Shakespeare and Italy: Praz
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Shakespeare and Italy:
Praz, Mario. The Flaming Heart. NY: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc, 1958.
“Shakespeare’s Italy” (146-167).
“Italy made very good copy, being considered the academy of manslaughter, the sporting place of murder, the apothecary shop of all nations” (147).
“It is a matter of no little surprise, then, when we turn to Shakespeare, to see how his Italian plays are comparatively free from the usual horrors and thrills. Horrible murders and treasons occur indeed on the Shakespearean stage but, oddly enough, not as a rule in the plays whose action takes place in Italy. Was it because Shakespeare disdained the cheap appeal of Italian criminality? Or because the broadness of his vision made him keep in the background the abject and horrible side of human nature, and stress the pure and noble one? Or because the acquaintance he had with Italian things enabled him to take a more sober view of Italian society than the current one circulated by religious or conservative fanatics and cherished by the thriller-seeking crowd?” (148).
Lambin’s demonstrations of Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italy led him to propose William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, as the author, which Praz calls a “new proliferation of the old Baconian heresy” (151).
Praz acknowledges Shakespeare’s triumph over the critics concerning details such as waterways connecting cities, but he tries to cancel these out through the additional presence in the plays of English names and references (154-155).
Shakespeare succeeds “in imitating the language of the Italian Petrarchists” (158) particularly in Romeo and Juliet.
Praz gripes about J.J. Dwyer, an Oxfordian, concerning the playwright’s knowledge of Mantua and the Torjan paintings of Giulio Romano as influences on Lucrece. He falls into the trap of declaring Shakespeare’s identification of Giulio Romano a sculptor a “blunder” (162).
[J.J. Dwyer, Italian Art in the Poems and Plays of Shakespeare. Colchester, 1946.]
A Titian painting done for Philip II of Spain traveled to England and took some time to restore; it influenced Venus and Adonis (164).
Since there is “no evidence” that Shakespeare travelled northern Italy but does have specific accuracies, he must have “got this information from intercourse with some Italian in London” (165) — “Italian tradesmen and adventurers” (165). Plus Florio: “they were fellow members of Southampton’s household” (165).