“The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
My Midsummer Nights starts slowly: Titania is 14 and Oberon is over-charging on iced-teas at the next-door bar. Lysander and Puck are comparing tattoes over beers, and somewhere in the forest, over the Lodi bridge where Napoleon fought a winning battle, the revising students and resting actors are retired at the “Wellington” pub. Lodi’s little joke, I suppose.
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
The star-crossed lovers are either texting someone else, or hanging around the Piazza Castello, a Visconti construction – both the castle and the neo-realism of the punks. The “Dream’s” Bottomy style street theatre punctuates Lodi’s summer, though I’ve managed to miss the jousting and the archery; and the tin-horse pallio isn’t until September, almost a Winter’s Tale: the heats were last week. I should be in Padua, where Shakespeare set Kiss Me Kate, or Verona or Messina or Venice. But Lodi will do, it is Shakespeare country, even if he never came near the place.
“What hempen home-spuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy queen?”
In “Europe” Norman Davies notes that Shakespeare played his “overseas” very cleverly, set only ten plays at home; the rest in not-too controversial places. He avoids anything to do with Spain, and the Spanish Netherlands, and Ireland – where there was much dissent, the blarney stone being invented, Essex going double…Censorship didn’t help, perhaps that’s why Shakespeare didn’t print his plays for such a long time, and he had a few years before being given a coat of Arms. He wasn’t just a player, he was a “player” as well.
“What revels are in hand? Is there no play,
To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?”
Thomas Nash, a jobbing journalist and bar-room wit, writes in his “Unfortunate Traveller,” of 1594, (fourteen years before Tom’s journey) about “christendome” with as much overseas experience as Shakespeare, his sources the commonplace books of the “Sanger-google” school (explanation on its way). He asks: “Italy, the Paradise of the earth and the Epicure’s Heaven, how doth it form our young master?” Without much delay comes the answer: “From thence he brings the art of epicuracy, the art of whoring, the art of poisoning, the art of sodomy – it maketh a man an excellent courtier – which is by interpretation, a fine closer lecher, a glorious hypocrite.”
“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind”.
Shakespeare makes a more persuasive case for Italy, at least in “All’s Well,” and “The Taming of the Shrew”, though – of courtier-training – there is the curious matter of Tony Blair’s holidays with Silvio Berlusconi: didn’t Blair break Berlusconi’s foot?
“The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.”
Somewhere in the recent past I’ve read of a new take on Shakespeare: an Italian academic, or conspiracy theorist, believes the Bard was Italian. Thank goodness for Google. During a clear-out of damp photocopies this morning I discover that Larry Sanger, one of the founders of Wikipedia has cautioned the British Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, for suggesting that the internet was good for children’s learning.
“Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night.”
“I’m astonished that Alan Johnson does not realize the many problems affecting Wikipedia” These include management issues, an often dysfunctional community, frequently unrealiable content – and “scandal”.
“While wikipedia is still a quite useful and an amazing phenomenon, I have come to the view that it is also broken beyond repair.” And so: www.citizendium.org has been founded with more “reliable” editors and sources.
“The true beginning of our end”
Unstable as Wiki or the Lovers in Midsummer night’s Dream might be, Lodi is a kind of lodestone for me as Tom feels very present. He was locked out here, and hurried ontowards Cremona, but I like to imagine him in the central square watching the world for a while. On Midsummer’s Night. Did he see the civic temple, a church built on what had been a brothel – and funded by a man who had a “vision” after coming off worse in a stabbing incident over a member of the brothel’s entourage.
I like to think so.
As the night in Lodi moves on, with no great action or sense of ritual, the suits and slinkies and sling-backs come out for camparis and jokes. The man in the perfect light blue suit with the blue shirt, white collar, shades “look” does not speak all evening, just guards his animated “prey” from the other men at the table. But from another square: music. I feel a Shakespearian hey nonny no moment about to happen. In the small square by the cathedral a crowd is sitting over drinks. In front of them: a karaoke machine, and quite simply the flattest Celine Dion the Titanic’s going Down, I’ve ever heard.
By midnight, well met, I am home and watching a Kevin Costner, Anthony Quinn movie about infidelity, machismo and revenge. I dream of nothing much at all.
“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.”