The interrelation of all ‘players’ participating in the complex network of collaborations in early modern theatre
Conference: Practices of Collaboration in Early Modern Theatre
Susanne Gruss & Lena Steveker
Date and time: Thu, 2 Dec 2021, 14:00 – Sat, 4 Dec 2021, 15:00 CET – Université du Luxembourg (Luxembourg)
This conference discusses the interrelation of all ‘players’ participating in the complex network of collaborations in early modern theatre.
About this event
The culturally pervasive conception of dramatic authorship, which privileges the creative output of a single authorial mind, results from an oversimplification of the manifold practices of cultural production from which plays emerged in early modern England. These plays are in fact the products of a complex culture of collaboration which was pervasive in English theatre and theatrical culture in its formative years. While this is not a new insight – Gordon McMullan, for instance, argued that “collaboration is a much more appropriate model for textual production in general than is ostensibly ‘solo’ writing” as early as 1996 (438) – it is only more recently that critics have started to explore the various practices of collaboration that contributed to early modern theatre in more detail.
Even though early modern collaboration is habitually referenced as a “normal activity” of playwrights (Vickers 2017, 7), academic interest remains largely restricted to collaboration as a form of authorial ‘teamwork’ in the works of repeat collaborators (Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher or Thomas Middleton and William Rowley – see Masten 1997, Hirschfeld 2004, Hutchings and Bromham 2008, Nicol 2012). More recent research in repertory studies has taken into view the collaborative practices within particular playhouses, for example between authors and playing companies (see Munro 2005 and 2020, Gurr 2009, Rutter 2017). Scholars have also started to investigate how the burgeoning print market facilitated the publication and marketing of plays as printed commodities at a time when the author did not yet loom large in the eyes of the public, and how printers contributed to our contemporary (mis)understanding of authorship (see Brooks 2000, Stern 2009 and 2020).
And yet, recent editorial projects such as the Oxford Middleton (2007), the Online Brome (2010), the Oxford Ford (2011-), the Cambridge Jonson (2012) or the forthcoming Oxford Marston demonstrate that early modern drama is still widely conceived of (and marketed) in terms of the single-author play. This focus on the individual author as a marketable product, in particular, obscures the intricate interplay of numerous agents in the early modern dramatic arena: authors (and their respective playing companies), actors, printers, and playhouses.
“Practices of Collaboration in Early Modern Theatre” takes into view the interrelation of all ‘players’ participating in the complex network of collaboration that characterizes early modern theatre. The conference aims to explore more comprehensive concepts of early modern collaboration and, consequently, of early modern authorship. It is situated at the intersection of literary studies, cultural studies, and early modern history, and should be of interest to academics working in the humanities, especially in theatre and performance studies, history, repertory studies, book studies, and literary studies as well as cultural studies more generally.
Day 1 Thursday, 02 December 2021
|14:00-14:30||conference opening Susanne Gruss (University of Passau, DE) and Lena Steveker (University of Luxembourg, LUX)|
|14:30-15:30||keynote 1 Tiffany Stern (Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, UK):Product Placement in the Time of Shakespeare|
|16:00-17:00||panel 1: Collaboration, Authors, and Texts Laurie Maguire and Emma Smith (Oxford University, UK):|
What Is Collaboration?Stephen Longstaffe (independent researcher, UK):
“Compiled by many knaves”: What Can the Text of A Knack To Know A Knave Tell us about Theatrical ‘Collaboration’?
|17:30-18:30||panel 2: Collaboration, Paratexts, and PrintEmily Smith (University of Geneva, CH):|
“what both hau done”: Conceptions of Collaboration in Early Modern Dramatic EpiloguesAndreas P. Bassett (University of Washington, USA):
The Influence of the Jonson and Shakespeare Folios on Early English Playbook Titles
|20:00||conference dinner (online)|
Friday, 03 December 2021
|9:30-10:30||keynote 2 Lucy Munro (King’s College, London, UK): Heminges and Condell and Shakespeare|
|11:00-12:00||panel 3: Collaboration, Censors, and Adapters|
Gabriella Edelstein (University of Newcastle, AUS): Collaborative Censorship in the Sir John van Olden Barnauelt Manuscript
William David Green (independent researcher, UK): Collaborating with the Dead: Reading the Anonymous Adapter in Early Modern Stage Revivals
|13:30-14:30||panel 4: Collaboration and Actors|
Harry R. McCarthy (Jesus College, Cambridge, UK): Actor-Playwrights and Writing (for) the Actor: Field and Fletcher in Collaboration
Cora James (University of Sheffield, UK): “A Rude, laughing, Clownish Hoyden”: The Patent Company and the Comedy of Susanna Verbruggen
|15:00-16:00||panel 5: Collaboration and (Cultural) Translation |
Marianna Iannaccone (independent scholar, I): John Florio: The “Ayde” Of Shakespeare’s Muse
Felicity Brown (Jesus College, University of Oxford, UK): Collaborative Misfortunes: Dramatic Translation and Imitation at Gray’s Inn
|17:00-18:00||panel 6: Collaboration and Travelling Texts|
Kirsten Sandrock, (University of Tübingen, DE): Travel Writing, Collaboration, and New Source Studies: The Tempest and King Lear
Regula Hohl Trillini (University of Basel, CH): The Interactive Verbal Web of Renaissance Theatre: The Case of John Marston
|9:30-10:30||keynote 3Andy Kesson (University of Roehampton, UK):“I was appointed to perform this work” (Aemelia Lanyer): What Is Early Modern Attribution?|
|11:00-12:00||panel 7: Poetics of Collaboration|
Matthias Bauer, Sarah Briest, Sara Rogalski & Angelika Zirker (University of Tübingen, DE):
Reflections on Co-Creativity in Early Modern Drama
Sarah Briest (University of Tübingen, DE): Some Body to Bear Me Company: The Logistics of Plotting in the Directional Plays
|13:30-14:30||panel 8: Collaborative Performances|
Maria Shmygol (University of Leeds, UK): Pyrotechnic Performance in Jacobean London
Marcus Hartner (University of Bielefeld, DE): Silent Archives and Scholarly Reconstructions: Early Modern Practices of Collaboration in the Staging of the Muslim World
Susanne Gruss (University of Passau, DE) and Lena Steveker (University of Luxembourg, LUX)
JOHN FLORIO’S COPY OF VALLADOLID’S ACCOUNTS ATTRIBUTED TO MIGUEL DE CERVANTES IS HELD AT THE BRITISH LIBRARY
“Sarao, la bella maschera e sarao che si fece in Vagliadolid“
While he was engaged in the service of Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton, John Florio produced a work which remains a landmark in the history of Italian scholarship in England: A World of Words1 that marked him as a scholar of the first magnitude.
Florio’s Italian-English dictionary is the emblem of a writer who was constantly striving to find new words with an almost unparalleled lexical voracity. Sometimes he registered words with vague and superficial definition, and on a number of occasions, he was not able or not willing to say even this much about a word. When this happens he either registered the word in the dictionary without any definition at all, or else, he quoted the passage of the text in which the word appears. 2
Most of the words which Florio couldn’t interpret are dialectal terms, archaisms, foreign words or misprints in the texts he consulted. Among the many archaic words he registered there’s one “Sarao“, which Florio reported in the second, much augmented edition of his dictionary:
“Sarao, la bella maschera e sarao che si fece in Vagliadolid” – Florio, Queen Anna’s New World of Words, 1611, f. 464.
This definition is borrowed from the book Relatione di quanto è successo nella città di Vagliadolid, 1608. The book is listed in Florio’s library as follows:
Relatióne di quánto successe in Vagliadolid del 1605.
THE TREATY OF LONDON
This book is an Italian translation by Cesare Parona of an anonymous book attributed to Miguel De Cervantes.
The original book in Spanish is titled Relación de lo sucedido en la ciudad de Valladolid desde el punto de felicísimo nacimiento del príncipe D. Felipe Dominico Víctor nuestro Señor, and was published in Valladolid in 1605. It narrates the peace between Spain and England in 1604/1605 and put end to the hostilities that had been straining the financial resources of both England and Spain in the last two decades of the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and Philip II.
Articles of peace between the two countries were signed in London in 1604 and then in Valladolid in 1605. The Spanish ambassador who travelled to England for the purpose was Juan Fernandez de Velasco, the Constable of Castile. Henry Wriothesley, John Florio’s patron, to whom he dedicated A World of Words, was in charge of the elaborate celebrations to receive the visitors.3 It is very likely that Florio, as groom of the privy chamber and private secretary to Queen Anne of Denmark, was among the many courtiers who took part at the celebrations. Soon later, the Earl of Nottingham, Charles Howard, (late Lord Howard of Effingham) travelled, accompanied by five hundred Englishmen, to Valladolid to receive the oath of his Catholic Majesty and to offer congratulations to Philip III on the birth of a son and heir. The visit was marked by a singular display of splendour on the side of Spain. The word Florio borrowed and reported without explanation, “Sarao“, refers to a dance done in Valladolid during a masque prepared for the special event. It cannot be excluded that Florio, working as intermediary between foreign ambassadors and the English court, was among the five hundred men who accompanied the Earl of Nottingham in Valladolid.
CERVANTES IN VALLADOLID
Of this journey there are extant two distinct narratives: one by Robert Treswell, Sormeset Herald, the other by an anonymous writer, who professes to have been present. The pen of the author of Don Quixote is said to have been likewise called into service on the same occasion, the authority for this being a satirical sonnet on the Valladolid event by the poet Luis de Góngora that ends with these words: “These our exploits were commended for description to Don Quixote, Sancho, and his ass.” 4
Cervantes moved to Valladolid in 1604, and published Don Quixote while living there in 1605. Valladolid was one of the most prosperous cities in Spain. As the seat of Court, it was the resort of the most famous of the men of letters, for there were gathered the patrons. It is very likely that of the 506 English men who were in Spain with the Earl of Nottingham, some must have known Cervantes.
Despite Spanish was not as popular a modern language for Elizabethans to study as French or Italian, Spanish proverbs and witty sayings were included in the textbook of William Stepney, incorporated into the dialogues of John Minsheu, and in the dictionary of John Sanford. 5 John Florio owned Spanish books in his library as testified in his last will, and crafted new words in English borrowed from Cervantes’s language. In A World of Words, he acknowledges a number of dictionary sources, among them an Italian-Spanish dictionary. In the same dictionary he mentions many definitions related to the Spanish culture and traditions.
JOHN FLORIO & CERVANTES: INFLUENCE ON LANGUAGE
Both John Florio and Cervantes became closely associated with their languages.
Born to a deaf surgeon who struggled to find a lasting job in a field that was poorly paid at the time, at 20 years old Cervantes was enlisted in the Spanish army and was wounded in the Battle of Lepanto, suffering two chest wounds and the complete maiming of his left hand. While returning to Spain in 1575, his ship was attacked and captured by Barbary pirates, and Cervantes, together with his brother Rodrigo, was sold into slavery in Algiers, the centre of the Christian slave traffic in the Muslim world. After trying and failing to make a living as a playwright (only two of his plays survive), not surprisingly, this, the most adventurous period of Cervantes’s life, supplied subject matter for several of his literary works. He finally achieved fame after publishing the first part of the novel El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha in 1605. The work is usually described as the first modern novel, and has been translated into dozens of other languages.
Florio undoubtedly had a major influence in changing the English language, with proverbs, metaphors, witty sayings, and words. He was the first linguist to use the pronoun “its” and is also known to have drawn from other languages such as Italian, French and Spanish, when it was useful. Florio is responsible for the first recorded use of about 1,000 words. Among the many words and compounds we know from Florio are “emotion”, “artist”, “marble-hearted”, “fresh-bleeding”, “management”, “incarnate”, or proverbs like “All that glitters is not gold”, “Fast bind, fast find”, “The end makes all men equal.”
Cervantes’s contribution to the Spanish language is so great the Spanish language itself is referred to in certain circles as la lengua de Cervantes, or “the language of Cervantes”. While Cervantes perhaps did not contribute as many words in terms of sheer volume to the Spanish language as John Florio did for English, he did contribute several words and expressions that even managed to find their way over to the English language. Cervantes is credited for introducing to us the word “quixotic”, after his most notable character, Don Quixote, meaning idealistic, unrealistic or impractical. The Spanish equivalent is Quijotesco, although it refers more often to personality than the English word. Furthermore, in Don Quixote, Cervantes mix different styles and languages and different speech genres, narrative style, elegant and simple, with rhetorical speeches and the low style of peasants and the academic, learned style, or the slang of thieves and rogues, which made him the most important and celebrated figure in Spanish literature. He is also credited with introducing several important expressions to the Spanish culture, such as por la muestra se conoce el paño, which literally translates to “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”, or rather “the proof is in the pudding” as in English, ’tilting at windmills’, ‘the pot calling the kettle black’, ‘bigger fish to fry’, and ‘the sky is the limit’.
JOHN FLORIO & CERVANTES: THE COPY HELD AT THE BRITISH LIBRARY
The anonymous work written by Cervantes, Relacion de lo sucedido en la ciudad de Valladolid is extremely rare and the British Library holds only one copy of the Italian translation by Cesare Parona, printed at Milan in 1608 and owned once by John Florio, the same that was also in King James’s library. Florio owned several rare and expensive books in his library: his ability to acquire extremely rare copies of books can be explained partially in a library which was inherited by his father and through his diplomatic relationship with foreign ambassadors. There are several dispatches written by Florio to Venetian and Florentine ambassadors, in which he asked them to send books from Italy that he couldn’t acquire in England. In 1609, he asked the Venetian ambassador Giustinian to send him a book from Venice 6, Descrizione delle feste fatte nelle reali nozze de’ Serenissimi principi di Toscana Cosimo de Medici e Maria Maddalena arciduchessa d’ Austria (1608), which focuses on the great celebrations and masques done during the wedding of Cosimo de’ Medici and Maria Maddalena, which later became the source for several Jacobean masques. 7.
His powerful position at court, gained in 1604 with the ascension of Queen Anne of Denmark and King James VI, gave him access to a diplomatic partnership between London and Venice, which made him a go-between who played a central role with courts entertainments as well, having access to vital and rare sources he used both for his works and for fruitful collaborations with his colleagues and friends.
JOHN FLORIO’S COPY OF RELATIONE
Two years before his death, at 70 years old, John Florio made his last will. He bequeathed his library to the Pembroke family. Sadly, his beloved books never reached Wilton or Baynards Castle at London as requested. For unknown reasons, in fact, the executors named in the will renounced execution. Florio’s library has, since then, sadly disappeared.
Over the centuries some Florio’s scholars have tried the impossible mission to find (part of) his library. Arundel Del Re in his book about John Florio and First Fruits8 reported to have found only one book that belonged to Florio’s library. It’s The Imprese by Paolo Giovio bearing Florio’s signature. Today this book is at the British Library. Frances Yates, Florio’s biographer, asserted that she once had seen an annotated copy of Chaucer that belonged to John Florio. Two years ago this copy has been sold online by Peter Harrington. The cover contains John Florio’s handwriting: “J. Florio: Ex dono John Dony.” The copy is now at Yale university. Recently, a new article on this website analysed a copy of Montaigne’s Essays hand-corrected by John Florio. In his preface to Montaigne’s Essays, Florio specified that there were some copies of the Essays translated by him that contained typographical errors that himself tried to correct manually. This is one of the copies that Florio hand-corrected. Today this copy is at the UCLA, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles. There is also the famous copy of Volpone that belonged to John Florio signed by Ben Jonson himself to “His loving father and worthy friend, Master John Florio, the Ayde of his Muses” which is today at the British Library.
Florio’s working method was not a linear one, and he used many sources he borrowed from his predecessors and favourite authors to write his works. For this reason, the books he owned must certainly contain scribbles, marginalia, and underlined words he borrowed and used in his works. This is the case of the extremely rare copy of Relatione by Cesare Parona held at the British Library 9 which does not bear his signature, but contains various underlined words and paragraphs which can be found in Florio’s works. It can be assumed that who highlighted those archaic, quaint words was meant to use them afterwards or to record them, either for personal delight or for a literary work.
It is possible, therefore, that this book written by Cervantes was owned once by John Florio, and possibly passed to King James as well. There are indeed other examples of books Florio owned and handed to English royals. The Queen regularly purchased books from Florio, many of which were in Italian. In 1605, Florio gave the Queen a copy of the Italian Histories by Matteo Bandello and received £6.14s. Furthermore, he gave her two dictionaries, two dialogues in Italian and English, as well as some writing materials. Later, on 22 February 1607, The Queen paid Florio for a sumptuous £4 copy of ‘Italian Bible for her Maiestie’ and for a copy of ‘Plutarches lives in English’. 10 Also, in 1608 Florio purchased a French Plutarch and an English Plutarch for the use of the Queen and her daughter. 11
CESARE PARONA’S RELATIONE: AN ANALYSIS
The copy of Cesaro Parona’s translation at the British Library contains some underlined words which can be found in John Florio’s works. The images of Parona’s book follows the underlined word as explained and reported by Florio in his dictionary.
Florio reports the word as follows:
Haziẻnda, a Spanish word as Facẻnda, but a great office in Spaine.
He also highlighted the word Casimodo without knowing its meaning, reported in the dictionary without explanation.
Papellóne, as Papiglióne.
Frangióne, any great or deepe fringe.
Capperúccio, as Capparúccio , as Capúccio. Also a cape of a Spanish cloke.
Robíglia, a iacket, a mandillion, a horsemans cote or such other garment.
Impennacchiáre, to dight with plumes.
Gianétta, a Spanish-gennet-mare.
Gianétto, a Gennet or Spanish horse.
Gianettóne, a horseman, a Gennet-rider
Another archaic word Florio underlined and reported without explanation is Cénici.
Labáro, a banner, a streamer or ensigne hung vp in churches ouer Princes and noble mens tombes and hearces. Also a rich banner or foure square purple cloth beset with pearles and precious stones, that vntill Constantines time, who co[m]manded the figure of the crosse to be caried from him, was wont to be caried before the Emperours of the East, wherein were richly embroydered certaine letters in golde, namely the letter Chi and Rhò, which signifieth Christ, and was worshipped of their souldiers. Also a kind of birde.
Recámera, a with-drawing or backe-chamber.
Patággio, a Patache or flat-boate.
Almiránta, an admirall-ship.
Disarboráre, to vntree, to cut downe trees. Also to vnmast a ship. Also to vnstaue or pull any ensigne from of its staffe. Also to reduce any tree into timber or fewell, the contrary, also of Inalboráre.
Fẻlúca, a kinde of swift barke or lift barge or pinnace. Also the crew of water-waiters.
Ciúffolo, a whisse, a whistle.
Among the many other words he highlighted which are reported in his dictionary, there is also a marginalia he added twice (page 31 and page 62) right next the word Count of Perth [i.e., James Drummond].
Marginalia are fundamental to trace the owner of a book, they tell us how they personalise the annotations. In this case, the same marginalia was drawn in Florio’s personal copy of Montaigne’s Essays and corroborates the hypothesis that this was, indeed, Florio’s copy of Relatione, sometimes handed to King James.
Tordiglióne, a kind of dance in Spaine
Every time the Earl of Perth, James Drummond, is mentioned in the book, Florio draws the marginalia as reference. In this case, he highlighted the whole description of the Count:
Florio underlined that the King “commanded the handsome young Earl of Perth to dance, and the young man chose Dona Catalina de la Cerda, and the two of them made such an impression that it was impossible to say whether the lady or the gentleman had danced more gracefully.”
Fourth Lord Drummond, and first Earl of Perth, James Drummond was created “Earl of Perth” by Patent, dated 4th March 1605 by King James VI, to him and his heirs male whatsoever. However, he enjoyed his honours for a short time only; he died at Seton, on the 18th December, 1611, in the 21st year of his age. He was married but had no sons, wherefore his estate and honours devolved upon his younger brother.
This copy of Relatione, owned by John Florio, is the witness of Florio’s involvement in England’s peace with Spain – which he possibly experienced both during court entertainments and in Valladolid – his knowledge of Cervantes, and his method in underlining and borrowing words for his works. Another book finally placed where it belongs: in his library.
"Sarao": John Florio & Cervantes in Valladolid by Marianna Iannaccone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. For further information send email at email@example.com.
- A worlde of wordes, or, Most copious, and exact dictionarie in Italian and English, collected by Iohn Florio, Printed at London, by Arnold Hatfield for Edward Blount, 1598.
- See O’Connor, D. J. John Florio’s Contribution to Italian-English Lexicography, Italica, vol. 49, no. 1, American Association of Teachers of Italian, 1972, pp. 49–67, https://doi.org/10.2307/478390.
- Brenchley Rye, William, editor, England as Seen by Foreigners in the Days of Elizabeth and James the First, London, 1865, p. 117-124.
- Pellicer, Juan Antonio, Vida de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, en Madrid, por D. Gabriel de Sancha, 1800, p. 115.
- Minsheu, John, A Spanish Grammar, London, 1599, 75-84; Minsheu, John, Pleasant and Delightfull Dialogues in Spanish and English, London, 1599, 10-11, 21, 60; Sanford, John An Entrance to the Spanish Tongue, London, 1611; Stepney, William, The Spanish Schoole-master, London, 1591.
- TNA SP 99/5/330
- Read John Florio, Italian ambassadors, and the wedding of Cosimo I and Maria Maddalena, Url=”https://www.resolutejohnflorio.com/2020/11/03/florio-cosimo/”
- Del Re, Arundel, Florio’s first fruites, Taipei: Taihoku Imperial University, 1936
- British Library, London, 811.d.4.(1.)
- Field, J., Anna of Denmark: A Late Portrait by Paul Van Somer, The British Art Journal, 18, n.2, 2017. p. 6
- TNA: PRO, SC6/JASI/1648.
AND WHY RENAISSANCE SOCIETY OF AMERICA NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT JOHN FLORIO
I have had the pleasure to receive an email and a comment on this website from Dr. Richard Waugaman, who has kindly sent me his recent article on the 1620 translation of Decameron. Wugaman’s new thesis focuses on Edward De Vere. He claims that the real author of 1620 English Decameron was the Elizabethan courtier, “the author of Shakespeare’s works”. This “new” thesis was introduced at Renaissance Society of America on April 2021, and since I sadly read a great amount of wrong and distorted information about John Florio in this article, publicly given at such important place, I feel obliged to answer.
First of all, I want to thank Mr. Wugaman for his interest in my work and John Florio, I really appreciate it, and I hope my answers to his many mistakes on Florio will be received as a new challenge to achieve bigger and better works in the future.
His seminar, hold at Renaissance Society of America, is titled “Did Florio indeed write the 1620 translation of Boccaccio’s The Decameron?”, while his article is far more straight-to-the point: “Did Edward de Vere Translate Boccaccio’s Decameron into English, Published in 1620?” In this article, Dr. Waugaman suggested that Florio is not a suitable candidate for a bunch of different reasons that I will present here.
First of all, I want to point out that Mr. Wugaman is right. Some recent scholars are indeed undermining the authorship of John Florio as the ghostwriter of 1620 Decameron. I’ve read it occasionally in some recent books on Boccaccio’s masterpiece.
To be more precise, they claim to be “skeptical” about the idea that Florio translated Decameron. However, these scholars haven’t proposed a new candidate. Their scepticism should also offer a new, different stylist-linguistic analysis, like Herbert Wright did when he first proposed John Florio. His work, in fact, carried on such conviction that has never been challenged. If these scholars claim that Florio is not a reliable author without giving any explanation, one might suppose that their claims are mere biased assumptions and oversimplifications of Florio’s style and personality, which has been sadly distorted too often throughout the centuries, as I will show here.
I believe that it is time to make a more modern, accurate analysis of the anonymous writer of 1620 Decameron. Computer analysis, like function word adjacency networks, are used to compare different authors styles to spot authorship in anonymous works: this could be done with 1620 Decameron.
Oh, I’d love to see the results.
Dr. Guyda Armstrong, an author that Waugaman cites in his article, in her book about Decameron has explained why, in the recent years, some scholars seem to be skeptical about Florio:
“Armstrong also notes the paradox that Florio would have concealed his role in translating this book, when he took credit for his highly regarded 1603 translation of Montaigne’s Essays.”
But Armstrong, in the same book and in the same page, explained also the reason why Florio wrote anonymously, a quotation that Dr. Waugaman didn’t add:
“It must be emphasised that English translators of the Decameron long remained unwilling to state who they were, and, indeed, it was not until the nineteenth century that this responsibility was taken” – The English Boccaccio, 2013, p. 219.
The question is, therefore, answered.
With this brief introduction, I’d like to point out that Dr. Waugaman and I live in two different planets: he lives in a planet in which Edward De Vere wrote Shakespeare. I live in a planet in which Shakespeare-wrote-Shakespeare.
But I know yours is much funnier, Richard, that’s why I want to join it for a brief moment. So, let’s sail this ship.
1) You assert that these qualities – that the anonymous writer of Decameron has – do not describe Florio:
“In addition to his competence in both French and Italian, [he] manifests a special interest in dogs and horses, the sea, the law, drama and fine arts and music; a courtly relish for ceremony and rank…While many of those qualities describe Oxford, Bush does not agree with Wright that they describe Florio.”
Richard, have you and Mr Bush ever read Florio’s works? Because these are current themes in his dialogues, and he loved them deeply. Specially horses, he couldn’t shut up about them. He wrote whole dialogues on horses. Even Miss Yates in her biography on Florio and Matthiessen in his analysis of Florio’s Montaigne underlines his love for horses. In the Essay “Of Steeds, called in French destriers”, Matthiessen points out that Florio twice enlarges the text, and the reason for the riot of language obviously lies “in the translator’s devotion to this subject”:
“Ce que j’ay admiré autresfois, de voir un cheval dressé à se manier à toutes mains, avec une baguette, la bride avalléè sur ses oreilles – I,400 – Montaigne
That which I have other times wondered at, to see a horse fashioned and taught, that a man having but a wand in his hand, and his bridle loose hanging over his eares, might at his pleasure manage, and make him turne, stop, run, cariere, trop, gallop, and whatever else may be expected of an excellent ready horse. I. 337.
[The words in bold are Florio’s own addition.]
And don’t get me started with the sea theme. That man had the ocean in his mind (I never understood why, he grew up surrounded by the Alps.)
If his work failed it was a “Shipwreck”, Montaigne’s Essays were a “Rockie-rough Ocean”, his friend who helped him was a “Guide-fish to the whale”. If instead he was working on a big project, he likened it to a “Seafaring adventure” and when he was alone at work he was “But one to turne and winde the sailes, to use the oare, to sit at asterne, to pricke my carde, to watch upon the upper decke, boate-swaine, pilot, mate, and master, all offices in one, and that in a more unruly, more unweildie, and more roome-some essel, then the biggests hulke on Thames, and that in a sea more divers, more dangerous, more stormie, and more comfortless then any Ocean.” When the work was finally finished he could not remark that “I sweat, I wept, and I went on, til now I stand at bay.” If he was making the same old mistake he mentioned the Italian/English proverb “Et a torto si lamenta del mare, chi due volte ci vuol tornare, who loves to be more on the sea, then they that have been most on it?”
And music: where to begin?
Giordano Bruno, in the Ash Wednesday Supper, portrayed him singing old stanzas from Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso:
“Dove, senza me, dolce mia vita, sang Messer Florio, thinking of his loves.” In his works, Florio wrote many dialogues on music. I particularly love this statement on a dialogue on Music: “Music is said to be the rejoicing of the heart; music comforteth the mind and feareth the enemy”. Chapter 31 “On Music”, First Fruits.
When he worked at court as Groom of the privy chamber, he also selected musicians for the courts entertainments. (Once he was corrupted by a Florentine ambassador who offered him a tobacco pipe and a dinner to choose an Italian musician.)
And, last one: he wrote a madrigal!
His knowledge on law was acquired when he worked as secretary and legal representative of the French ambassador Michel De Castelnau at the French Embassy in London between 1583 and 1585. He kept working at the embassy also after the ambassador’s departure in 1586, with an office of his own.
In his dialogues there are also many mentions on law. Some have eere connotations:
“I would that there were such a Lawe, that if one shold bring up his children, without teachyng them somethyng, and especially to reade write and speake divers languages, that he should be beheaded, or els punished greevously.”
“Why I can’t love her? – Because the law forbids it – What law? – The law of God, and the law of Men.”
“Let us make a lawe, that no man put of his cap, or hat at the table.“
Let us make a lawe, that whosoever fals asleep at the table shall loose his hat.”
That man wanted to make a law on everything. Thank God he chose to be a writer, England would have been hell.
Florio’s father was also a notary, and one of Florio’s closest friend was friend Alberigo Gentili, whose book De Legationibus was an important turning-point in the history of international law. Gentili wrote a dedication to his friend Florio in his second edition of his Italian-English dictionary.
I could go on, but this is only the first point.
2. You also assumed that Florio is not a suitable candidate as ghostwriter of Decameron because he wasn’t acquainted with poetry and theatre:
“Florio (Desmond O’Connor citation) lacked the inspiration and originality of the poet and playwright.”
John Florio, dear Richard, was also a poet. He wrote poems in both Italian (following the Petrarchan structure) and English sonnets (iambic pentameter), and collaborated with playwrights (like Ben Jonson and Webster)
It has been also emphasised by his scholars (like Wyatt and Boutcher, for example) that his works were written in the form of dramatic dialogues.
“The dialogues Florio wrote offer dramatic scenes thus must owe something to Cinquecento Italian comedy. The proverbs he wrote are organised as a kind of parameological struggle or servant and master dialectic that has something in common with the conversational dynamic developed in certain scenes in Elizabethan’s theatre”. – Warren Boutcher, Reformation, 1995.
Wyatt recognises a theatrical structure in Florio’s bilingual dialogues and how his dialogues had a “dramatic potential” that could be brought to the stage.
Regarding this subject, it is important to underlined that to write his dialogues in First and Second Fruits, Florio also borrowed from Commedia dell’Arte’s plots. (there are more books on theatre than on grammar in his library)
It is also relevant to not forget Matthiessen’s analysis of Florio’s “theatrical translation” of Montaigne’s Essays. (Part of the analysis can be read on this. website.)
Florio was also in contact with theatrical companies. Just to name one: he collaborated with Leicester’s Men and actors like Richard Tarlton, Robert Wilson and Thomas Clarke.
3. You assume that Florio is not a suitable candidate because “There have been no other anonymous works attributed to Florio.”
John Florio published several works anonymously throughout his career. After a bit of “identity crisis”, signing himself in several different ways, Giovanni, John, Iohannes, Resolute, he seems to have realised that he could also work anonymously (maybe the choice of the name was too hard.)
In 1585 he published “A letter lately written from Rome”, a pamphlet in which he translated news from Europe and rewrote them as novels.
In 1591, he wrote another anonymous pamphlet “Perpetual, and Natural Prognostications of the change of weather.” (And was mocked by Nashe)
In 1594 he collaborated anonymously with Italian fencing master Vincentio Saviolo for his fencing manual, in which he translated and readapted an Italian fencing manual and wrote dialogues between a master and his servant with Saviolo’s technical knowledge on fencing.
He collaborated anonymously with several playwrights
He translated Basilikon Doron of King James anonymously
He wrote love poems to his patron Queen Anne of Denmark anonymously (he loved to praise his patrons)
4. You assume that Florio is not a suitable candidate because he chose a French source as primary source:
“A major objection to Florio as translator was the heavy use of the Antoine Le Maçon French translation as a primary source (probably its 1578 edition). Florio knew Italian well—probably better than Oxford—so it is difficult to explain why he would have relied on the French translation as a primary source text.”
Florio would have laughed out loud at this assumption and here is why. You should know that Florio’s working method was to select as many sources as possible, in many different languages, translating them and readapting them for the English readers.
I’ll make one example just for you:
To write the dialogues of First Fruits, John Florio used the following sources:
- Ludovico Guicciardini “Hore di Ricreatione”
- James Sanford’s English translation of Guicciardini’s work
- Anthonio Guevara’s “Libro Aureo”
- Lord Bernes’s English translation of Guevara
- Francesco Portonaris da Trino’s translation of Guevara’s work
- Thomas North “Diall of Princess“
- The French translation of Thomas North’s work
- The French translation of Lord Bernes’s English translation
John Florio would never use one source if he could fine ten. That man had a lot of books at command, and loved them ravenously. Same method was used for other works. In his testament, he cited 400 books, and many French and Spanish books. Your assumption that Florio “knew Italian well” and for this specific reason couldn’t pick a French source is laughable for a scholar who knows Florio deeply. He used as many sources as possible, and French was a source he used very often. (That man was a walking human library.)
5. In the same statement, you defined Florio a man who knew better Italian “So why did he choose the French source?”
Florio knew Italian better? This is also wrong. John Florio was born in London. His father was Italian. His mother most probably English. He grew up in a little village in between Italy and Switzerland. He never set foot in Italy. At 10 years old he moved to Germany for several years. Miss Yates suggested that he probably travelled to France as well. At (about) 18 years old he came back to London. He was a multicultural man, an hybrid identity who knew Latin, French, German, Spanish, Greek, probably even Hebrew (his grandparents were Hebrew). To define him a man who “knew better Italian” is hugely incorrect.
Proposing a new candidate by making personal assumptions on his style, personality and works without knowing him is not the correct way to bring forward a serious, compelling candidate. Comparison is made by an objective point of view, not personal speculations. I honestly suggest you not to downgrade Florio, but to make a stylistic-linguistic analysis as Herbert Wright did, that, still today, is considered the most reliable and correct.
I would also like to point out (and I do it to give you another perspective on your modus operandi) that you are comparing DeVere, an Elizabethan courtier, to a great humanist and translator of English Renaissance, a crafter of words and serial neologist, the third greatest linguist of the English language. A man who made of his style (doublings of nouns, amplifications, rhetorical ornament, musical translations) his trademark. You should bring more challenging arguments if you want to have a small chance to see your candidate as the “new author” of Decameron’s work.
I know 1620 Decameron looks appetising to anti-strafordians: the dedications to William Herbert (patron of John Florio) and the editor Jaggard are connected to the First Folio published three years later, and Decameron itself is a source for Shakespeare’s works.
I almost forgot to give another information about Florio and Decameron: In 1591 he already translated Boccaccio’s work in his Second Fruits, readapting and rewriting 2 novels for his work. He later decided to publish these two novels in a pamphlet (1591) without citing Boccaccio and making the work his own. Today there are only 12 copies of this book in the world.
Dear Richard, I won’t bore you with Florio anymore. Your thesis is fascinating, but probably fit for those who don’t know him. (But now I’m confidant you know him better than before)
You pointed out that some scholars are undermining Florio’s authorship, and you are right. But if these are the kind of topics they bring forward to find a new candidate, the more legitimate, suitable and acceptable one will ever be the same: Resolute John Florio.
I’m confidant that such an important Society as RSA, who focuses on discussions about important Renaissance figures, will, one day, give also space for panels on the life and works of John Florio, one of the most important apostles of Renaissance in England.
The article examines John Florio’s Italian-English dictionary “A World of Words” as a link between plot and subplot in William Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night”. It discusses the relevance of Florio’s title to the play, the link between the main romantic and Plautine plot, and the subplot concerning the gulling of Malvolio.
Authors: TARANTINO, ELISABETTA
Source: Notes & Queries. Sep 2016, Vol. 63 Issue 3, p422-424. 3p. Publication Date:2016-09-01 Language: English
Database: Academic Search Index Journal: Notes & Queries Volume: 63 Issue: 3
THE PEDANT, THE CUCKOLD, THE EVIL SPY: IT IS TIME FOR SHAKESPEARE’S SCHOLARS TO TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT THE FLORIO-SHAKESPEARE AFFAIR
“The Pedant Holofernes”
“The Spy in Southampton household”
“Ridiculed by Shakespeare”
The famous lexicographer, translator and poet John Florio has been kept in oppression and deprivation by a poisonous fog of lies written both by serious scholars and random fans of the Bard. They have flooded Shakespeare’s biographies and the internet with twisted, distorted stories in which John Florio is portrayed either as the silly pedant mocked by Shakespeare, or his trusted schoolmaster. Small, scattered pieces of a bigger puzzle precisely created in order to give Shakespeare a more suitable, credible life, while, at the same time, ruin Florio’s reputation forever, both as a man and as writer.
But let’s start from the beginning.
The first pen who began the never-ending thread of false legends on John Florio was William Warburton, who in his 1747 annotated edition of Shakespeare’s works declared that:
“By Holofernes is designed a particular character, a pedant and schoolmaster of our author’s time, one John Florio, a teacher of the Italian tongue in London.”
From that moment, other scholars have followed him, by asserting the same ghoulish tale in almost every Shakespeare’s book: Florio as the pedant, the silly teacher, that Shakespeare loved to mock in his plays.
Forget the famous translator, creative lexicographer, and an outstanding interpreter of Italian humanistic culture in Elizabethan England. Forget the man honoured by royal personages and intimate friend of the most important poets and writers of the day.
Not a single scholar pointed out that Warburton’s words were the climax of a reckless guesswork and absurd suggestion. No one batted an eyelash. And this was the first of a long lasting list of insults precisely made to bury John Florio’s reputation.
Every time the name of Florio emerges in Shakespeare’s books, there is always a negative connotation applied to his name. John Florio has become, using the words of Shakespeare’s scholars:
“A man beset with tempers and oddities which exposed him more perhaps than any man of his time to the ridicule his contemporaries”.
And a man:
“In his literary career, jealous, vain, irritable, pedantic, bombastical, petulant, and quarrelsome, ever on the watch for an affront, always in the attitude of a fretful porcupine.”
A mass of words falls upon John Florio like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up the truth. George Orwell wrote that if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.
And in fact, these galling words against Florio, written for the first time in one of the earliest Shakespeare’s biographies, were copied and pasted in countless Shakespeare’s books until today. Even in the introduction of the complete collection of Shakespeare’s works published by Delphi in 2013, or in Arthur Acheson’s “Shakespeare’s lost years in London,” who pointed out that Florio wasn’t only the pedant Holofernes, but also John Falstaff.
From the silly pedant, John Florio becomes the fat, vain, boastful knight who spends most of his time drinking. By an embarrassing, complicated wordplay, Acheson, once again, ridicules John Florio by asserting that:
“I am convinced that Shakespeare intentionally made his caricature of John Florio more transparent by choosing a name having the same initials as his, and furthermore, that in altering the historical name of Falstofe to Falstaff, he intended to indicate Florio’s relations with Southampton as false-staff, a misleader of youth.”
Misleader of youth. False-staff. Acheson has finally enlightened us on Falstaff with this very insightful, acute, and clever analysis.
It doesn’t matter if the actual documents of the time actually prove the reverse. That John Florio became tutor and close friend of Henry Wriothesley from 1590 until, at least, 1598. That, as Florio wrote in his works, the tutor and the young, rich and beautiful Henry went at theatre to see comedies together. They also played at tennis together. Florio tutored him in Italian language and Italian literature. And became so intimate with Henry that one night on October 1594, he threatened the sheriff of Southampton to cast him overboard and ordered him to stop investigating on Henry’s friends, Charles and Henry Danvers, who murdered Henry Long.
In his dedication to Henry in A World of Words, Florio wrote:
“In truth I acknowledge an entyre debt, not onely of my best knowledge, but of all, yea of more then I know or can, to your bounteous Lordship most noble, most vertuous, and most Honorable Earle of Southampton, in whose paie and patronage I have lived some yeeres; to whom I owe and vowe the yeeres I have to live.”
Clearly the words of a rustic pedant who spied on his friend.
So, Florio is Holofernes in Love Labour’s Lost. But he is also John Falstaff because he is False-Staff, “Misleader of youth.”
According to other Shakespeare’s scholars John Florio is also Don Armado, for his Italian affected language.
Oh, Shakespeare loved to mock John Florio. And also loved Florio’s wife.
Yes, because according to another Shakespeare’s scholar, Jonathan Bate, author of The Genius of Shakespeare, Shakespeare had also a passionate relationship with Florio’s wife. He suggested that the “Low-born”, but “Witty and talented wife of Italian linguist John Florio” (note the details about her) was the lover of both Shakespeare and Henry Wriothesley.
Forget the tv show Beautiful, Shakespeare’s biographies are more entertaining than an American soap opera.
Audrey Burl too, in his in-depth analysis of Florio/Shakespeare relationship “Shakespeare’s mistress, The Mistery of The Dark Lady Revelead” points out that the Dark Lady is the wife of John Florio: Aline Florio.
Saul Frampton from the University of Westminster joins the group, identifying the dark lady as John Florio’s wife: Avisa Florio.
Sorry, there must be a mistake here. Was she Aline or Avisa? Nobody knows. Because truth is that there is no wife of John Florio. Aline or Avisa never existed. Shakespeare’s scholars should add an asterisk when these words run riot in their books, by reminding the readers that when Florio is mentioned, the information is “not underpinned by sound evidence.”
Shakespeare’s scholars have, once again, made up a name and a story, using John Florio in order to explain something they cannot explain (The Dark Lady), ruining his reputation (and that of his wife, if she ever existed) to fill their book with false legends on the Anglo-Italian.
So, to sum up: Florio is the pedant, the petulant, cuckold, false-staff, quarrelsome, spy, vain, misleader of youth, irritable.
A lovable man.
This does beg the question: When will Shakespeare’s scholars stop throwing mud at John Florio?
Or, to put it plainly: When will they stop using him as a puppet in order to try to compose an half-broken puzzle of a too often meagre, undocumented life?
Yes, because while Florio seems to be Shakespeare’s greatest enemy, he is also his greatest friend. Joker suddenly becomes Robin in a Batman comic book. Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’s enemy and Machiavellian criminal mastermind is transformed into his loyal, resourceful assistant and flatmate John Watson.
Many Shakespeare’s scholars have, in fact, underlined that when Shakespeare wrote the comedies settled in Italy, inspired by the Italian books of Bandello, Boccaccio, Cinthio and the Commedia dell’arte plays, he needed John Florio, who owned those books in his library, who read and translated the Italian plots for Shakespeare. Yes, Florio was Shakespeare’s personal translator. The Google Translate of early modern era.
Shakespeare seems also acquainted with Florio’s First and Second Fruits, in which the pedant wrote entertaining dramatic dialogues about love, women, philosophy and theatre.
Shakespeare was also well acquainted with Florio’s Italian-English dictionaries, A World of Words (1598) and Queen Anna’s New World of Words (1611), as many words he wrote were first published by Florio in his two pioneering works. There’s no need to point out that the Bard must have known Italian language very well to find the exact word he needed and its English version. Maybe it’s for this reason that John Florio has been also defined, in this infinite list, “Shakespeare’s living dictionary”.
This definition seems straight out of a memorable scene of The Devil Wears Prada, when the protagonist Andrea (played by Anne Hathaway) must memorise two books’ worth of faces and names so that she can feed them to her impossible boss Miranda (played by Meryl Streep) at a Parisian gala.
Now imagine Shakespeare and Florio in a movie titled On Literary Camaraderie, strolling down the streets of London or sitting together in a pub. Shakespeare armed with feather and quill while Florio whispers into his ear “Coloquintida”, “Bergomask”, “Votarista”, “Prenzie”, “Certes”, “Signior!”.
“Can you please spell Signior?”
Was Shakespeare so pretentious that he couldn’t even be bothered to learn them himself? Or is there more going on? Maybe, a little of both.
And let’s not forget Montaigne. The Essays, published for the first time in English in 1603 by John Florio, has influenced Shakespeare’s The Tempest and his other plays, to the point that George Coffin Taylor published the book Shakespeare’s debt to Montaigne, in which he wondered if there was any other single work “that Shakspere read influenced him in so many different plays and in so great a variety of ways – words, phrases, passages, thoughts.” And the topic is so important that there has been a new, updated analysis on the matter by Stephen Greenblatt titled “Shakespeare’s Montaigne” (and only in the subtitle he reminds the readers that it’s “Florio’s translation”.)
All these authors have also highlighted that Shakespeare was most certainly acquainted with Montaigne’s Essays even before the publication of Florio’s translation, explained with a manuscript that Florio gave to his friend Shakespeare before he could publish the Essays.
Even Shakespeare’s scholar Matthiessen, by ending his analysis of Florio’s translation of Montaigne and his influence upon Shakespeare, declared that “Florio and Shakespeare were constantly talking to the same people, hearing the same theories, breathing the same air.”
Certainly, it must have been hard for Shakespeare to stay so close to Florio for so many years, reading his works while at the same time constantly mocking and insulting him, having a passionate relationship with his wife while the pedant studied Commedia dell’arte for his pal. Florio the talking cricket in the drawer of Shakespeare’s desk, who jumped on his shoulder every time the Bard needed a strange, rare word; or an Italian plot; some random pages of an undefined manuscript.
This false, distorted narrative has permeated every page of Shakespeare’s biographies; with the advent of Internet era, it has flooded the web of countless blogs in which Shakespeare’s fans, by repeating the same alms-baskets of rotten words, proceed undisturbed in a constant mudslinging of Florio’s reputation.
In a nutshell, from serious, academic Shakespeare’s biographies, to internet blogs, social networks and fiction stories the fraud repeats over and over. And for those naïve readers who want to know the truth about John Florio, they have to stumble across a path made of prickly brambles, falsehoods and insults, an impervious road that only the bravest, affectionate Florians, Indiana Jones-style, who really want to delve into the real life and personality of John Florio, can overcome. (But trust me, when you do, it’s like discovering the Holy Grail).
If the beleaguered John Florio was alive today, he would reduce these Shakespeare’s scholars to a laughing-stock thanks to his sarcasm, wit, and linguistic dexterity, as he did with his enemies Nashe, Greene, Eliot and Sanford, who was defined as “Huffe Snuffe”, “Horse Stealer”, “Hob Sowter”, “Hugh Sot”, “Humphrey Swineshead”.
He would have fun, indeed. Words without end. “Sea-dogs, monsters of men, if not beasts rather than men; whose teeth are Canibals, their tongues adder-forkes, their lips aspes-poyson, their eies basiliskes, their breath the breath of a grave,” he penned in A World of Words. And let’s not forget how he termed Greene’s works: a “molehill”.
One might suggest Shakespeare’s scholars to stop writing about John Florio. It would be actually healthy for them. They have to rack their brains to find a suitable story every time the name Florio inevitably appears in their books.
Truth is that Shakespeare’s scholars mince words to avoid telling the truth: they need John Florio.
John Florio is the elephant in the room. He is a major problem for Shakespeare’s scholars, obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion. This is why they choose the easiest way: making up false stories that Florio would define as “a flim-flam tale, as women tell when they shale peason, which hath neither head nor foote, nor rime nor reason: a flap with a foxetaile: court-holie water, a tittle tattle, or such.“
It is time, specially for the younger, future generation of Shakespeare’s scholars, to discuss about John Florio in a more serious, competent way. Good, not biased and faithful portraits of Florio do exist, but they have been vanishingly sparse these past centuries, like a handful of lilies in a fallow field.
On December 2020, Bbc aired a documentary titled “Scuffles, Swagger & Shakespeare: The Hidden story of English”, in which Dr John Gallagher uncovered the real, complex story of how English conquered the world. John Florio was there too, described as a man who wanted to bring European culture and literature to the English masses. Gallagher reminded the audience that while in Italy and France a renaissance had been transforming art and literature, in England it had struggled to put down roots, and some thinkers were worried that the country was falling behind. But John Florio was determined to change that. He made his mission to bring continental ideas in England. Gallagher showed the difficulties that immigrants faced in Elizabethan England, by reading the words John Florio wrote in 1591:
“I know they have a knife at command to cut my throat. An Englishman in Italian is a devil incarnate.”
Florio loved language and literature, but there was tension and fear that foreigners could take the bread out of English mouths. The documentary showed that Florio lived in a time in which you could read Italian poetry at court, but you might also risk being beaten up in the street of London for speaking the language.
Defined a “key influence on Shakespeare”, this documentary never mentioned the words “pedant”, or “cuckold”, or “false-staff”, and it proved that the decadence on the whole Florio-Shakespeare affair is curable. To make pretentiousness unfashionable. To give facts, documents, and not fiction. To give the world a better understanding of both Shakespeare and Florio, two men who can walk side by side without a monstrous castle of lies built around Florio.
It is time to explain Shakespeare’s readers that the old legend of Holofernes is outdated, because there is, indeed, an influence of John Florio in Love Labour’s Lost, but it is not inherited in the character of Holofernes, but it’s in the whole play. That both Shakespeare and Florio are creative lexicographers and linguists, playing with both English and foreign languages. They are both word obsessed, borrowing from “sundry languages”, a space without “property” that for them is a space of creative invention, expression for an inclusive inter-national community. Both use creative compounds and proverbs that we still use when we go fishing for new truths: “All that glitters is not gold”, Florio wrote in 1578. Shakespeare followed him later in The Merchant of Venice. “Hugger-Mugger” Florio wrote in 1598, Shakespeare followed him in Hamlet. Florio wrote “Hurly-burly”, and Shakespeare loved it too when in Macbeth he wrote “When the hurlyburly’s done, When the battle’s lost and won.”
The Florio and Shakespeare affair is not a nightmare, but a great feast of languages.
Perhaps in Love’s Labour’s Lost Shakespeare’s love for language is most apparent. Or in Hamlet, in which ‘word’ is a dominant theme.
John Florio, similarly, wasn’t just the most important rappresentative of Italian humanistic culture in Elizabethan England, but the most important catalyst of the Euphuistic movement. The wealth of English words which he had at command is phenomenal, and he consciously experimented with English, grafting into it words, phrases, even grammatical constructions, which he thought English could digest. Florio was essentially an importer and a bold innovator, and not afraid to give his country even the most infamous (and probably today the most used) word: fuck. And let’s not forget masturbation.
Spicy words for the good ol’ pedant.
Readers have the right to know who really was John Florio. He was undoubtedly a questionable figure, an exuberant, expansive mind, sometimes defined as Harlequin’s personality: he chose “Resolute” as his notorious signature and academic name, since resoluteness and courage were prominent characteristics of his personality. Despite he was not of blue blood, he had an aristocratic spirit. He was vehement in his likes and dislikes, and certainly possessed a touch of that coxcombry and self-confidence which sometimes led him to feuds and conflicts with his contemporaries. Because he always wanted to have the last word.
He was eccentric, and he certainly hadn’t a great talent in managing money. Despite he had a successful career and was always generously paid by his patrons, (at court he had a higher salary than his colleagues) he wrote his last will by confessing to be broke.
But above the practical necessity of earning money and the ambition to succeed, what prevailed in him was the conviction that he had a mission to perform: that of spreading the Italian and European culture, literature, and language in his motherland, England.
The “Ayde of his muses”, Ben Jonson defined him. The man with the “Power of rhetorical ornament” wrote the Venetian ambassador Giustinian.
His determination drove him, despite criticism, attacks, and death threats, and the marginal position of a foreigner in his homeland, to succeed in his mission, with only one motif behind it: his fondness for books and literature, which was enthusiastically sincere and entirely free from ulterior motives. Because what mattered the most to him was his kingdom: the books. In his library he owned three hundred and forty books: Italian, English, French and Spanish, and his “Unbound volume of divers written collections and rhapsodies,” that still nobody knows where it is.
There is another way to write about this affair. And it’s not about the fake, outdated legends of the cuckold and rustic pedant. It’s about a multicultural London where John Florio, protected by the most powerful men of England, was able to write, collaborate, and make English language and literature as we know it today.
Yes, because English is the world wide known language also thanks to John Florio. It’s never too late to introduce him in English books or in schools. After all, he is the third greatest linguist after Shakespeare and Chaucer. These two are in everyone’s lips. Why Florio can’t join the group?
There is a chance to write a better, more modern and genuine story. Because whether Shakespeare’s scholars like it or not, the elephant will also be there. In the Bard’s room. Suggesting him the meaning of a word, a proverb, a compound, reading him an Italian novella. As Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, “At the length truth will out.”
And John Florio certainly agreed. In 1578 he wrote “Time is the father of Truth.”
Time has come.