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“As for me, for it is I, and I am an Englishman in Italiane.” John Florio, Second Frutes, To the Reader

Fifteen Reasons for John Florio,
The man who invented Shakespeare

John Florio added more than a thousand new words to the English language, showing a linguistic creativity identical to the one attributed to William Shakespeare. Furthermore, Florio compiled the first Italian/English dictionary, its 1611 edition contained 74,000 Italian words and 150,000 English words, one third more Italian words than the prestigious Accademi a della Crusca’s
dictionary published in 1612 in Florence. Frances Yates, author of Florio’s biography (1934), defines Florio’s dictionary as the epitome of the era’s culture. (…)

John Florio and his father Michel Angelo, the son of converted Jews, a former Franciscan monk who then became Protestant are Italians; two erudite scholars like few at that time in England. They possessed a vast knowledge of the arts, science and literature, ranging from theology to botany, medicine to falconry and law to seamanship. An encyclopedic knowledge which Shakespeare clearly commanded. Few knew European literature like John Florio, who having read them in the original languages (Italian, French and Spanish) also taught them.

On the cusp between the Jewish traditions of his ancestors, the Catholic religion of his father Michel Angelo, and finally, his conversion to Protestantism. It is this vast “confusion” of John Florio’s faiths and sacred scriptures which coincides with Shakespeare’s beliefs.

William Shakespeare and John Florio display the same bombastic style: the same exaggerated use of metaphor, the same rhetoric, the same wit (quips, puns), the same poetic sense and the same 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: the dictionary A Worlde of Wordes (1598), First Fruits (1578) and SecondFruits (1591), two brilliant Italian/English teaching booklets. Finally, a fundamental proof, thousands of words and phrases written first by Florio appear later in Shakespeare’s works. Two of Florio’s phrases become titles of William Shakespeare’s comedies. Florio is a juggler with words and a polyglot: four modern languages, as well as Latin, Greek and probably Hebrew. The same languages known by Shakespeare according to scholars.

John Florio translated the Essays of Montaigne and Boccaccio’s Decameron, two exceptional works. The “idea” of trans-lating 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, their closeness becomes another coincidence. According to T.S. Eliot, the translation of Montaigne’s work is a classic of English literature.

The impressive knowledge of the Bible and liturgies, both Catholic and Protestant, which Shakespeare possesses, matches perfectly John Florio’s biography. Until now the two Florios, father and son, were regarded 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.

John Florio owned 340 books in Italian, French, Spanish and an unknown number in English. He read 252 books for the preparation of 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 (which must be compared to the will of the man from Stratford) bequeaths his library of Italian, French and Spanish books to his friend and protector William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. Today those 340 volumes have disappeared, vanished.

The works of Shakespeare demonstrate “ a culture of exile”, a theme, it goes without saying, very familiar to Florio.

The great influence of Montaigne’s thoughts and vocabulary upon William Shakespeare, reluctantly admitted by Shakespearean critics, is in fact true and pervasive as shown by George Coffin Taylor’s Shakspere ‘s debt to Montaigne in 1925 and by anyone who can recognize it.

The vast knowledge of Italian writers some of whom had not yet been translated in English. The first is Giordano Bruno, the great Neapolitan heretic philosopher burned at the stake in theCampo de’ Fiori square by the Roman Inquisition in 1600. The presence of Giordano Bruno’s thoughts and vocabulary in Shakespeare’s works is evident, a presence refuted or ignored by scholars. Upon close inspection, we are talking about a “physical”, intimate presence; a true sharing of ideas and qualities. An unexplainable closeness 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.

William Shakespeare’s impressive musical knowledge is surprising, yet undisputed. John Florio on the other hand was a musician and responsible for selecting musicians to perform at the royal court.

William Shakespeare possesses a strong aristocratic persona; he, the son of illiterate parents, father to two illiterate daughters while John Florio was a teacher and friend of powerful aristocrats and the Groom of the Privy Chamber to James the First and Queen Anne of Denmark for sixteen years.

All those “friends” of Shakespeare who appear in the colorless biography of the man of 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 “ his loving Father and worthy Friend Master John Florio. Ayde of his Muses.”. Similar tributes are shared by many other nobles.

William Shakespeare demonstrates an undeniable Italian sensibility. Examples abound: sixteen plays boast Italian plots. The man from Stratford shows an excellent knowledge of Italian as he read the arduous Giordano Bruno, Ariosto, Aretino (another one of the Bard’s major inspirations) in the original. PROOF OF ALL PROOFS: 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.

Finally, an ontological and sociological proof all in one. If two such characters – Shakespeare and John Florio – had lived in London at the same time, they would have certainly met, perhaps even clashed, leaving behind visible traces. Instead a total void!

If Florio shared with Shakespeare the same patrons, the same friends, the same interests, passions and abilities and yet never met him, nor mentioned him, proves once more that William Shakespeare never existed as the scholarly, multilingual, aristocratic Italianizing author of the works penned (when they were) by William Shakespeare.

Two Universities with a Master programme on Shakespeare Authorship Question:

- Concordia University (Oregon)
- Brunel University (London, U.K.)

Book Cover

John Florio
The Man Who Was Shakespeare
by Lamberto Tassinari
Giano Books
$CA 12.99

Second revised and augmented edition,
October 2013

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