The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0215 Monday, 5 September 2011
Date: September 3, 2011 2:15:54 AM EDT
Subject: John Florio
I discovered SHAKSPER in 2006 and asked to be accepted because I was writing John Florio's «autobiography». I have written several historical novels which play in Elizabethan England, and my method has always been the same. Everything is researched to the hilt, or let us say to the best of my abilities (I have a degree in History). And then, around a very real skeleton, I reconstruct a living body with its feelings and its everyday life – a novel, in other words.
The book is now finished. It has been on the market since yesterday.
As a historian, I have come to three conclusion which differ from the run of the mill of Florio's criticism:
a) I do not think Florio died in extreme poverty isolated in Fulham. Fulham was not as isolated as it may seem, even if the roads were sometimes difficult; there still was the river, and I have been told by several experts that it is rather seldom that one could (can) not reach Fulham by river. And even though, to obtain his pension – his due – Florio complains about his poverty, the tax return expected of him, based on his earnings, shows that he had enough to live, albeit on a considerably reduced scale. Most probably, he worked as assiduously in Fulham as he had all his life in London before he became Italian reader to the Queen (I explain this in great detail at the end of my novel);
b) I think Frances Yates and a few others misunderstood at least in part Florio's character: most of the critics who studied him were English, and have been looking at Florio, so to speak, through the prism of their Englishness. One example only: think of Frances Yates' book title: “John Florio. The life of an Italian in Shakespeare's England”. Compare this with how Florio refers to himself: “An Englishman Italiane”, or even “Italus ore, Anglus pectore” (speaking Italian, English at heart)”.
We are told again and again of his «bad character» and not so often of his generosity, and readiness to help. Florio had inherited some Italian attitudes which always shock people outside Italy. The utter lack of patience when someone does not understand immediately something which seems obvious. The feeling one's honour is attacked because one's failings have been criticised publicly (in is good taste in Italy to go and see the person privately first – and if the criticised person does not accept the private discussion, then one goes public). The sheer vivacity of reactions. The loud protesting. The grandiose rhetoric. All this is a superficial stance, and cannot be taken as a basis to judge individual character: it is an inherited attitude, common to many people . . . in Italy. It irritates people outside Italy today still (I have seen the English as well as the Swiss react to them).
c) The literary relationship between Florio and Shakespeare might have been underestimated.
In the course of my research, I have also realized that Florio was not the Puritan which particularly Frances Yates makes him, based on First Fruits, which he wrote when he was 25. By the time he was ten years older, he had already changed his tune. But Arundell del Re (who published a fantastic edition of First Fruits) and Michael Wyatt have pointed that out before me.
It has been tremendous fun writing the book, and maybe it would interest French-speaking and/or -reading SHAKSPERians to read it. It can be ordered at www.campiche.ch. Its title, filched from Florio, is “Un monde de mots”.
Last but not least, I should like to thank with all my heart Hardy and you all. You have always answered to my cries for help, and even when I needed nothing, reading SHAKSPER has enriched my experience.
This is the third book of what I call my Elizabethan trilogy (Francis Tregian and “Le trajet d'une rivière”, Emilia Bassano and “Objets de splendeur”, and now John Florio). It is my intention to abandon the Elizabethan world, my next novel will play in Zurich in 1940. I shall nevertheless, if I may, continue to read SHAKSPER, so this is no adieu. Just an au revoir.
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