Actually, its dust jacket, which displays a copy of (one of 5) Titian's paintings of Venus and Adonis. The problem for the erudite Jonathan Bate is that it is the wrong Titian painting. It is not the one described by Shakespeare in his 1593 poem, Venus and Adonis (the one with the famous dedication to the Earl of Southampton). Adonis, in the painting on Bate's book, is not wearing a hat, and Shakespeare makes several mentions of a bonnet/hat on Adonis, in his poem:
Line 339; And with his bonnet hides his angry brow
Line 351; With one fair hand [Venus] heaveth up his hat
Line 1,081; Bonnet nor veil henceforth no creature wear
Line 1,087; And therefore would he put his bonnet on,
Line 1,088; Under whose brim the gaudy sun would peep
Line 1089; The wind would blow it off...
Why, a reader may puzzle, does that matter? Because, In chapter 1, near the bottom of page 17, Bate discusses a theory by Ernst Robert Curtius, in his book European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages:
"In a crucial passage, Curtius proposed that literature possesses a freedom that is denied to visual art because 'For literature, all the past is present, or can become so.' He argued that Homer's Iliad can be 'present' to its every reader in every age, whereas a painting by Titian is only truly present to the person standing in the room in front of it...."
Well, I couldn't agree more! Shakespeare had to have stood in front of it. In Venice, Italy--it doesn't appear to have ever left Italy and today is in a museum in Rome. However, elsewhere (p. 32) in 'How the Classics Made Shakespeare' Bate says:
"Shakespeare had ample opportunities to see images of Venus and Adonis, Venus and Mars, Apollo, and Daphne, and the rest without crossing the channel. Attempts to match the 'wanton pictures' in the Shrew Induction to particular Italian paintings have sometimes led conspiracy theorists along the primrose path to the anti-Stratfordian claim that the author of the play must have visited the Palazzo Te in Mantua, where Giulio Romano did his finest erotic Ovidian work."
The above is footnoted (39): "See, for example, Richard Paul Roe's fanciful and error-strewn The Shakespeare Guide to Italy...." But, the main text of Bate immediately follows with:
"That said, the naming of Giulio Romano as the sculptor of Hermione's statue in The Winter's Tale has never been fully explained."
Sure it has, Jon. It's simple, just strop Occam's Razor: Shakespeare had been to Mantua and seen both Romano's sculptures and his paintings. He even described Romano's paintings of horses in 'Venus and Adonis', Not to mention that he spends an inordinate amount of his second epic poem, 'Lucrece'--also dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, AKA the beautiful young man of the sonnets--describing several paintings by Romano depicting the Trojan War. Today those can be seen in the Sala di Troia, at the Palazzo Ducale, Mantua. Not, as we Yanks say, exactly rocket science. Just the simplest explanation that fits the facts, sir.
But let's get back to that claim in Bate's footnote, that Richard Paul Roe's book is "error strewn." I hereby challenge Jonathan Bate to provide his readership with even one specific error in Roe's excellent, first-hand investigation of the question of Shakespeare's Italian travels). I'll be happy to debate Mr. Bate and compare any error he can come up with to those in How the Classics Made Shakespeare. How about in Hartford, Connecticut this October?
Oh, and by the way, Bate's book identifies the dust jacket painting as being the one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, that's in error also. It's got the wrong Cupid. In the Met's Titian, he is awake and in the foreground gazing at his Venus and Adonis, not sleeping under a tree in the background.
The opening sentences of Professor Jonathan Bate’s How The Classics Made Shakespeare read: “What Did Shakespeare Believe? We can only guess. His only recorded words are devoted to business transactions and legal cases.”
Well, outside the body of work known as the Shakespeare Canon, the above is true (if we include the man from Stratford’s will in Bate’s “legal cases”). But, with the very next sentence: “His only surviving letters are…” the misrepresentations of fact begin.
There are no surviving letters from Shakespeare (nor are there any postcards, shopping lists, doodles, legible signatures). What Bate is claiming, disingenuously, to be “letters…conventional, if supremely elegantly phrased, pleas for patronage [to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton]” are no such thing, and I’m amazed Bate thought he could get away with that. For Bate is an educated man.
The “letters” are the dedicatory epistles that precede Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, which are the first two works to appear in print—in 1593 and 1594, respectively--bearing the name William Shakespeare as an author. I.e., what Bate is trying to do, is to pull a fast one. To insinuate a fact not in evidence.
There is absolutely zero evidence that Shakespeare sought, or was granted, patronage by, the Earl of Southampton. Even with thousands, if not millions of hours of searching for it by literary detectives, and biographers of the said Earl. Jonathan Bate surely knows this; Bate is an educated man.
The second paragraph of this book reads; “The only poems written in his own voice were the Sonnets.” Which would seem to contradict Bate’s claim in his first paragraph that , “We can only guess” what Shakespeare believed (especially about the Earl of Southampton, to whom many of those sonnets are almost certainly addressed). Funny that it didn’t occur to the Oxford Don that we might look for some clues in that, “own voice”. For Bate is an educated man.
When one takes the time to do so, one will find such as:
“My love [you, Southampton] shall in my verse ever live young.” (#19),
“You [Southampton] live in this [poem], and dwell in lover's eyes.” (#55)
“Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
You still shall live—such virtue hath my pen—“ (#81)
“And thou in this [poem] shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.” (#107)
Those four examples are pretty clear. The poet believes he is immortalizing the Young Man (Southampton). But he doesn’t think he, himself, will--again, on the evidence of his “own voice”--be treated so well by posterity:
“My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.” (#72)
“Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:” (#81)
Bate, being an educated man, surely sees this. Maybe it has made no impression on him because the one sonnet that can be dated with near certainty as being from 1603—it mentions three events from that year: the death of Elizabeth I (the “mortal moon”), the release of Southampton from the Tower of London where he’d been confined for his part in the Essex Rebellion (Essex having lost his head), and the peaceful succession to the throne of England by James of Scotland—also tells readers that Shakespeare believes he is nearing the end of his life:
“… and death to me subscribes” (#107) Which is not the only mention in the sonnets of the poet’s own declining years:
“That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by. “ (#73)
Bate, and his brethren in the Church of Stratfordman, are educated men. What explains their inability to comprehend the implications in the above? (Hint; if Shakespeare was dying in 1603, it wasn’t the man from Stratford on Avon, who died in 1616).
So far, I haven’t evaluated anything beyond the dust jacket and page 1 of How The Classics Made Shakespeare, but I’ve shown enough to question the good faith of the book. And there will be more to come.
The reason I’ve given two stars to this book, is that in spite of its deliberate obtuseness, and/or, intellectual dishonesty, Bate often shows good instincts regarding Shakespeare (the poet-dramatist, not the man). It’s almost a Shakespearean tragedy itself, how he allows his flaws as an historian/logician to spoil an otherwise intelligent book. Consider this from the last paragraph on page one:
“The patterns of his [Shakespeare’s] mind may be traced in his work…”
Again, I agree completely. However, those patterns of mind are not compatible with what we know about the man from Stratford on Avon, born in 1564, As Bate himself told us at the top of this same page (1): “His only recorded words are devoted to business transactions and legal cases.”
That is correct. The seventy or so pieces of documentary evidence that have been uncovered about Guglielmus Shakspere say nothing about his being a poet-playwright. Nor do we have any records of his being educated…anywhere, at any time. Those records that do exist tell us he was the Elizabethan equivalent of a small businessman, who loaned money (and collected interest), speculated in grain and real estate, who might have been an actor and had a financial connection to the theater world—he was, in all probability, what Broadway calls ‘an angel’ or Hollywood calls ‘a money guy.’
As Bate astutely says, at the very bottom of page 1, “We can say many things [about the poet-playwright Shakespeare] that are incontestable. He loved words and wordplay. He was fascinated by every variety of human character. He thought by way of dialogue and debate. He was skeptical about generalization of the ways of the world: almost every time a character in one of the plays gives voice to a voice of sententious wisdom, someone else says something that contradicts it—or a seeming twist in the plot makes the seeming wisdom look foolish.”
Unfortunately for the unwary reader of How The Classics Made Shakespeare, neither Bate, nor any other Stratfordian apologist I’ve ever debated, has the self-awareness to realize how foolish their seeming wisdom is. I.e., they have built biographies of Shakespeare that credit a man for whom the evidence doesn’t even provide proof of literacy—check out the six extant signatures of the gentleman from Stratford—as being the greatest literary artist in the history of planet earth.
(Speaking of Shakespeare’s love of “words and wordplay”; he sure did with ‘ever’ and ‘every.’)
One can learn a great deal about Greek and Latin literature by reading this book, but you’ll need to watch out for all the logically fallacious reasoning regarding the man who wrote the works of ‘Shakespeare’. I’d suggest starting here: https://shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org/
- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (15 March 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691161607
- ISBN-13: 978-0691161600
- Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 3.2 x 22.2 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 662 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)