Shakespeare and Padova: The Taming of the Shrew

Free Public Lecture

Shakespeare and Padova: The Taming of the Shrew

Museo Italiano
199 Faraday Street

Carlton, VIC 3053

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After the Prologue dedicated to Christopher Sly, The Taming of the Shrew opens with Lucentio declaring ‘the great desire I had / to see fair Padua, nursery of arts’; Tranio, his servant, gently mocks him, expressing his delight at his master’s resolve to ‘suck the sweets of sweet philosophy’.

Whether or not William Shakespeare was expressing his own desire to visit the centre of learning of Renaissance Italy, he was certainly interpreting the resolve of many of his contemporaries. Between the late fifteenth and the sixteenth century Padova was the goal of English students, scientists, philosophers, politicians and poets, from John Dee to Henry Wotton, from Gabriel Harvey to Francis Walsingham. Its proximity to Venice made it also an ideal point of reference for English merchants, for the exchange of wares, books, wealth and ideas: Lucentio’s counterpart in Shakespeare’s comedy, the much more down-to-earth Petruchio, declares the ‘I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; / If wealthily, then happily in Padua’.

Shakespeare thus shares with his audience the image of a unique Italian city: less splendid than Venice, less factious that Verona, Padova was at the same time a centre of learning and a uniquely free city, whose university was not governed by religious or political authorities but by the nationes, that is by the students, grouped according to their provenance and mother tongue. The natioanglica, though initially less numerous and influential that its southern counterparts, grew in the sixteenth century and created a unique bond between this city and the developing English culture.

In this paper, Associate Professor Alessandra Petrina will explore this connection, using Shakespeare’s words as a case study for the variety of reactions that English writers present in their letters, travel narratives and literary works, and showing the results of very recent research that has brought to light a further, extraordinary instance of cultural exchange between early modern England and Italy, in which Shakespeare plays an active and hitherto unsuspected role.

Presented by Museo Italiano, Co.As.It, in association with the Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne.

Alessandra Petrina is Associate Professor of English Literature at the Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy.

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