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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
Shakespeare as an Italian????
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0865  Wednesday, 7 May 2003

From:           Christine Gray <
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Date:           Tuesday, 6 May 2003 14:01:58 -0400
Subject:        Shakespeare as an Italian????

I found this on the list
http://shakespeare.about.com/library/weekly/aa051800a.htm

I know this topic has been discussed on the list before, but it's been a
while.

Have any new opinions surfaced regarding Shakespeare as an Italian?
Christine Gray

Was Shakespeare Italian?
Dateline: 05/18/00

Over the centuries scholars have been puzzled by Shakespeare's profound
knowledge of Italian. Shakespeare had an impressive familiarity with
stories by Italian authors such as Giovanni Boccaccio, Matteo Bandello,
and Masuccio Salernitano. In an attempt to solve the mystery of
Shakespeare's Italian aptitude, one former teacher of literature has
unleashed a new hypothesis on a world eager to hear anything fresh about
the Bard.

Retired Sicilian professor Martino Iuvara claims that Shakespeare was,
in fact, not English at all, but Italian. His conclusion is drawn from
research carried out from 1925 to 1950 by two professors at Palermo
University.  Iuvara posits that Shakespeare was born not in Stratford in
April 1564, as is commonly believed, but actually was born in Messina as
Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza. His parents were not John Shakespeare
and Mary Arden, but were Giovanni Florio, a doctor, and Guglielma
Crollalanza, a Sicilian noblewoman. The family supposedly fled Italy
during the Holy Inquisition and moved to London. It was in London that
Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza decided to change his name to its
English equivalent. Crollalanza apparently translates literally as
'Shakespeare'. Iuvara goes on to claim that Shakespeare studied abroad
and was educated by Franciscan monks who taught him Latin, Greek, and
history. He also claims that while Shakespeare (or young Crollalanza)
was traveling through Europe he fell in love with a 16-year-old girl
named Giulietta. But sadly, family members opposed the union, and
Giulietta committed suicide.

Iuvara's evidence includes a play written by Michelangelo Florio
Crollalanza in Sicilian dialect. The play's name is "Tanto traffico per
Niente", which can be translated into "Much traffic for Nothing" or
"Much Ado About Nothing". He also mentions a book of sayings credited to
Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza. Some of the sayings correspond to lines
in Hamlet. And, Michelangelo's father, Giovanni Florio, once owned a
home called "Casa Otello", built by a retired Venetian known as Otello
who, in a jealous rage, murdered his wife.

Granted, the above similarities between Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza
and Shakespeare are intriguing, but for now I remain unconvinced. That
Shakespeare was Italian sounds as credible as the idea that Queen
Elizabeth I wrote Shakespeare's works in the few spare moments when she
was not busy tending to the realm. And I am not alone in my cynicism.
While some Shakespearean scholars, most of whom are Italian themselves,
are quick to support the hypothesis, the majority are skeptical, to say
the least.  Although the following excerpt from a biography of
Shakespeare by Sir Sidney Lee is not a direct response to Iuvara's
claims, it does illuminate briefly the other side of the argument:

It is, in fact, unlikely that Shakespeare ever set foot on the Continent
of Europe in either a private or a professional capacity. He repeatedly
ridicules the craze for foreign travel. To Italy, it is true, and
especially to cities of Northern Italy, like Venice, Padua, Verona,
Mantua, and Milan, he makes frequent and familiar reference, and he
supplied many a realistic portrayal of Italian life and sentiment. But
his Italian scenes lack the intimate detail which would attest a
first-hand experience of the country.  The presence of barges on the
waterways of northern Italy was common enough partially to justify the
voyage of Valentine by 'ship' from Verona to Milan ('Two Gent.' I.i.71).
But Prospero's embarkation in 'The Tempest' on an ocean ship at the
gates of Milan (I.ii.129-144) renders it difficult to assume that the
dramatist gathered his Italian knowledge from personal observation. He
doubtless owed all to the verbal reports of traveled friends or to
books, the contents of which he had a rare power of assimilating and
vitalizing (Lee 86).

It was not unusual for an Elizabethan dramatist to set his or her play
in Italy. Are we, knowing this, compelled to assume that Marlowe, Bacon,
and Jonson were Italian? Admittedly, we do not have much information
about Shakespeare's education, but why so blatantly disregard the sound
reasoning behind Occam's razor? Why is it easier for Iuvara to assume
that Shakespeare was an Italian refugee than it is to assume that he
mastered Italian on his own? Lesser men than the Bard have learned a
second language. Jonson's verses in the Folio identify Shakespeare as
the 'Sweet Swan of Avon', and his birth record and other important
documents attest to the fact that Shakespeare was a resident of England
his whole life. Yet some choose to ignore these pieces of evidence in
favor of more esoteric theories. One thing is certain - Iuvara's claim
that Shakespeare was Italian will unite Shakespeare supporters and
anti-Stratfordians from the camps of Bacon, Essex, Marlowe, Derby,
Rutland, Oxford, and Queen Elizabeth in a mutual uproar.

Amanda Mabillard

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