Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Was John Florio Shakespeare?

Was John Florio Shakespeare? I won't keep you needlessly in suspense. My answer is no.
Those of you who are not Shakespeare lovers (and if so, why not?) may not be aware of the semi-raging controversy about authorship, with some maintaining that another person was the author of Will's works. The primary reason given is that a man of modest origin from a small town like Stratford could not possibly have produced all that excellent stuff.

Hmmm. Anyone familiar with the Italian masters will know that most of them were from modest backgrounds and small (sometimes miniscule) towns. Think of Leonardo. They were not aristocrats. The nobility has actually not contributed a whole lot (directly) to European culture. Why should they? The whole point of the aristocracy was for them not to have to do anything. So scratch that.

Another reason is that The Writer They Wish Were Formerly Known As Shakespeare showed a great interest and knowledge of Italy. People from all over have always been fascinated with Italy; this was particularly true of Renaissance England. I also do not see a detailed knowledge of the country: in particular, the Italianate or Latinate names strewn over the plays seem fanciful and often generically foreign-sounding and misplaced. One of the contenders for authorship is John (or Giovanni) Florio. Apart from having a cool name, Will's contemporary (and possible pal) was a very talented cultural figure in his own right, an Englishman with an Italian father. He taught Italian, and produced an early dictionary of the two languages, along with fine translations. Those who favor Florio maintain that the author of Shakespeare's works did not seem English. He seems very English to me. Quintessentially so. This reflects a distorted view of national identity, along the lines of "a nation of shopkeepers." Not to mention a distinct envy and resentment of the English.