapping and
sometimes contradictory points’), which, far from proposing an egalitarian utopia, demanded
more relevance for the nobility in political decisions.41
1 On the date of composition, see Thomas Marc Parrott, ‘The “Academic Tragedy” of Caesar and Pompey’, in
Modern Language Review, 5, 1910, 441; W.W. Greg, ‘Notes on the Society’s Publications’, in Malone Society’s
Collections, 1, 1911, 291-92; Wilhelm Mühlfeld, The tragedie of Cæsar and Pompey or Cæsars reuenge: Ein
Beitrag zur Geschichte der englischen Caesardramen zur Zeit Shakespeares, Wagner, 1912, xxxii-xxxiii, xlvii-lv;
Frederick S. Boas, University Drama in the Tudor Age, Oxford University Press, 1914, 270; Harry Morgan Ayres,
‘Caesar’s Revenge’, in PMLA, 30, 1915, 783-84; Jacqueline Pearson, ‘Shakespeare and Caesar’s Revenge’, in
Shakespeare Quarterly, 32, 1981, 101-3; Rene J.A. Weis, ‘Caesar’s Revenge: A Neglected Elizabethan Source for
Antony and Cleopatra’, in Jahrbuch der Deutschen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft West, 1983, 179-80; William Poole,
‘Julius Caesar and Caesar’s Revenge Again’, in Notes and Queries, 49, 2002, 227-28.
2 Vanna Gentili, La Roma antica degli elisabettiani, Mulino, 1991, 12-13. Translation mine.
3 John Jewel, An Homily against Disobedience and Wilful Rebellion: Part I, s.n., 1570, Aiv.
4 Cicero, L’Oratore, ed. Emanuele Narducci, Rizzoli, 1999, 2.9.36.
5 A Chronicle of All the Noble Emperors of the Romans from Julius Caesar Orderly to This Most Victorious
Emperor Maximilian That Now Governeth, with the Great Wars of Julius Caesar and Pompius Magnus, Setting
forth the Great Power and Divine Providence of Almighty God in Preserving the Godly Princes and Commonwealth,
Marshe, 1571. On Reynoldes, see Freyja Cox Jensen, Reading the Roman Republic in Early Modern England,
Brill, 2012, 219.
6 An Historical Collection of the Continual Factions, Tumults and Massacres of the Romans and Italians During
the Space of 120 Years Next Before the Peaceable Empire of Augustus Caesar, Ponsonby, 1600 (already completed
in 1585). On Fulbecke, see Daniel R. Woolf, The Idea of History in Early Stuart England: Erudition, Ideology, and
‘The Light of Truth’ from the Accession of James I to the Civil War, University of Toronto Press, 1990, 178-81; Cox
Jensen, Reading the Roman Republic, 155-57.
7 Early modern spelling and punctuation are silently modernised throughout, following the guidelines established
by Stanley Wells, Modernizing Shakespeare’s Spelling: With Three Studies of the Text of Henry V by Gary Taylor,
Oxford University Press, 1979, 3-36.
8 Mühlfeld, Beitrag, xxxvi.
9 The Tragedy of Caesar’s Revenge, ed. Frederick S. Boas, Malone, 1911, 2.4.950-51, hereafter cited in text.
10 William Shakespeare, Henry VI Part 3, 2.5.55-113, in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. John
Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 2005. See Trevor
Allen Owen, ‘Julius Caesar in English Literature from Chaucer through the Renaissance’, PhD Dissertation,
University of Minnesota, 1966, 249n56.
11 See George K. Hunter, ‘A Roman Thought: Renaissance Attitudes to History Exemplified in Shakespeare and
Jonson’, in An English Miscellany Presented to W.S. Mackie, ed. Brian S. Lee, Oxford University Press, 1977,
102: ‘the notion that the [Roman] Empire was the goal of the historical process and a safe haven for political virtue
seems . . . to have had little effect on sixteenth-century playwrights’ writing about the Roman civil wars.
12 Cox Jensen, Reading the Roman Republic, 127.
13 Ayres, ‘Caesar’s Revenge’, 775.
14 ‘All Stygian fiends now leave whereas you dwell, / And come into the world and make it hell’ (5.1.2148-49),
Discord aptly exclaims.
Domenico Lovascio
15 Andrew Hadfield, Shakespeare and Republicanism, rev. ed., Cambridge University Press, 2008, 74.
16 Despite Hadfield’s view (ibid.) that the tragedy shows how ‘the only viable course of action is to retreat into
private life and learn to practice the dictates of Stoic philosophy’.
17 That is, those non-dramatic works modelled on Giovanni Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium (1355-74)
and very popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth century which gathered ‘large numbers of biographies, all of which
depict a life that moved from a good situation to a bad, with the purpose of demonstrating by the weight of the
accumulated example that a falling pattern is typical of the lives of great persons’ (Paul Vincent Budra, A Mirror
for Magistrates and the de casibus Tradition, University of Toronto Press, 2000, 18).
18 The only one who believes Fortune can be opposed is Brutus: ‘By industry do wise men seek release, / If that
our casting do fall out amiss, / Our cunning play must then correct the dice’ (1.1.174-76).
19 Pace Brutus, in whose opinion not Fortune but Pompey’s brave spirit made him worthy of such title (1.1.12628).
20 See Domenico Lovascio, ‘Julius Caesar’s “stony heart”: Thomas Kyd’s Cornelia and the Mirror for Magistrates’,
in Notes and Queries, 59, 2012, 52-53.
21 William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, ed. David Daniell, Nelson, 1998, 2.1.87-88. All references to the play are
to this edition.
22 Daniell, notes to Julius Caesar, 224n88.
23 ‘The sacred Senate doth commend the deed; / Your country’s love incites you to the deed; / Virtue herself makes
warrant of the deed: / Then, noble Romans, as you have begun / Never desist until this deed be done’ (3.5.1530-34),
cries out Trebonius.
24 Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 3.2.181.
25 Martine Jeanine Gary, ‘The Theme of Caesar and Brutus in Sixteenth-Century Tragedy’, PhD Dissertation,
University of Denver, 1979, 252-53.
26 Thomas Elyot, The Book Named The Governor (1531), ed. Stanford E. Lehmberg, Dent, 1962, 2.13. See also
Catherine E. Dunn, The Concept of Ingratitude in Renaissance English Moral Philosophy, Catholic University of
America Press, 1946.
27 Gary, ‘Caesar and Brutus’, 260.
28 Warren Chernaik, The Myth of Rome in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, Cambridge University Press,
2011, 87.
29 Gary, ‘Caesar and Brutus’, 252; Clifford J. Ronan, ‘Antike Roman’: Power Symbology and the Roman Play in
Early Modern England: 1585-1635, University of Georgia Press, 1995, 75.
30 Caesar in the play is a tyrant: it is Cleopatra’s emasculating influence that catalyses his transformation. See
Domenico Lovascio, ‘“How many lets do hinder virtuous minds”: intemperanza ed effeminazione in Caesar’s
Revenge’, in Quaderni di Palazzo Serra, 23, 2013, 381-399. Hadfield, Skakespeare and Republicanism, p. 73, also
states that Caesar ‘is spurred on to tyranny in part through his affair with Cleopatra, whose “tyrannizing” eyes
inspire him’, but he does not develop the argument. This characterisation reflects Renaissance statecraft theory,
which posed the existence of a clear link between effemination and tyranny: as Rebecca W. Bushnell, ‘Tyranny
and Effeminacy in Early Modern England’, in Reconsidering the Renaissance: Papers from the Twenty-First
Annual Conference, ed. Mario A. Di Cesare, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1992, 339, points out,
‘[i]n [early modern] statecraft rhetoric, the king is the man of reason, while the tyrant is one driven by passion, and
desire for sex’. In Caesar’s Revenge Caesar is a tyrant because he is prey to the disordered sexual impulses which
deeply contaminate his reason, giving way to his unlimited ambition. This unequivocal identification of Caesar as a
tyrant—more precisely, as a tyrannus ex defectu tituli, since the play does not depict any concrete tyrannical action
on his part, aside from a few vague allusion to his despotic behaviour in a brief conversation among three minor
figures of the Pompeian party (3.5.1567-72)—fully places the tragedy in the Renaissance debate on tyrannicide.
31 Hadfield, Shakespeare and Republicanism, 73-74.
32 Pearson, ‘Shakespeare and Caesar’s Revenge’, 103.
33 Hadfield, Shakespeare and Republicanism, 74.
34 Albert H. Tricomi, ‘Shakespeare, Chapman, and the Julius Caesar Play in Humanist Renaissance Drama’, in
Reconsidering the Renaissance, 401.
35 See Jeffrey J. Yu, ‘Renaissance Caesars and the Poetics of Ambiguity: Dramatic Representations of Julius
Caesar in the English Renaissance’, PhD Dissertation, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1995, 26; Gentili,
Roma antica, 27.
36 Cox Jensen, Reading the Roman Republic, 142.
37 See Woolf, Idea of History, 181; Cox Jensen, Reading the Roman Republic, 155-57.
38 Robert S. Miola, ‘Julius Caesar and the Tyrannicide Debate’, in Renaissance Quarterly, 38, 1985, 284.
Domenico Lovascio
39 Curtis Perry, ‘The Uneasy Republicanism of Thomas Kyd’s Cornelia’, in Criticism, 48, 2006, 550.
40 J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition,
Princeton University Press, 1975; Hadfield, Shakespeare and Republicanism, 17, 51.
41 Perry, ‘Uneasy Republicanism’, 536. See also Markku Peltonen, Classical Humanism and Republicanism in
English Political Thought, 1570-1640, Cambridge University Press, 1995; David Norbrook, Writing the English
Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics, 1627-1660, Cambridge University Press, 1999; Hadfield, Shakespeare
and Republicanism, esp. 50-53. But see also the more sceptical position expressed by Blair Worden, ‘English
Republicanism’, in The Cambridge History of Political Thought, ed. J.H. Burns and Mark Goldie, Cambridge
University Press, 1991, 443-75; ‘Republicanism, Regicide, and Republic: The English Experience’, in
Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage, ed. Martin van Gelderen and Quentin Skinner, Cambridge University
Press, 2002, 1:307-27. For an excellent outline of the state of the art, see Perry, ‘Uneasy Republicanism’, 538-42.
French Political Thinking During the Religious Wars and the Notion of Conflict in Marlowe’s
Edward II
Antonella Tauro
Università di Pisa
Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II (1591-1592) stages the history of the medieval English King
Edward II (1284-1327), whose reign was doomed by heavy financial problems, civil disorders
and overseas menaces. After some clashes with the ambitions of the aristocracy, Edward was
imprisoned and finally sentenced to death in January 1327.1 Marlowe’s version of the King’s
history proves to be surprisingly interesting due to the stress given to the protagonist’s behaviour,
described as sodomitical by the rest of the characters. This sounded quite contradictory at the
end of the sixteenth-century, since at the time the concept of sodomy implied the overthrowing
of an established order2 that the Monarch had to guarantee. Marlowe’s peculiar characterization
of the King has been frequently traced back to some hypothetical attention the dramatist gave to
the future James I’s behaviour.3 Lawrence Normand, for example, notes that some similarities
occur between the so-called ‘James-Lennox affair’ and the plot in Edward II.4 However, this
hypothesis sounds weak in some aspects, since, as Curtis Perry points out, ‘as King of Scotland,
James VI was seen as a strong and effective ruler, hardly an analogue for the monarch of
Marlowe’s play’.5 Moreover, Marlowe does not specifically focus on the homoerotic affair in his
play, rather he dramatises a larger political conflict between a highly ambitious aristocracy on
the one hand, and an inept King who promotes his humble friend, on the other. In the last act of
the tragedy, the King’s overthrowing takes place, and although in the end Edward’s son manages
to affirm his right to the Crown, the representation of a regicide appears highly transgressive in
a period doomed by political uncertainties, as the end of the Elizabethan age was. Furthermore,
the inextricable intermingling of the personal and the political in the methods of access to
the sovereign staged by the tragedy, dangerously leads the audience to question the nature of
monarchy itself and its division of public offices. This issue, in particular, seems to recall the
French political ideas spreading under Henri III’s reign (1551-1589). More precisely, I am
going to argue that many of the conflicts shown in Marlowe’s play derive from the influence of
some specific political ideas, that first developed in France during the religious wars, and then
in the rest of Europe. Even the justification of regicide may come from this source. The play
also seems to anticipate the constituting of a kind of ‘public opinion’ that more than a century
later will dangerously lead the subjects to question the absolutist methods of the monarch.
Antonella Tauro
Christopher Marlowe and his hypothetical political service in France
In order to demonstrate the influence of French political ideas on Marlowe’s Edward II, I will
show how its king stunningly resembles the image of Henri III (1551-1589) of France, as
he was stigmatised by the negative political propaganda in the last decade of his reign. It is
very probable that Marlowe was informed about French political affairs, especially the gossip
surrounding the king. Marlowe’s interest in French politics is easily demonstrable. First of all,
The Massacre at Paris – probably written immediately after Edward II –6 presents a punctual
chronicle of the violent historical episodes ranging from St Bartholomew’s night in 1572 to
the assassination of Henri III in 1589. Marlowe was just eight years old when the massacre
took place. However, the play surprisingly ‘includes details that were not available from
printed sources’.7 The play’s representation of French historical events appears to be reported
by ‘an impartial observer of the time’.8 It is possible then, that the dramatist knew about St.
Bartholomew’s massacre through hearsay. There is nowadays no doubt about the dramatist’s
involvement with Francis Walsingham’s diplomatic service in Paris. Soon before Marlowe’s
political engagement, Walsingham was sent to France as English ambassador in the 1570s
and witnessed the bloodshed of St Bartholomew’s night. Marlowe, then, could have heard
about the murder of the Huguenots through his acquaintance with Walsingham and his circle.
Moreover, Philip Sidney was also in Paris during St. Bartholomew’s eve9. The recollection of
this terrible episode followed the English poet for the rest of his life, as one can infer from his
correspondence with French diplomats. It is possible that Marlowe heard it from Sidney himself,
or read part of the poet’s letters, finding some of the details about the massacre he so brilliantly
describes in his play10. As already stated, the play also demonstrates some precise knowledge
of ‘the explosion of polemic and sheer vituperation’ aimed at Henri III in the 1580s.11 David
Riggs and John Bakeless12 follow the hypothesis that the English dramatist himself was sent by
Walsingham to Rheims, from approximately 1584 until 1586, the same years of the spread of
the negative political propaganda against Henri III. In this time, indeed, inexplicable absences
of the dramatist from the University of Cambridge were recorded. Riggs, however, also cites
the ambiguous letter to Queen Elizabeth, sent on 29 June 1587 by the Privy Council.13 The
official report stated that Marlowe ‘had done her Majesty good service’, but denied that he had
intended to ‘remain’ in Rheims.14 In any case, ‘without embarking on the difficult question of
how much time, if any, Marlowe spent in France’,15 let alone the fact that Francis Walsingham
was related to the dramatist’s literary patron Thomas Walsingham,16 one can assume that he had
the chance to hear about the French political affairs at the end of the century. For example, the
dramatist could also have read or heard about the letters between Francis and his correspondents
in France. Here, peculiarly, Henry III was described as a ‘wanton king’, in the same way as
Edward II in Marlowe’s play was supposed to be in a ‘wanton humour’.
French sources
Henri de Valois is perhaps one of the most controversial kings in French history. Though a gifted
sovereign, he was much hated by his subjects and finally stabbed to death by the Dominican
friar Jacques Clément in 1589. The authority of his role was undermined by several problems
upsetting the country in the last decades of the sixteenth century, for instance, serious religious
and financial divisions. He fashioned himself as a fervent Catholic. However, the question of
succession became quite tantalizing for the Catholic subjects after the death of the Duke of
Anjou (1584), who was the only legitimate Catholic successor to the throne of the heirless
Antonella Tauro
royal couple. Faced with these circumstances, Henri III had to face the menace of an influent
Catholic group, the League, whose leader, the Duke of Guise, had acquired much popular
favour among the powerful aristocratic families of the time. In order to preserve his power, the
King increased his absolutistic methods, surrounding himself by political auxiliaries of his own.
Anne de Batarnay de Joyeuse and Jean Louis de Nogaret de la Valette, best known as Joyeuse
and Epernon, gained high political duties over other aristocrats who had served the crown for
centuries. For these reasons, a general popular resentment against the King and his functionaries
grew throughout the country. This already unstable situation was hastened by Guise’s murder
(1588), supposedly plotted by the king himself. Because of the loss of their leader, and the
deprivation of financial revenues due to a tax revolt, the League and other aristocratic families
began to spread very negative propaganda against their King.17 His opponents, in particular,
aimed at instructing the people about the idea that the Catholic Henri III could not be the Lord’s
anointed, because of his presumed heretical behaviour. So, in the 1580s, many pamphlets
enjoying wide international circulation, informed the people about the King’s lasciviousness.
Among the most representative, for instance, was André de Rossant’s Les meurs humeurs et
comportements de Henri de Valois (1589), which describes the French Monarch in terms of a
‘Machiavellian’ tyrant and heretic: ‘il exige, il tyrannize, il sacrilege, il simonie, il charge et
appauvrit les Eglises, il destuit tout son peuple’.18 Jean Boucher too, who is one of the most
passionate propagandists against the King, described Henri’s conduct negatively in La vie et
faits notables de Henri de Valois (1588), and Histoire tragique et memorable de Pierre de
Gaveston (1588). The latter was possibly one of Marlowe’s main sources for Edward II,19 since
the pamphlet draws an explicit comparison between Henri III and the English Edward II.20
Their behaviour appears to be similar, especially as far as the ambiguous relationship with the
‘mignons’ is concerned. If Rossant describes the royal favourites as bad political counsellors and
opportunists,21 Boucher describes them as guilty of manoeuvring their Kings through lascivious
acts, especially of the homoerotic type. In this pamphlet, Edward II is said to have dissipated
the State’s financial resources and extirpated the Church’s possessions in order to enrich his
beloved Gaveston. Rossant also specifies that Edward fell in love with his favourites. Both
Edward and Henri are driven by ‘un amour infame’22 towards their men, causing the Queen and
the rest of the aristocracy to be jealous. As one can infer from the examples already provided,
the Leagues’s propaganda was aimed at the desecration of the image of Henri III in terms of
sodomy. It is in particular the intimacy of the King with his mignons which is perceived as
problematic. If ‘gossip arises in response to more complex and political concerns’,23 it was
political access to the sovereign which was contested, since the new Gentlemen ‘created’ by the
king had also exclusive access to his Private Chamber, and led important administrative tasks.
It is not by chance that one of the most scabrous pamphlets about the King’s heretical acts – the
anonymous Les choses horribles contenus en un lettre envoyée à Henry de Valois, par un enfant
de Paris, le vingt-huitiesme de Janvier 1589 – not only insinuates that the King had some sexual
relationships with Epernon in his ‘Cabinet’, but also that the latter cast a spell on him.24
Boucher finally reports that the English barons and the Queen arose against the
lascivious King, and ‘le fairent mourir d’une broche rouge de feu, laquelle ils luy lancerent par
le fondement’.25 The ‘red hop spit’ as a punishment inflicted on the king symbolically refers to
his implied sodomy.26
The homoerotic bond between the King and his ‘favourites’ even animates the literature
of the time. For example, Agrippa d’Aubigné’s Les Tragiques (1589) sparks the audience’s
attention on the ways in which the ‘favourites’ negatively influenced the King by damaging
his relationship with the Queen: ‘Ils appelloyent putain une femme d’amour’.27 His poem also
alludes to the French monarch’s effeminate manners:
Antonella Tauro
Le geste efféminé, l’œil d’un Sardanapale:
(…) De cordons emperlés sa chevelure pleine,
Sous un bonnet sans bord fait à l’italienne,
(…) Son menton princeté,
Son visage de blanc et de rouge empâté,
Son chef tout empudré, nous montrèrent ridée,
En la place d’un Roy, une putain fardée [my italics]28
The writings already mentioned contributed to spreading all over the country a kind of sinister
climate that forewarned of Henri’s murder. The League’s pamphleteers even explicitly instigated
the French subjects to rebel against their lascivious kings, as Boucher’s La vie et faits notables
and Rossant’s Meurs humours clearly show.29 Keith Cameron notes that the theory of regicide
was not unknown to the French subjects in the 1580s. Nevertheless, since Henri III was a
Catholic, in order to justify his deposition, it was necessary to demonstrate that he had deceived
his faith.30 As a matter of fact, these popular writings justified their desecration of the image of
the King by appealing to doctrines expressed in some influential political treatises of the time,
like Vindiciae contra Tyrannos (1579) deriving from Aristotle’s idea of the organic unity of
society. This doctrine conferred on the French citizens the right to depose their King in case
he sacrificed his monarchical duties for the sake of his own dark desires.31 So the League’s
desecrating propaganda, as well as Catholic literary works, stigmatised the King from sexual
and political points of view. In any case, it is crucial to highlight here, that these works all aimed
at the conclusion that it is the subjects’ divine right to depose a heretical King for the country’s
sake. However, as Arlette Jouanna32 relates, the appeal to such doctrines only occurred when
the clashes between the ambitious aristocrats and the absolutist methods of the Monarch were
As for the specific influences of French political ideas on English culture, Salmon believes
that the events upsetting the French Monarchical assessment were certainly well known to the
English, but the underlying political theories already described could not be wholly understood
until the ‘open breach’33 between Crown and Parliament in the following century. However,
Marlowe’s Edward II shows the subversive potential of the political ideas behind some sources,
probably assimilated by the dramatist thanks to his contacts with English personalities living in
France. I am therefore going to show how the political principles implied in the French political
works I have already mentioned are reflected in Marlowe’s play.
French political thinking and Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II
The stress given by Edward II to the conflict between the King’s duties and his ‘deviant’ desires
seems to echo the historical French sources I have already discussed. Marlowe’s main source
for his play, Holinshed’s chronicles, did not explicitly mention any homosexual relationship
between Edward and Gaveston. Moreover, as Alan Bray and Stephen Orgel34 have pointed
out, homoerotic desire during the Elizabethan Age tended to pass unobserved unless it was
accompanied by ‘crimes’ of violence. What is peculiar to Edward II, however, is that the close
relationship between the King and his ‘favourite’ is depicted in a negative light by the Queen
and the barons. Moreover, the homoerotic bond turns out to be one of the main causes of the
other wider conflict in the play, the one between the Crown and the aristocracy. The first part
of Edward II, then, seems to follow the French pamphleteers’ characterization of Henri III, as
Antonella Tauro
far as his effeminacy is concerned, and especially his ‘dangerous relationship’ with Gaveston.
Edward’s appearance on the stage seems to reflect the French authors’ descriptions of how
Henri III dressed, for the English King ‘wears a short Italian hooded cloack larded with pearl,
in his Tuscan cap a jewel of more value than the crown’.35 However, the barons rather look at
the political effects of the King’s effeminacy, since his relationship with his favourite seems
to displace their traditional position. Mortimer clearly affirms that it is not the King’s ‘wanton
humour’ that annoys him, namely ‘that one so basely born should by his sovereign’s favour
grow so perth and riot with the treasure of the realm’.36 In order to underline Gaveston’s political
ascent, Marlowe even lowers his origins in the play. He appears to have ‘paesant’ and obscure
origins, whereas he was actually the son of a Gascon family of Chevaliers, as Holinshed’s
chronicles point out.37 Marlowe’s reworking of the historical reality serves thus to stress
the conflict between the peers’ political interests and Edward’s personal attitudes. The King
disregards the implicit law of bloodline regulating access to power, and promotes his ‘nightgrown mushroom’38 to ‘Lord High Chamberlain, Chief Secretary to the state and me, Earl of
Cornwall, King and Lord of Man’, thus infringing the rights of the astonished barons.39 It is for
this reason that they begin to emphasize the Monarch’s tyranny. This happens especially after
Edward’s refusal to pay the ransom to release Mortimer Senior, who has been captured by the
Scottish enemies.40 Instead, Edward goes on favouring his minions. For example, he promotes
the Spencers because they are introduced to him by Gaveston.41 Because of his relationship
with his favourite, he even neglects his marriage duties to Queen Isabella. Not only does she
surrender to aching monologues for her unrequited love, but Gaveston even dares to insinuate
to the King that a dangerous relationship between the Queen and Mortimer Junior is taking
place.42 Gaveston’s behaviour reflects thus Henri’s mignons in Agrippa d’Aubigné’s poem.43
He appears to be extremely ambitious and manipulative. As the League’s members in France
insinuated that some kind of spell had been cast on the King by his minions, so in Marlowe’s
play the barons believe that he is ‘bewitched’ by Gaveston.44 The relationship between the King
and the minion is clearly cast as homoerotic, as Queen Isabella’s speech overtly shows:
For my lord the king regards me not,
But dotes upon the love of Gaveston.
He claps his cheeks and hangs about his neck,
Smiles in his face and whispers in his ears,
And when I come, he frowns, as he would say
‘Go whither thou wilt, seeing I have Gaveston’45
Later on, Mortimer Junior explicitly says that ‘The King is lovesick for his minion’.46 Compared
to the reckless political behaviour of the monarch, the reasons given by the Queen and the
barons –most notably by Mortimer Junior – seem politically sound. The King looks extremely
irresponsible and easily corruptible by his favourite. Completely blinded with passion for
Gaveston, he even makes some dangerous assertions, as when he orders the barons to ‘make
several kingdoms of this monarchy and share it equally’ among them all, so that he may enjoy
Gaveston’s company.47 The baron’s arguments are also significantly made to resonate with
the ones subscribed to by French Catholics during Henri III’s reign. As specified, the French
pamphleteers aimed to instil in the French people the idea that the political irresponsibility of
the King ‘bewitched’ by his minions leads to the ruin of the whole reign; it is therefore necessary
to depose the tyrant to avoid divine revenge. Edward’s political adversaries in Marlowe’s play
seem to sustain the same ideas. In the second Act, scene ii, for example, the barons enumerate
the King’s weak methods of governance, pointing out how his lascivious behaviour dangerously
Antonella Tauro
resonates all over the reign.48 They look for the Church’s support, asking for help from the
Archbishop of Canterbury, who significantly affirms that ‘God himself is up in arms when
violence is offered to the Church’.49 Kent clearly foresees that Edward’s love for Gaveston will
be the ruin of the whole reign and of the King himself.50 Following thus the French political
ideas spreading during Henry III’s reign, Marlowe lets Mortimer Junior declare that he will
not fight against the King only ‘if words will serve; if not [he] must’.51 This affirmation sounds
quite strange in Marlowe’s drama, written during the Elizabethan reign, when any allusion to
overthrowing the Monarch was still considered a crime of high treason against the Crown.
Again, French libels asserting the necessity of overthrowing a heretical King seem to echo
throughout the peers’ motivations in Marlowe’s play.
In the second part of the tragedy, however, after Gaveston’s murder, the nature of the
Marlovian conflict assumes a more problematic role, in both political and moral terms. It is at
this point of the tragedy that the French sources appear to be reworked in a surprisingly original
way by Marlowe. First of all, through the powerful speeches he creates,52 the dramatist lets both
factions disclose before the audience the deepest reasons for their actions. As Normand shows,53
the conflict is now between the public discourse over homoerotic desire set up by Mortimer
Junior, who deliberately assigns Edward the disparaging role of the sodomite, and the private
discourse within which the relationship between the King and Gaveston is inscribed. Edward
sees this relationship as an exclusively private bond, and expresses the impossible desire to
‘have some nook or corner left to frolic with (…) Gaveston’.54 The King thus subverts the
dynamics of his public duties. Nevertheless, the relationship between Edward and Gaveston
reveals itself to be the only authentic bond in the play. In the last act, the real sodomites turn
out to be, unexpectedly, Mortimer Junior and Isabella. They end up killing the King, who is,
ironically, the top representative of the very public order they are fighting for. They surrender to
their own mean ambitions, epitomised by Mortimer Junior’s dramatic expression of his satisfied
greed, after the King’s imprisonment:
The prince I rule, the queen do I command,
And (…)
The proudest lords salute me as I pass;
I seal, I cancel, I do what I will.
Feared I am more than loved; let me be feared,
And when I frown, make all the court look pale.
And to conclude, I am Protector now.
Now is all sure: the queen and Mortimer
Shall rule the realm, the king, and none rule us.
Mine enemies will I plague, my friends advance,
And what I list command who dare control?55
It is clear now that Mortimer Junior does not act for the country’s sake, rather his only aim is
to satisfy his political and personal ambition.56 Instead, the apparently ambitious Gaveston just
expresses his true desire to see Edward for the last time before dying.
No sense of justice is restored at the end of the tragedy, because the cruel revenge of
Edward III, who orders the head of the tyrant Mortimer Junior to be laid on his father’s coffin,
proves all but innocent, as he otherwise argues. This violent act does appear as the prelude to
other civil wars in the history of the English monarchy, rather than a way of restoring peace in
the country.
Antonella Tauro
Marlowe’s Edward II brilliantly comments on some important political issues that first arose
in France during Henri of Valois’s reign. Two conflicting ideas of power are presented on the
Marlovian stage. On the one hand, there is king Edward II’s absolutist methods based on a
politics of intimacy, and his promotion of his ambitious friend, the upstart Piers de Gaveston.
On the other, there is the barons’ idea of politics, based on rank and hierarchies. In the second
part of the tragedy, however, the barons’ motivations for overthrowing the politically unjust
King appear to be driven exclusively by their own political greed. Their designation of the
King’s relationship with his favourite as homoerotic, surprisingly resembles the League’s
stigmatisation of Henri III as a sodomite, and clearly shows its darker goal, i.e. to overthrow
the King. In the history of France the last of the Valois Kings has finally been stabbed to death,
and the restoration to the throne of his legitimate successor, the Protestant Henri de Navarre has
been extremely painful.
Marlowe’s tragedy seems to offer to the Elizabethan audience a farseeing comment on
the absolutist methods of access to the Monarchy. It shows that when the politics of access is
limited to the lucky-few, the King’s decisions are seriously questioned by some other aspirants
to administrative duties. This could be the first step in the process of the constituting of a kind
of ‘public sphere’ that dangerously questions the sovereign’s methods and preludes the King’s
murder, as happened earlier in France.57 Equally, Edward II’s cruel ending demonstrates that
‘the Elizabethan reception ensures that the French conflicts would not be forgotten in later
periods of English political dissension. Moreover, it had provided a wealth of English and
French comment ready to the hand of future controversialists’.58 French political thinking would
indeed begin to enjoy widespread political currency only during the English revolutions of the
following century. In this respect, then, Marlowe’s tragedy proves to be a surprisingly forwardlooking work with a lasting resonance for future generations.59
Antonella Tauro
1 On Edward II’s reign, Gabriele Baldini, ‘Breve ragguaglio storico sul regno di Edoardo II’, in Edoardo II, di
Christopher Marlowe, testo riveduto, studio introduttivo, commento e versione italiana a fronte di Gabriele Baldini
(Firenze: Sansoni, 1954),XXIII-XXXIII.
2 For a study about homoerotic desire in the sixteenth century see Alan Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance
England (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), and Stephen Orgel, Impersonation: The Performance of
Gender in Shakespeare’s England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1996).
3 At the end of the Elizabethan period, indeed, some increasing interest developed towards the Scottish monarch.
The designation of a successor to the aged heirless Queen had become a matter of the utmost urgency, and the
Scottish succession appeared to be a reasonable one. The Lords of the English Parliament, however, began to fear
the prospect of a foreign sovereign who might favour his own court over the English one, thus menacing their
political role. This situation might have had some influence on Marlowe. The hypothesis is held among others
by Constance B. Kuriyama, Hammer on Anvil: Psychological Patterns in Christopher Marlowe’s Plays (New
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989), 209-10, Orgel, Impersonations, 48, and Lawrence Normand, ‘”What
Passions Call You These?” Edward II and James VI,’ in Christopher Marlowe and English Renaissance Culture,
eds. Darryl Grantley and Peter Roberts (Aldershot: Ashgate,1999), 172-197.
4 The ‘James-Lennox’ episode happened about twelve years before Marlowe wrote his tragedy. It involved the
fourteen years old Scottish King and his beloved friend, the Catholic French Lord Esmé Stewart, who became the
King’s ‘favourite’. The latter gained so much political favour that he soon attracted the suspicion and hatred of the
political institutions and the Protestant faction. A plot was organised to imprison the King, who, however, finally
managed to escape and restore his own power (See Normand, ‘What Passions’, 175-176).
5 Curtis Perry, ‘The Politics of Access and Representations of the Sodomite King in Early Modern England’,
Renaissance Quarterly 53, no.4 (Winter 2000): 1056.
6 The play is difficult to date. Its earliest recorded performance was in 1593, and its date of composition must of
course be later than Henri III’s date in 1589: see Vivien Thomas and William Tydeman eds., Christopher Marlowe:
The Plays and their Sources (New York: Routledge, 1994), 251.
7 David Riggs, ‘Marlowe’s Life’, in The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe, ed. Patrick Cheney
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 37.
8 Julia Briggs, ‘Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris: A Reconsideration’, The Review of English Studies, 34, no. 135
(August 1983): 259.
9 His father Sir Henry Sidney, indeed, set military arrangements for the English intervention in the French Religious
Wars. The poet was then recommended to Francis Walsingham and travelled to France in May 1572. He also met
the French diplomat Hubert Languet and they started a correspondence. See R. Kuin ed., The Correspondence of
Sir Philip Sidney (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), xiv, and J.H.M. Salmon, The French Religious Wars in
English Political Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), 184-185.
10 Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris demonstrates to be a play of great historical interest. The first part consists of
several sketches which show a perfect awareness of the abrupt and cruel methods of extermination of the French
Huguenots in August 1572. The same abruptness, for instance, emerges from the report in one of Languet’s letters
to Sidney: ‘The Pope (…) was the deviser of that notable plan for making away with the poor remains of our
friends (…).The Admiral was killed, and many good men perished with him (…). What was the result? Instantly
war burst forth in various quarters of France, and even reached the dominions of the Pope himself’ (Languet to
Sidney, 13th February 1574, in The Correspondence, Pears ed., 44). In Marlowe’s play it is the Catholic Duke
of Guise who plots the murder of the Protestants, similarly resembling Languet’s image of the Pope. The killing
of the Huguenots’ Lord Admiral is also represented in Marlowe’s play, Scene IX, as well as the killing of many
common Huguenots. There is no direct proof of Marlowe’s and Sidney’s acquaintance. However, the two writers
at least heard about each other. They had attended the same school – see John Bakeless, The Tragicall History of
Christopher Marlowe (Hamden, Conn: Archon Books, 1964), 45- and also had contacts with Walsingham’s circle.
Sidney even married Walsingham’s daughter in 1583, and Marlowe, if not directly engaged in political affairs, ‘at
the very least, (…) may have been a confidential messenger carrying secret dispatches of importance’ (Bakeless,
Tragicall History, 84).
11 David Potter, ‘Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris and the Reputation of Henry III of France’, in Grantley and
Roberts, Marlowe and Renaissance, 88.
12 See David Riggs, ‘Marlowe’s Life’, in The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe, ed. Patrick Cheney
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 37, and ibid., 82-84.
13 Privy Council to the Authorities of Cambridge University, 29 June 1587, Public Record Office, London, Privy
Council Registers,PC 2/14 / 381.
Antonella Tauro
14 Riggs, ‘Marlowe’, 29.
15 Potter, ‘Marlowe’s Massacre ’, 88.
16 Thomas Walsingham also worked for the Crown in 1588, see Bakeless, Tragicall History,84.
17 For a general survey over Henri III’s reign and an analysis over the Ligue’s political pamphlets see Potter,
‘Marlowe’s Massacre’, and David Potter, ‘Kingship in the Wars of Religion: The Reputation of Henry III of
France’, European History Quarterly 25, no.4 (October 1995).
18 André de Rossant, Les Meurs, Humeurs et comportements de Henry de Valois, representez au vray, depuis sa
naissance (Paris: A. Le Riche, 1589), 88.
19 Curtis Perry, ‘Politics of Access’, 1054-1083.
20 England as a term of comparison with the French political situation is one of the main topics in the Ligue’s
propaganda. See for instance, Louis Dorléans’s Advertissement des catholiques anglois, au françois catholiques,
du danger où ils font de perdre leure religion et d’expérimenter comme en Angleterre les crautex des ministres
s’ils reçoivent à la couronne un roi qui soit hérétique (Paris: 1586); the pamphlet is contained in Jean Lous Félix
Danjou et L. Cimber eds., Archives curieuses de l’Histoire de France (Paris: Beauvais, 1812-1866), stored in the
British Library.
21 Specifically, De Rossant writes: ‘larrons, finciers & tresoriers, mignons, ambitieux, faux iusticieurs, traistres
à la France, Officieurs de la Courone, Politiques à leur profit, Machiavelistes sans loy, & pour dire en deux mots
sorciers & Atheistes’. Rossant, Meurs, humeurs, 37.
22 Ibid., 117.
23 Perry, ‘Politics of Access’,1058.
24 ‘Henry vous sçavez bien, que tout aussi tost que vistes Terragon, vous l’appellaistes vostre frere, en l’accolat, &
la nuit suyuate il coucha dans vostre chambre, seul avec vous dans vostre lit. Vous sçavez bien, q toute la nuict, il
tin sur vostre ventre, droict au nóbril, un anneau,& sa main liee dans la vostre, & fut le matin vostre main truovee
comme toute cuitte’ (Les choses horribles contenus en un lettre envoyée à Henry de Valois, par un enfant de Paris,
le vingt-huitiesme de Janvier 1589, in Danjou et Cimber, Archives, 5-6).
25 Jean Boucher, Histoire tragique et memorable de Pierre de Gaveston (Paris: 1588), in ibid., 14. There is
much debate about Boucher authorship of the pamphlet, see Frederic J. Baumgartner, Radical Reactionaries: The
Political Thought of the French Catholic League (Geneva: Droz, 1973), 108-9.
26 The same reference to the English King’s mortal punishment appears in André de Rossant’s Les meurs humeurs.
Here, too, Henri III is explicitly compared to the sodomite Edward II. In the final lines of his pamphlet Rossant
describes the ‘punition future de Henri de Valois, semblable à celle d’Edouard (…) embroché par le fondement
d’un fer tout rouge’ (p.115).
27 Théodore Agrippa D’Aubigné, Les Tragiques, chronologie, introduction et glossaire par Jacques Bailbé (Paris:
Garnier- Flammaron, 1968), 101.
28 Ibid., 776-779. Among the literature of the time, it is worth citing Pierre Matthieu’s tragedy too, La Guisiade
(1589). The tragedy focuses on the contrasting figures of Henri III and the Duke of Guise. The latter is designed
as the good Catholic who acts exclusively for the country’s sake, whereas the sovereign’s politics appears to be
driven by his irresponsible acts. Similarly, in the first scenes of Marlowe’s Edward II, the main opponent to the
King, Mortimer Junior, appears in a positive light, because he wants to re-establish political order.
29 For instance, Boucher’s La vie et faits notables describes the King’s irresponsible behaviour as wholly driven
by his mignons. The latter are labelled as ‘flatteurs’. In this way the author wants to demonstrate that it is the
subject’s right to depose the heretical King, because he doesn’t respect divine law, from which his right to rule
derives. Rossant also writes that ‘Il est licite de mettre à mort par authorité publique celuy qui enfreint cette loy de
Dieu’ (Meurs, humeurs, 43).
30 Keith Cameron, ‘Introduction’, in Jean Boucher, La vie et faits notables de Henry de Valois, édition critique
établie et annotée par Keith Cameron (Paris: Champion, 2003), 16.
31 Salmon attributes the treatise to Philippe de Mornay, seigneur du Plessis, and Hubert Languet, the latter
corrresponding with Philip Sidney, as stated above (Salmon, French Religious Wars, 181-185). However, there
has been much critical debate about the authorship of the treatise; critics today tend to attribute it to Languet only
(See M. Van Gelderen, The Political Thought of the Dutch Revolt, 1555-1590 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1992), p.270, especially note 12).
32 See Arlette Jouanna, Le devoir de révolte: la noblesse française et la gestation de l’État moderne, 1559-1661
(Paris: Fayard, 1989), 1-38.
33 Salmon, French Religious Wars, 12.
34 See Alan Bray, ‘Homosexuality and the Signs of Male Friendship in Elizabethan England’, History Workshop,
no. 29 (Spring 1990), and Orgel, Impersonations, 49.
Antonella Tauro
35 Marlowe, Edward II, I,iv,p.182, lines 412-414.
36 Ibid.,I,iv,p181, lines 402-404.
37 See ‘Appendix B’, ibid., p.327.
38 Ibid., I,iv, p.173, line 284.
39 Ibid., I,i, p.151, lines 153-55.
40 See ibid., II,ii, p.197, lines 139-153. Perry also remarks that ‘Mortimer Senior’s capture is an invention of
Marlowe’s’ (Perry, ‘Politics of Access’,1068). Edward’s refusal to accomplish his duties and pay for his soldier’s
release stresses the irresponsibility of the sovereign as it is staged in the first part of the play.
41 Ibid., II,ii, p.204, lines 248-252.
42 See ibid.,I, iv, p.167, lines 146-48.
43 As Forker points out, Gaveston’s insinuation at this point of the play looks quite incongruent: ‘Holinshed gives
no hint of a sexual liaison between Mortimer and the Queen until very late in his account’ (Forker, ‘Introduction’,
53). The anachronism confirms the hypothetical influence of the French sources on Marlowe.
44 See, for instance, Marlowe, Edward II, I, ii, p.157, line 55.
45 Ibid., I,ii, p.157, lines 49-54.
46 Ibid., I,iv,p.164, line 87.
47 Ibid., I,iv, p.163, lines 70-71.
48 See ibid., pp.199-200,lines 174-194.
49 Ibid., I,ii, p.156, lines 40-41. Earlier in the play (I,i, line 178), Edward humiliates another representative figure
of the Church, the Bishop of Coventry, whose vestments are stripped. As Forker points out (‘Introdcution’, 55),
this detail is totally invented by Marlowe. The effect is to underline the outrageous behaviour of the King in front
of the Church. This contrast with the Catholic side seems again to echo the French political conflicts of the 1580s.
50 Ibid., II,ii,p.201, lines 207-208: ‘My lord, I see your love to Gaveston will be the ruin of the realm and you’.
51 Ibid., I, ii, p.158, line 82.
52 On Marlowe’s powerful and prophetic style see Judith Weil, Christopher Marlowe’s Merlin Prophet (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2008).
53 Normand, ‘”What Passions?”’, 172-197.
54 Marlowe, Edward II, I, iv, pp.163-64, lines 70-73.
55 Ibid., V, iv, pp.299-300, lines 46-66.
56 The disparaging role of the sodomite assigned by Mortimer Junior and Isabella to the King is also symbolised
by the almost parodic mortal object of the red hot spit that ‘penetrates him’. This reference could derive from the
French pamphleteers narration of Edward’s history: see ibid., the end of scene vi, Act V, p.312.
57 As far as the concept of ‘public sphere’ is concerned, I refer to Jürgen Habermas’s definition: ‘A realm of our
social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Access is guaranteed to all citizens. A
portion of the public sphere comes into being in every conversation in which private individuals assemble to form
a public body’( J. Habermas, S. Lennox, F. Lennox, “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article (1964)”, New
German Critique, 3 (Autumn 1974): 49.
58 Salmon, French Wars, 38.
59 A century and a half later, James I’s favouring of renowned personalities such as the Duke of Buckingham
over other aristocrats was seriously questioned. The stigmatisation of Edward II as a sodomite, then, uncannily
anticipates the innuendo spread over James I, and demonstrates that accusations of sodomy to the King arise in
response to perceptions of the politics of patronage as corrupt. Edward II was significantly republished in 1622
(see Forker, ‘Introduction’, p.99), which confirms that the dangerous questioning of the politics of access that first
arose in France spread later on in the rest of Europe.
Shakespeare Graduate Conference 2013
The Italian Connection
‘That Rare Italian Master’
Shakespeare and Giulio Romano
Camilla Caporicci
Università degli Studi di Perugia
The only explicit reference to a living artist in Shakespeare’s work is to be found in The Winter’s
Tale, where the ‘statue’ of queen Hermione – unjustly accused of infidelity by her husband,
having collapsed during her public trial, and universally believed to be dead – is said to be
‘newly performed by that rare Italian master, Giulio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and
could put breath into his work, would beguile nature of her custom, so perfectly he is her ape:
he so near to Hermione hath done Hermione, that they say one would speak to her and stand in
hope of answer’1. This passage has always been central to critical debate: how had Shakespeare
become acquainted with the name and reputation of the Italian artist? And again, why did
the poet decide to name, as creator of a statue, an artist who was in fact both a painter and an
architect, but never a sculptor?
The first part of my work will comprise a general survey of the possible sources through
which the name and reputation of Giulio could have reached Shakespeare, while in the second
part I will briefly discuss the main scholarly views about his mistake. Finally, I will suggest
a possible new source for the name of the sculptor in The Winter’s Tale; a source that could
cast new light on Shakespeare’s reasons for choosing Giulio Romano as creator of Hermione’s
How Shakespeare became familiar with the name of Giulio Romano – the famous Italian artist
employed first in Rome, as a pupil of Raphael, and later at the Gonzaga court in Mantua – has
been a problem that many critics have tried to solve. The hypothesis that Shakespeare had
travelled in Italy, and therefore could have seen Giulio’s works directly, though maintained by
Lytton Sells2, appears to be unverifiable. On the other hand, as both Sir Sidney Lee3 and Mario
Praz4 emphasize, it was not difficult for an Englishman living in the Elizabethan age to be wellinformed about Italy and Italian art. Not only, as Stephen Orgel points out, ‘there was a good
deal of information circulating in Shakespeare’s England about who were the right artists to
invest in’5, but Italian merchants and travellers were frequent in London, and many Englishmen
travelled to Italy, returning full of tales and new ideas from a much remarked upon land. Those
merchants and travellers, such as Thomas Coryate6 and Inigo Jones, who was in Italy before
1603 and who seemed to be aware of Giulio’s architectural style7, could have brought news of
Romano’s fame to London. Moreover, Shakespeare could have heard Giulio praised by John
Camilla Caporicci
Florio, the disciple of Italian culture in England and part of that same Southampton circle to
which Shakespeare was linked; or by Ben Jonson, who must have been well aware of Giulio’s
reputation, as he mentions him both in his Timber8 and in the epigram dedicated to the Lord of
the Treasury9. All of these conjectures are, however, based on unsubstantiated verbal exchanges,
and are therefore not verifiable. The case is different with the written sources available to us.
The richest source of information about Giulio’s life and artistic production is surely
Vasari’s Vite. This work was not published in English until 1850, and the part re-elaborated
by Peacham in The Compleat Gentleman not only was not published until 1622, but did not
include any reference to Giulio. Nevertheless, many critics, such as Maria del Sapio, Stephen
Orgel, Ernst Gombrich and Leonard Barkan10, believe that Shakespeare could have read the Vite
in the original language, and based his knowledge of the Italian artist on it11.
Another Italian writer through whom Giulio’s name could have reached Shakespeare,
as Sokol, Lothian, Corradini and Gombrich12 point out, is Pietro Aretino, whose influence in
England should not be underestimated13. Aretino’s I Modi, a volume composed of his sonetti
lussuriosi and highly erotic images based on Giulio Romano’s drawings, though banned in
Italy14, seems to have circulated, or at least to have been much spoken of, in England, becoming
the work most frequently associated with Aretino. In Volpone, for instance, Jonson mentions
only this work in connection with the Italian writer – ‘for a desperate wit, there’s Aretine! /
Only, his pictures are a little obscene’15 –, and the same reference appears in The Alchemist
(1610)16, while John Donne satirically declares that ‘Aretine’s pictures have made few chaste’17.
Shakespeare then, could have seen Giulio’s images in London18, or at least could have heard of
them, or he could have found Giulio Romano’s name in Aretino’s works. In fact, not only does
Aretino repeatedly praise Giulio in his letters19 – published in Italy in 1537, in France before
1608, and announced by Aretino’s publisher in London, John Wolfe, since 1586 –, but refers
to him in the dramatic work Il Marescalco, published in London in 1588. In this piece, set in
Mantua, Messer Jacopo invites the Pedante to see Giulio Romano’s stunning creations in the
Palazzo Te – ‘Andiamo, maestro, in fino a San Bastiano, volli dire al Te, ché forse Iulio Romano
averà scoperto qualche istoria divina’20 – and the same Pedante, to prove himself erudite,
affirms: ‘Si pictoribus, un Tiziano emulus naturae immo magister, sarà certo fra Sebastiano de
Venetia divinissimo. E forse Iulio Romanae curiae, e de lo Urbinate Raffaello alumno’21.
Other possible sources for Shakespeare’s knowledge of Giulio are, as Rita Severi points
out22, the two architectural treatises by Sebastiano Serlio and Paolo Lomazzo, both translated
into English23, in which the name of Giulio Romano appears more than once; the engravings
by Giorgio Ghisi, reproducing a large part of Romano’s frescoes, that, as Claudia Corti24 points
out, had a wide circulation in Renaissance Europe; and The Necessarie, Fit, and Convenient
Education of a yong Gentlewoman – the English translation of a work by Giovanni Michele
Bruto, published in London in 1598 – in which the author advises Lord Cataneo to choose his
daughter’s teacher as he would choose a painter for his chamber, showing him ‘the patterns of
Albert Dure, Raphael Vrbin, Michel Angell, or Iules Romain’25.
Those are the main sources critics have so far suggested as a possible medium between
Shakespeare and Giulio Romano’s fame. But the other problem, connected with Shakespeare’s
‘erroneous’ choice of the painter and architect Romano as an example of a great sculptor, is
more difficult to explain.
Some critics believe that Shakespeare consciously decided to consider Giulio as a sculptor,
Camilla Caporicci
either because, as Praz26 and Severi argue, he knew of Giulio’s ability in projecting funeral
monuments – such as those of Federico Gonzaga and Baldassarre Castiglione – that actually
made of him a ‘sort of sculptor’, or because, as Elisabetta Cori27 points out, he was referring to
the trompe l’oeil effect of Giulio Romano’s paintings. Moreover, as Farrand Thorpe28 highlights,
painting and sculpture were considered in the Renaissance as effectively interchangeable,
Other critics, such as Barkan, Del Sapio, Gombrich and Orgel29, link Shakespeare’s
‘confusion’ to the two epitaphs in Vasari. Not only, they argue, the epitaph contained in both
the editions of the Vite (1550 and 1568) could have suggested to the poet the idea that Giulio
Romano was also a sculptor – ‘ROMANUS MORIENS SECUM TRES IULIUS ARTEIS /
ABSTULIT (HAUD MIRUM) QUATTUOR UNUS ERAT’30 –, but the second epitaph, present
in the 1550 edition only, could have been the source of Shakespeare’s description of Giulio as
a sculptor able to create, as we shall see, a seemingly breathing statue, and who ‘would beguile
Nature of her custom’:
Other critics believe instead that Shakespeare’s decision was the result of an actual mistake,
due to the poet’s scant knowledge of Italian art, as is argued by Warburton and Cust32, or to
the confusion of Giulio Romano’s name with that of another artist: a second Giulio Romano
operating in Bologna, as Hartt suggests33, the madrigalist Giulio Caccini, as pointed out by
Spencer34, or the sculptor Giancristoforo Romano, a leading figure of fifteenth century Roman
sculpture, and perfect example of ‘court artist’, as recently defined by Pierluigi Leone de
This last hypothesis deserves, in my opinion, more consideration than the others.
Giancristoforo Romano’s name could have easily reached Shakespeare, through one of the most
famous books of the entire Renaissance, Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano, in which Giancristoforo
is a character. In the text the Conte di Canossa explicitly celebrates Romano’s great ability
in carving marble, and enters into a debate with him about the specific nature of different
arts, which could have captured the attention of a poet always interested in the comparison
between different artistic forms. Moreover, some of Giancristoforo’s statements in affirming
the supremacy of his sculpture over painting, an art defined as an ‘artificiall following of
nature’ giving birth to figures ‘as nature her selfe shapeth them’36, suggest to us Shakespeare’s
description of Romano as perfect imitator of Nature. But why then the wrong name, why Giulio
for Giancristoforo? Baughan, who is the only critic to have suggested, in 1937, the possible
confusion of the two Romanos, explains this curious situation by referring to Shakespeare’s
reading habits:
Only two pages back of the [debate between Giancristoforo and Canossa] Shakespeare
could have seen the name Julian, almost certainly written in capitals. With this name
so nearly identical with Julio in mind, the hurried reader, who already had a smattering
of knowledge of Giulio Romano, might easily find himself either overlooking the name
Johnchristopher or forgetting it when he came to the situation in The Winter’s Tale
where a sculptor was indispensable to the plot.37
Camilla Caporicci
This explanation seems plausible, but before settling on this very intriguing and intricate set of
hypotheses, I would like to propose a new possible source for Shakespeare’s usage of Giulio
Romano and for his mistake; a source not previously suggested by critics, as far as I am aware,
which I discovered accidentally, and which provided the stimulus for this study.
Even though his name is rarely mentioned today, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries few
poets were more famous than Tebaldeo: teacher of Isabella d’Este, first poet in the splendid
Este and Gonzaga courts, Lucrezia Borgia’s secretary, Leone X’s favourite, and close friend of
Bembo, Castiglione, and the same Raphael, master of our Giulio Romano. His extensive poetic
output includes more than 700 vernacular rhymes, mostly sonnets, 309 of which were published
in Modena in 1489. This work was so successful that, after just 50 years, 41 reprints and new
editions had been published and read all over Europe, part of that great stream of Italian lyric
poetry that so strongly influenced their English counterparts in the sixteenth century.
Examining this volume, I came across a cycle of seven sonnets celebrating the wondrous
statue of a dead woman beloved by a man called Leone. To detail the moving story behind these
sonnets is not the focus of this paper38. Suffice it to say that Ambrogio Leone, humanist doctor
and philosopher, was so passionately in love with the young Beatrice de Notariis that he had her
sculpted in marble by the renowned artist Malvito; and that this statue was the only thing left
to him after her tragic death. Leone, in his grief, wrote to almost every poet in Italy39, begging
for a poem to celebrate Beatrice’s statue, and many contributed, among whom were Ercole
Strozzi40, Caracciolo, Bendedei, and his friend Tebaldeo, with some Latin epigrams and the
seven sonnets, later included in the Rime.
Reading these sonnets we discover many elements that seem to suggest a link between
them and the statue scene in The Winter’s Tale. Firstly there is the coincidence of the names:
Leone, that in four cases out of five is reduced to ‘Leon’, an abbreviation that can easily be
interpreted in various ways, obviously reminds us of the king Leontes, weeping in front of the
statue of his dead beloved in The Winter’s Tale. A name, incidentally, whose origin has always
been a mystery to the critics, as it neither appears in any of the drama’s sources nor in Plutarch,
from which Shakespeare drew many of the The Winter’s Tale’s names41.
There is then the central importance given in both texts to the rivalry between Nature and
Art, connected to the astonishing verosimiglianza (verisimilitude) of the statue, which causes
a series of similar reactions in the spectators: from the wonder and the confusion generated by
the deceiving nature of the work of art, to the impulse of kissing and holding the statue, and the
subsequent feeling of shame; from the nostalgia for the once living ‘original’ and the resulting
desire of vivification of the statue, associated with the motif of the breathing sculpture, to the
recourse to myth and religion for solutions.
The theme of the conflict between Nature and Art is central in The Winter’s Tale, in
which the debate between Perdita and Polixene – the first rejecting an art which competes ‘With
great creating nature’42, the second favourable to ‘an art / Which does mend nature – change it
rather’ 43 – is somehow renewed in the statue scene, where Hermione’s sculpture is described
as so similar to the real woman that the spectators, overwhelmed by wonder and ‘mocked with
art’44, will ‘think anon it lives’45, also because, this creature of an artist who, ‘could put breath
into his works, would beguile nature of her custom’46, seems actually to be breathing: ‘What
was he that did make it? […] Would you not deem it breathed?’47, they ask, and again: ‘Still
Camilla Caporicci
methinks / There is an air comes from her. What fine chisel / Could ever yet cut breath?’48. It is
because of this extraordinary verosimiglianza that Leontes feels an irresistible impulse to kiss
the statue, even though he knows that he will be mocked for it49.
In the same way, the artificial challenges Nature’s power in Tebaldeo’s sonnets. The
statue is described as so perfectly sculpted that not only Death and the god of Love believe
it to be alive, but Nature itself cannot distinguish its creation from the artistic one: ‘Natura, e
non tu sol, crede ch’io viva / e qual sia l’opra sua dubia diventa’50. The spectator is struck in
wonder and imagines the statue to be living, also because, as in The Winter’s Tale, it seems to
be breathing: ‘marmo in cui tua donna expressa spira’51. And again, because of this striking
similarity to the once living original, Leone, although ashamed, feels the necessity of a physical
contact: ‘corro ad abracciarte forte / poi di vergogna in viso me scoloro’52.
We could continue describing the many parallels between the two texts, but I hope that
what has been argued has at least shown the possibility that Shakespeare had read Tebaldeo’s
sonnets and might have had them in mind while writing of a situation so similar to that found
in them. Accepting this possibility and turning a few pages further in Tebaldeo’s Rime, we find
another sonnet on sculpture and very peculiar statues:
Firmar non te potei in loco dove,
Romano mio, più marmo ritrovassi,
ché Isabella transmuta in freddi sassi
gli homin’ col sguardo, e tu vedrai le prove.
Ma tu dirai: “Se qualora gli occhi move
po’ statue far che a pena cum mano fassi
da gli altri, a che vòl me?”. Vòl che tu cassi
se fia che ulla de tristo in lor se trove,
ché raro fa Natura un corpo bello;
scia Isabella che arà cose excellenti,
se acompagna al suo lume il tuo martello.
Ma guarda, se al suo viso te apresenti,
de chinar gli occhi e non spechiarte in ello
che pietra de sculptor tu non diventi.53
Shakespeare, looking for a name for the creator of Hermione’s statue, could have remembered
this celebration of an excellent sculptor, probably associated in his mind with the wonderful
statue loved by Leone, able not only to equal Nature, but endowed with ‘an art / Which does
mend nature’54, as Polixenes would say. An art that, moreover, appears embedded in a magical
atmosphere in which, exactly as in the previous sonnets and in The Winter’s Tale – where a
living woman is paradoxically55 said to be sculpted by Giulio Romano, and stands like a statue
until she miraculously wakes up – the boundary between what is natural and what is artificial,
between flesh and stone, becomes very confused. Shakespeare could have remembered the
name Romano and, having already heard, though maybe confusedly, of Giulio Romano’s fame,
associated the two things, and chosen this name as a prime example of an excellent Italian
sculptor. But, ironically, the Romano whom Tebaldeo is addressing is not Giulio Romano, but
Giancristoforo Romano, on the occasion of his coming, in 1497, to that same court of Mantua
in which Giulio became famous only a few years later. Isabella d’Este, after having admired
the splendid bust with which Giancristoforo had celebrated her sister Beatrice56 (a bust that
Tebaldeo had probably seen and that, partly due to the coincidence of the names, might have in
mind while writing of the other Beatrice’s statue), had written to the court of Milan, where her
Camilla Caporicci
sister lived as wife of Ludovico il Moro, asking Giancristoforo to come to Mantua in order to
sculpt her in marble. To this event Tebaldeo’s sonnet refers. But this, through a simple reading
of the sonnet, could not be guessed.
In conclusion, I would say that this hypothesis could help us to understand Shakespeare’s choice,
especially as many of the previous attempts to explain it present further difficulties. Those critics
linking Shakespeare’s confusion to the epitaphs in Vasari should not forget not only the very
scarce circulation of the volume in England, but also the fact that in the Vite Giulio Romano
is unequivocally classified among the painters and architects. If Shakespeare had consulted
Vasari’s work for a name of an excellent Italian sculptor, he would have much more probably
chosen Michelangelo, whose skill in carving marble Vasari acclaims. The same can be said of
those referring to Aretino’s Il Marescalco as a possible source for Shakespeare, bearing in mind
that the Pedante quite clearly specifies the field to which Giulio’s art pertains – ‘Si pictoribus,
[…] Iulio Romanae curiae’57 –, and that immediately after he adds: ‘E ne la marmorea facultate
[…] un mezzo Michel Angelo, un Iacopo Sansavino speculum Florentiae’58.
As for the treatises by Lomazzo and Serlio, it is difficult to imagine why Shakespeare
would have been diligently studying two technical architectural works. In any case, in these
works too, Giulio is clearly defined as an architect and painter, exactly as in the other sometime
quoted source, The Necessarie, Fit, and Convenient Education of a yong Gentlewoman –
in which Giulio is numbered among those who ‘alwayes shall be esteemed most excellent
painters’59 –, and in Ben Jonson, who counts him among the ‘six famous painters in Italy who
were excellent and emulous of the ancients’60.
To those critics who explain Shakespeare’s use of Romano by enlisting the idea of
sculpture and painting as interchangeable in the Renaissance, it should be noted, with Baughan,
that, though there was sometimes confusion in artistic technical terminology, ‘yet the fact
remains that Hermione’s likeness was a statue, not a painting, and, despite the possible confusion
of terms in sixteenth-century England, Romano would have to be a sculptor in order to carve a
Finally, the hypothesis according to which Shakespeare’s choice should be ascribed
to direct observation of Romano’s works, seems completely lacking in any actual evidence.
Not only is there nothing in the text that should lead us to suppose a knowledge of Giulio’s
work superior to that obtainable through any other source, but, if Shakespeare had really seen
Giulio’s creations in Mantua, he would have never mistaken him for a sculptor.
In my opinion then, Shakespeare, looking for a famous name that at least some part of
his public might recognize, thought firstly of a name to be found in contemporaneous writing,
known to the noblemen, the travellers and to the artists who had visited the continent. Giulio
Romano seemed then a good choice, since Shakespeare could have heard him mentioned in his
circle of friends and patrons, or through one of the many sources quoted in the first part of this
work. Moreover, the name itself, Giulio Romano – being so emblematic of Italian greatness,
with its reference both to the capital of the state and to its most celebrated and famous emperor
– must have been particularly appealing to Shakespeare, because of its capacity to suggest in a
most immediate way the ambiguous power of Italian artistic hegemony. On the other hand, the
erroneous idea of Romano being a great sculptor could have derived from confusion generated
in general conversation – some of those same travellers speaking of Giulio Romano could have
also recounted the sculptures of the other Romano – or from a quick reading of Castiglione’s
Camilla Caporicci
Cortegiano, the only mentioned source that Shakespeare had most likely read. And, perhaps,
from the recollection of an excellent sculptor called Romano, carving amazing statues for a
famous Isabella, discovered in Tebaldeo’s sonnets; an artist whose chisel perfected Nature’s
creatures, connected in Shakespeare’s mind with the image of the breathing and wonderfully
life-like statue of a dead woman, desperately beloved by a man called Leone. A man continually
praying for it to awaken.
1 William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, Oxford Shakespeare, 2005, V.ii, 95-101.
2 Arthur Lytton Sells, The Italian Influence in English Poetry from Chaucher to Southwell, Indiana University
Press, 1955.
3 Sir Sidney Lee, Shakespeare and the Italian Renaissance, Oxford University Press, 1915.
4 Mario Praz, ‘Shakespeare e l’Italia’, in Caleidoscopio Shakespeariano, Adriatica Editrice, 1969, 105.
5 Stephen Orgel, Imagining Shakespeare. A History of Text and Vision, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, 121.
6 Thomas Coryate’s journey in Italy, started on the 14th of May 1608, is recounted in his Coryat’s Crudities,
probably circulating in London before its publication in 1611.
7 Inigo Jones’ knowledge of Giulio’s style is suggested by his gloss on a copy of Palladio’s I Quattro Libri
8 Jonson counts Romano among the ‘six famous painters in Italy who were excellent and emulous of the ancients’:
‘Raphael de Urbino, Michel Angelo Buonarrota, Titian, Antonio of Correggio, Sebastian of Venice, Julio Romano,
and Andrea del Sarto’. Ben Jonson, Timber, or Discoveries, Syracuse University Press, 1953, 35.
9 ‘I would, if price or prayer could them get, / Send in what or Romano, Tintoret, / Titian, or Raphael, Michelangelo,
/ Have left in fame to equal, or outgo / The old Greek hands in picture, or in stone’. Ben Jonson, To the Right
Honourable, the Lord Treasurer of England an Epigram, in Poems, Oxford University Press, 1975, 250. Both
these works were published after Shakespeare’s composition of The Winter’s Tale, therefore can not be considered
as direct sources of Shakespeare’s mention of Giulio, but they are prove of Ben Jonson’s knowledge of the Italian
artist, and consequently of the possibility that Shakespeare became acquainted with Giulio’s fame through his
10 See: Maria del Sapio Garbero, ‘Plica Ex Plica: Ermione e Perdita’, in Le Forme del Teatro. La Posa Eroica di
Ofelia. Saggi sul Personaggio Femminile nel Teatro Elisabettiano, vol. 7, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2003;
Orgel, Imagining Shakespeare; Ernst Gombrich, ‘“That rare Italian Master…” Giulio Romano, Court Architect,
Painter and Impresario’, in Splendours of the Gonzaga, 1981; Leonard Barkan, ‘“Living Sculptures”: Ovid,
Michelangelo and The Winter’s Tale’, in ELH, 48, 4, 1981, 639-667.
11 In regards to Shakespeare’s Italian, see: Jason Lawrence,“Who the Devil Taught Thee so Much Italian?”.
Italian Language Learning and Literary Imitation in Early Modern England, Manchester University Press, 2011.
12 See: Barnett Jerome Sokol, Art and Illusion in The Winter’s Tale, Manchester University Press, 1994; John M.
Lothian, ‘Shakespeare’s Knowledge of Aretino’s Plays’, in Modern Language Review, 25, 1930, 415-424; Claudia
Corradini Ruggiero, ‘La Fama dell’Aretino in Inghilterra e alcuni suoi influssi su Shakespeare’, in Rivista di
Letterature Moderne e Comparate, 29, 1976, 182-203; Gombrich, ‘“That rare Italian Master…’”.
13 See for instance: Maria Palermo Concolato, ‘Aretino nella Letteratura Inglese del Cinqucento’, in Pietro Aretino
nel Cinquecentenario della Nascita. Atti del Convegno di Roma-Viterbo-Arezzo (28 settembre-1 ottobre 1992),
Toronto (23-24 ottobre 1992), Los Angeles (27-29 ottobre 1992), Salerno Editrice, 1995.
14 The indignation with which the volume was received in Italy is well expressed in Vasari’s ‘Vita di Marcantonio
Raimondi’, the engraver responsible for the publication and circulation of Giulio’s drawings:
Fece dopo queste cose Giulio Romano in venti fogli intagliare da Marcantonio in quanti diversi modi,
attitudini e positure giacciono i disonesti uomini con le donne e, che fu peggio, a ciascuno modo fece
messer Pietro Aretino un disonestissimo sonetto, intantoché io non so qual fusse più brutto lo spettacolo
Camilla Caporicci
dei disegni di Giulio all’occhio, o le parole dell’Aretino agl’orecchi: la quale opera fu da papa Clemente
molto biasimata; e se, quando ella fu pubblicata, Giulio non fusse già partito per Mantoa, ne sarebbe stato
dallo sdegno del Papa aspramente castigato; e poiché ne furono trovati in questi disegni in luoghi dove
meno si sarebbe pensato, furono non solamente proibiti, ma preso Marcantonio e messo in prigione: e
n’avrebbe avuto il malanno, se il cardinale de’ Medici e Baccio Bandinelli, che in Roma serviva il Papa,
non l’avessero scampato. E nel vero non si doverebbono i doni di Dio adoperare, come molte volte si fa,
in vituperio del mondo et in cose abominevoli del tutto.
Giorgio Vasari, ‘Vita di Marcantonio Bolognese e d’altri Intagliatori di Stampe’, in Le Vite de’ più Eccellenti
Pittori Scultori e Architettori. Nelle redazioni del 1550 e 1568, vol. 5, S.P.E.S., 1984, 13.
15 Ben Jonson, Volpone, in Ben Jonson, Oxford University Press, 1985, III.iv, 96-97.
16 Jonson describes the oval room imagined by Sir Epicure Mammon as ‘Filled with such pictures as Tiberius took
/ From Elephantis, and dull Aretine / But coldly imitated’. Ben Jonson, The Alchemist, in Ben Jonson, II.ii, 43-45.
17 John Donne, ‘Satire 4’, in The Complete English Poems, Penguin, 1996, v. 70.
18 Some sources, such as John Marston’s satires and the manuscript The Newe Metamorphosis (1600-1615), seem
in fact to suggest the idea that Giulio’s drawings were imported from Italy and even publicly sold.
19 In this letter, for instance, Aretino’s good opinion of Giulio Romano is very eloquently expressed:
Voi sete grato, grave e giocondo ne la conversazione; e grande, mirabile, e stupendo nel magistero. Onde
chi vede le fabriche e le istorie uscite de lo ingegno e de le mani vostre, ammira non altrimenti che s’egli
scorgesse le case degli Iddii in essempli, e i miracoli de la natura in colori. Proponvi il mondo, ne la
invenzione e ne la vaghezza, a qualunche toccò mai compasso e pennello. E ciò direbbe anche Apelle
e Vitruvio, s’eglino comprendessero gli edificii e le pitture che avete fatto e ordinato in cotesta città,
rimbellita, magnificata da lo spirito de i vostri concetti anticamente moderni e modernamente antichi.
Pietro Aretino, Lettere, vol. 2, Salerno Editrice, 1998, letter 380.
20 Pietro Aretino, Il Marescalco, in Pietro Aretino. Teatro, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1971, IV.v, 13.
21 Aretino, Marescalco, V.iii, 8.
22 Rita Severi, ‘What’s in a Name. La Fortuna di Giulio Romano nel Periodo Shakespeariano’, in Giulio Romano.
Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi su “Giulio e l’Espansione Europea del Rinascimento”, 1989. The critic
underlines the fact that there might be some passages, in the treatises, echoing some verses from The Winter’s
Tale. In the English translation of Lomazzo’s Trattato we read that ‘Painting is an arte; because it imitateth
naturall thinges most precisely, and is the Counterfeiter and (as it were) the very Ape of nature’, and, in a passage
devoted to those painters who imitate marble forms ‘as neere the nature of the things as was possible’, we find
Giulio Romano’s name. Richard Haydocke, A Tracte Containing the Artes of Curious Paintinage, Carvinge and
Buildinge written first in Italian by Jo. Paul Lomatius painter of Milan and Englished by R. H. Student in Physik,
1598, II, 202.
23 Giovan Paolo Lomazzo’s Trattato was translated by Richard Haydocke in 1598, and the treatise by Sebastiano
Serlio was translated by Robert Peake in 1611, but was already circulating in England before this date.
24 Claudia Corti, ‘The Winter’s Tale tra «Speaking Pictures» e «Dumb Poesies»’, in Il Teatro Inglese tra
Cinquecento e Seicento. Testi e contesti, CLUEP, 2011.
25 STC 3947, sig C4v.
26 Mario Praz, ‘Su un passo del “Riccardo III”’, in Caleidoscopio Shakespeariano.
27 Elisabetta Cori, La messa in scena dell’inganno. Iconografia e retorica manieristica nel The Winter’s Tale,
Pàtron, 2000.
28 ‘The sixteenth century regarded painting and sculpture as handmaidens of architecture. A man who had one
skill would very likely be credited with the others. […] The disturbed critics overlook, too, it seems to me, the
loose way in which the sixteenth century interchanged the technical terms of the two arts. A statue was a picture; a
statue was painted – they were of course literally painted as often as not; both statues and pictures were counterfeits
and shadows of the life’. Margaret Farrand Thorp, ‘Shakespeare and the Fine Arts’, in PMLA, 46, 3, 1931, 672-693
29 Orgel argues that Shakespeare’s choice could be based not only on Vasari’s epitaphs, but also on the erotic
nature of Giulio Romano’s art, as described in some passages of Vasari’s Vite.
30 ‘In dying, Giulius Romanus took away with him three of the arts, (no wonder), he himself was the fourth’,
translation mine. Giorgio Vasari, ‘Vita di Giulio Romano’, in Le Vite, vol. 5, 82.
31 ‘Juppiter saw sculpted and painted bodies breathe, and the houses of mortals made equal to those in heaven,
Camilla Caporicci
through the skill of Giulius Romanus. Therefore, being angry, he summoned the council of all the gods, to take
him away from Earth, because he could not stand being defeated or equalled by a mortal’, translation mine. Vasari,
‘Vita di Giulio Romano’, 82.
32 William Warburton was probably the first critic to notice Shakespeare’s mistake, stating that: ‘He makes of this
famous Painter, a statuary; but, what is worst of all, a painter of statues’. William Warburton, in The Winter’s Tale.
A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, Lippincott, 1898, 284. At the beginning of the twentieth century Lionel
Cust denounced the same ignorance, by writing: ‘Shakespeare cannot be safely credited with real acquaintance
with Continental art. His solitary allusion to an Italian artist is to the aforesaid Giulio Romano […] There is no
evidence of his skill in sculpture outside an epitaph quoted by Vasari’. Lionel Cust, Shakespeare’s England: An
Account of the Life and Manners of His Age, vol. 2, Clarendon Press, 1916, 10.
33 Frederick Hartt, Giulio Romano, Yale University Press, 1958.
34 Terence Spencer, ‘The Statue of Hermione’, in Essays and Studies, 30, 1977, 39-49.
35 Pierluigi Leone de Castris, Studi su Gian Cristoforo Romano, Paparo, 2010.
36 Baldassarre Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans. Sir Thomas Hoby, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1975, 79.
37 Denver Ewing Baughan, ‘Shakespeare’s Probable Confusion of the Two Romanos’, in The Journal of English
and Germanic Philology, 36, 1937, 35-39 (39).
38 For a biography of Ambrogio Leone, see: Luigi Ammirati, Ambrogio Leone. Nolano, Scuola Tipo-Litografica
‘Istituto Anselmi’, 1983.
39 See: Ambrogio Leone, ‘Letter to Iacopo Sannazzaro’, in Iacopo Sannazaro, Opere Volgari, Laterza, 1961.
40 Ercole Strozzi contributed with six epigrams, later included in his Epigrammatum Libellus.
41 See: Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 3, Routledge and Kegan Paul,
42 Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, IV.iv, 88.
43 Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, IV.iv, 95-96.
44 Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, V.iii, 68.
45 Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, V.iii, 70.
46 Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, V.ii, 97-98.
47 Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, V.iii, 63-64.
48 Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, V.iii, 77-79.
49 ‘Let no man mock me, / For I will kiss her’. Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, V.iii, 79-80.
50 Antonio Tebaldeo, Rime, Franco Cosimo Panini Editore, 1992, 223, vv. 5-6.
51 Tebaldeo, Rime, 229, v. 2.
52 Tebaldeo, Rime, 225, vv. 1-3.
53 Tebaldeo, Rime, 251.
54 Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale, IV.iv, 95-96.
55 The entire statue scene revolves around the paradox of a living being, believed to be a seemingly living statue.
This paradox is central to the discussion about the conflict between art and nature which, as we have seen, is one
of the play’s main themes. In fact, the celebration of the Italian artist’s skill in carving the marvellous statue of
the queen is eventually reversed by the discovery of the real nature of the statue: not artificial, but natural. As
John Kerrigan writes: ‘she is indeed, as Paulina warns, freshly painted, yet painted with Nature’s own hand’. John
Kerrigan, On Shakespeare and Early Modern Literature, Oxford University Press, 2001, 40.
56 The marble bust of Beatrice d’Este was probably sculpted by Giancristoforo Romano in Ferrara, before her
marriage, or in Milan, a short time after it. Venturi was the first scholar to individuate in the bust of Beatrice now in
the Louvre the sculpture mentioned by Isabella d’Este in her letter. See: Marc Bormand, in Mantegna, 1431-1506,
Hazan, 2008, 328.
57 Aretino, Marescalco, V.iii, 8.
58 Aretino, Marescalco, V.iii, 8.
59 STC 3947, sig C4v.
60 Jonson, Timber, 35.
61 Baughan, ‘Shakespeare’s Probable Confusion’, 36-37.
The ‘old fantastical duke of dark corners’. The Tradition of the Italianate Disguised Ruler and
Measure for Measure’s Questioning of Divine Kingship
Irene Montori
Università di Roma Sapienza
In February 2008 the appeal lying in the news leak of Prince Harry’s secret deployment in
Afghanistan showed the topicality of the royal disguise motif, in real-life situations as in
literary works. In effect, in his recent contribution, Kevin A. Quarmby has revealed that the
fascination with the royal disguise is a timeless literary pattern which may be traced back to the
Shakespearean Henry V (IV, 1) or even earlier to the classical Odysseus.1
Remarkably, the aftermath of James’s I ascendancy to the throne of England saw a
concentration of plays, generally regarded as a synchronic commentary on James’s regime,
revolving around a disguised male authority figure.2 Within this cluster of works a ‘theatrical
vogue’3 developed, in which typically an Italianate disguised duke – moving undetected among
his subjects to wield his power once again – was deployed in order to engage in domestic debates
about national social disorder and the identity of sovereignty.4 This group of Italianate plays
includes Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (performance recorded in 1604; published 1623),
Marston’s The Malcontent (published 1604) and The Fawn (published 1606), Middleton’s The
Phoenix (published 1607), and Sharpham’s The Fleire (published 1607).
Interestingly however, Shakespeare’s play deviates from the norms of the so-called
Italianate ‘disguised ruler plays’5 for at least two reasons. Firstly, Shakespeare’s disguised
ruler play, set in Vienna, does not deal with the disorder of an Italian city state. Nevertheless,
Shakespeare’s version employs Italian names for its main characters and draws its plot from an
Italian source.6 More significantly, Shakespeare’s conspicuous Duke does not undergo any selfeducating process, while, on the contrary, the other Jacobean disguised rulers achieve domestic
formation through their surreptitious observation of Italian dukedoms at risk. In other words,
the Italian negative examples of failed leadership, drawn from the sixteenth-century political
writings of Machiavelli, Guicciardini and Castiglione, provided the Jacobean dramatists with
historical types, offering them the opportunity to investigate the identity of national monarchy.7
As a result, if the development of the disguised ruler plays may be understood as a
response to James’s accession,8 Shakespeare adopts and adapts such a theatrical vogue neither
to flatter nor to despise James I.9 What I shall attempt to demonstrate, through a close reading
of the last speech of the third act and a linguistic analysis of the final act, is that the disguised
duke of Measure for Measure goes beyond a fictional representation of the King. Rather,
Shakespeare’s version challenges Tudor assumptions about the legitimacy of the ruler as God’s
representative on earth, as set forth by James’s works The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598
in Scotland, republished in 1603, London) and Basilicon Doron (1599, 1603).
In order to achieve this aim, Shakespeare provides the disguised role with a meta-
Irene Montori
theatrical function through which the Duke can create a comedy-within-the-comedy, and
consequently manipulate his subjects, starting from the very beginning of the play. As Agostino
Lombardo explains, ‘Nel momento in cui affida ad Angelo il proprio ruolo, la propria “parte”,
egli inventa una situazione teatrale e dà l’avvio a uno spettacolo che è sì quello che noi vediamo
ma è anche il suo spettacolo […] la sua rappresentazione’.10 However, the Duke’s staging skills
will be continuously put at risk by the other characters’ actions, thus impeding a fully-fledged
assimilation between the disguised duke and his directing role. As a result, not only does the
Duke’s thwarted plan provide the audience with meta-theatrical insight about how a play works
in itself, but it also generates a dialectic between the represented authority on stage and the actual
kingship.11 The references to James I should not be considered, however, as a direct critique of
the King himself; the parallel between the Duke and the new monarch aims at questioning the
concept of divine kingship instead.
To better determine how Shakespeare’s meta-theatrical duke problematises the divine
attribute of sovereignty, I will first examine the connection between the Italianate disguised
duke in Measure for Measure and his counterpart in Machiavelli’s anecdote, in order to show
the complexity of the Shakespearean Duke, who intertwines the Italian influence with James’s
sources. Consequently, I shall discuss the extent to which the Duke is actually Jamesian and
how the parallel does challenge James’s political and theological ideology. Taking my cue from
Jonathan Hope’s recent contribution, I will then contend that the Duke’s speech at the end of
the third act is a challenging and imperfect meta-theatrical embodiment of the Jamesian model.
Finally, within the critical framework of stylistics and drawing on the concept of foregrounding,
I propose a close analysis of the fifth act, focusing on the marked usage of the topic termed
grace as a dubious formula for eventually entitling the Duke a divine-like ruler. In terms of a
historical investigation into the linguistic disproportion between uttered words and titles, and
between expected and achieved social and theatrical roles, I intend to argue that Shakespeare’s
quasi-divine duke aims at putting into question the divinely ordained nature of monarchy. More
generally, it foreshadows the gradual removal of the divine presence from the political and
social sphere of human actions on the threshold of early modernity.
The Machiavellian Duke
In nineteenth- and twentieth-century criticism the influence of Machiavelli on Shakespeare
has been a topic of much debate,12 and also the object of misleading interpretations and
oversimplification, depicting the ‘Tudor Machiavel’ as ‘a pantomime demon who is easily
attributed responsibility for all kinds of wrongdoing on the part of fallible and easily led rulers’.13
In the light of a less ideological approach,14 I would like to focus on Remirro’s episode
in Il Principe, which bears some similarities to Angelo’s appointment in Measure for Measure,
as first spotted by Norman N. Holland.15 In chapter 7 Machiavelli relates how Cesare Borgia,
after taking the dukedom of Romagna, resolved to rule more firmly and put in charge of it
Messer Remirro de Orco:
a cruel and unscrupulous man [...] the fullest authority there. In no time at all Remirro
reduced the territory to a peaceful and united state, and in so doing, the Duke greatly
increased his prestige. Afterwards, the Duke judged that such excessive authority was
no longer required, since he feared that it might become odious, and in the middle of
the territory he set up a civil tribunal with a very distinguished president, in which each
city had its own advocate. Because he realized that the rigorous measures of the past
Irene Montori
had generated a certain amount of hatred, in order to purge the minds of the people and
to win them completely over to his side he wanted to show that, in any form of cruelty
had occurred, it did not originate from him but from the violent nature of his minister.
Having found the occasion to do so, one morning at Cesena he had Messer Remirro’s
body laid out in two pieces on the piazza, with a block of wood and a bloody sword
beside it.16
In no other cases in the accepted Shakespearean canon does such a detailed and precise parallel
to Machiavelli emerge, and I agree with Bawcutt’s claim that ‘we are obliged to conclude
that Shakespeare could not have written what he did without the stimulus of Machiavelli’.17
Nevertheless, though the judgment scene of Measure for Measure forms the counterpart to
Borgia’s act, the Duke’s episode produces a different outcome. In effect, though Angelo’s
appointment is intended to restore order in Vienna, as in Remirro’s case, the deputy’s incident
gradually turns into a test for his rectitude. By the same token, if on one level the Duke’s
merciful pardon saves Angelo from his execution, on another level the favourable result does
leave the issue of Vienna’s immorality unsolved.
Given the importance of the Borgia story in modelling the Shakespearean Duke,
Machiavelli should not be considered in isolation as if he was ‘the only sixteenth-century
political writer of any importance’,18 but as Alessandra Petrina suggests ‘in order to make a
fair estimate of Machiavelli’s influence in sixteen-century England the scholar must investigate
many areas which at first sight may seem to have little connection with Machiavelli’19. For
this reason, I would like to explore the similarities between James’s I political model and the
Shakespearean Duke, whose first recorded performance was on St Stephen’s Night 1604,20 only
a year after the King had republished both The True Law of Free Monarchies and Basilicon
Doron with great success in London. As Lever has commented, ‘Shakespeare and his company,
honoured and patronized by the new king, could hardly have been impervious to the political
atmosphere of the time or quite uninfluenced by the most widely discussed book of 1603’.21
The Duke as Jamesian
As far as James’s I attitude is concerned, some historical events are particularly relevant to the
assimilation of the Duke as ‘very Jamesian’.22 Firstly, the Shakespearean Duke expresses the
same distaste for the noisy crowds as the King did against the unruly London mob: ‘I love the
people, / But do not like to stage me to their eyes: / Though it do well, I do not relish well / Their
loud applause and Aves vehement (I, 1, 68-70)’.23 In another passage, the Duke restates his
willingness to keep the over-enthusiastic crowds at a distance when he declares to have ‘ever
lov’d the life remov’d’ (I, 3, 8).
In addition, on more than one occasion, James suspended a death sentence in order to
demonstrate that justice should be combined with mercy, as the Duke with Angelo in the fifth
act.24 Accordingly, James had recommended temperance in the administration of justice to his
son Henry, to whom his best-selling book Basilicon Doron was dedicated:25
make […] Temperance […] but I meane of that wise moderation, that first commaunding
your selfe, shall as a Queene command all the affections and passions of your mind; […]
euen in your most vertuous actions, make euer moderation to bee the chiefe ruler. For
although holinesse be the first and most requisite qualitie of a Christian, […] yet yee
remember how in the conclusion of my first booke, I aduised you to moderate all your
Irene Montori
outwarde actions flowing there-fra. The like say I now of Justice, which is the greatest
vertue, that properly belongeth to a Kinges office.
Vse Justice, but with such moderation, as it turne not in tyrannie: otherwaies summum
ius is summa iniuria.26
Much as James showed his public interest in the close relationship between justice and
mercy, so the Duke suggests to use both ‘mortality and mercy’ (I, 1, 44), when committing
his government to Angelo. But another principle from Basilicon Doron is given even more
prominence in Measure for Measure, that of displaying virtue in action:27 ‘Remember then,
that this glistring worldlie glorie of Kings is giuen them by God, to teach them to preasse so
to glister and shine before their people, in al works of sanctification & righteousnes, that their
persons as bright lampes of godlines and vertue may, going in and out before their people, giue
light to al their steps’.28 And also: ‘For it is not enough that yee haue and retaine (as prisoners)
within your selfe neuer so many good qualities and vertues, except yee employ them, and set
them on worke, for the weale of them that are committed to your charge: Virtutis enim laus
omnis in actione consistit’.29
Likewise, using the same metaphor of the lamp when appointing Angelo, the Duke
advises his deputy to actively practise his virtues, drawing from the biblical parable of the
candlestick (Luke VIII, 16):
Thyself and thy belongings
Are not thine own so proper as to waste
Thyself upon thy virtues, they on thee.
Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, ‘twere all alike
As if we had them not. (I, 1, 29-35 – my emphasis)
Not only does the Duke suggest that his substitute should promote his own virtues, but he also
effectively embodies James’s advice on how to be an efficient monarch when, disguised as a
friar, he sets up his comedy-within-the-comedy at the end of the third act.
He who the sword of heaven will bear
Should be as holy as severe:
Pattern in himself to know,
Grace to stand, and virtue go:
More nor less than others paying
Than by self-offences weighing. (III, 2, 254-59)
The sententious Duke’s rhyming speech provides a respite from the action, thereby marking
the point in which the disguised Duke embraces a double role. On one level, he simultaneously
assumes the role of director of his comedy, so that the play switches in tone from a tragic
beginning towards the final happy conclusion – thus its definition as tragicomedy.
On another level, he takes the King’s advice on virtue in action and absorbs the Jamesian
model of the divine-like ruler by referring to several passages of his works. The notion of the king
as God’s representative on earth had notoriously already been asserted in James’ tract The True
Law of Free Monarchies, in which he compared the sovereignty to a ‘forme of gouernement, as
resembling the Diuinitie’ (ll. 5-6, 59) and asserted the king to be ‘Gods lieutenant in earth’ (ll.
Irene Montori
17-8, 69; see also ll. 37-38, 61).30 The first section of the soliloquy, in which the Duke states the
pattern of conduct to be followed by a ruler, is a distinct echo from James’s Basilicon Doron,
‘And as your company should bee a paterne to the rest of the people […] living light to your
servants to walke in the path of vertue’ (my emphasis).31 Moreover, when using the expression
‘by self-offences weighing’ the Duke is again referring to James’s Basilicon, specifically to the
opening sentence in Book I ‘As he cannot be thought worthy to rule and command others that
cannot rule and dantone [subdue] is owne proper affections and appetites’.32
Though the Duke seems to agree fully with the monarch’s statements on kingship,
the legitimacy of the Jamesian theological and political pattern will soon be put to question
when the disguised Duke is forced to change his theatrical plans, and improvise his divine-like
actions, because of his subjects’ unexpected reactions to his design.33 Therefore, if Shakespeare
explicitly compliments the King, modelling the Duke’s character on his figure, on the other
hand, in his meta-theatrical role, he implicitly questions the notion of divine kingship and the
pattern for achieving the monarch’s supposed example.
Moreover, the gradual demeaning of the godly model is already anticipated by the
Duke’s impersonal and indefinite approach to his Jamesian declaration. In his soliloquy, he
wishes for the possibility of a just government – hence the presence of future forms such as
will and shall – but, simultaneously, the remarking occurrence of modal verbs – must, should,
may – is evidence of the fact that his wish lingers in the field of volition and possibility.34 The
uncertainty expressed in the frequency of modals is stressed also by an abundance of non-finite
verbs, often rhyming with each other (to know; to stand; paying/weighing, striking/linking;
to weed; making; to draw; exacting/contracting). Non-finite verb forms lack any subjects or
tenses, therefore they underline, once again, the ambiguity implied in the Duke’s asserting
Foregrounded grace: a questioning on power and language
As I have attempted to demonstrate so far, by the deployment of the imperfect comedy-withinthe-comedy, Measure for Measure reflects the anxiety and the expectations for political renewal
after Queen Elizabeth, whose death was felt as the end of an age. More interestingly, Shakespeare
shifts the attention from an explicit political approach to the issue of national divine sovereignty
to a meta-literary investigation into the fragmentation of the late-medieval, divine-like structured
world, the Elizabethan chain of being.36 Through the disproportion between the embodiment of
James’s political theorization in the Duke’s utterance (and his failed efforts in performing both
his divine role and his staging task), the playwright foreshadows the epistemological change
which saw the gradual removal of the divine presence from the political and the social sphere
of human actions. To do so, the tragicomedy undertakes a linguistic survey which highlights a
mismatch between words and actions, and between expected and achieved social and theatrical
For this reason, I would like to present my conclusions from a linguistic analysis of the
fifth act of Measure for Measure in order to provide further evidence of my interpretation of
the play, and particularly I will concentrate on the term grace. The relevance of the term grace
in Measure for Measure depends on its semantic relationship between its dominant meanings
as ‘virtuous propriety’ and ‘divine favour’ and the characterization of the virtuous and merciful
Duke as stated by the Jamesian model. More specifically, I will focus on the foregrounded,
marked usage of this term in the final act against a semantic variation, or an otherwise less
marked, use of grace in the other Acts.38
Irene Montori
With the support of a number of concordance programmes, I conducted a rough survey
of the frequency of the term grace in Measure for Measure, which indeed pointed out a semantic
ambiguity and multiplicity of this word throughout the entire play, except for the fifth act.39
Despite the semantic variety of grace between the first and the fourth acts,40 the fifth act presents
a unique usage of this word when referring to the Duke as your (royal) grace. In effect, the term
can serve as a complimentary periphrasis, together with ‘his, her, your, my lord’s, the king’s
grace’ (OED), for addressing a king or queen, a duke or duchess, or an archbishop. Interestingly
however, this is the only occurrence of the word grace in the fifth act used to address the Duke
alone – 8 concordances out of 24, except for line 371. In linguistic terms, this internal technique
of foregrounding is defined by the expression ‘more of the same’ and its deployment in Measure
for Measure is confirmed by a closer examination of the clusters of words surrounding the term
grace. Within a selection of a double-sized range enclosing the word grace, the possessive your
is the highest rated – 7 out of 24 occurrences, 5 of which are in the fifth act – followed by royal
grace with 2 hits in the fifth act. Hence, the repetition of the flattery expression your (royal)
grace towards the Duke prevails against an internal backdrop of semantic variation in the rest
of the play. In other words, the internal foregrounding in the fifth act consists in the absence of
the same semantic variety of the term grace which characterized the previous textual sections.
These are the occurrences of the term in the entire fifth act:
Happy return be to your royal grace! (l.3)
That’s I, and’t like your Grace (l. 78)
Heaven shield your Grace from woe (l. 121)
For certain words he spake against your Grace (l. 132)
Bless’d be your royal Grace! (l. 140)
Did, as he vouches, misreport your Grace (l. 150)
When I perceive your Grace, like power divine (l.366)
Is all the grace I beg (l. 371)
I have space for only a few observations on the semantic variation of grace in the first four acts.
According to the OED, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the word grace encompassed
three main clusters of meaning: (i) pleasant quality, gracefulness; (ii) favour; (iii) thanksgiving,41
which are all displayed simultaneously in Lucio’s pun at the beginning of the play: ‘Grace is
grace, despite of all controversy; as for example, thou thyself art a wicked villain, despite of
all grace’ (I, 2, 24-26).42 With regard to the first two clusters of meaning of grace as ‘pleasant
quality’ and ‘favour,’ the first four acts mainly intend the term as either virtuous propriety –
generally referring to Isabella (and her ‘prosperous art’ of speech in I, 2, 174) and to the Duke
(I, 1, 23 as ‘honourable virtue’; IV, 3, 134-6 as ‘favourable or benignant regard’) – or divine
favour as in the disguised Duke’s assertion ‘grace to stand, and virtue go’ (III, 2, 257). Therefore,
the final complimentary expression your (royal) grace addressed to the Duke appoints him as
a virtuous ruler displaying his divine favour and, ultimately, defines him by those Jamesian
qualities on which he modelled his authority.
Due to the accepted notion of arbitrariness in Renaissance linguistic theory, the
correctness of a linguistic utterance was not judged in terms of its coherence to a unique and
exact meaning, but it depended on decorum, or the capability of properly fitting words, within
a given context, in an artful style.43 Given that, the Duke’s entitling formula your (royal) grace
fits perfectly in the given context in which the Duke attempts to assume the model of divinelike ruler. Unfortunately, however, the complimentary phrase does not entirely measure up to
its expected actions. From a linguistic perspective, therefore, the discrepancy between uttered
Irene Montori
words and their resulting actions is generated by confusion between what is said and what is
meant – the signifier and its possible significance lose their inner coherence – they are, in fact,
‘out of joint’ (Hamlet, I, 5, 188).44 If it is true that Angelo eventually perceives the Duke your
grace, like power divine (l. 367), it is even more evident that the disguised duke succeeded in
his plan by virtue of the real divine providence, that in the previous Act provided him with a
solution to Claudio’s death.
Thereby, on the one hand, the disguised Duke declares that he behaves as if he had
pattern in himself, to be in other words the kind of authority set forth in James’s Basilicon,
that is a ruler displaying active virtue and mercy, whose sovereignty derives from God. On the
other hand, though in his noble intentions the Duke is Jamesian, his actions are another matter,
as demonstrated by the other characters’ threatening behaviour. More than mighty actions, the
Duke is bound to improvise his initiatives in a quixotic project,45 whose beneficial result is
eventually yielded by the actual divine Providence through Ragozine’s head. Therefore, the
Duke’s divine embodiment as your grace during the scene of the final theatrical judgement
is not entirely convincing; in other words, the shadow of Lucio’s epithet, the ‘old fantastical
duke of dark corners’ (IV, 3, 156), still looms over the Duke’s character. For this reason, Louise
Schleiner noted how the plot structure of the play goes continuously on ‘Tit for tat, measure for
measure,’46 so that the controversy over the figure of the Duke ‘may never end. For every critic
who wants to emphasize grace, mercy, and the undoubted moral improvement of the major
characters, there will be another who finds the duke a meddler, the humor rancid, the marriages
In conclusion, the dialectical questioning of the Duke, by his imperfect imitation of the
Jamesian virtuous model of the godlike ruler, prevents any interpretations of his character either
as a flattering reflection of James I or, on the contrary, as simply a parody of the King. Neither
should the Duke’s disguised performance be regarded as an educational process through the
study of his failed attempts to behave as a Jamesian ruler, unlike Marston’s or Middleton’s
plays, in which their disguised rulers increased their political awareness. Analogously, the
Duke’s comedy cannot parallel a Christian parable, as Stephen Marx recently asserted, drawing
from a well-established scholarly tradition which understands the play as an expression of the
main principle of Christianity.48 Rather, the disguised Duke’s meta-theatrical play highlights a
historical fracture in the supposed divine-right authority and a more profound epistemological
shift into the fragmented early modern world, which is the setting of Shakespeare’s great
tragedies. Hence, the Duke’s play-within-the-play does not merely represent life on stage, but,
simultaneously, it encompasses the decline of an era.49 Though the comedy constantly attempts
to stem such decline, the tensions remain. Thus, tit for tat, measure for measure.
1 Kevin A. Quarmby, The Disguised Ruler in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries , Ashgate, 2012, 2.
2 As Beatrice Groves notes, ‘Middleton Phoenix (1604), Marston’s Malcontent (1604) and Fawn (1604), Day’s
Law Tricks (c. 1604), Dekker and Webster’s Westward Ho! (1605), the anonymous London Prodigal (1605),
Edward Sharpham’s The Fleire (1607), Dekker’s Honest Whore Part II (1608), and Shakespeare’s Measure for
Measure (1604). Samuel Rowley’s When You See Me, You Know Me (1604) has a section in which the king
disguises himself (Scenes 5-7) and Middleton’s Your Five Gallants (1607) also has a disguised protagonist’ in
Beatrice Groves, Text and Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare 1592-1604, Clarendon Press, 2007, 168n.
3 Thomas A. Pendleton, ‘Shakespeare’s disguised duke play: Middleton, Marston, and the sources of Measure
for Measure’, in ‘Fanned and Winnowed Opinions’: Shakespearean essays Presented to Harold Jenkins, ed. John
W. Mahon and Thomas A. Pendleton, Methuen, 1987, 82. See also Vito Amoruso, ‘In a Time of Unrest: A Role
for the Theatre in Measure for Measure’, in Italian Studies in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, ed. Michele
Marrapodi and Giorgio Melchiori, University of Delaware Press, 1999, 97-108; Michael J. Redmond, Shakespeare
Irene Montori
and Intertextuality: The Transition of Cultures Between Italy and England in the Early Modern Period, ed. Michele
Marrapodi, Bulzoni, 2000, 193-214; Michael J. Redmond, “’Low Comedy’ and Political Cynicism: Parodies of the
Jacobean Disguised-Duke Play,” Renaissance Forum 7 (2004), accessed April 18, 2013. http://www.hull.ac.uk/
4 Michael J. Redmond, Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy: Intertextuality on the Jacobean Stage, Ashgate, 2009, 1-3.
5 Leonard Tennenhouse, Power on Display. The Politics of Shakespeare’s Genres, Metheun, 1986, 154.
6 Redmond, Shakespeare and Intertextuality, 196.
7 Id., Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy, 3. In this regard, I do not completely agree with Ivo Kamps, who considers
Middleton’s The Phoenix and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure both a positive attempt to soothe the historical
and cultural anxiety. See Ivo Kamps, ‘Ruling Fantasies and the Fantasies of Rule: The Phoenix and Measure for
Measure’, in Studies of Philology 92 2, 1995, 248-273.
8 Quarmby, The Disguised Ruler, 3.
9 See J. W. Lever, ‘Introduction’, in William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, ed. J. W. Lever, Arden
Shakespeare, 2008, xlviii.
10 Agostino Lombardo, ‘L’onesto Duca’, in Measure for Measure: dal testo alla scena, ed. Mariangela Tempera,
Clueb, 1992, 11.
11 Ivi, 12.
12 See Hugh Grady, Shakespeare, Machiavelli, and Montaigne: Power and Subjectivity From Richard II to Hamlet,
Oxford University Press, 2002, 26-57; N. W. Bawcutt, ‘Shakespeare and Machiavelli: A Caveat’, Shakespeare
Survey 63, 2010, 237-238.
13 Alessandra Petrina, Machiavelli in the British Isles: Two Early Modern Translations of The Prince, Ashgate,
2009, xi-xii.
14 See Bawcutt, ‘Shakespeare and Machiavelli’, 237-48; Petrina, Machiavelli in the British Isles, xii.
15 Norman H. Holland, ‘Measure for Measure: The Duke and The Prince’, Comparative Literature 11, 1959, 1620.
16 Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, translated and edited by Peter Bondanella, Oxford University Press, 2005,
27. ‘uomo crudele et espedito, al quale dette pienissima potestà. Costui in poco tempo la ridusse pacifica et unita,
con grandissima reputazione. Di poi iudicò el duca non essere necessario sí eccessiva autorità, perché dubitava
non divenissi odiosa; e preposevi uno iudicio civile nel mezzo della provincia, con uno presidente eccellentissimo,
dove ogni città vi aveva lo avvocato suo. E perché conosceva le rigorosità passate averli generato qualche odio,
per purgare li animi di quelli populi e guadagnarseli in tutto, volle monstrare che, se crudeltà alcuna era seguíta,
non era nata da lui, ma dalla acerba natura del ministro. E presa sopr’a questo occasione, lo fece mettere una
mattina, a Cesena, in dua pezzi in sulla piazza, con uno pezzo di legno e uno coltello sanguinoso a canto.’ Niccolò
Machiavelli, Il Principe, ed. Luigi Firpo, Einaudi, 1961, 25.
17 Bawcutt, ‘Shakespeare and Machiavelli’, 248.
18 Ivi, 239.
19 Petrina, Machiavelli in the British Isles, 3.
20 Edmund K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, Clarendon Press, 1930, vol. II,
331. As Lever claims: ‘Taking the various allusions together, there are good grounds for supposing that Measure
for Measure was written between May and August 1604. The theatres, closed throughout 1603 on account of the
plague, re-opened on 9 April 1604; and the play was probably performed for the first time in the summer months
of that year’ Lever, Introduction, xxxv.
21 Lever, Introduction, xlviii. The idea of the Duke of Vienna modelled on the King was first suggested at the end
of the eighteenth century by Edward Chalmers, and later supported by Louis Albrecht, who regarded Basilicon
Doron as a direct source of Shakespeare’s play, and by other scholars, such as Ernest Schanzer and David L.
Stevenson, see Lever, introduction, xlviii. Interestingly, D. L. Stevenson even suggests that the title of Measure
for Measure could be itself a hint to the last part of Basilicon Doron, ‘And aboue all, let the measure of your loue
to euery one, be according to the measure of his vertue’ (Basilicon Doron, 161 – my emphasis), see David Lloyd
Stevenson, The Achievement of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Cornell University Press, 1966, 134-166.
22 Stevenson, The Achievement of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, 134.
23 All the quotations from Measure for Measure are taken from William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, ed.
J. W. Lever, The Arden Shakespeare, 2008.
24 The most well-known episode saw the King amnestying the prisoners accused of conspiracy a moment before
the execution at Winchester at the end of 1603, see Lever, Introduction, l; also Stevenson, The Achievement of
Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, 155; see also C. A. Bernthal, ‘Staging Justice: James I and the Trial Scenes
of Measure for Measure’, Studies in English Literature 32 2, 1992, 247-269.
Irene Montori
25 Lever, Introduction, xlix.
26 All the quotations from Basilicon Doron are taken from A Miscellany, containing Richard of Bury’s Philobiblon,
The Basilikon Doron of King James I, Monks and Giants by John Hooxiam Frere, The Cypress Crown by De La
Motte Fouqué, and The Library A Poem by George Crabbe, Routledge, 1888, 139.
27 Lever, Introduction, xlviii.
28 Basilikon Doron, 101.
29 Ivi, 128.
30 All the quotations from The True Lawe of Free Monarchies are taken from the edition of Minor Prose Works
of King James VI and I. Daemonologie, The True Lawe of Free Monarchies, A Counterblaste to Tobacco, A
Declaration of Sports, ed. James Craigie, Scottish Text Society, 1982, 57-82.
31 Basilikon Doron, 102.
32 Ivi, 100.
33 In the following IV act, the sex drive in Angelo will change his decision of saving Claudio’s life despite his
sister’s accepting the bribe (IV, 2), likewise, the urge for drinking on Barnardine will make him refuse his death
execution because he ironically feels ‘not fitted for’t’ (IV, 3, 43), and thus it will impede the Duke to supply a
substitute head for Claudio; and, finally, the urge for slandering on Lucio will drive him to accuse the disguised
ruler of being ‘the old fantastical duke of dark corners’ (IV, 3, 156).
34 Hope, Shakespeare’s Grammar, Arden Shakespeare, 2003, 106.
35 For the syntactic analysis of the last speech in the III act and the linguistic survey of the V act of Measure for
Measure, I benefited from the recent original studies by Jonathan Hope, who approaches Shakespeare’s style and
grammar from a linguistic perspective. Important scholarly accounts on the distinctiveness of Shakespeare’s use
of language have emerged in the past few years. See Jonathan Hope, Shakespeare’s Grammar; Jonathan Hope,
Shakespeare and Language: Reason, Eloquence and Artifice in the Renaissance, Arden Shakespeare, 2010; and
also Norman Francis Blake, A Grammar of Shakespeare’s Language, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001; Shakespeare and
Language, ed. Catherine M.S. Alexander, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
36 See E. M. W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture, Pimlico, 1998. Franco Moretti defines Measure for
Measure a “restoration drama” insofar as the tragicomedy encourages a late-medieval utopia with which reconciling
the disrupted divine-like political and social structure into the theatrical world, see Franco Moretti, Segni e stili del
moderno, Einaudi, 1987, 76.
37 Lombardo, ‘L’onesto Duca’, 16.
38 The technique of foregrounding, argued by the Prague School linguistic poetic theorists Jan Mukařovský and
Roman Jakobson, derives from the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky. As defined by Roger Fowler, foregrounding
occurs ‘whenever some item or construction appears in a text with unusual or noticeable frequency and apparently
for some valid reason, then cumulatively a distinctive effect emerges’ Roger Fowler, Linguistic Criticism, Oxford
University Press, 1996, 5. This remarkable standing out of an item or construction is intended against a determinate
background either external or internal to the text, see Paul Simpson, Stylistics: A Resource Book for Students,
Routledge, 2004, 51.
39 At this early stage, my linguistic survey on grace focuses on the word frequency and its concordances within
this single play. At a further point, I would like to extend my research on the saliency of the term to the entire
Shakespearean corpus and to the other Jacobean plays. The frequency survey on the term grace was conducted
on Measure for Measure 1623 Folio text using a freeware concordance programme called “AntConc 3.2.4,”
developed by Laurence Anthony of Waseda University, Japan, which can generate wordlists, concordance lines
and plots, collocations and clusters of words. For other primitive concordance applications on the web, accessed
April 18, 2013. http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org; http://rp-www.cs.usyd.edu.au/~matty/Shakespeare/. The
analysis has been based on the 1623 Folio text: accessed April 18, 2013. http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/
40 The term frequency concentrates in the first act (9), while minor frequencies occur in the others (between 2 and
41 I will not examine the meaning of grace as thanksgiving, because it only occurs once in the play. According to
the OED, grace as thanksgiving referred to ‘a short prayer either asking a blessing before, or rendering thanks after,
a meal’. For a detailed investigation of the term grace during the Reformation see Brian Cummings, The Literary
Culture of Reformation: Grammar and Grace, Oxford University Press, 2002. For the meanings of grace in
Measure for Measure, see C. T. Onions, A Shakespeare Glossary, Clarendon Press, 1958; also Alexander Schmidt,
Shakespeare lexicon and quotation dictionary: A Complete Dictionary of All the English Words, Phrases, and
Constructions in the Works of the Poet, revised and enlarged by Gregor Sarrazin, Dover Publications, 1971, vol. I.
42 Recent studies on Renaissance language theory, especially those conducted by Jonathan Hope, have demonstrated
Irene Montori
that Shakespeare’s ability to play with linguistic and semantic variation drew from the dominant Aristotelian idea
of arbitrariness. As a result, polysemy, variation, puns, and even errors, were positively regarded as intrinsic
facts of language and means of linguistic enhancement. At that time, the prevailing Aristotelian formula was in
contrast to Plato’s, which saw rather a direct correspondence among the essence of things, their images and the
words expressing them. Nevertheless, commentators aimed at a common linguistic standard for communicative
purposes, though they were not following an ideology of standardization. Indeed they were simply concerned that
linguistic variation would limit language’s primary function, that of a public oral performance. To Renaissance
writers, language was essentially speech whose social role could not be prevented by linguistic differences; see
Hope, Shakespeare and Language, 1-39.
43 See Hope, Shakespeare and Language, 95.
44 As also Agostino Lombardo noticed, Hamlet is the first modern character in his acknowledging the duplicity
of language. To him, the world is sharply divided between deceitful and seeming words (‘Words, words, words’
Hamlet II.ii.192) and words expressing the truth, the real thing. However, Othello is the authentic tragic hero
insofar as he is not able to distinguish between the two kinds of words. Othello, Lear, and Macbeth cannot read,
nor understand, the book of Nature and, consequently, the modern tragedy turns into a linguistic tragedy. Language
is a deceitful means which leads each hero to his catastrophe. See Agostino Lombardo, L’eroe tragico moderno:
Faust, Amleto, Otello, Donzelli, 2005, ch. 2-3.
45 Louise Schleiner, ‘Providential Improvisation in Measure for Measure’, PMLA 97 2, 1982, 227-236.
46 Ivi, 232-233.
47 Ivi, 233.
48 For a Christian interpretation of Measure for Measure see Roy W. Battenhouse, ‘Measure for Measure and
Christian Doctrine of Atonement’, PMLA 41, 1946, 1029-1059; Muriel C. Bradbrook, ‘Authority, Truth, and
Justice in Measure for Measure’, English Studies 68, 1941, 385-399; G. Wilson Knight, ‘Measure for Measure
and the Gospels’, in Twentieth century interpretations of Measure for measure: a collection of critical essays, ed.
George L. Geckle, Englewood Cliffs, 1970, 27-49; Stephen Marx, Shakespeare and the Bible, Oxford University
Press, 2000, 79-102.
49 Moretti, Segni e stili del moderno, 91.
Diego Passera
Elementi di Spettacolarità Italiana per Elisabetta I.
Riflessioni intorno ai Princely Pleasures di Kenilworth (1575).
Diego Passera
Università degli Studi di Firenze
I Princely Pleasures organizzati da Robert Dudley a Kenilworth nel 1575 sono stati analizzati
in modo approfondito, ma in generale si è data poca attenzione alla documentata presenza di un
artista italiano, che è stato catalogato forse troppo in fretta come semplice acrobata. Specialisti
del settore hanno negato più volte e in modo risoluto la possibilità che si sia trattato del membro
di una compagnia di comici dell’arte, eppure sentiamo la necessità di mettere in discussione
tali posizioni e tentare di percorrere nuove vie investigative. Una serie nutrita di evidenze
inspiegabilmente tralasciate e nuove acquisizioni storiografiche danno senso alla nostra ipotesi.
Se ad oggi mancano riscontri precisi che possano accertare la presenza di un comico dell’arte a
Kenilworth nel 1575, nessuno ne è però emerso a sostegno del contrario. In questo scritto non si
troverà alcuna soluzione al problema e le riflessioni condotte intendono essere uno spunto per un
futuro lavoro di ricerca, in relazione a una questione spinosa che, proprio per la sua importanza,
merita indagini ulteriori e più approfondite. Se nei Princely Pleasures si fosse davvero esibito
un artista dell’improvvisa, l’occasione diventerebbe infatti un momento capitale per la storia
dei contatti tra la spettacolarità inglese e la performatività italiana, in quanto si tratterebbe di
una tra le primissime esibizioni di comici dell’arte oltremanica.
Le feste in onore della Virgin Queen vennero organizzate nel solco della tradizione
arturiana tanto cara a sua Maestà e ai sudditi, ma dai documenti emerge in modo evidente
una massiccia presenza di elementi italiani. Leicester fece giungere Federico Zuccari e gli
commissionò il ritratto suo e quello di Elisabetta. Le due tavole a grandezza naturale – di cui
si conservano solo i disegni preparatori – furono affisse in posizione privilegiata nella grande
galleria del palazzo e circondate da più di cinquanta altre in cui erano raffigurati i membri della
famiglia e della cerchia politica di Leicester, le figure dei più illustri uomini europei e altri
personaggi del mondo antico. Dudley cercava disperatamente di dare nuovo credito alla propria
immagine per riguadagnare il potere a corte e il favore della regina, in un momento per lui
molto difficile.1 Anche il curatore dei mirabolanti giochi pirotecnici, la cui identità è a tutt’oggi
ignota, era italiano. La notizia si apprende da due documenti. Il primo è una lettera di Henry
The man that desired me to present this enclosed unto your Lordship would gladly know
your pleasure therein for it will ask two months’ work. If therefore you like his device,
it may please you to take order with Mr. Dudley or some other for the furnishing of him
with money. By his account the charges will draw to 50l., which sum he desires not to
have in his own hands, but that he may receive it by 4l. or 5l. at a time, and would gladly
Diego Passera
also that some by your Lordship’s appointment may see how he doth employ the same.
The man is honest and I think will serve your turn very well and far better in deed than
in words. The 7l. which he had of me is employed about a fountain which he mindeth to
present unto the Queen’s Majesty – a singular piece of work, whereof the like was never
seen in these parts. I beseech your Lordship to let him know your pleasure by my brother
or some other, for that I think to go over myself this journey with my Lord of Honsden,
if he obtain leave for me as I think he will.2
Il secondo è il progetto dell’italiano:
La prima sera ne’l prato. Si faranno certi artificii dove si vedranno discorrere a torno
certi serpenti di fuoco. Il che sara cosa molto piacevole. Item otto o dieci pignate con
inventioni di cose meravigliose & piacevoli. Item de le avi [sic] vive volare atorne
ne’l aria le quali getteranno fuoco da per tutto. Item due cani & due gatti vivi li quali
artificiosamente combattranno. La seconda sera ne’l cortile del palazzo. Si vedrà un
fonte dal quale scorrera vino acqua & fuoco sette o ott’hore continue. Qual fonte sara
cosa degna di vedere per gli suoi meravigliosi artificii quali per essere tanti si lascia di
scrivere. Item tre ruote di fuoco mirabili & odorifere, & di diversi colori.
La terza sera nel fiume. Si vedrà un dragone grande come un bue, quale volera due o tre
volte più alto che la torre di San Paolo, e stando si alto si consumera tutto di fuoco, &
indi usciran subito da tutto’l corpo cani, e gatti & uccelli li quali voleranno, & getteranno
fuoco da per tutto che sarà cosa stupendissima.
Vi sono molte altre cose in questi artificii le quali per la lor difficoltà non scrivo
minutamente. Io le farò tutte benissimo secondo il danaro che per le spese mi sarà
Leicester provvide poi a un complesso e costoso riassetto del giardino, ancora oggi considerato
il primo esempio di italianate garden inglese, che nel 2009 è stato completamente ricostruito.4
Possediamo due resoconti dei festeggiamenti organizzati per Elisabetta I, The Princely
Pleasures at the Court of Kenelwoorth di George Gascoigne e una lunga lettera la cui paternità
è ancora fonte di dibattito: la maggior parte degli studiosi la attribuisce a Robert Langham,
laddove altri propendono per William Patten.5 Penny McCarthy ha addirittura proposto il nome
di William Shakespeare, ma la sua interpretazione è stata oggetto di aspre critiche.6 Tale variabile
non è determinante ai fini del nostro discorso e per questo ci associamo alla maggioranza. Nel
1557 Langham entrò a far parte della Company of Mercers, una delle Livery Companies di
Londra, dove fu ammesso dopo aver svolto il necessario apprendistato sotto la guida di William
Leonarde.7 Dal 1573 iniziò a lavorare a corte e il suo nome venne registrato negli Acts of the
Privy Council accanto alla qualifica di ‘Keper of the Councell Chamber’.8 Nella sua lettera
descrisse tutto quello che ebbe modo di vedere, senza tralasciare niente e anzi abbondando
spesso in particolari a volte anche eccessivi.9 Il motivo di una tale enfasi sarebbe da rintracciare
nell’identità del destinatario – Humphrey Martin – un membro della Company of Mercers
molto più importante del mittente: la stesura e l’invio della lettera avrebbero rappresentato
un gesto di deferenza verso un superiore, soprattutto con l’intento di sbalordirlo.10 Gascoigne
peccò invece per mancanza di esaustività sebbene il motivo fosse più che lecito. The Princely
Pleasures at the Court of Kenelwoorth fu donato infatti a Elisabetta durante la cerimonia del
New Year’s Gift del 1576: tentando di guadagnarsi la protezione reale per difendersi dall’accusa
di filo-cattolicesimo mossagli da alcuni nemici, Gascoigne mise insieme un regesto dei testi
da lui stesso scritti per i pageant rappresentati a Kenilworth. Così facendo documentò le sue
Diego Passera
eccelse doti intellettuali, ma tralasciò tutti i popular shows, che rappresentarono invece una
parte cospicua delle performance, sia per numero che per importanza. Dato però che questi
ultimi sono al centro del nostro interesse, nella ricostruzione degli spazi del giardino e degli
spettacoli lì tenuti prenderemo in considerazione quanto scrisse Langham.11
La sera di giovedì 14 luglio, dopo gli strabilianti giochi pirotecnici, la regina assistette
all’esibizione dell’acrobata italiano, che
sheawed before her highness […] such feats of agilitee, in goings, turnings, tumblings,
castings, hops, Jumps, leaps, skips, gambauds, soomersauts, caprettyez and flights:
forward, backward, sydewyze, a doownward, upward, and with such wyndyngs gyrings
and circumflexions: al so lightly and with such eazyness, as by me in feaw woords it iz
not expressibl by pen or speech I tell yoo playn. I bleast me by my faith to behold him,
and began to doout whither a waz a man or a spirite: and I ween had doouted me till this
day: had it not been that anon I bethought me of men that can reazon and talk with too
[sic] toongs, and with two parsons at onez, sing lyke burds, curteiz of behavioour, of
body strong and in joynts so nymbl withall, that their bonez seem as lythy and plyaunt
as syneusz. They dwell in a happy lland (az the Book termz it), foour moonths sayling
Southward beyond Ethiop. Nay, Master Martin, I tell you no jest: for both Diodorus
Siculus, an auncient Greek historiographer in his third booke of the olld Egipcians: and
also from him, Conrad Gesnerus a great learned man, and a very diligent writer in all
good arguments of oour tyme (but deceased) in the fyrst Chapter of hiz Mithridates,
reporteth the same.12 Az for this fello I cannot tell what to make of him, save that I may
gess hiz bak be metalld lyke a lamprey that haz no bone but a lyne like a lute-string.13
In relazione a questa testimonianza vogliamo riferirci a un dipinto tanto intrigante dal punto di
vista iconografico quanto controverso per attribuzione e interpretazione, perché crediamo che
sia stato messo da parte troppo in fretta. La tavola, un olio su tela, misura 116,5 x 251,5 cm e,
stando a quanto indicato su una targhetta apposta sopra la sua cornice, dovrebbe ritrarre Queen
Elizabeth and Her Court at Hunsdon House. An Early Representation of the Virginals.14 La
storia della sua circolazione viene qui ricostruita per la prima volta. Nel 1940 si trovava presso
la residenza di Lord James Fountayne Montagu (1887-1971) a Cold Coverton Hall – Oakham.15
Il 1 febbraio 1946 è stata venduta da Christie’s (lotto 22) con una attribuzione a un ignoto
pittore fiammingo e acquistato da George William Lawies Jackson, 3° barone Allerton (19031991). Alla morte di quest’ultimo gli esecutori testamentari hanno provveduto alla vendita
tramite Sotheby’s.16 Purtroppo l’attuale collocazione è sconosciuta. Per quanto ne sappiamo, il
primo a pubblicare la tavola è stato Albert C. Sewter nel 1940, attribuendo il lavoro a Marcus
Gheeraerts il vecchio (1520-1590) e vedendo nell’occasione rappresentata i Princely Pleasures
di Kenilworth del 1575. Sarebbe troppo semplice prendere per assodata la teoria di Sewter
per avvalorare la nostra ipotesi. Siamo però convinti che le conclusioni dello studioso inglese
abbiano una qualche ragione di essere state formulate. Per questo motivo discuteremo una serie
di questioni fondamentali quali la presenza degli attori della Commedia dell’Arte in Europa
– e in Inghilterra – nella seconda metà del Cinquecento, gli spostamenti della compagnia di
Tristano Martinelli nei primi anni 1570, i riferimenti della testimonianza di Langham e alcuni
particolari del dipinto in relazione ai Princely Pleasures. Come si vedrà, dall’analisi comparata
di questi contesti emergono dati molto significativi da cui non si può più prescindere.
La presenza di un italiano in Inghilterra nel 1575 non ci colpisce affatto. Gli anni
settanta del Cinquecento rappresentarono infatti il periodo d’esordio dei cosiddetti viaggi
teatrali dall’Italia all’Europa.17 A luglio del 1573 a Londra si esibirono alcuni burattinai
Diego Passera
provenienti dalla penisola18 e a settembre a Nottingham venne concesso un pagamento ‘to
the Italyans for serteyne pastymes that they shewed bifore Maister Meare and his brethren’19.
L’anno successivo si registrò la presenza di alcuni non meglio specificati ‘Italian players that
ffollowed the progresse and made pastyme fyrst at Windsor and afterwardes at Reading’.20 Per
le performance di Windsor (11-12 luglio) e Reading (15 luglio) si richiese l’uso di bastoni,
ganci e pelli di agnello per i pastori, frecce per le ninfe, una falce per Saturno, e code di cavallo
per gli abiti dei selvaggi. È probabile addirittura che questi attori rappresentassero l’Aminta, un
dramma pastorale andato in scena per la prima volta l’anno precedente a Ferrara.21 Quello che
colpisce in relazione all’italiano di Kenilworth è il fatto che si sarebbe esibito da solo, perché
a quell’epoca i viaggi per il continente erano un’impresa piena di rischi e di norma gli attori si
spostavano con la loro compagnia. Dunque, la possibilità che un acrobata avesse affrontato un
viaggio in solitaria fino in Inghilterra appare alquanto remota.22
Nell’ottobre del 1574 a Dover vennero pagati 10 scellini ‘to the Italian tumblers or
players’.23 Sembra che il compilatore sentisse la necessità di associare alle qualità recitative degli
italiani quelle acrobatiche, percependole come reciprocamente dipendenti. La compresenza
di grande pathos recitativo e di mirabolanti abilità ginnico-funamboliche rappresentavano
in effetti lo specifico della performatività dei comici dell’arte, e la possibilità che gli italiani
esibitisi a Dover fossero professionisti dell’improvvisa non è da escludere. Se si considera poi
la prossimità cronologica tra quella data e i Princely Pleasures organizzati da Robert Dudley,
non appare così insensato che l’italiano esibitosi a Kenilworth potesse essere uno dei membri
di quella formazione.24 Non è certo corretto ridurre la performatività dei comici dell’arte alle
componenti acrobatiche, ma è normale che le prime volte in cui gli inglesi ebbero modo di
vedere in azione i nostri connazionali rimanessero affascinati proprio da tali capacità, a discapito
di tutto il resto. Evidenza sia il fatto che nel corso del Seicento, e cioè durante la fase della sua
diffusione e stabilizzazione nei diversi paesi del continente europeo, la Commedia dell’Arte
divenne sempre più una forma di intrattenimento comico e acrobatico, diversificandosi molto
da ciò che era stata in origine e vivendo quello che gli specialisti del settore riconoscono come
un processo di abbassamento stilistico (esemplificativo il caso della Comédie Italienne).25 È
plausibile che anche Langham vedendo per la prima volta le strabilianti capacità di un comico
dell’arte italiano sentisse la necessità di relazionare soltanto su quelle abilità. Ma può anche
darsi che al performer fosse stato richiesto di mettere in scena salti, capriole e altre acrobazie
del genere, dato che di ‘spettacoli drammaturgici’ ne erano stati organizzati in gran numero.
Peraltro questo giustificherebbe il motivo per cui si esibì da solo. Comunque sia, è certo che la
descrizione di Langham rispecchia pienamente quelle capacità sceniche delle maschere della
Commedia dell’Arte, per come ci sono pervenute attraverso l’ingente mole di fonti letterarie
e iconografiche, e rispecchia in particolare le peculiarità di Arlecchino, uno dei più scalmanati
Tipi dell’improvvisa, che a quella altezza cronologica era impersonato solo dal suo inventore
Tristano Martinelli. Quest’ultimo aveva un repertorio fatto di danze sfrenate, battaglie, acrobazie
e cascate e mantenne inalterate le sue eccellenti capacità fino alla vecchiaia.26
Il primo documento di una tournée dei Martinelli in Inghilterra risale al 13 gennaio
del 1578 ed è una annotazione negli Acts of the Privy Council in cui si legge di una lettera
inviata al Lord Mayor ‘to geve order that one Dronsiano (sic), an Italian, a commediante
and his companye, may playe within the Cittie and the Liberties of the same’.27 Con una tale
autorizzazione la compagnia di Arlecchino poté lavorare fino alla prima settimana di Quaresima
ed è probabile che si esibisse anche al Blackfriars e a corte.28 In precedenza la presenza dei
Martinelli è registrata ad Anversa: il 7 settembre 1576 furono convocati con la loro compagnia
in un ufficio di polizia per firmare un verbale alla presenza di due mercanti italiani residenti
nella città, che si fecero garanti dell’identità dei loro connazionali perché li conoscevano molto
Diego Passera
bene e li avevano più volte visti in azione sul palco. Da queste informazioni deduciamo che
la troupe si trovava ad Anversa da tempo, probabilmente già da gennaio, e si era esibita in
varie occasioni riscuotendo grande successo.29 Nella loro carriera i Martinelli dimostrarono
sempre di possedere grandi doti imprenditoriali, una estrema lungimiranza, e l’innata capacità
di sfruttare il massimo vantaggio da qualunque situazione. Dato che non si conoscono i loro
spostamenti prima del gennaio 1576, non possiamo escludere che passando per Dover (ottobre
1574), si fossero recati a Kenilworth (luglio 1575) per giungere infine ad Anversa (gennaio
1576) e tornare poi una seconda volta a Londra tra il 1577 e il 1578.30 Sarebbe stato un modo
come un altro per implementare l’esperienza e i guadagni.
Tornando al dipinto Queen Elizabeth and Her Court at Hunsdon House abbiamo già
accennato al fatto che la teoria secondo cui potrebbe essere in realtà la testimonianza della
presenza di comici dell’arte italiani a Kenilworth nel 1575 è stata più volte attaccata. Delia
Gambelli sostiene che in una serie di disegni settecenteschi il lago si trovi a destra e non
a sinistra, come invece si vede nel dipinto.31 La studiosa purtroppo non ha indicato le sue
fonti, ma possiamo dire che almeno due elementi la contraddicono. Innanzitutto nel quadro lo
specchio d’acqua è visibile anche a destra del castello: Kenilworth Castle si trova sulla sommità
di un colle che una volta era completamente circondato da un lago ormai prosciugato.32 In
secondo luogo, ma non certo per importanza, una non perfetta aderenza tra una immagine
dipinta e i luoghi reali che rappresenta non dovrebbe essere presa in alcun modo come prova
inconfutabile. Margaret Katritzky è tornata più volte sul medesimo problema, per giungere alla
conclusione che l’esegesi proposta a suo tempo da Sewter rappresenterebbe il caso di un errore
interpretativo che continua a perpetrarsi nel tempo. In merito al dipinto, Katritzky ha proposto
l’attribuzione a Lucas Van Valckenborch (1530-1597) e ha visto nella situazione rappresentata
una festa in un territorio dell’impero asburgico. È curioso però che nel 2006 pubblicando ancora
una volta la tavola abbia lasciato il nome di Marcus Gheeraerts il Vecchio accanto a quello di
Van Valckenborch e abbia mantenuto il titolo di Elizabeth and Her Court at Kenilworth Castle.33
Nel 1997 la studiosa aveva sentenziato che ‘there are strong historical grounds for rejecting a
dating earlier than around 1584 for any named depictions of Harlequin’,34 ma nel 2006 Siro
Ferrone ha contribuito a confermare l’inesattezza di quella affermazione, evidenziando l’alta
probabilità che il quadro conservato presso il Musée Baron Gérard e tradizionalmente intitolato
Commedia dell’Arte à la cour de Charles IX possa rappresentare in realtà l’esibizione della
troupe dei Martinelli presso una casa di banchieri genovesi ad Anversa nel 1576 e dunque
ben otto anni prima del limite post quem indicato da Katritzky.35 L’ultima notizia di Queen
Elizabeth and Her Court at Hunsdon House si trova sul catalogo delle aste di Sotheby’s del
1991 dove si propone una generica e non documentata attribuzione alla cerchia di Louis de
Caulery e il titolo ancora più sommario di Elegant Figures in the Grounds of a House.36 Solo
attraverso ulteriori ricerche sulle fasi della committenza si potrebbe giungere a informazioni
più sicure. Nel frattempo possiamo soffermarci su alcuni elementi iconografici a sostegno della
nostra teoria.
Ciò che spinge a dubitare che la location rappresentata sia Hunsdon House è la totale
mancanza di pertinenza tra gli esterni rappresentati nel dipinto e quelli reali. La proprietà donata
da Elisabetta I a Henry Carey al momento della sua nomina a primo barone Hunsdon (1559)
non si trovava vicino a un bacino d’acqua mentre nel dipinto una tale presenza è preponderante.
Già Sewter ipotizzava una tale possibilità e d’altra parte non possiamo che notare le rilevanti
somiglianze tra la conformazione del meraviglioso giardino all’italiana che fa da sfondo al
dipinto e quello reale della proprietà di Leicester.
Diego Passera
Innanzitutto al centro del giardino si trovava (e si trova ancora),37
a very fayr Foountain, cast into an eight square, reared a four foot hy: from the
midst whearof a Column up set in shape of too Athlants joined together a backhallf,
the toon looking East, thooter west: with theyr hands, upholding a fayr formed boll
of a three foot over: from wheans sundry fine pipez, did lively distill continuall
streamz into the receyt of the Foountain.38
Ciascuna faccia della base ottagonale della fontana presentava decorazioni di stampo mitologico:
vi si potevano vedere tra gli altri Nettuno in trono trainato dai suoi cavalli marini, Teti e Tritone
ognuno sul proprio carro tirati l’una dai delfini e l’altro dai pesci, Doride e una delle sue sorelle
intente a giocare sulla spiaggia. In piena concordanza con i dettami rinascimentali, l’elemento
mitologico ebbe un ruolo importante nella decorazione del giardino di Kenilworth Castle, così
come nell’organizzazione degli intrattenimenti.39 La fontana che si vede nel dipinto ha alcuni
elementi che la avvicinano molto a quella descritta. Sulla sua sommità sono ritratti Ercole e
Anteo in una posizione che non si discosta molto da quella dei due Atlanti di cui parla Langham.
Sotto la piattaforma che regge i due corpi avvinghiati si vedono altre figure che potrebbero
benissimo essere gli dei e i semidei menzionati nella lettera. Si può obiettare che i punti di
contatto siano pochi, ma non si può negare che rappresentino un’evidenza e come abbiamo già
detto un piccolo comune denominatore può essere molto significativo in casi come questo.
Il secondo elemento che attira la nostra attenzione è il ponte che si vede sulla sinistra,
sopra lo specchio d’acqua. A Kenilworth vennero costruiti due ponti effimeri:40 il primo
permetteva di passare dalla tilt-yard al cortile interno e fu progettato per far rimanere Elisabetta
sola in posizione privilegiata al di sopra di tutti gli altri; l’altro fu sistemato a nord-ovest nella
zona esterna al perimetro murario, vicino al piccolo giardino privato. Questo secondo ponte
si trovava sopra l’acqua e fu utilizzato da Leicester come luogo di maggiore privacy in cui
intrattenersi con la regina e assistere agli spettacoli, mantenendo una completa visuale del
Un altro elemento significativo che giustifica la possibilità di connettere il dipinto alla
descrizione di Langham è il fatto che nel gruppo posizionato in primo piano sulla destra e che
viene invitato da una figura femminile ad assistere all’esibizione della compagnia di Arlecchino,
si trovano tre personaggi evidentemente di alto rango che, per le fattezze fisiognomiche e quelle
degli abiti indossati, potrebbero essere benissimo Elisabetta I, Robert Dudley (alla sua destra)
e Philip Sidney (alla sua sinistra).42 Il nipote di Leicester, allora ventenne, fece il suo ritorno
in Inghilterra il 31 maggio 1575 dopo un tour europeo di due anni, e si unì al progress fin
A questo punto bisognerebbe tirare le somme, ma come abbiamo già detto, non ci
si avvierà alle conclusioni. Il nostro obiettivo era infatti quello di smentire alcune posizioni
storiografiche alla luce di nuove acquisizioni critiche e proporre una serie di riflessioni per
aprire nuovi percorsi di ricerca che potrebbero chiarire questioni ad oggi lasciate in sospeso.
Sarebbe senza dubbio affascinante poter dimostrare che Queen Elizabeth and Her Court at
Hunsdon House rappresenti in realtà un consuntivo dei Princely Pleasures di Kenilworth; in
questo modo si dovrebbero aggiornare i dati sulla presenza della compagnia dei Martinelli in
Inghilterra. Ma anche se dovessero emergere documenti a riprova del contrario, rimaniamo
convinti della necessità di riconsiderare l’esibizione dell’artista italiano di cui parla Langham,
perché potremmo davvero essere di fronte al primo incontro tra la Commedia dell’Arte e la
corte inglese.
Diego Passera
Questo contributo è la rielaborazione e l’integrazione di una piccola parte della tesi di dottorato
dal titolo Gli Italiani in Inghilterra. Migrazione di Saperi Artigianali dello Spettacolo al tempo
dei Tudor (1485-1603) (tutor Prof. Siro Ferrone) discussa presso la Scuola Dottorale in Storia
dello Spettacolo dell’Università di Firenze nell’aprile 2013. Ringrazio vivamente la Prof.ssa
Claudia Corti per i preziosi consigli, il forte sostegno e l’incoraggiamento, la Prof.ssa Isabella
Bigazzi per il colloquio in merito alle fattezze degli abiti nel dipinto Queen Elizabeth and Her
Court at Hunsdon House e la Prof.ssa Alessandra Petrina per aver sciolto alcune questioni
problematiche. Un grazie di cuore a Elena Franchi.
1 Elizabeth Goldring, ‘The Earl of Leicester and Portraits of the duc d’Alençon’, in The Burlington Magazine, 146,
February 2004, 108-11; ——, ‘Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester for Kenilworth Castle’, in
The Burlington Magazine, 147, October 2005, 654-60; ——, ‘Portraiture, Patronage, and the Progresses. Robert
Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the Kenilworth Festivities of 1575’, in The Progresses, Pageants, & Entertainments
of Queen Elizabeth I, edited by J. E. Archer, —— and S. Knight, Oxford University Press, 2007, 163-88.
2 E. K. Purnell ed., Report on the Pepys Manuscripts, Preserved at Magdalene College. Cambridge, His Majesty’s
Stationery Office, 1911, 178-79.
3 Magdalene College, Cambridge: MS. Pepys II. 609; Robert Langham, A letter, edited by R. J. P. Kuin, Brill,
1983, 124.
4 Elisabeth Woodhouse, ‘Kenilworth, the Earl of Leicester’s Pleasure Grounds Following Robert Laneham’s
Letter’, in Garden History, XXVII, 1, Summer 1999, 127-44; ——, ‘Propaganda in Paradise: The Symbolic
Garden Created by the Earl of Leicester at Kenilworth, Warwickshire’, in Garden History, XXXVI, 1, Spring
2008, 94-113. ‘Elizabethan Garden at Kenilworth Castle’, English-Heritage, accessed July 5, 2013, http://www.
english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenilworth-castle/elizabethan-garden. Mentre questo scritto è in fase di
stampa è annunciata l’uscita di Anna Keay and John Watkins eds., The Elizabethan Garden at Kenilworth Castle.
Nella prima parte si affrontano le questioni connesse con The Garden in Its Historical Context e The Sources e tra
le fonti di riferimento particolare rilievo è dato alla lettera di Robert Langham. (http://www.english-heritageshop.
5 Elizabeth Goldring, ‘“A mercer ye wot az we be”: The Authorship of the Kenilworth Letter Reconsidered’, in
English Literary Renaissance, XXXVIII, 2, 2008, 245-69.
6 Penny McCarthy, Pseudonymous Shakespeare: Rioting Language in the Sidney Circle, Ashgate, 2006, 1-49;
Gary Waller, ‘Review of Penny McCarthy, Pseudonymous Shakespeare: Rioting Language in the Sidney Circle’,
in Comparative Drama, XLI, 1, 2007, 119-22.
7 Langham, Letter, 13. Si vedano anche ——, A Letter wherain Part of the Entertainment unto the Queenz Majesty
at Killingwoorth Castl in Warwick Sheer, in this Soomerz Progrest 1575, iz signified: From a freend Officer
attendant in the Coourt, unto his freend a Citizen and Merchant of London, J. Sharp, 1784 e Frederick James
Furnivall ed, Robert Laneham’s Letter: Describing a Part of the Entertainment unto Queen Elizabeth at the Castle
of Kenilworth in 1575, The Shakespeare Library, 1907.
8 John Roche Dasent ed., Acts of the Privy Council (da ora in poi APC) vol. 8, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office,
1894, 98, 219, 369; ——, APC vol. 9, Kraus Reprint, 1974, 102, 326; ——, APC vol. 10, Kraus Reprint, 1974,
203; ——, APC vol. 11, Kraus Reprint, 1974, 445.
9 Langham, Letter, 7-9; Eleonora Oggiano, ‘“The Greatest Feast and Ioye that Euer Eye Sawe’: George Gascoigne’s
The Princely Pleasures and the Kenilworth Festivities (1575)’, in Proceedings of the ‘Shakespeare and His
Contemporaries’ Graduate Conference 2009, 2010, 2011, I, winter 2012, 97-98. Per quanto riguarda il progress
nel suo complesso si rimanda a John G. Nichols ed., The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth
(…), 3 voll., John Nichols and Son, 1823, 417-84.
10 Langham, Letter, 1-16; Goldring, The Authorship of the Kenilworth Letter.
11 Gabriel Heaton, Writing and Reading Royal Entertainments: from George Gascoigne to Ben Jonson, Oxford
University Press, 2010, 7; Langham, Letter, 8-10; Oggiano, ‘Kenilworth Festivities’, 97-106. Per quanto riguarda
le finalità politiche degli intrattenimenti offerti a Elisabetta I si vedano Jean Wilson, Entertainments for Elizabeth:
Studies in Elizabethan and Renaissance Culture, Brewer, 1980 e Susan Doran, ‘Juno versus Diana: the Treatment
of Elizabeth I’s Marriage in Plays and Entertainments, 1561-1581’, in The Historical Journal, XXXVIII, 2, June
1995, 266-68.
12 Il riferimento è a quanto si narra nel secondo libro della Bibliotheca Historica di Diodoro Siculo (ca. 44 d. C) e
nel Mithridates: de Differentiis Linguarum (…) di Conrad Gesner (1555). Il lavoro originale dello storico romano
Diego Passera
è andato perduto e l’editio princeps è la traduzione in latino di Poggio Bracciolini, pubblicata a Bologna nel 1472.
Nel 1559 tutte le parti sopravvissute sono state raccolte da Henry Estienne e pubblicate a Genova. Gesner segue
molto da vicino quanto aveva già scritto Diodoro Siculo. Si veda Langham, Letter, 93, nn. 478 e 480.
13 Ibid., 48-49. La presenza dell’acrobata italiano era già stata riportata in Raniero Paulucci di Calboli, I girovaghi
Italiani in Inghilterra ed i Suonatori Ambulanti: Appunti Storico Critici, Lapi, 1893, 16. Gascoigne ovviamente
non ne fa il minimo accenno.
14 Albert C. Sewter, ‘Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth’, in The Burligton Magazine LXXVI, 444, March 1940, 70-6.
15 Ibid., 71. Il nome completo di Lord Montagu è indicato in Charles Mosley ed., Burke’s Peerage, Baronetage
& Knightage, 3 voll., Genealogical Books, 2003, I, 446. Si veda anche ‘The Entrance of Queen Elizabeth into
Kenilworth Castle’, in The Illustrated Magazine of Art, II, 8, 1853, 65-7.
16 Sotheby’s, Old Master Paintings, 1991, 90-1.
17 Per un approfondimento si vedano: Siro Ferrone, ‘L’Invenzione Viaggiante: I Comici dell’Arte e i loro Itinerari
tra Cinque e Seicento’, in Viaggi Teatrali dall’Italia a Parigi fra Cinque e Seicento: Atti del Convegno Internazionale
(Torino, 6-7-8 aprile 1987), edited by Roberto Alonge, Costa e Nolan, 1989, 45-62; ——, ‘L’invenzione viaggiante’,
in —— Attori Mercanti Corsari: la Commedia dell’Arte in Europa tra Cinque e Seicento, Einaudi, 1993, 3-49.
18 APC vol. 8, 131-32.
19 John Tucker Murray, English Dramatic Companies, 1558-1642, 2. voll., Constable & Co., 1910, II, 374.
20 Albert Feuillerat ed., Documents relating to the Office of the Revels in the Time of the Queen Elizabeth,
Uystpruyst, 19632, 225.
21 E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, Clarendon Press, 1923-1965, II, 262. Aminta, una favola boschereccia,
venne rappresentata forse per la prima volta a Ferrara il 31 luglio 1573 e probabilmente non dalla compagnia
dei Gelosi, facente capo a Francesco Andreini, come più volte si è sostenuto, ma da una formazione guidata da
Stefanello Bottarga. A questo proposito si veda Roberto Alonge, ‘La Riscoperta Rinascimentale del Teatro’, in
Storia del Teatro moderno e contemporaneo, edited by —— e Guido Davico Bonino, Einaudi 20082, 104-05.
22 Per un inquadramento generale del problema e una bibliografia di riferimento si veda Luciano Allegra, ‘In
viaggio, fra Cinque e Seicento’, in Viaggi teatrali dall’Italia a Parigi, edited by Alonge, 31-44.
23 David Galloway ed., Records of Early English Drama: Norwich 1540-1642, University of Toronto Press, 1984,
II, 470. Si veda anche Charles Fairfax Murray ed., Catalogue of the Pictures belonging to His Grace the Duke of
Portland at Welbeck Abbey, and in London, Chiswick Press, 1894, II, 261.
24 Recuperiamo questa suggestione non priva di fondamento da Philip Butterworth, Magic on the Early English
Stage, Cambridge University Press, 2005, 48: ‘It is possible that one of the tumblers from this company [the one
in Dover] played before Elizabeth at Kenilworth in 1575’.
25 Sulla storia della fase europea della Commedia dell’Arte si vedano: Ferrone Attori Mercanti Corsari; Renzo
Guardenti, Gli Italiani a Parigi. La Comédie Italienne, 1660-1697, Bulzoni, 1990; Delia Gambelli, Arlecchino
a Parigi: dall’Inferno alla Corte del Re Sole, 2 voll., Bulzoni, 1993; Myriam Chiabò e Federico Doglio eds.,
Fortuna Europea della Commedia dell’Arte. Atti del XXXII Convegno Internazionale. Roma, 2-5 ottobre 2008,
Torre D’Orfeo, 2008.
26 Ferrone, Attori Mercanti Corsari, 210 e , Arlecchino: Vita e Avventure di Tristano Martinelli Attore, Laterza,
2006, pls. 5-26
27 APC vol. 10, 144; Ferrone, Arlecchino, 30-41.
28 Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, II, 262; ——, Arlecchino, 34-41.
29 Ibid., 13.
30 Per la ricostruzione degli spostamenti della troupe dei Martinelli da Anversa fino a Londra si veda Ibid., 30-41.
31 Arlecchino a Parigi, I, 142-3.
32 Woodhouse, ‘Leicester’s Pleasure Grounds’, 129.
33 M. A. Katritzky, ‘Performing-Arts Iconography: Traditions, Techniques, and Trends’, in Picturing Performance:
the Iconography of the Performing Arts in Concept and Practice, edited by Thomas F. Heck, Rochester University
Press, 1999, 72-4; ——, A Study in the Commedia dell’Arte 1560-1620. With Special Reference to the Visual
Records, Rodopi, 2006, 142-50 e 478.
34 Katritzky, ‘Performing-Arts’, 77; ——, ‘Harlequin in Renaissance Pictures’, Renaissance Studies, 11, 1997,
35 Ferrone, ‘Ritratto di gruppo’, in Arlecchino, 24-30. La documentazione che attesta la presenza della compagnia
dei Martinelli ad Anversa, cui fa ricorso anche Ferrone, è stata pubblicata per la prima volta in Willem Schrickx,
‘Commedia dell’Arte Players in Antwerp in 1576: Drusiano and Tristano Martinelli’, in Theatre Research
International, I, 2, February 1976, 79-86.
36 Sotheby’s, Old Master Paintings, 90-1.
Diego Passera
37 ‘Elizabethan Garden at Kenilworth Castle’.
38 Langham, Letter, 71.
39 Ibid., 64-73.
40 Woodhouse, ‘Leicester’s Pleasure Grounds’, 130.
41 Ibid., 127: ‘the most important fact that has been overlooked is that the whole landscape at Kenilworth in the
late sixteenth century was involved in the pleasures that were appreciated by the queen and her court. This site both
natural and created with art, provided the perfect canvas for symbolic, theatrical, earthly and spiritual enjoyment’.
42 Il condizionale è d’obbligo perché in casi come questo bisogna procedere con la massima cautela, specialmente
in relazione all’analisi fisiognomica di Elisabetta. Comunque sia, gli abiti indossati dai tre personaggi sono in piena
concordanza con i dettami della moda inglese della meta degli anni settanta del Cinquecento. Per Elisabetta si veda
Janet Arnold ed., Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d: The Inventories of the Wardrobe of Robes Prepared in
July 1600 Edited from Stowe MS 557 in the British Library, MS LR 2/121 in the Public Record Office, London
and MS V. b. 72 in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, Maney, 1988. Per i due uomini si veda ——,
Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c.1560-1620, Macmillan, 1985.
43 “Sir Philip Sidney,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/
25522; Goldring, ‘Portraiture, Patronage, and the Progresses’, 171.
‘A Stranger, and Learned, and an Exile for Religion’:
Alberico Gentili, Shakespeare and Elizabethan England
Cristiano Ragni
Università di Perugia
After decades of wars of religion, in 1598 a voice was raised in Europe forcefully affirming that
religion could no longer be invoked as a just cause of war. That voice belonged to the Regius
Professor of civil law at Oxford: the Italian-born Alberico Gentili. The first part of my paper will
be devoted to a brief introduction to the biography of this scholar who – although known as one
of the most brilliant jurists and intellectuals of his age – is nowadays rather unfamiliar outside
the Departments of Law. I shall then focus, in the second part, on two of the most important
events in Gentili’s life: on the one hand, his bitter contention against the Oxford Puritan faction
of the time; and on the other hand, the 1598 publication of his treatise on war and international
law, the De Iure Belli. I shall also try to place these two events against the historical and cultural
background of Elizabethan England, and late-16th-century Europe in general. In the third part, I
should like to conclude by underscoring the probable influence of Gentili’s theories on three of
William Shakespeare’s works, the history plays Henry IV and Henry V and the ‘problem play’
Troilus and Cressida.
Alberico Gentili was born in 1551 in the little town of San Ginesio, near Ancona, in
a family of doctors and jurists. He studied at the University of Perugia from 1569 to 1572,
from which he graduated as Doctor of civil law. After that, he first worked as a judge in Ascoli
and then as a lawyer in San Ginesio. He had soon to flee from Italy, however, because of his
family’s sympathies for the Protestant faith. Together with his father Matteo and his younger
brother Scipione, Alberico first settled down in present-day Slovenia, but soon set forth once
again for Germany, where his brother decided to stay and begin his studies at the Universities
of Tübingen and Wittenberg. Alberico and his father continued their peregrinations and, after
a short stay in the Low Countries, they arrived in London in 1580. Here they were welcomed
by the small but influential reformed Italian community, which had been established some
years before by Michelangelo Florio, father of the more famous John Florio. Thanks to their
intervention, Alberico made acquaintances with some of the most important personalities of the
English cultural and political context of the time, such as the vice-chancellor of the University
of Oxford – Toby Matthew and the Italian teacher of the Queen – Giovan Battista Castiglione,
not to mention Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Francis Walsingham and most of all, Robert Dudley, Earl
of Leicester. It was actually the Earl himself who wrote to the board of the Oxford University,
where he was Chancellor, to support Alberico’s position as a valid Reader in civil law. In his
letter, written on 24th November 1580, we can read as follows:
Cristiano Ragni
The gentleman the bearer heare of Albertus [sic] Gentilis an Italian borne is, as I ham
informed, by profession a Doctor of the Civile Lawes, and being forced as I ham so
informed to leve his country for religion […] Because he is a stranger, and learned and
an exile for religion I have thought good to commend him and these his honest requestes
unto you… It shall be well dunne and I will thank you for it.1
Once appointed, Alberico found himself in repeated contrast with the extremism of the influential
exponents of the Oxford Puritan faction, led by the eminent theologian John Raynolds. This strict
opposition made Alberico decide to leave England in 1586, as secretary to Orazio Pallavicino.
It was once again the intervention of the Earl of Leicester and, this time, of Francis Walsingham
himself, which called Alberico back to Oxford, where he was finally appointed Regius Professor
in 1587. During his ‘English period’, Alberico wrote several important treatises, such as his De
legationibus (1585), a treatise on diplomacy dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, in which the latter
was celebrated as a model of the perfect courtesan and ambassador; or the De Iure Belli (1598),
to which part of the second section of this paper will be devoted. While holding his position in
Oxford, in 1603 he also started practising at the High Court of Admiralty in London and became
advocate to the Spanish Embassy until his death in 16082.
I would now like to turn to two significant – and related – events of his English career: his
involvement in the famous controversy on drama, which broke out in Oxford at the beginning of
the 1590s, and the publication of his De Iure Belli in 1598. The Oxford controversy originated
from the intensification, after the 1570s, of the well-known Puritan attacks on the increasing
success of theatre, which had brought about publications such as John Northbrooke’s Treatise
Against Dicing, Dancing, Plays and Interludes (1577) and Stephen Gosson’s The School of
Abuse (1579), just to name a couple. The Puritans especially criticised the immorality and
unholiness of the plays represented on the London stages and, in so doing, also implicitly
demonstrated their firm opposition to the politics of the Crown, which was among the most
important supporters of the theatre itself3. As for the Oxford case, the casus belli can be found in
the representation in 1591 of a comedy by the jurist William Gager, in which he, not too covertly,
mocked some of the ideas previously expressed by the aforementioned John Raynolds. The
latter started then a tight and heated correspondence with Gager, particularly underscoring the
potential threat hidden under the cross-dressing. When two years later Gager gave up replying,
Alberico Gentili stood out as a supporter of Gager’s same ideas. He did so not only because
he was one of Gager’s dearest friends, but also because he himself had just published a short
treatise on the legitimacy of the theatrical representations: his Commentatio ad Legem Codicis
de professoribus et medicis. In this work, Gentili admitted the ‘scurrilitas’ of some plays, but
underlined how this was not the case of academic plays, such as Gager’s, which could rather
be used as an educational means – education being the end of poetry itself. By reading this
Commentatio, one can clearly understand then how Gentili shared the same opinions on drama
previously expressed – among others – by Thomas Lodge in his A Reply to Stephen Gosson’s
Schoole of Abuse (1579) or Sir Philip Sidney in his Defence of Poetry (1580s)4. This same
position was held by the Italian Professor in his correspondence with Raynolds5, where he
however added – as further justification of the contingent use of even morally questionable
plays – the ancient concept of mendacio officioso, that is the official falsehood which even
doctors sometimes said to their patients so as to better cure them. To such statements, Raynolds
bitterly replied scorning Gentili’s idea that ‘this abuse of which you speak [namely, the use of
morally questionable plays] is good and not evil […] I urgently beg you to throw at us no longer
principles of this kind of impiety and evil’6. The bitterness of Raynolds’s replies however
seemed to have less to do with the controversy on drama, rather than with other issues already
expressed by Gentili in the circulating drafts of what would later become his De Iure Belli. The
Cristiano Ragni
fact that Raynolds actually had other questions in mind was made clear when he wrote in one of
his last letters to Gentili: ‘the most crucial of all [your opinions], namely, that the abuse of evil
is not evil but good, you indicate you will defend again in your books on war’7. The truth was
that Raynolds had clearly understood what lay beneath this statement: by saying that evil doing
could be used for good, Gentili was implicitly making reference to the well-known phrase
‘the end justifies the means’ attributed to the notorious political thinker Niccolò Machiavelli,
the same he had already celebrated in his De Legationibus8. And the fact that Gentili aimed to
discuss this principle further on in his treatise on war meant that he would deal with a more
important issue than morally acceptable or unacceptable academic plays: that is, the moral
principles regulating warfare theories and, by consequence, the relationship between theology
and jurisprudence in this field.
In this fortunate treatise, published in 1598 and which is generally considered one of the
first treatises – if not the first – on modern international law9, Gentili actually proposed some
extremely innovative ideas about how to wage a war. This was indeed an issue of anything but
secondary importance at that time in Europe, torn to pieces, as it was, by centuries of civil and
religious strife. The problem of the so-called ‘just war’ was indeed crucial at the end of the
16th century and it is striking that this treatise was published the same year of the famous Edict
of Nantes, which put an end to the French wars of religion. First of all, in his De Iure, Gentili
stated that war is a ‘iusta contentio publicorum armorum’, that is a just contest between civil
powers10. Secondly, the Italian scholar also admitted – as no one else before him – that a war
may be just on both sides involved, since a sovereign would never drag his people into a war
knowing he was in the wrong. These statements were revolutionary, because they presupposed
another extraordinary innovation which, by 1598, Gentili had already made clear in the
correspondence with Raynolds: that is, that religion had nothing to do with warfare, because it
only dealt with the intimate relationship between God and man, and not with civil powers. ‘But
what is a matter of religion?’ – Gentili had asked Raynolds in one of his letters – ‘Not every,
or everyone’s, interpretation of scripture is a matter of religion. Theology is the teacher of faith
and of life, but not of all life. Nor is every part of the word of God completely yours.’11. This
already clear position was then strengthened in the De Iure Belli, where we can read one of
Gentili’s most famous quotations: ‘Silete theologi in munēre alieno’, be silent – theologians – in
a field which is not yours. The originality of these theories should be kept well in mind since
in the Europe of that age religion was still being used as one of the just causes to wage a war.
Gentili strongly affirmed, instead, that wars should rely on juridical principles, not religious
ones. There were other ‘just causes’ of war according to Gentili: among which, the excessive
expansionism of some states, the vengeance of some wrongdoing and – most of all – the defence
of one’s nation, which again aligned Gentili together with the supporters of the preventive war
already celebrated by Machiavelli. The influence of such theories can be easily detected in
the contemporary English foreign politics against Spain, which was at that time the principal
enemy in Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Gentili’s theories were the same which eminent members
of Elizabeth’s establishment, such as Walsingham or the Earl of Essex, were campaigning to
support their willingness to wage war against the Catholic Philip II. Their opposition to Spain,
however, together with Gentili’s, was diametrically opposed to that claimed by the Puritans.
While the latter thundered in their pamphlets that Spain had to be defeated on religious grounds,
these politicians underlined the greediness and the excessive expansionism of the Spanish
people. For the ‘internationalist jurist’ Gentili it was the Spanish threat to the ius gentium, the
law of the nations, which was the real problem, not their religion12. That was the reason why
the English nation had to be protected, especially with the deep geopolitical transformations
taking place in the late 16th-century Europe, when the country was still struggling to affirm
its own position at the international level. Threatened by the scheming of the Spanish crown
Cristiano Ragni
and by the inner conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, England – with its ageing and
heirless Queen – was indeed engaged in the effort of quickly building a strong, new national
identity, an identity which could unite around the sovereign all the different local identities and
centrifugal interests which prevented the birth of a powerful and unified nation. Many of the
members of the political establishment chosen by Elizabeth I greatly contributed to this effort,
Alberico Gentili no less than the more famous Walter Raleigh and Richard Hooker. All of
them played a crucial role in the political and religious propaganda which was being forged to
support the nation. A propaganda which was also carried out by the most important means of
communication of the age: the theatre.
In those very years, William Shakespeare had begun to write down his own contribution
to the reconstruction of the national history of England: his series of history plays. Even though
one cannot prove that the playwright had actually read Gentili’s works, it is highly likely that
he had come to know the jurist’s modern theories, both because the latter was an important
exponent of that very establishment supporting the theatre, and, more probably, because of his
involvement in the famous controversy on drama. Furthermore, Gentili’s ideas on warfare and
religion are to be placed within a heated international debate at that time in Europe and this one
could hardly be ignored by a playwright such as Shakespeare. In fact we can infer the influence
of some of the ideas expressed by the Italian on warfare and the just causes of war both in Henry
IV and in Henry V13. In his history plays as a whole, Shakespeare particularly focuses on the
cruelty of the civil war – an ‘intestine shock’, a ‘butchery’ as Henry IV laments in ‘his’ play14.
This was actually a reality that the English people knew all too well after a century dominated
by the bloody War of the Roses, not to mention the struggle between Catholics and Protestants,
which continued up to the present day. What is truly striking is the fact that in the second part
of Henry IV, Shakespeare brings us to understand that his ideas were not too far from those
expressed by Gentili, when the jurist stated that religion had nothing to do with waging wars,
and how it was rather invoked to hide other personal and entirely unholy interests. It is one of the
very opponents of Henry IV who admits this fact, while talking about the strategies of his ally,
the Archbishop of York: ‘[…] But now the Bishop | turns insurrection to religion. | Supposed
sincere and holy in his thoughts… [he] derives from heaven his quarrel and his cause.’ [2HIV,
I, i, 200-206]. The causes of this war are not religious, but obviously political: in this case, it is
the reaction to the usurpation of Richard II’s throne by Bolingbroke, that is Henry IV. And the
King actually admits his political crime in one of his last conversations with his son and heir,
the soon-to-be Henry V: ‘God knows, my son, | by what bypaths and indirect crooked ways | I
met this crown, and I myself know well | how troublesome it sat upon my head.’ [2HIV, IV, v,
183-186]. At this point, to dissolve the memory of this act, Henry IV not accidentally suggests
that his son should ‘busy giddy minds | with foreign quarrels.’ [2HIV, IV, v, 212-214].
One year later Shakespeare actually brought these ideas to the scenes of the new Globe
Theatre, with his own hypothesis of a heroic nation in Henry V. In this play, not only does he
openly favour the present-day reign of Elizabeth I15, but he also shows once more, by bringing
together poetry and foreign politics, his apparent alignment with Gentili’s modern theories on
how to engage in a just war. The war Henry V wages against France is not at all a holy war.
On the contrary, it is waged to defend English dynastic law and the honour of the nation. In his
declaration of war to the King of France, the English Ambassador, the Earl of Essex, says:
[King Henry V] wills you, in the name of God Almighty,
That you divest yourself and lay apart
The borrowed glories that by gift of heaven,
By law of nature and of nations, longs
To him and to his heirs. [II, iv, 76-81]
Cristiano Ragni
The name of God appears of course in this speech and in many other speeches performed by
Henry, because what Shakespeare and Gentili seem to have in mind is not the radical expunction
of religion from all aspects of life, but rather what appears to be an instrumental, Machiavellian
use of the same16. And Henry demonstrates to be perfectly able – later on in the play – to
manipulate religion at will, when he realizes how deep the doubts are, worrying his soldiers on
the eve of the final battle. While he wanders incognito among his army, Henry has to face the
harsh reality of a soldier who, despite the brilliant rhetoric of his king, bitterly states: ‘[…] we
have no great cause to | desire the approach of day.’ [HV, IV, i, 88-9]. At this point, the disguised
Henry reaffirms that the King’s cause ‘[is] just and his quarrel honourable’ [HV, IV, i, 117-128]
and he also firmly replies to the doubts of his soldier about the moral responsibilities of the king
in a war. To Williams, who claims that if the King’s cause was wrong he would have a ‘heavy
reckoning’ to pay for the deaths of his soldiers, Henry firmly replies: ‘[…] the King is not bound
to answer the particular endings of his soldiers […] Every subject’s duty is the King’s, but every
subject’s soul is his own.’ [HV, IV, i, 147-179]. Shakespeare expresses here once again ideas
not dissimilar to Gentili’s, and clearly stands in complete opposition to what Puritans were
forcefully claiming instead. While they preached the total coincidence between interiority and
exteriority in any individual, in this work a clear intention emerges to separate them. In other
words, Shakespeare and Gentili seem to align with the opinion expressed by Richard Hooker in
his famous Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. In this monumental work, which is considered
the ideological basis of the Anglican Church, not only did Hooker underline the importance
of the sovereign as a remedy against anarchy and all kinds of extremism, but he also affirmed
that what lay in the depth of everyone’s conscience only concerned the private relationship
between God and the individual. Or to put it in Shakespeare’s words: ‘Every subject’s soul is
his own’17. It is only at this point that the audience is briefly admitted to look into the king’s
conscience when, at the eve of the battle, being left alone, he asks God not to think ‘upon
the fault | my father made in compassing the crown.’ [HV, IV, i, 286-291]. Henry knows that
what is at bay is not only the legitimacy of his war, but also that of his own succession to the
throne. However, this private preoccupation is something which must be kept separate from
the public issue of war. Henry’s dynasty’s tainted conscience does not matter in this conflict
and at last, the English actually win. It is only after the unexpected victory at Agincourt that
Henry explicitly thanks God: ‘Praised be God, and not our strength, for it.’ [HV, IV, vii, 83-84].
Again, Shakespeare seems to make reference here to Machiavelli’s thought and, in particular,
to his Discorsi, where he had written about the behaviour of the Roman king Numa Pompilius:
‘[Egli] si volse alla religione come cosa del tutto necessaria a volere mantenere una civiltà
[…] E vedesi, chi considera bene le istorie romane, quanto serviva la religione a comandare
gli eserciti, ad animare la Plebe, a mantenere gli uomini buoni, a fare vergognare i rei. […]’18.
A good king knows how to rightly use religion for his kingdom’s good, because religion – as
Gentili too had admitted at some point in his De Iure Belli – can be extremely powerful and make
an appeal to the ‘viscera’ of men. Just as Elizabeth I had been doing. As Rosanna Camerlingo
has written: ‘Henry knows well that God has not taken side for England. And yet he also knows
that he must reply to his soldiers’ doubts about the predicament of their souls in the other world.
He knows, in other words, that he must adopt the religion of his soldiers for the nation to be
born.’19. However, as it has been shown, religion is only exploited after the battle, not before.
What underlies the famous Saint Crispin’s speech performed by Shakespeare’s Machiavellian
Henry at the eve of the battle is rather the idea of national unity. Even though Henry’s kingdom
is a fragmented mosaic of people and dialects, just like Elizabethan England, the charismatic
king, brave soldier and persuasive leader, creates a ‘rhetoric of the brotherhood’ to unite his
soldiers and overcome their scepticism.
Cristiano Ragni
[…] If we are marked to die, we are enough […]
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.
[HV, IV, iii, 20-62]
It appears evident at this point how Shakespeare’s king is completely different from the
champion of Christianity, Goffredo of Buglione, who had been celebrated only some twenty
years before by Torquato Tasso. To him, before assembling the Christian princes headed to
Jerusalem, Archangel Gabriel himself had announced: ‘Dio per lor duce già t’elegge, ed essi, |
supporran volentieri a te se stessi’ [I, xvi, 7-8]20. The English ‘band of brothers’, kept together
by a shared faith in the honour of their nation, represented instead the summit of that unifying
strategy of the ‘giddy minds’ that Henry IV had recommended to his son. A strategy which had
to ‘waste the memory of the former days’21. Not only king and soldiers then, but ‘brothers’, all
united together in what Claire MacEachern defines ‘a fantasy of national bondedness’22. Utopia,
rhetoric, political strategy: whatever the definition, it resulted in being the winning move. As
Laura Tosi has written: ‘National building inevitably entails a desire to impose a utopian notion
of unified feeling onto a fragmented tableau’23. Within the evidently celebrating frame of Henry
V, however, one cannot but admit that the unified nation this play celebrates is, just as the
Shakespearian character, a myth. As for this, not to be forgotten is the fact that, in the Epilogue,
Shakespeare actually concludes on notes which stand in clear opposition to the exaltation of the
Prologue: the two ‘mighty monarchies’ which fought at Agincourt find themselves united in the
marriage between Henry and Catherine of France, but the future foresees an infant Henry VI on
the throne and the beginning of a new war which would eventually lead to the loss of France
and of many human lives.
Before reaching a conclusion therefore, it is worth saying a few words about the
historical context within which the following Shakespearean works were written, by briefly
focusing in particular on the inner problems the English nation had to face at the beginning
of the 17th century. Those were indeed the years of the not easy passage from Elizabeth I to
the first Stuart king, James. Under his reign, the increasingly drastic opposition between the
Crown and the Puritans would end up exacerbating those contrasts that would lead, in a few
years, to a new, cruel civil war. Contrasts that were proving also how the efforts made during
Elizabeth’s reign to hold the nation together had not been enough. All these socio-political
tensions characterizing the first years of James’ reign can be inferred from Shakespeare’s plays
and, in particular, from Troilus and Cressida, written and performed in 1603-4. This is a play
of difficult classification, which is once again focused on a war of doubtful causes, and where
an echo of Gentili’s ideas can still be found as well. The pessimistic tone pervading this play
– and Shakespeare’s tragical period as a whole – is indeed a clear reflection of those contrasts
which have been mentioned before. In this new historical context, it comes as no surprise
that, after the ‘Machiavellian optimism’ of Henry V, Shakespeare brings to the stage ‘princes
orgulous’, engaged in what is immediately referred to as a ‘cruel war’. Although the idea of a
new, actual war, at the time of representation of Troilus and Cressida, was not that impending,
the grotesqueness of this play does not foresee a bright future. What is true, however, is the fact
that here Shakespeare seems still to make a last plea to the political leaders. The well-known
speech pronounced by Ulysses on the order of the universe, with the ‘glorious planet Sol’ firmly
in the middle, is a clear invitation to James I, the new ‘Sol’ recently come to the throne of the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Without order and without control, ‘plagues’,
Cristiano Ragni
‘portents’ and ‘mutiny’ come to ‘deracinate the unity and married calm of states.’ [TC, I, iii,
85-101]. Only a resolved king-Sol firm on his throne can dispel – or at least so the playwright
seems to suggest – the centrifugal forces threatening the State. Once again, in this play too
Shakespeare appears to have well understood the lesson of Gentili’s De Iure Belli, which had
become widely known by that time, after its publication in London. To begin with, the whole
work displays a series of battles, truces, ambushes and ransoms which anachronistically reflect
the code of behaviour in war that the new Gentilian law was releasing. Furthermore, the young
Trojan prince Troilus cites Gentili almost textually when he states: ‘O virtuous fight, | when
right with right wars who shall be most right!’ [TC, III, ii, 169-70]. In this war, two ‘rights’ fight
to assert which is more right, but being both ‘rights’, this also means that both could virtually
have their share of reason, of legitimacy, just as Gentili had written: ‘Haec natura bellorum, ut
pars utraque praetendat, se fouere iustam caussam. [...] At uero si dubium sit, a qua parte stet
iustitia, hanc si et utraque quaerit pars, iniusta esse neutra potest’24.
These technical questions aside, what seems to have been understood in this play is
the core of Gentili’s thought: that is, the separation between jurisprudence and theology. The
Greeks, for example, act as if they perfectly know that these two spheres should be decidedly
separated. In war, the sphere of intimacy cannot carry any weight, what really counts is only the
law of war and cunning Ulysses consequently asserts: ‘There is a mystery, with whom relation
| durst never meddle, in the soul of state…’ [TC, III, iii, 200-1]. The ‘arcana’ of the sovereigns
are mysteries which should never be revealed, which only concern the single individuals, just
as Alberico Gentili had advised and as Shakespeare had already shown when focusing on Henry
V’s conscience. All this is also linked to the idea of the superiority of a neutral law, embodied
by a king, who can keep at bay men’s passions and guarantee order and justice: ‘[…] there is
a law in each well-order’d nation | to curb those raging appetites that are | most disobedient
and refractory.’ [TC, II, iii, 181-3]. As in Henry V before, in Troilus and Cressida too a further
attempt emerges to propose a way to follow, so as to ward off new bloodshed in the name of
extreme passions or of God, and rather preserve national order and unity. The same ideas which
would later lead to Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan.
To conclude, with his plays Shakespeare seems to have actively taken part in that
process known as ‘the writing of England’ – to put it in Richard Helgerson’s words – and to
have tried to give voice both to a modern idea of Europe and to a new kind of politics, based
on the supremacy of the law and freedom of conscience. These ideas were very similar to those
expressed by the Italian Regius Professor of Civil Law at Oxford, Alberico Gentili, in his famous
treatise on international law, De Iure Belli. Even though direct evidence cannot be given, one
can easily suppose that Shakespeare was acquainted with the theories of a famous personality of
that age such as Gentili. While in Henry V, doubts and uncertainties about the effective success
of a similar politics are interpreted by the playwright in a celebrating frame, in Troilus and
Cressida, the situation is instead turned upside down. In the period of the greatest tragedies of
the early 17th century, this last appeal for unity and order made by Shakespeare resulted in being
an isolated beacon in a ‘sea’ of pessimism. Far more thundering and forceful than the claims
of the heroes, the sharp lines of the cynical Thersites actually reveal the grotesqueness of this
story: no longer two ‘mighty monarchies’ engaged in a new battle of Agincourt, but ‘fools’ on
both sides who slaughter themselves in a trivial war ‘for a placket’.
1 Part of this letter can be found in Diego Panizza, Alberico Gentili, giurista ideologo nell’Inghilterra elisabettiana,
La Garangola, 1981, 42n.
2 For a detailed biography of Alberico Gentili, see among others Panizza, Alberico Gentili.
Cristiano Ragni
3 For a detailed analysis of the Puritan opposition to the theatre, see for example Jonas A. Barish, The Antitheatrical
Prejudice, University of California Press, 1981; Pietro Spinucci, Teatro elisabettiano. Teatro di Stato. La polemica
dei puritani inglesi contro il teatro nei secc. XVI e XVII, Leo S. Olschki, 1973; and Paola Pugliatti, and Donatella
Pallotti, La guerra dei teatri, ETS, 2008.
4 Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poetry was published posthumously in 1595, but it had been written in the
1580s and we know that it circulated among the intellectuals of the age. In his treatise, Sidney for example writes
as follows about Norton and Sackville’s play, Gorbuduc: ‘[it is] full of notable morality, which it doth most
delightfully teach, and so obtain the very end of poesy’. See Philip Sidney, Defence of Poetry, OUP, 1997, 65.
5 The content of this correspondence will be later partially published by John Raynolds himself in his famous
treatise Th’Overthrow of the Stage-Playes (1599).
6 Leon Markowicz, Latin Correspondence by Alberico Gentili and John Rainolds on academic drama, University
of Salzburg, 1977, 29. For a detailed analysis of the correspondence between Raynolds, Gager and Gentili, see
also Panizza, Aberico Gentili.
7 Markowicz, Latin Correspondence, 85.
8 In opposition to the negative opinion on Machiavelli spread by Gentillet’s Discours contre Machiavel, in his De
Legationibus Gentili celebrates him as a supporter of democracy and of liberty and defines his Discorsi as ‘aureas
in Livium observationes’. For a further analysis of the influence of Machiavelli in Gentili’s political thought, see
Diego Panizza, ‘Il pensiero politico di Alberico Gentili’, in Alberico Gentili: Politica e religione nell’età delle
guerre di religione, Giuffrè Editore, 2002.
9 Gentili shares his title of ‘Father’ of the International Law with other two eminent jurists, such as the Spanish
Francisco de Vitoria (1483/86-1564) and the Dutch Hugo Grotius (1583-1645). Scholars have studied in particular
the influences between Gentili and Grotius and, with this regard, see Hedley Bull et al., Hugo Grotius and
International Relations, Clarendon Press, 1990. Among the supporters of the leading position of Alberico Gentili,
we find instead the German jurist Carl Schmitt. With this regard, see Carl Schmitt, Il nomos della terra, Adelphi,
10 Albericus Gentilis, De Iure Belli Libri Tres, Clarendon Press, 1872, 10.
11 Markowicz, Latin correspondence, 39.
12 ‘Turcis illinc, Hispanis hinc, meditantibus ubique dominatum, et molientibus, non obsisterent omnes iustissime?’.
‘Should not everyone rightly oppose the Turks there and the Spaniards here, who are both plotting and trying to
expand their power?’, translation mine. Gentilis, De Iure Belli, 61.
13 For further details see also Paola Pugliatti, Shakespeare and the just war tradition, Ashgate, 2010.
14 All references to Shakespeare are from The Oxford Shakespeare. The Complete Works, OUP, 2005.
15 In 1599, the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, after the publication of certain satires, provoked a
famous order prohibiting other such works – and history plays too – to be printed unless they had been allowed by
the Privy Council. This episode is quite interesting because in that very year 1599 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men
brought to the stage Henry V. The fact that the Privy Council allowed this play to be represented means that the
censors perfectly understood the advantages that its representation would have brought to the Crown, which was
among the greatest supporters of the theatre itself. For further details see Michael Hattaway, ‘The Shakespearean
history play’, in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s History Plays, CUP, 2002.
16 The character of Henry V has been widely analyzed and interpreted by a well-established series of critics, who
tend to divide into two groups. On the one hand, those critics who celebrate Henry V as a ‘providential ruler’ (see,
among others, Eustace M.W. Tylliard, Shakespeare’s History Plays, Penguin, 1969) and, on the other hand, those
who conversely highlight his ‘hypocrisy’ and his ruthlessly Machiavellian bahaviour (see, for example, Harold C.
Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, University of Chicago Press, 1951). A division which is summarized by
Norman Rabkin in his ‘Rabbits, Ducks, and Henry V’, in Shakespeare Quarterly, 28, 1977, 279-296, where he
argues that: ‘Shakespeare creates a work whose ultimate power is precisely the fact that it points in two opposite
directions, virtually daring us to choose one of the two opposed interpretations it requires of us’ (279). The first
not to see Henry’s Machiavellian politics only in a derogative way is Stephen Greenblatt in his Shakespearean
Negotiations, University of California Press, 1988, 21-65.
17 For a detailed analysis of Richard Hooker’s work, see Christopher Morris, introduction to Richard Hooker, Of
the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, vol. 1, Everyman’s Library, 1965.
18 Niccolò Machiavelli, ‘Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio’, in Opere, 1, Einaudi-Gallimard, 1997, 229230.
19 Rosanna Camerlingo, ‘Henry V and the Just War. Shakespeare, Gentili and Machiavelli’, in Machiavellian
Encounters in Tudor and Stuart England, Ashgate, 2011, 131.
20 It is worth quoting the whole speech performed by Archangel Gabriel to Goffredo, so as to underscore the
Cristiano Ragni
differences with the situation represented instead by Shakespeare: ‘Goffredo, ecco opportuna | già la stagion ch’al
guerreggiar s’aspetta: | perché dunque trapor dimora alcuna | a liberar Gierusalem soggetta? | Tu i principi a
consiglio ormai raduna, | tu al fin de l’opra i neghittosi affetta. | Dio per lor duce già t’elegge, ed essi | supporran
volentieri a te se stessi’ [I, xvi, 1-8]. Torquato Tasso, Gerusalemme liberata, Meridiani Mondadori, 1995, 7.
21 For a detailed analysis of the crucial role of memory in relation to the legitimacy and the exercise of power, see
Jonathan Baldo, ‘Wars of Memory in Henry V’, in Shakespeare Quarterly, 47, 1996, 132-159. In this essay, the
author states, among other things, that: ‘National memory is so selective that it may be more justly characterized
as national amnesia, as Shakespeare himself would have experienced first-hand. […] Henry V seems the product
of a keen awareness that the unity of a nation or a play may be not only precarious but specious and the result of
sometimes brutal campaigns of forgetting.’ (158-159).
22 Catherine MacEachern, The Poetics of English Nationhood, CUP, 1996, 44.
23 Laura Tosi, ‘A Map of Dis-unity. Henry V and the Making of “England”’, in Paper Bullets of the Brain.
Experiments with Shakespeare, Cafoscarina, 2006, 162.
24 ‘It is in the nature of wars that both parts pretend to be in the right. […] In truth, if it is uncertain who in the
right is, when both parts pretend that their causes are just, neither can be in the wrong.’, translation mine. Gentilis,
De Iure Belli, 29.
ISBN 978-88-907244-1-1
9 788890 724411
Fly UP