Verona again!

It is highly unlikely that whoever wrote The Merchant of Venice and Two Gentlemen of Verona had spent any time in Venice, a city with a number of unique features.


It’s pretty clear that Shakespeare doesn't realise that one of Venice’s most famous landmarks and meeting points, the Rialto is actually a bridge. Nor does the author appear to realise that ALL Venice’s thoroughfares are canals. This is not too surprising since it is very counter-intuitive and most people don't realise until their first visit that feet and oars are the only way to get about.

If De Vere wrote the plays, then in his long Venetian residence, he appears not to have noticed that Verona was

  1. 73 miles inland and
  2. annexed to Venice.

It could not have a dock with tides that could be 'missed' as London has. Even in Venice, the tidal range of the Mediterranean (0.5m) is so shallow that, as you can see in the photograph, none of the jetties are required to float to accommodate changes in levels. Nor could you sail there from Milan (another inland city) and it could not have had a Duke, a mistake Shakespeare makes more than once. No senators, no fawning publicans, no shaft horses as all horses were banned in the 1390's. Certainly none called Dobbin, anyway. 

Shylock was not the merchant of the title (that's Antonio). Nor, in Shakespeare's time, could he have been a banker. He certainly could have been a moneylender but not one Antonio would have borrowed 3000 ducats from. Describing the introduction to a lecture that took place at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam in 2008 by Professor Benjamin Ravid, the I Love Shakespeare blog reported:

"And this dear readers was a fantastic lecture on the rise of jewish mercantilism in Venice around 1595 when Shakespeare would have been researching and writing his play. The professor believes the Merchant of Venice was written by a benign Shakespeare who never visited Venice. He compared Shakey’s view of the Jews with Marlowe’s portrayal of Barrabas, finding Shylock more subtly drawn as a character.
Further he stressed the distinction between historical reality and dramatic fiction. The Jewish merchants of Venice were not bankers per se but rather pawnbrokers and money lenders. They could lend a maximum of only 3 ducats at 5% interest. Shylock could never have made the deal he did of 3,000 ducats. As for Othello, professor Ravid stated he would have been strung up on a column for daring to think he could marry Desdemona."

The only possible explanations for these miconceptions are that the plays were written before De Vere visited Italy in 1574, something which no sane chronologist will allow, or that De Vere didn't write them or that De Vere was totally unobservant and as bad at geography as it is possible to be.

It doesn't matter which option you choose, they are all fatal to at least one Oxfordian argument. 

Share this post

Comments (6)

  • anon

    "...the Rialto is actually a bridge". From a contemporary tourist's point of view, that might be half true. From any Italian point of view, then or now, the Rialto is a district of Venice, most notable for its market. "What news on the Rialto?" therefore means "What's the news at the marketplace?"

    De Vere would not have noticed a bridge because there was none there when he visited in 1574: it collapsed in 1524 and was not rebuilt until 1591. All this is so elementary that it can be found on Wikipedia. So much for the "argument from the Rialto".

    Regarding sailing between Verona and Milan, Richard Roe's "Shakespeare Guide to Italy" shows that these cities were linked by a network of canals, some of which the Italians are working to re-open. That being so, the fact most (not all, by the way) of Venice's thoroughfares are canals would not have been half as remarkable as it appears to tourists today. 

    I vote for "Verona Again" as the silliest argument yet on this website.

    Feb 24, 2013
  • anon

    Are you saying there was no bridge at the Rialto when Oxford was there? Do a search for images and maps of Venice in the late 16C. Are you saying Richard Roe claims you could sail from Verona to Milan? You couldn't. At least not unless you spent weeks doing it. Milan is 121 metres above sea level. Water didn't run uphill then and doesn't now. There were pound locks on the Pavia canal but nowhere else. Again, look at maps from the time. As I have pointed out, more than once, the references to boats and tides are simply to bustle the characters about in a way the audience would understand, not to provide accurate geographical backdrops. The point of the sailing reference is to hurry a character offstage to catch a tide. And wherever you find a canal, you're NOT going to find one of those. The market near the Rialto was and is a food market by the way. Is that what you think Shylock was interested in? He is, after all, banging on about pork at the time. Shylock aside says "how like a fawning publican he looks'. Did Rowe find many publicans in 16C Venice? What's your opinion on the silliest Oxfordian argument?

    Feb 24, 2013
  • anon

    I normally agree with everything Alfa says about Oxford, but in the case of whether Shakespeare (whoever he was) ever visited Italy, he is likely wrong.

    Several Italian scholars, including those who haven't questioned that the Stratford man wrote the plays, have said that the author must have visited Italy, since he had a certain first hand knowledge of the local geography. (My books are packed away for a move abroad, so I cannot provide citations, but other readers might.) Even EK Chambers himself stated that Shakespeare might have visited Italy in the plague year in the early 1590s when the theatres were closed.

    It would not be astonishing if. Shakespeare visited Italy, although there is no direct evidence that he did. It is rather difficult to believe that Shakespeare did not know that there were canals in Venice, since it was presumably the first thing, then or now, that anyone learned about the place. He presumably did not depict them in his plays because he lacked the stage equipment  and because this distracted from the plot.

    Feb 25, 2013
  • anon

    >I normally agree with everything Alfa says about Oxford

    That puts you in a class of one, Bill! Laughing

    I'm not hugely interested in proving whether or not the author had actual experience of travelling in Italy though I am pefectly willing to admit that he could have done so in the early 1590's without exciting comment. Neither would I rule out Will accompanying Wriothesley to Madrid around the same time, where he would have had the chance to see both Titian's The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis in the same room, with, as a bonus,  a substantial motive for dedicating the poems to the Earl. But it's only suggestive. Southampton could have brought home copies or described the paintings in detail.

    My point is that we do not need a ruling on the issue to settle the authorship dispute. There is SO little unequivocal evidence in the work and some big, big  mistakes, like tides and Will's idea of how the Venetian Army worked in Othello, so no argument (on either side) is convincing enough for proof. Using what detail there is, we can make a case AGAINST Oxford that is stronger than its opposite.

    What I was trying to get at with the canals in Venice is that most people do not realise that Venice has ONLY canals as thoroughfares. There are no roads. Anyone who had lived there for a year would know what a difference this makes life in general and it would feature somewhere in the two plays set there. But it doesn't.

    Feb 25, 2013
  • anon

    Regarding sailing between Verona and Milan, Richard Roe's "Shakespeare Guide to Italy" shows that these cities were linked by a network of canals, some of which the Italians are working to re-open.

    Another example of the Oxenfraudian tendencey to decide, "We have an explanation!  Who cares if it is a good one!"  "Away, ass, you'll lose the tide if you tarry longer" makes no sense for a canal journey.  Not to mention the use of the word "ship."

    Feb 26, 2013
  • anon

    The canals were built, like almost all pre-industrial revolution canals, to move stone from quarries to where it was needed. Milan's own grand canal was used for transport but where there are practical roads, canals make a poor alternative and they fell out of use. Venice remained unique. Canals are large thin lakes, rivers flow in one direction. There was a problem at the time, in Italy with the supply of galley slaves (those ships have to get up river somehow). River transport for personal journeys was not a profitable or practical proposition in Italy and England where almost nowhere is more than 70 miles from the sea. Oxford wouldn't have considered it. The first canals that offered a practical transport network whe those built in England but even then, people preferred to travel by coach. More direct and faster.

    Feb 26, 2013