Time and Tide

Alexander Waugh returns forcefully to the subject of sailing to Verona.

In the latest rearrangement of Shakespeare Authorship Coalition Essays, published in response to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt he says:

"One has only to check the definitions of 'road,' 'tide' and 'shipped' in the Oxford English Dictionary to see that none of them applies exclusively to the sea. Shakespeare, moreover, signals to his audience that Valentine's journey is not to be taken by sea, but by river and, just in case of any lingering doubt, he has Panthino explain that by lose the tide...' I mean thou'lt lose the flood, and in losing the flood, lose thy voyage.' The 'flood' thereby refers to the timed rising of the water in the locks, which in the case of boats traveling from Verona to Milan, were located on the fossi that linked the rivers Adige, Tartaro and Po. It is now known precisely where those canal links were situated. Some of them are still in use today. All are well documented. Only in the rarefied world of Stratfordian academia is their existence still petulantly denied."

 You have to question Waugh's motives for this aggressive passage. He KNOWS he's talking absolute nonsense. Nobody can possibly believe that Will is using 'tide' to mean the flooding of a lock. No one in England had seen one when this play was first performed. Even in Italy, Proteus and Panthino are both in Verona, hundreds of miles (by water) from the nearest lock. Miss a tide and you've lost a day. Miss a lock and you can have a beer and catch it again in an hour.

'One only has to check' the text of TGOV, to see that Will double and treble underlines exactly what he means with punning wordplay on 'tide' and 'tied', leaving absolutely no room for Waugh's wilful misinterpretation. We even have non-existent tides in other Italian settings, The Comedy of Errors, for example, written about the same time. 

"Both wind and tide stays for this gentleman, And I, to blame, have held him here too ..."

How many times does it need saying? You don't take advantages of tides that aren't there and you don't need wind on a canal barge. The tidal draught of the Med is negligible because it is almost entirely enclosed by the landmasses of Europe and Africa. It's a very big lake with a very small outlet into the Atlantic. 

Will has in mind the Thames, the river he crossed every day. He may well know there are no tides in the Med and just be using a bit of dramatic licence. 

Who really cares? 

Only Oxfordians. 'Any explanation is good enough, however implausible', Oxfordians appear to be saying as they argue a plausible sailing route or the case for Bilton Hall as the source of Ben Jonson's 'Swan of Avon' soubriquet. 'This is an explanation and don't you dare pick me up on it'.

We have seen the death of the courtly and legal 'elite knowledge' arguments. They can't be backed up with examples and there are far too many conclusive counter arguments. Oxfordians are fighting a bit harder to isolate Will from any kind of Italian knowledge. 

But backing the 'Sailing to Milan' horse is just heaping more and more ridicule on their technique. If Oxfordians argued "The Earl is just using dramatic licence, adjusting the setting to what's familiar to the groundlings" Shakespeareans might raise an eyebrow at the inconsistency but they would lose the gift of an incontestable counter argument. Oxford didn't sail from Verona to Milan in 1575 and nor did anyone else. 

However, they've walked so far out on this plank, there's no way back.


A Final Word

1457 canalsThe Italian Government has decided to restore the Northern Italian canal network to enable tourists to take barge holidays and travel, on canal boats, from near Lake Maggiore to the Adriatic.

If and when they finish the network, IF you can then take a barge from Verona to Milan, the circuitous route will quadruple the the actual distance to nearly 450 miles as you will still have to go east from Verona to the Adriatic and then up the Po. Each self-operated lock adds the equivalent of 1 mile. Locks operated by a lock keeper add considerably more as they will try to group traffic. Journeys are calculated at 3mph. It'll take around 150-175 hours, therefore, on a barge with a marine diesel engine. That's without all the customs and border difficulties you'd have encountered 300 years before Italian Unification. It might have taken weeks in the 16c.

Even with all the restoration and additions complete, no one is going to look at a map and think sailing from Verona to Milan is a normal thing to do. You could do the same journey FIVE TIMES on foot and TWENTY times on horseback and still arrive ahead of a barge doing it once.

Share this post

Comments (8)

  • anon

    Dear Michael,

    Thank you for your blog about my piece on Italy.  I am sorry if you thought it aggressive, it was certainly not intended that way.  You put in quotation marks: "this is an explanation and don't you dare pick me up on it" as though these were my words.  Could you somehow make it clear that this is your own formulation and nothing to do with me?  I wouldn't say that, or even think it, but the way you have written it looks as though you are quoting me.  If you look on wikepedia.it you will find some very good and useful maps showing all the old Italian canal links, also I fished out a few old maps from the Verona archives that might be helpful to you as well as some new Italian books which show the Verona-Milan water-route that was used by Rennaissance travellers.  I am not quite sure from your account why you find it so improbable.  You know, I assume, about the Canale Castelagno and the fosse that drew from the Adige at Legano?  Have you visited the region?  It is pretty hilly and I would think much better (more comfortable and safer) to go about by boat, rather than by road, even if the journey time is a little longer.  I am not entirely sure why you raise this as an "Oxfordfraudian" issue. Could your Shakespeare not have travelled this way during his missing years?  Maybe you could explain to your readers why it was not possible for him to have made that journey.

    With best wishes,


    Aug 13, 2013
  • anon


    A warm welcome to Oxfraud. I agree entirely with your complaint and have changed the article to make it clear I am not quoting you.

    However. Sealed

    I have visited the area extensively, once numbering Olivetti and Glaxo among my clients. And I have learnt a very great deal more than I wanted to know about the history of Italian canals. The History of Ostiglia, the small town where the Fossa and Fossetta canals drained into the Po, makes the purpose of those canals clear. They were irrigation canals. You can sail on irrigation canals, of course. But only when they have water in them. There were no locks. The canals are filled in now, but you can see the route they took from Google Earth where shadows reveal the former earthworks. The view clearly shows the key difference between canals used for navigation and canals used for irrigation. I'm sure you know what this is.

    A whole stack of French courtiers, including Henri III himself, made the journey from Venice to Milan the year before Oxford visited. None of them used the waterways any further than Padua, where the Doge liked to entertain at the Villa Contarini (a much more likely site for Belmont than the Villa Malacontenta).

    I regard all this study, however, as entirely wasted. There are three strikes against Proteus' journey by water from Verona to Milan and the absence of a practical route is only the first. Strike two: you can dig a canal but you will not be able to create a tide and catching a non-existent tide is actually more than one third of Will's mistake. Strike three, you will never 'ship aboard' a vessel on a non-tidal river. Non-tidal rivers have quaysides or jetties. They usually do not need 'roads' or dredged channels to allow vessels to anchor without beaching at low tide. Maps and engravings of Verona from the period show vessels moored at a quayside. Shipping aboard is standard practice on tidal rivers like the Thames where you take a small boat out to the larger vessel, anchored in deeper water.

    Will is clearly thinking of Bankside and this is far from the only instance where his mind is in Southwark when it should be in the Veneto. Horses are banned in Venice, yet Launcelot Gobbo not only has a shaft-horse but a shaft-horse called Dobbin. When Shylock talks about 'fawning publicans', he means the ones in the audience because there aren't any of those in Venice either.

    The argument over whether he went to Italy or not isn't entirely sterile. I can make just as good an argument as Roe does, for Will's Italian knowledge being based on John Florio's, an Italian contemporary whose travels map much more accurately than Oxford's onto the Shakespearean map of correct and incorrect references and someone who current scholarship is placing closer and closer to Will.

    But it wouldn't prove anything. Because we don't know whether Will went to Italy or not. And we don't know (though I have my suspicions) whether he gave a fig for geographical accuracy in his backdrops.


    Aug 14, 2013
  • anon

    Can you site any 16C sources to document that any traveller, whether Oxford or [our] Shakespeare did make such a journey? In fact can you establish that Oxford was ever in Verona? Nelson doesn't list the city as one Oxford visited. Finally, Verona and Milan are ~120 km apart. At most this would be an easy ride to complete with one overnight. How long do you estimate a journey by river and canal would take? Nelson further establishes that Oxford travelled throughout Italy by horse in a small party. Can you prove otherwise?

    Jan 08, 2014
  • anon

    Thanks for your informed and well-reasoned article. Let me add only one restatement. You write, "The argument over whether he went to Italy or not isn't entirely sterile" - isn't it more accurate to say that Roe and others state that the author of the plays *must have* gone to Italy and every scene in Italy was observed by the author and thus one can say that unless Stratfordians can establish that Shakespeare went throughout Italy - see the map in Roe - then he could not have written the plays. The assumption is that Oxford did go to all these places - every street and square and every building thereon. However, it's well established that Oxford spent most of his time in Venice and spent little time in the cities he did visit. And these cities do not include Verona. Nor does the extant documentary evidence established that he ever travelled between the cities on ships or barges through canals and over rivers. 

    Jan 08, 2014
  • anon

    I looked quite hard for evidence that people would travel long distances by water and whilst there are a few contemporary accounts of journeys down the Po, I have found nothing to suggest that sailing up from the Adriatic was a popular choice for Milan-bound passenger traffic. Sailing down the Adige into the Adriatic and then up to Milan is a fantasy. It might have taken months. An otherwise easy three-day journey on horseback and possible in two, as you point out.

    Of course when Oxford was in Verona it was a Venetian dependency and therefore had no Duke. Will's source material for TGoV dates from 150 years earlier, when there was a Duke of Verona. Oxfordians want it both ways, however. When the Italian facts are convenient, they are accurate. When the facts are not convenient, there is some other explanation.

    The best itinerary  for Oxford is in Nelson's Monstrous Adversary. No mention of Vere-ona.

    BTW I've added the fact that the dates on comments are being taken from the date of the article. Another one on the list.

    Jan 09, 2014
  • anon

    Can you establish that the Fossa and Fosetta were indeed irrigation canals? As you know Roe cites Magri and public sources for the canals being used by Venetian warships.

    Mar 30, 2014
  • anon

    Magri and Roe are comprehensively wrong. We'll be publishing something later this year which will do away with their ideas of an eastern canal network just as emphatically as their ideas that there are real sycamore groves rooting from Verona's walls or that the Villa Foscari is really Belmont.


    The paths of the Fossa and Fossetta can both be seen (as Alexander Waugh pointed out) on Google Earth - they are wide and shallow irrigation canala which would not have had water in them year round and there is a book published in 1855, called L'Historia di Ostiglia which describes the history of these waterways. Very few of the waterways in that part of the world do have water year round. Even large rivers like the Isonzo turn into trickles in late summer as theiy exist to take the runoff from the Alps and Dolomites to the Med so their usefulness for navigation, where it is possible, is also seasonal.

    Apr 03, 2014
  • anon

    I look forward to reading the results of your research. I certainly claim no deep knowledge of the subject, but, will pass along what I've read in the many books about the Grand Tour: road travel throughout Italy was very difficult. We can hardly imagine the difficulties travellers encountered. Therefore, people travelled by water whenever they could. Secondly that around or leading to Venice water travel was highly developed and canals with locks did connect the major rivers. Certainly the route from Venice to Padua was well established and is documented. Whether that's relevant to anything Shakespeare wrote or not is another question entirely. 

    Apr 17, 2014