Florio is Shakespeare – Fifteen Reasons
by Lamberto Tassinari
1. John Florio added more than one thousand new words to the English language, the same contribution attributed to William Shakespeare. Furthermore, Florio compiled the first Italian/English dictionary. The 1611 edition contained 74,000 Italian words and 150,000 English words. Frances Yates, author of Florio’s biography (1934) defines Florio’s dictionary as the epitome of the era’s culture.
2. John Florio and his father Michel Angelo, a former Franciscan monk who converted to Protestantism (and the son of converted Jews), are two erudite Italian scholars like few at that time in England. They possessed a vast knowledge of the arts, science, literature, theology, botany, medicine, falconry, law and seamanship – an encyclopedic knowledge which Shakespeare clearly commanded. Few knew European literature like John Florio who, having read the material in the original languages (Italian, French and Spanish), also taught it.
3. Immersed between the Jewish traditions of his ancestors and the Catholic and Protestantism religions of his father Michel Angelo is John Florio, whose vast knowledge sacred scriptures coincides with Shakespeare’s.
4. William Shakespeare and John Florio display the same bombastic style: the same exaggerated use of metaphor, rhetoric, wit (quips and puns), poetic sense and extensive use of proverbs. They even coin words in the same fashion. This is easily verified in the introductory texts of Florio’s scholarly works: Il Dizionario, A Worlde of Wordes (1598), First Fruits (1578) and Second Fruits (1591), two brilliant Italian/English teaching booklets. Thousands of words and phrases written by Florio appear later in Shakespeare’s works. Two of Florio’s phrases become titles of William Shakespeare’s comedies. Florio is a juggler of words and a polyglot: he speaks four modern languages, as well as Latin, Greek and probably Hebrew – the same languages known by Shakespeare, according to scholars.
5. John Florio translated Montaigne’s Essays and Boccaccio’s Decameron, two exceptional works. The “idea” of translating these fundamental texts during such a crucial time for the development of English culture is in itself an extraordinary feat. Florio’s translations prove that he is a great writer, a poet close in spirit and style to Shakespeare. If we keep in mind that Florio was writing “in prose” and not in “verse” like Shakespeare, this closeness is undeniable.
6. The impressive knowledge of the Bible and liturgies, both Catholic and Protestant, which Shakespeare supposedly possesses matches perfectly with John Florio’s biography. The two Florios, father and son, are regarded by critics as minor characters within the small Protestant and heretic Italian diaspora. In reality, they were the first major promoters of Italian culture abroad. The younger Florio studied at the German University of Tübingen with Pier Paolo Vergerio, an ex-Catholic bishop of Capodistria, converted to Protestantism. In England, he befriended the circle of reformed scientists and scholars which included Teodoro Diodati, the brother of Giovanni, a Calvinist and the first Italian translator of the Bible.
7. John Florio owned 340 books in Italian, French and Spanish and an unknown number in English. He read 252 books in preparation for his dictionary New World of Words. These are the same books which Shakespeare had to have read in the original language as inspirations for his plays. Florio’s will bequeaths his library of Italian, French and Spanish books to his friend and protector William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke.
8. The works of Shakespeare demonstrate “a culture of exile,” a theme very familiar to Florio.
9. The great influence of Montaigne’s thought and vocabulary upon William Shakespeare, reluctantly recognized by Shakespearean scholars, was demonstrated by George Coffin Taylor’s Shakespeare’s Debt to Montaigne (1925).
10. The vast knowledge of Italian writers, some of whom had not yet been translated into English, could not have been known by the “man from Stratford.” One clear example is Giordano Bruno, a Neapolitan heretic philosopher burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition in 1600. The presence of Bruno’s thought and vocabulary in Shakespeare’s works is evident – it is a “physical” presence, which is refuted or ignored by Shakespearean scholars. This closeness is unexplainable if one considers the “man from Stratford,” but natural and normal if one remembers that John Florio and Giordano Bruno were house guests of the French ambassador in London for more than two years (from 1583 to 1585). Many of their works cross-reference each other.
11. William Shakespeare’s impressive musical knowledge is surprising, and very difficult to explain. John Florio, on the other hand, was a musician and was responsible for inviting musicians to perform at the royal court.
12. William Shakespeare is shown to possess a strong aristocratic persona. Yet the man normally credited with writing the plays is the son of illiterate parents, and father of two illiterate daughters. John Florio, on the other hand, was a teacher and friend of powerful aristocrats and the Groom of the Privy Chamber to James I and Queen Anne for 16 years.
13. All the “friends” of Shakespeare who appear in the colourless biography of the man from Stratford are John Florio’s historically documented friends – from Lord Southampton to William Pembroke. William Shakespeare’s presumed godfathers were John Florio’s well-known students and protectors. Ben Jonson considers Florio as a father and master of his muses, a tribute shared by the Earl of Oxford and other nobles.
14. William Shakespeare demonstrates an undeniable Italian sensibility. Examples abound, as 16 plays boast Italian plots. The man from Stratford shows an excellent knowledge of Italian, as if he read the arduous Giordano Bruno, Ariosto, Aretino (another one of the Bard’s major inspirations) in the original. Naseeb Shaheen states in his Biblical References in Shakespeare's Plays (1999) that, when an English translation is available, Shakespeare’s words resemble the original Italian.
15. Finally, there is an ontological and sociological proof all in one. If two such characters – Shakespeare and John Florio – had lived in London at the same time, if they had shared patrons, friends, interests, passions and abilities, then why have they never met nor is there any mention of them meeting? Perhaps they would even have clashed, leaving behind visible traces. Instead, there is a total void. They could not have met, of course, since they are one and the same!
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