How did Shakespeare know so much about Italy?

How did Shakespeare know so much about Italy. For example, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant Of Venice. I am sure he never went there. Was there literature he had access to, or could he have met people who had been there?

He did not. He made a huge number of mistakes. Bergamo is about the most land locked city in Italy, people sailed from Milan to the Adriatic, etc etc.

Yeah, essentially he knew the names of some cities and went with it. The rest is made up.

I just like how “Oh Mama Mia that’s a spicy meat-a-ball!” is almost in iambic pentameter.


It’s not plagarism if no one else can remember the original.

As AK84 said, mostly he didn’t – he’s gloriously vague about Italian geography, to the point where characters in The Two Gentlemen of Verona toss around references to “Verona,” “Milan,” and “Mantua” without any regard whatsoever for the relative locations of these cities, and sometimes even forget where they are supposed to be at any given moment. (He does get a little bit better at this in his later plays, mentioning a few actual landmarks like the Rialto in Venice, but this is the sort of thing you could have gotten from any book of travel literature in the period, or even just from listening to travelers’ tales in the pub.) And he seems to have happily assumed that ALL foreign places were Italy or Greece if they weren’t France, so the characters in Measure for Measure (set in Vienna) have Italian names, and the people in Bohemia in The Winter’s Tale have Greek ones. (Also, all foreign places are on the coast, including Bohemia and Vienna, which inexplicably has a jail full of pirates.)

I love Shakespeare, but geography was SO not his strong point. The only exceptions are plays in which he would have found lots of geographical detail in his sources – mostly the ones based on British or Roman history – or the ones that are actually set in parts of England that he was familiar with. It’s clear from reading The Merry Wives of Windsor, for example, that Shakespeare knew exactly where you’d go to do your laundry or fight a duel in Windsor, and which places figured in the local ghost story. There’s nothing like this in the Italian plays.

A lot of speech is almost in iambic pentameter. That’s one reason that it’s popular among poets: It doesn’t take much work to make things fit.

He doesn’t even seem to have known that Venice is a city of canals. I bet you know that, even if you’ve never been.

And not even all made up by him, for plot details, at least. Romeo and Juliet, for example, is based on various sources including a poem and an Italian novel (cite: ).

So sometimes he got things wrong because he was using information that was wrong to start with or because he didn’t do any fact-checking.

He never let facts get in the way of a good story.

The Baconians and others who try to question Shakespeare’s knowledge and ability sometimes remind me of von Daniken, who was astounded - astounded, I tell you - that ancient peoples knew what skeletons looked like without x-ray machines.

I’m reminded of P. D. Q. Bach’s opera “The Abduction of Figaro,” which opens in “a town on the seacoast of Spain or Italy or somewhere.”

Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italy came up in the context of this authorship thread a few months ago. I think this post gives a good overview:

From the essay bup links to:

I have to mention A Midsummer Tempest by Poul Anderson which has the premise that Shakespeare was the Great Historian and got everything right - so Bohemia did have a seacoast.

IIRC one of the major things was that there is a mechanical clock in Julius Caesar, and the fact that the Romans were that advanced had a significant impact on present day technology.

The reason Shakespeare was sufficiently interested in Italy to set plays there was because at the time Italy was perceived as uberkewl (a word Shakespeare actually uses in Henry VII Part 2, BTW), being at the cutting edge of the Renaissance and the New Learning.

His theater company–it’s unclear whether he accompanied them or not–traveled to France and Italy to perform commedia dell’arte in the off-season, as did lots of other theater companies of the era. If he didn’t go with them, they may have talked to him about it.

See, this is what really bothers me about the Oxfordians; the whole “How could such perfect verse come from the mere son of a shopkeeper?” thing. The British aristocracy hasn’t produced a first-rate writer since Tennyson. Has there ever been a royal who could write anything worth reading?

Our country’s (Philippines) greatest full-length romance story is about a couple in medieval Albania (“Florante at Laura.”)

Loved the comment, but actually it’s a perfect line of iambic hexameter.

Ignoring the zombie, IIRC its thought now that he did in fact visit the low countries at one time but not Italy. And, that his contemporaries did visit Italy, and that the plays were much more collaberratve then previously thought. All this is a round about way of saying that it was not impossible for him to know information about Italy.