Review: “The Shakespeare Guide to Italy”

Review of The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard’s Unknown Travels, by Richard Paul Roe.

Friends, those of you who love Shakespeare and who also know, or would like to know, Italy, do not miss this opportunity for one of the great literary adventures of all time!  Travel with my dear friend Richard Roe as he voyages through 20th-century Italy in search of the truth about the Italian plays.  One at a time, on trip after trip, he tracks down the places where things happened in Shakespeare: the window where Juliet called to Romeo (no balcony, folks; Shakespeare said “window”); the penthouse in Venice where Shylock lived, Portia’s Belmont, the forest where Proteus and Valentine are united in the final act of Two Gents, and the very place where Peter Quince and friends meet to rehearse their hilarious version of Pyramis and Thisbe.  Those of us who were lucky enough to hear Dick Roe’s lectures at conferences at Concordia University in the ’90s will rejoice with me at the publication, finally, of the book we’ve waited for for so long.

Much of the book is devoted to how Shakespeare got from one place to another.  Based on the locations of the plays, this is fairly easy to trace on the many maps from the period that Roe provides.  Specific names suggested to him that Shakespeare had particular locations in mind when he created his characters and their adventures.  Often these will be repeated twice or more, suggesting to Roe that Shakespeare was giving clues to readers in his educated and well-travelled inner circle who knew Italy, so they could visualize the action.

Orthodox Shakespeare scholars, aware of how unlikely it is that William of Stratford could possibly have seen these places and therefore assuming that he made them up, either ignored these specific descriptions or dismissed them as the products of ignorance.  Most amusing to the experts have been his suggestions that his characters travelled between inland cities by water, to them the fantasies of an ignorant man.  But, as Roe shows with this as with every other clue, Shakespeare knew what he was talking about.  A true forensics scholar, Roe travelled far and often, dug long and deep in libraries and archives, to locate what bits are left today of the extensive network of canals and waterways that connected these towns in the sixteenth century and what information he could find about those parts that are gone.

Written as a travel journal, Roe’s book takes us with him on this exciting adventure.  From town to town, insight to insight, revelation to revelation, we keep him company, fascinating to lovers of Shakespeare, doubly, triply, fascinating to those who also know Italy.   As a way of promoting what I believe to be an extremely important piece of literary forensics, and also show some of his photographs in a larger format, I’ve created a preview where you can get a taste of what’s in store for those who buy this book.  I hope he wouldn’t mind that I couldn’t resist adding some thoughts of my own, and where it seemed helpful, links to online sources, something that a book with all its virtues can’t provide.

Do get this book for yourself, and for those friends and family members who might be willing to take seriously a genuinely well-written and compelling argument for Oxford as Shakespeare.  It’s far and away the best book on the authorship question published since 2009 when Verlag Uwe Laugwitz of Germany provided us with Peter Moore’s The Lame Storyteller, Poor and Despised, and the most important in terms of new information and insights into the authorship question since Diana Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography (2000) laid out the argument against William of Stratford.  You couldn’t find a better holiday gift for that demanding friend or relative you’ve long hoped to convince, but never yet found the right book.  This is it, I assure you. (Also available for Kindle.)

Sadly Richard Roe is no longer with us.  He died a few months ago, just as his book was being published.  But he will continue to live in the pages of this important and entertaining work as long as scholars and readers continue to debate the authorship question.  Should it ever be resolved in favor of genuine history and good old-fashioned common sense, this legal brief and travel journal will hold a high place among those arguments that helped decide the case in favor of our noble plaintiff.