Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0416.  Thursday, 25 May 1995.
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Date:           Thursday, May 25, 1995
Subject:        New on the SHAKSPER FileServer: ITALIAN DREAM
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EXCERPT: Shakespeare's Italian Dream
Cinquecento sources for A Midsummer Night's Dream(1)
Robert W. Leslie
In the light of Shakespeare's extensive use of Italian settings and
nomenclature, and his adaptations of plot-lines ultimately stemming from
Boccaccio (Cymbeline), Giraldi Cinthio (Othello and Measure for Measure) and
the novelle   (Romeo and Juliet), it is surprising that the Italianate
character of A Midsummer Night's Dream has not been generally noted. Most
`commentators(2) see the play as drawing from a pool of classical, traditional
and romance sources which include Plutarch, Chaucer, the romance Huon of
Bordeaux, Ovid, and Apuleius while Judith M. Kennedy is convinced that Book I
of Jorge de Montemayor's Diana (c.1559, Yong's English translation 1598)
furnished Shakespeare with the principal action of the play.(3) This last has a
certain credibility since it is indisputable that Shakespeare used
Montemayor's Felismena/Felix story in Two Gentlemen of Verona and Book I
certainly contains a similar pattern of changing love relationships and rustic
setting. However, the strongly Italianate character of Montemayor's Diana and
the generic rather than precise nature of the similarities noted by Judith
Kennedy do suggest that more exact parallels may be found in the literature of
Italy. Hugh M. Richmond(4) appears exceptional in identifying a possible
Italian source in Giraldi Cinthio's Hecatommithi II.8 (see Appendix 1 for
summary). It would be apposite here  to examine the description given in the
novella's head-word:
Possidonio, & Peronello amano Ginevra, ella ama Possidonio, & h=E0 in odio
Peronello, il quale =E8 amato da una altra Giovane detta Lisca, Egli non ama
lei, Lisca =E8 promessa dal Padre a Possidonio, & Ginevra similmente =E8
promessa a Peronello; & nel volere celebrare le nozze , per nuovo accidente
Ginevra divien di Possidonio, & Lisca di Peronello.
  (Possidonio and Peronello love Ginevra. She loves Possidonio and detests
Peronello who is himself loved by another young woman named Lisca. He does not
love her. Lisca is betrothed to Possidonio by her father. Ginevra is similarly
promised to Peronello but, on their way to celebrate the nuptials, through an
unforeseen event,  Ginevra becomes the bride of Possidonio and Lisca that of
The shifting relationships of the Lovers and the conflict with paternal wishes
(which is not present in Montemayor), taking into account Shakespeare's other
instances of mining Giraldi for plots, demand our consideration while Richmond
sees other parallels in Possidonio's denunciation of the obstacles to true love
(cf. Lysander's similar listing in I.i), the removal to a rustic setting (in
this case to complete the betrothals by marriage), an imbroglio involving
danger and confusion which serves to re-align the love relationships and is
ascribed to supernatural influence, and the challenging and overruling of
parental opposition by a wiser authority. In addition to these structural
details, Richmond also notes a common underlying theme of the superseding of
archaic, patriarchal attitudes to marriage which is emphasised by the use of
both supernatural and magisterial intervention to deny parental severity.     A
full reading of the text, nevertheless, somewhat weakens Richmond's arguments.
The bare description given by the head-word is, in fact, the only part which
immediately suggests that here we may have the central matter of A Midsummer
Night's Dream  - although Shakespeare's unquestionable use of Giraldian sources
favours the view that he was at least aware of the Ginevra story.  The close
resemblance which we find between Giraldi's original stories and the plots of
Othello and Measure for Measure  is simply not present here, as I shall

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