Shakespeare’s Italy

Key Geography Interactions Unit 5 pages 86-106: Italy

(Note: this is an old blog page from the Year 9 of 2015-2016 and the new edition of the Interactions book no longer contains an Italy unit. The page has been kept here just as an example of cross-curricular teaching in Geography and English Literature.)

 Sunglasses Shakespeare’s Italy

As part of our wide-ranging study of Italy in this unit, and also connecting with your English work on Much Ado About Nothing – which is set in Messina – we are exploring the question of Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italy.

During the so-called “lost years” Shakespeare disappeared for a while when he was a young man.  When we say he disappeared, it is because the various records of his life, letters, bills, tax documents etc. do not have any record of his whereabouts for several years.  Since many of his plays are set in Italy and he demonstrates detailed knowledge of places like Venice, Padua and Verona in the north, as well as other Italian towns and cities, we could reasonably ask the question, did he go to Italy in those missing years?

Shakespeares Italy BBCShakespeares Italy BBC book

1. Introduction: Shakespeare in Italy BBC series

In the excerpts from the BBC series we watched in class, Francesco da Mosto talked about Padua, Venice, and Verona and the way Shakespeare seemed to know so much about these cities.  You can watch the video again here.  (No you can’t: the YouTube video has been taken down for copyright infringement…)

2. Homework task:

You are going to explore some links on the internet and answer the following question: Did Shakespeare go to Italy?  This is your homework title.  Francesco da Mosto asks that question in the video and you are going to answer it.  You are now on a detective hunt for clues and you must decide for yourself what is the answer to this question. Use the following links to help you. You do not need to read every word of the following links! Scan the text and look for key points to help you make up your mind.  You are looking for credible evidence.

3. Links to information about Shakespeare in Italy

  1. Alice Lawson: Shakespeare in Italy.  Read the article and see why it may be thought that Shakespeare visited Italy.
  2. Ron Maimon: Did Shakespeare ever visit Italy?
  3. Shakespeare authorship`web site: Shakespeare’s Knowledge of Italy
  4. Now go to Google Advanced Search and in the box “this exact word or phrase” type in your questions.  E.g. “Did Shakespeare ever go to Italy?”  or “Shakespeare’s lost years”etc.  See what you come up with.
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The actress Emma Thompson reading from Much Ado About Nothing in Messina in the BBC programme Shakepeare in Italy

4. How to write your homework essay:

After the title, Did Shakespeare go to Italy? You need an introductory paragraph to say why we are asking the question. State how many plays Shakespeare wrote that are set in Italy. (This is easily found using the search engine.)

Now develop your evidence using quotes from the documents you have read.  Try to find some arguments that suggest he never went to Italy.  Where else might he have found out about Italy to write so well about it?

In your conclusion you should come to a definite view, one way or the other, weighing up the evidence.  You may think this is much ado about nothing, but many people have puzzled about this before, and it is a question that still occupies Shakespeare scholars.

Good luck!  Buona fortuna!
Note: Instead of “buona fortuna” Italians often say “In bocca al lupo!” similar to English “Break a leg!”  which is what actors say when they wish each other luck for a performance.

5. Assessment

This homework is an assessment task for the Italy unit, so please do it to the best of your ability.