Shakespeare and Italy: Lievsay

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

Shakespeare and Italy:

Lievsay, John L. The Elizabethan Image of Italy. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press for The Folger Shakespeare Library, 1964.

“Italy–not yet a nation but that aggregation of separate states known as Milan, Venice, Tuscany (Florence), Naples, Rome … represented the very acme of beauty and culture, of license and corruption” (1). So, divided opinions among Elizabethans, love/hate.

“the whole nation had a bad name for jealousy” (6).

Nash is nasty about Italy (6): “The Neapolitan carrieth the bloodiest wreakful mind and is the most secret fleering murderer” (7).

Proverbial “Inglese italianato √® un diavolo incarnato” (7).

Becoming Italianate without leaving England was possible (9).

“After the excommunication of Elizabeth by Pius V in 1570, no English Catholic could legally visit Rome” (10).

“After 1578, when Gregory XIII converted the English hospice at Rome into a college or seminary expressly dedicated to the training of English Catholics as agents for the recovery of England to the old faith” (11), more suspicion.

“The compositions of Luca Marenzio, Giovanni Croce, and Orlando di Lasso were as well known to the English as to the Italians. The distinguished Bolognese composer Alfonso Ferrabosco was Court Musician under Elizabeth between 1562 and 1578, with other members of his family succeeding him” (13).

Sonnets and novelle (16-17).

Machiavelli (20f). “disfigured ‘Machiavelli'” = Lorenzo in The Spanish Tragedy, younger Mortimer of Edward II, Iago (21).

“English appreciation and collection of Italian paintings belongs to later ages than the Elizabethan¬≤ (24).

“Was Shakespeare caught up in the conventional views of Italy? Undoubtedly, even though his settings and incidental knowledge of Italian scenes and customs are such as to have prompted speculation that he had himself visited Italy. But he is clearly no “Italianate” Englishman. He sprinkles his plays with a smattering of broken Italian, although rarely in complete copybook sentences, as in The Taming of the Shrew (I,ii). Such individual words, dubiously Italian, as appear here and there throughout the plays — punto, fico, basta, magnifico, duello, zany, mandragora, via, nuncio, bona roba, fantastico, signior, etc. — are the common counters of the time. They indicate no particular proficiency in the language, no particular penchant for Italian culture. Nor is it easy to detect significant localization of his characters” (25).

“Shakespeare follows the universal practice of adopting Italian forms for love poems, employs the masque and the conversazione, and makes use of Italian plots and motifs” (25).

“One has the impression, ultimately, that Shakespeare’s general knowledge of things Italian was filtered through intermediaries” (26).

Italian Bibliography