Shakespeare and Italy: Simon

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

Shakespeare and Italy:

Simon, Kate. A Renaissance Tapestry: The Gonzaga of Mantua. NY: Harper & Row, Pub., 1988.

“In its earliest times, the Palazzo Ducale was a rather simple entity of court and fortress in clearly defined large space, that space filled, razed, refilled, manipulated, and remanipulated by successive Gonzaga, and by the Austrians who ruled after them, into a confusion of five hundred rooms, not all of them yet thoroughly studied. The endless palace that once rang with music and showed master paintings and unique antiquities is now depleted, left with little but incomprehensible passages. An exhibition gallery substitutes blankness for paintings gone; a tourney court surrounded by twisted columns and Gonzaga symbols makes no sound. Inescapably, one comes on still extant classical galleries, dedicated to Troy, the stage for dramas of the Trojan horse, for Ajax as he is killed by Athena, for the dream of Hecuba and the judgment of Paris, all painted in the agitated mannerist fashion. A spread of late-Renaissance panels depicting incidents in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (a popular source of subjects) brighten a few chambers…” (5).

“The [Rubens] canvas, which clearly lacks a wide middle section and side portions, is the Adoration of the Holy Trinity, whose worshipers include the duke Guglielmo, the son he despised, Vincenzo, and their respective wives” (8).

“Manua’s history, like that of most Italian cities, flows back and back into myth…. Tiresias had a daughter named Manto, also a prophet, who came with a band of followers to this marshy place” (17).

“The [late 1400s] reign of Federico il Gobbo–the Humpback–was short and difficult” (65).

“Following a sinister common pattern (echoed in Shakespeare’s ‘Murder of Gonzago’), his brothers Rodolfo and Gianfrancesco had attempted to poison him [Federico] and his son, but were foiled by another brother, Ludovico” (65).

“Romantic historians have a tendency to claim Mantua as a Prospero’s island of enchantments, bright and somber. Had it not been founded by the witch-prophetess Manto, daughter of the androgynous prophet Tiresias? Was not Mantua’s most famous son, Virgil, known to have been a great magician? Of white magic only, of course” (106).

“A master storyteller in this genre [novelle] was Matteo Bandello (1485-1561), whose presence and stories brightened the idle country hours of Isabella d’Este-Gonzaga. She defended his ‘lewdness’; he, in turn, praised the ‘heroic house of Gonzaga’ and his hostess as a glorious ‘heroine.’ … He came to Mantua and Isabella after 1515, having fled the French invasion of Milan, which was more or less his home base” (121).

“his two hundred and more stories, translated shortly before his death into French and soon thereafter into Spanish and English, suggested the intrigues that reappeared as Much Ado About Nothing, the ghost and poison deaths in Hamlet, and the doomed young lovers of Romeo and Juliet” (121).

“one finds two versions of the Romeo and Juliet story. Both involve nurses, swooning that mimics death, a secret marriage, a threat of marriage to one unloved, a fight between the rejected suitor and a friend of the truly loved” (122).

“although peace is established between the feuding families, Bandello, who knew a good deal about family vendettas, concludes the story with the statement that the truce did not last very long” (123).

“Francesco died, in March of 1519. … Nineteen-year-old Federico, resplendent in white silk, became the marquis of Mantua shortly after his father’s death” (166).

The Prince and The Courtier were written within the short span of two decades, the former in 1513, the latter in 1528. As a primer of courtly ideals, an image of spiritual beauties and exquisite manners, The Courtier was quickly picked up in European courts. The French had a version by 1538, the Spanish in 1540, and in 1552, Sir Thomas Hoby translated the book into English, enthralling many Elizabethan writers” (175).

The Courtier remains a cherished fantasy, a romantic’s Renaissance; The Prince remains a hardheaded look at what actually often was, strengthened by a prophetic sense of what was to come” (175).

“The portrait of Baldassare Castiglione painted by his close friend Raphael introduces a worn, intelligent face” (176).

Comedy of Errors connection (176).

“The disquieting, sensual place was built at the edge of the city proper, its name, Te, interpreted in several ways–a shrub, a hut, a dialect word for teito–a little cut–referring to a canal that helped run off marshy waters” (194).

“Early in the 1520, Federico began to press his ambassador in Rome, Castiglione, to bring Giulio Romano with him to Mantua. Giulio, trained in architecture by Bramante, had been Raphael’s most valued assistant and, after his death, praised as Raphael’s worthy successor” (195).

“So pleased was the duke with his imaginative artist that he soon gave him a dignified house, a fine horse, and provisions for himself and his apprentice painters. His stipend of 500 ducats was shortly raised to 850 and then to 1,000, an unusually large fee, increasingly deserved as Giulio became director of all art, architecture, decoration, city planning, and engineering in Mantua. … it was Giulio who became, in the common Renaissance comparison, the Mantuan Apelles, which inescapably made of his patron Alexander the Great” (195).

“The court itself was theater, surrounded by the dramas of mythology” (212).

Giulio Romano designed “curious costumes for jousts, feasts, tournaments” (216).

The recounting leaps from Giulio active at court theatricals to the Vincenzo era, post-1587 when Guglielmo died (216-217, 220).

“The fame of the Mantuan players … Elizabeth I of England watched a Mantuan group perform in 1577” (219).

“In 1587, Guglielmo Gonzaga died and theatricals were suspended for a year” (220).

“Guglielmo hired the prestigious Netherlander Giaches de Wert, who, it is said, helped Guglielmo write settings to Petrarch sonnets–works which have disappeared or never actually existed” (222).

Claudio Monteverdi appears among court violists in 1591 (222).

Guglielmo was avaricious and loved wealth for its own sake (227).

“One enthusiasm Guglielmo sustained all his life was music. We are not sure which of an anonymous mass of musical material found later was of his composition, but it is taken for granted that he set music to poems and probably pieces of liturgical prose” (233).

Henry III of France visited Guglielmo in 1574 (233).

Vincenzo had a passionate affair with a Hippolita (236).

Italian Bibliography