Saturday, November 17, 2012
Romola & Shakespeare
I've just started Romola, by George Eliot. It's the last of my Classics Challenge books for 2013, and I'll be hard pressed to finish it by the end of the year. It's slow going and the temptation to put it down and read something easier is strong, but I'm determined to read all of George Eliot's novels and novellas and so I press on. Just to give you a feel for its density, the editor felt the need to provide 177 notes for the first seven chapters and the Proem (i.e., prologue). It's full of Latin phrases, references to Renaissance Italian figures, ancient texts, and Mediterrean geography, most of which is "Greek to me."
So how does this relate to Shakespeare? The basic plot thus far could have easily been that of a Shakespearean comedy. A stunningly gorgeous young Greek man, Tito Melema, is shipwrecked and makes his way to Florence on the day after Lorenzo d'Medici has died, leaving Florence all in uproar. A locuacious and philosophical barber, Nello, finds him sleeping in a street or alley or parkbench, I can't remember, and takes him under his wing. All that Tito has left after the shipwreck are some gems but he is also (so he says) of good family and well-educated. Nello introduces him to Bardo de' Bardi, a blind scholar currently in disgrace because of his philosophies, who also happens to have a beautiful and devoted daughter, Romola. Romola and Tito find each other irresistable, and Bardi sees in Tito all that his own prodigal son was not. However, before Tito meets Romola, he happens upon a sleeping milkmaid, Tessa, a kisses her awake. This is not a good sign of things to come, methinks.
There's a lot of The Tempest in the plot thus far, some Twelfth Night, some Comedy of Errors, some As You Like It. Hopefully, alls well that ends well, but I have a feeling there's some tragedy ahead for Romola.