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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: October ::
Re: Facts, Purpose of List, Italy, Jews
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0832.  Monday, 23 October 1995.
 
From:           Martin Green <
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Date:           Sunday, 22 Oct 1995 10:57:32 -0400
Subject:        Re: Facts, Purpose of List, Italy, Jews
 
I long for the good old days - - the days of Charles W. Wallace and  E. K.
Chambers - - when, in the field of Shakespeare studies, there were *facts*
which could be ascertained, and reasonable inferences which could be drawn from
those facts. If there are  questions about the purpose of this list, it is
because  so many posters deny  to  Shakespeare an existence outside of their
own minds, and construct theories which, positing the irrelevance or
unknowability of  facts about the time and place inhabited by Shakespeare,
justify their writing about themselves. Most people who have subscribed to this
list, I would suppose, already had an appreciation of the literary worth and
psychological profundity of Shakespeare's writings - - the sort of things one
talks about when one shoots the breeze - -  and hoped, by joining this list, to
 consider and perhaps to learn something about  Shakespeare's life,  or the
sources of his stories and knowledge, or the history of the times in which he
lived, or the meaning, in light of the language, literature and learning of the
times, of difficult passages:  in short, some *facts,* or failing those (for
there are, I concede, so few for sure *facts* known about Shakespeare) then
some informed surmise - - but NOT an abandonment of all attempt to relate
Shakespeare to a specific time and place.
 
Which brings me to a *fact* that seems to me to be of pivotal importance in any
discussion of Shakespeare's knowledge and associations, this *fact* being
Shakespeare's  dedications of two of his works (Venus and Adonis in 1593,
Lucrece in 1594) to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton. The first
dedication may be, as some have suggested, merely a bid for patronage, but if
that is so, the language of the second dedication warrants the conclusion that
the bid was successful. This permits the not unreasonable surmise that
Shakespeare, by virtue of Wriothesley's patronage, had access to others
dependent upon Wriothesley (e.g., John Florio) as well as to persons dependent
upon Wriothesley's closest friend, the Earl of Essex.  And the Earl of Essex
assembled and administered,  at Essex House, his London residence, a host of
remarkable persons who constituted his own intelligence service and diplomatic
corps.
 
The premise that Shakespeare  had access to Essex House provides, in my
opinion, a reasonable answer to almost every question relating to Shakespeare's
knowledge of classical and contemporary literature, and people and places
throughout Europe. SHAKSPERIAN Lee Buchanan asks, did Shakespeare travel to
Italy?  We have no record of his ever having done so: but quite a few of Essex'
servants at Essex House had been there (and some were native-born Italians),
and any one of them could have given Shakespeare the knowledge of that country
which some seem to find in Shakespeare's plays.
 
Another SHAKSPERIAN notes, in the continuing and largely lamentable discussion
on The Merchant of Venice, that there were no Jews in England to speak of in
the 1590's. True, but two in England that we know of were a part of the Essex
entourage: Dr. Lopez, who had been physician to Essex' step-father, the Earl of
Leicester, had apparently treated the young Essex for some socially
unacceptable ailment, and Antonio Perez, who  was a guest at Essex House in the
early 1590's.  To be sure, both Lopez and Perez were conversos - - but they
were thought of in England as being, as they undoubtedly were, at least
ethnically, Jews.  The treatment of these two men by Essex is a mixed bag (one
was hounded to his death; the other lionized), and  perhaps Shakespeare's
treatment of Shylock mirrors this equivocal treatment, based, it seems, not so
much on  race as on  personal traits,  rendering futile any attempt to
categorize that treatment as pro or anti-Semitic.
 
Just a few thoughts, for whatever they're worth.  But there ARE facts, and this
list would be perceived as being more rewarding to its subscribers,  I think,
if contributors were to attempt to anchor their observations and speculations
on things which we all accept as facts .
 

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