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Lewkenor's Venice and its Sources

  • David Mcpherson (a1)


Despite the extensive work by recent historians on the “Myth of Venice,“ there has never been a thorough study of Lewis Lewkenor's The Commonwealth and Government of Venice (1599), one of the central documents through which the myth was transmitted to England—and England, after all, was the country in northern Europe in which the myth had its most profound effects. Lewkenor's book is interesting not only because of its importance in the history of political thought but also because it was probably used as a minor source by Shakespeare for Othello and by Benjonson for Volpone.



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1 “For a recent listing of the significant studies of the Myth, see King, Margaret L., Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance (Princeton, 1986) 174n. See also Queller's, Donald recent The Venetian Patriciate: Reality Versus Myth (Urbana, 1986) 328 . On the Myth's role in the development of political theory in England see Pocock, J. G. A., The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, 1975) 272330.

2 On the Myth being strongest in England, see Eco O. G. Haitsma Mulier, The Myth of Venice and Dutch Republican Thought in the Seventeenth Century, tr. Gerald T. Moran (Assen, 1980) 54, and Zera S. Fink, The Classical Republicans: An Essay in the Recovery of a Pattern of Thought in Seventeenth Century England, Northwestern Univ. Studies in the Humanities, No. 9 (Evanston, 1945) ch. 1.

3 On Jonson, see Daniel Boughner, “Lewkenorand Volpone,” Notes and Queries, N.S. 9 (1962): 124-30; on Othello, see Muir, Kenneth, “Shakespeare and Lewkenor,” Review of English Studies, 7 (1956): 182-83. One scholar has even suggested that Shakespeare used Lewkenor's manuscript or spoke to Lewkenor personally to get information for The Merchant of Venice (Merchant is usually dated c. 1597, too early for the dramatist to have used the published version of Lewkenor); see Christopher Whitfield, “Sir Lewis Lewkenor and The Merchant of Venice: A Suggested Connection,” N&Q, N.S. 11 (1964): 123-33-

4 Pocock and Fink mention Lewkenor several times (see their indices), but never in any detail. One consideration of Lewkenor in relation to his sources is Boughner (see preceding note). But he is untrustworthy on factual matters. For example, he refers (i24n) to Contarini in Italian and adds, “The Latin translation is De Magistratibus … Basel, 1547,” apparently unaware that the work was written and first published in Latin, then translated into Italian. R. B. Parker in his edition of Volpone makes good use of the supplemental material in Lewkenor, but in his introduction erroneously gives Lewkenor's first name as Samuel. See Volpone, The Revels Plays (Manchester, 1983) 22.

5 Touring in 1600: A Study in the Development of Travel as a Means of Education (Boston, 1911) 101. Bates, obviously not a devotee of political science, continues: ”… in consequence, if you happen to be reading one of his [i.e. the Average Tourist's] accounts of a tour, at the first mention of the word ‘Doge’ skip twelve pages.“

6 Crudities, 1611, sig. a6.

7 Lewkenor is not in the Dictionary of National Biography, but see Whitfield and John and J. A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigiensis, Part I, iii (Cambridge, 1922-27): 82.

8 Hale, England and the Italian Renaissance (London, 1954) 30. Hale has such a slight interest in Lewis Lewkenor that he gives his name as Samuel Lewkenor.

9 E.g. Phillip de Comines, Les Memoires (Paris, 1593) 2: sig. E5: “C'est la plus triomphante cite quej'ayejamais veue.” Justus Lipsius, letter to Philip Lanoy dated 1578 in Opera Omnia, 2 (Antwerp, 1637): sig. I$5V: “Heu ad invidiam pulchra, opulens, felix urbs!“Jacques Villamont, Les Voyages (Paris, 1600), sig. K8V: “Venise est l'une des plus superbes & riches citez du monde.” In quoting all old-spelling sources I silently normalize “i” and “ j , “ “u” and “v.“

10 On Machiavelli's attitude see Muir, Edward, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice (Princeton, 1981) 46 . OnBodin's, see Republic, ed. Kenneth Douglas McRae (Cambridge, 1962), index, “Venice. “On Montaigne's, Diary of …Journey to Italy in 1580 and 1581, tr. E.J. Trechmann (London, 1929) 91-93. On Sidney's , Correspondence of… Sidney and Hubert Languet, tr. Steuart A. Pears (London, 1845) 11

11 The idea that Contarini began his treatise in the 1520s is explored by Gilbert, Felix, “The Date and Composition of Contarini's and Giannotti's Books on Venice,” Studies in the Renaissance, 14 (1967): 172-84.

12 Logan, Oliver, Culture and Society in Venice, 1470-1790 (Oxford, 1972) 15.

13 Correspondence 10.

14 Jonson, Ben, ed. Herford, C. H. and Percy, and Simpson, Evelyn (Oxford, 1925-52) 5:90.

15 Sixteenth and seventeenth century writers who echo Contarini's idea include, to name just three, Thomas de Fougasses, The Generall Historie of the Magnificent State of Venice, tr. W. Shute (London, 1612); Pierre d'Avity, Les Empires … du Monde (St. Omer, 1614); James Howell, S.PQ. V. A Survey of the Signorie of Venice (London, 1651).

16 Gilmore, Myron, “Myth and Reality in Venetian Political Theory” in Renaissance Venice, ed. Hale, J. R. (London, 1973) 431-44, esp. 435.

17 Contarini ends on sig. G6, Giannotti begins, sig. G6V.

18 London, 1599, sig. Y3V. See Sipahigil, T., “Lewkenor and Othello:An Addendum,” N&Q, N.S. 19 (1972): 127 .

19 As quoted and translated in Labalme, Patricia H., Bernardo Giustiniani: A Venetian of the Quattrocento (Rome, 1969) 283 .

20 Basel, 1550, sig. 02-05.

21 Paul F. Grendler argues that the editor of the 1587 edition, Bardi, “praised Sansovino as an indefatigable worker … “ yet “did not… credit Sansovino with the authorship of the book but claimed it as his own;” see “Francesco Sansovino and Italian Popular History, 1560-1600,” Studies in the Renaissance, 16 (1969): 173-74.1 d° not entkely agree; I think Bardi did not claim it outright; rather, he arranged the typography of the title page (perhaps deliberately) so that the question of authorship is left ambiguous. At the top of the title page is the usual title Delle cose etc… . In the middle, in smaller type, is the title of another work entirely: Dichiaratione di tutte le istorie, che si contengono nei quadri posti nuovamente nelle salt dello scrutinio, & del gran consiglio del palagio ducale della … Vinegia.” Below that title, in larger type, are the words “FATTA DA GIROLAMO BARDI.” Lewkenor, Grendler, and others have assumed that Bardi is thereby claiming to have “made” the whole volume, whereas careful reading shows that while he did write the Dichiaratione he merely edited Delle Cose. For more background on this authorship problem, see Melzi, Gaetano, Dizionario di opere anonime epseudonome di scrittori italiani (Milano, 1848-59) 1: 260-61.

22 Pompeo Molmenti points out that Sansovino “is not above the suspicion of plagiary;” see Venice … From Earliest Beginnings to the Fall of the Republic, trans. Horatio F. Brown (London: John Murray, 1907) 2: 81. But since this work is so similar to Sansovino's undisputed work Venetia citta nobilissima (1581) I think we should accept his authorship of Delle cose. Besides the 1561 and 1587 editions some sources mention a 1556 edition, and Grendler (167n) has found editions also in 1562, 1564, 1565, 1566, 1567, 1570, 1582, 1583, 1592, 1596, 1606, 1649, 1662, and 1671.

23 Total population is given as 190,714, of which—for those interested in The Merchant of Venice or in Jewish history— 1,157 were said to be Jews. See Lewkenor, sig. Bb3 v.

24 Lewkenor, sig. Aa3v. For Jonson's colorful use of Venetian mountebanks, see Volpone II.i. and II.ii.

25 Ed. Jennifer M. Fletcher (Farnborough, Hants., 1968). The work was also reprinted in 1604, with additions and editing by Giovanni Stringa.

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Lewkenor's Venice and its Sources

  • David Mcpherson (a1)


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