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Two Representations of Venice in Late Tudor and Early Stuart England Andrew Hadfield The importance of Venice as a symbolic beacon ot political liberty throughout Renaissance Europe is well attested, as is the influence of this myth in contemporary Britain.1 W h a t has perhaps been less in evidence is an attempt to distinguish between various treatments of this myth, noting the different uses towards which apparently similar representations of Venice were put. I would like to argue that numerous positive accounts of the Venetian constitution in particular were not simply generous encomia to an ad'mired city-state and important ally, but, as often as not, ways of criticising a repressive 1 For the most comprehensive treatment see William J. Bouswsma, and th Defense of Republican Liberty: Renaissance Values in the Age of the C Reformation (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968). O n the influence of the myth of Venice in England see J . G. A. Pocock, 77K Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975 pp.320-30; David McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Veni (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1990); Markku Peltonen, Classical Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought, 1570-16 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), passim; Howard ErskineHill , Poetry and the Realm of Politics: Shakespeare to Dryden (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1996), ch. 4. P A R E R G O N ns 15.2 (January 1998) 48 Andrew Hadfield government at h o m e and attempts to formulate an alternative political vision w h e n direct comment was difficult. In this essay m y aim is to demonstrate h o w two very different English works can be read as related (though hardly identical) political tracts. M y aim is thus highly selective and I a m not attempting a survey of English attitudes towards Venice in the Renaissance (although such an article is badly needed). M y point is simply that w h e n writers chose to represent Venice, even if they did not discuss the Venetian constitution at length, they were often signalling frustration with the prevailing system of government in England and referring to a superior model.2 A n y English writer w h o chose to represent Venice in the later sixteenth-century would undoubtedly have owed a significant debt to William Thomas's Historie of Italie (1549).3 Thomas's long work is important not simply as the only history of Italy for a series of writers w h o were conspicuously concerned with the manners, customs and politics of that country, but also because of Thomas's particular political vision and, possibly, his o w n fate.4 Thomas was resident in Italy from 1544, probably exiled for his strong Protestant convictions in Henry VIII's last years. Soon after the assumption of Edward VI to the throne, Thomas returned to England and became a close advisor to the king, publishing his ground-breaking Historie of Italie and the first grammar and dictionary of Italian (1550) in quick succession. Thomas advertises his history as 'A Boke excedyng profitable to be redde: Because it intreateth of the astate of m a n y and divers c o m m o n weales, h o w thei ben, & n o w be gouerned'.5 The dedicatory letter to John, Viscount Lisle, earl of Warwick, emphasises how English governments can learn from both good and bad examples of government in Italy, either copying the successful, or avoiding the errors of those that have fared less well (A2V ). The best example of 2 I intend to publish work on writers who described Venice, such as F Moryson, William Lithgow and William Thomas, in the near future. 3 See McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice, p.21. 4 For details of Thomas's life, see DNB entry. 5 William Thomas, The historie of Italie (1549), titlepage. All subsequent references in parentheses in the text. Two Representations of Venice 49 government is the republic of Venice, and Thomas sets the trend for numerous subsequent English writers in carefully outlining its constitution in detail, presumably as a model for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 47-69
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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