chapter  15
Italian Spectacle and the Worlds of James VI/I
ByMichael Wyatt
Pages 14

For all of King James VI/I’s supposed indifference to the theatre, there was an enormous amount of spectacle staged in and around the Stuart courts in both Scotland and England.1 And despite the decided Francophile tilt of so many of the cultural coordinates of the Scottish engagement with continental Europe, Italian and Italians played a significant role in the elaboration of the cultural programme promoted by the young Scottish king already by the early 1580s. Ronnie Jack has written of a ‘Renaissance’ in Scotland blooming precisely in these years2 – whatever his defects, King James was certainly one of the most learned monarchs ever to reign in Europe – but there was even earlier evidence of Italian interest in that distant northern kingdom, not by any means entirely positive, beginning with the humanist Aeneas Silvio Piccolomini (later Pope Pius II) in the mid-fifteenth century; in the significant episode of Ariodante in Ariosto’s epic Orlando furioso, published in its final redaction in 1532; and in the diplomat Marco Grimani’s Italian verse account (in 74 folio pages of stanzas in ottave rime) of his embassy to James V in 1545, which remains unedited as Vatican Codex Latinus 11525. Ariosto’s great poem was itself freely adapted into 12 Scots cantos by John Stewart of Baldynneis sometime in the 1580s, work encouraged directly by the king; and William Fowler translated Machiavelli’s Principe into Scots in the 1590s, the surviving authorial manuscript copy of which is, perhaps not coincidentally, bound together with Fowler’s notes for his collaborative work with the king on the political treatise, Basilikon Doron. It is particularly striking that these translations preceded the first English versions of both Ariosto’s poem and Machiavelli’s treatise, as John Harington’s translation of Orlando was not published until 1591, and The Prince, translated by Edward Dachres did not appear in print in England until the eve of the Civil War (in 1640). Here I will focus briefly on three moments in the intersection of Italian, Italians, Stuart court culture, and spectacle in order to suggest that there remains a great deal to be understood regarding the interplay of early modern British and continental European cultures in the early seventeenth century.