Forgive thy friends: they would, but cannot praise, inough’ the wit, art, language of thy PLAYES: forgive thy foes; they will not praise thee. Why? Thy Fate hath thought it best, they should envy.
Faith, for thy FOXES sake, forgive them those who are not worthy to be friends, nor foes. Or, for their owne brave sake, let them be still fooles at thy mercy, and like what they will.
John Florio (London 1607 Verses devoted to Ben Jonson for the publication of Volpone)
As for critics I accompt of them as crickets (…) they lurke in corners but catch cold if they look out (…) they are bred of filth & fed with filth, what vermine to call them I know not, or wormes or flies or what worse? (…) they do not seek honie with the bee, but suck poison with the spider. (…) As for me, for it is I, and I am an Englishman in italiane; I know They have a knife at command to cut my throate “Un Inglese Italianato è un Diavolo incarnato”.
John Florio, To the Reader, Second Frutes
L. May a man know your name I pray?
G. Yea sir, why not? My name is William.
L. I pray you sir tell me your name.
G. I am called W. at your commandement.
L. What countrey man, and of what place are you?
G. I am Italian, and of Padoa, at your commandement.
John Florio, Second Frutes, VI
The First Fruites by Florio was intended as a manual book for English people interested in learning Italian, but its parallel-text format allowed it to be used equally by Italians living in England who wanted to learn or improve the learning of the English language through the process of reading.
Carl William Brown
To long for that which comes not. To lie a-bed and sleep not. To serve well and please not. To have a horse that goes not. To have a man obeys not. To lie in jail and hope not. To be sick and recover not. To lose one’s way and know not. To wait at door and enter not, and to have a friend we trust not: are ten such spites as hell hath not.
England is the paradise of women, the purgatory of men, and the hell of horses.
Books, like superfluos humors bred with case, So stuffe the world, as it becomes opprest With taking more than it can well digest; And now are turned to be a great disease.
Samuel Daniel (1562-1619) to John Florio (1553-1625)
We neede not speak so much of love, al books are ful of love, with so many authours, that it were labour lost to speake of Love.
John Florio, First Fruites, Discourses uppon Musicke, and Love, 1578
Be circumspect how you offend schollers, for knowe, a serpent tooth bites not so ill, as dooth a schollers angrie quill.
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.
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 “his loving Father and worthy Friend Master John Florio. Ayden of his Muses.”. Similar tributes are shared by many other nobles.
John Florio was born in London in 1553, the son of Michelangelo Florio, born in Tuscany, who had been a Franciscan friar before converting to the Protestant faith. He got into trouble with the Inquisition in Italy, after preaching in Naples, Padua, and Venice. Seeking refuge in England during the reign of Edward VI, he was appointed pastor of the Italian Protestant congregation in London in 1550. He was also a member of the household of William Cecil. He was dismissed from both on a charge of immorality, but William Cecil later fully forgave him. Little is known of Florio’s mother; she may have been English.
Michelangelo Florio then became Italian tutor to Lady Jane Grey and in the family of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, father of Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke who would become the husband of Mary Sidney, sister of Philip Sidney. He dedicated a book to Henry Herbert and Jane Grey, his highest-ranking pupils: Regole de la lingua thoscana (Rules of the Tuscan language). Lady Jane Grey’s youth, faith, and death affected him deeply and later, in seclusion, in Soglio in Switzerland, he wrote a book about her life. It was only published in 1607 but written around 1561/1562. He describes her as a martyr and innocent “saint”. It is possible that he had witnessed some of the events surrounding her or had told her about the persecutions in Italy.
The Florio family, which now included infant John Florio, left England on the accession of Queen Mary. In Strasburg, Florio met members of the aristocratic de Salis family of Bregaglia (Bergell), in the Alpine canton of the Grisons (in Italian-speaking Protestant Switzerland). Count de Salis offered Michelangelo the post of pastor at Soglio, which offered him the manse (now a restaurant) on the edge of a precipice, the post of local school teacher and a Reformed pulpit. Soglio was remote from the Inquisition and was situated near Chiavenna (north of Lake Como in Italy), a centre of Reformed preaching. John Florio grew up speaking Italian with his father (and possibly fluent English with his mother). His father would have taught him French and German. When he was seven, he was sent to live with and to be schooled in Tübingen in Germany by the Reformed Protestant theologian, Pier Paolo Vergerio, a native of Venetian Capodistria (who had also lived in Swiss Bregaglia) and later to attend university in Germany. John returned to England, possibly with his mother, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, in the early 1570s, in possession of a formidable Christian Reformed and humanist education.
John Florio being of Anglo-Italian origin referred to himself as “an Englishman in Italiane”. He considered the English uncouth and barbaric and set about teaching the Protestant aristocrats European manners, linguistic skills and polished expressions. This mission was in some ways similar to that of reformer Philip Sidney who sought to educate the English to write and to read the Scriptures in their own enriched language. Florio introduced the English to Italian proverbs.
Florio was a friend of Giordano Bruno, while he worked as tutor and spy (for Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham) in the home of the French Ambassador. Frances Yates relates the story of a lively dinner party at Whitehall Palace at which Florio translated to the assembled company, which included Sir Philip Sidney and Oxford professors, Bruno’s theories about the possibility of life on other planets. John Florio resided for a time at Oxford, and was appointed, about 1576, as tutor to the son of Richard Barnes, Bishop of Durham, then studying at Magdalen College.
In 1578 Florio published a work entitled First Fruits, which yield Familiar Speech, Merry Proverbs, Witty Sentences, and Golden Sayings. This was accompanied by A Perfect Induction to the Italian and English Tongues. The work was dedicated to the Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. Three years later, John Florio was admitted a member of Magdalen College, Oxford and became a tutor of French and Italian at the University. In 1591 his Second Fruits, to be gathered of Twelve Trees, of divers but delightsome Tastes to the Tongues of Italian and English men appeared, to which was annexed the Garden of Recreation, yielding six thousand Italian Proverbs. These manuals contained an outline of the grammar, a selection of dialogues in parallel columns of Italian and English, and longer extracts from classical Italian writers in prose and verse.
Florio had many patrons. He says that he lived some years with Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, possibly the young man in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and there is an account of an incident involving Florio at Titchfield Abbey, the Earl’s Hampshire home. William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, also befriended him. In his will, Florio left gifts to the Earl of Pembroke, clearly on condition that he looked after his second wife, Rose. His Italian and English dictionary, entitled A World of Words, was published in folio in 1598. After the accession of James I, Florio was named French and Italian tutor to Prince Henry and afterwards became a gentleman of the privy chamber and Clerk of the Closet to the Queen Consort Anne of Denmark, whom he also instructed in languages.
A substantially expanded version of A World of Words was published in 1611 as Queen Anna’s New World of Words, or Dictionarie of the Italian and English tongues, Collected, and newly much augmented by Iohn Florio, Reader of the Italian vnto the Soueraigne Maiestie of Anna, Crowned Queene of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, &c. And one of the Gentlemen of hir Royall Priuie Chamber. Whereunto are added certaine necessarie rules and short obseruations for the Italian tongue.
His magnum opus is his admirable translation of the Essayes on Morall, Politike, and Millitarie Discourses of Lo. “Michaell de Montaigne, published in folio in 1603 in three books, each dedicated to two noble ladies. A second edition in 1613 was dedicated to the Queen. Special interest attaches to the first edition, because a copy in British Library bears the signature of Shakespeare, long accepted as genuine but now supposed to be in an 18th century hand. Another copy bears that of Ben Jonson. It was suggested by William Warburton that Florio is satirised by William Shakespeare in the character of Holofernes, the pompous pedant of Love’s Labour’s Lost, but it is likely, especially as he was one of the Earl of Southampton’s protégés, that he was among the personal friends of the dramatist, who may have gained knowledge of French and Italian literature from him. What’s more according to T.S. Eliot, the translation of Montaigne’s work is a classic of English literature.
He married the sister of the poet Samuel Daniel, who worked in the household of the Mary Sidney Countess of Pembroke, centre of the literary Wilton Circle. He had friendly relations with many other poets and writers of the day. Ben Jonson sent him a copy of Volpone with the inscription, “To his loving father and worthy friend, Master John Florio, Ben Jonson seals this testimony of his friendship and love.” He is characterised by Wood, in Athenae Oxonienses, as a very useful man in his profession, zealous for his religion, and deeply attached to his adopted country.
He died at Fulham, London in the autumn of 1625 in apparent poverty, because his royal pension had not been paid. His house in Shoe Lane was sold to pay his many debts but his daughter married well. Florio’s descendants became Royal Physicians, part of the fabric of the highly educated English professional classes.
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SHAKESPEARE AUTHORSHIP THEORY
The works of Shakespeare demonstrate “a culture of exile”, a theme, it goes without saying, very familiar to Florio.
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.
Shakespeare is – let us put it this way – the least English of English writers. The typical quality of the English is understatement, saying a little less than what you see. In contrast, Shakespeare tended toward the hyperbolic metaphor, and it would come to us as no surprise to learn that Shakespeare had been Italian, or Jewish, for instance.
Jorge Luis Borges, Borges oral, 1979
As an Italian writer of aphorisms, literature lover, English teacher, trader and Internet publisher I don’t think Florio was Shakespeare, for different reasons, first of all because I believe that the Shakespearean macrotext is not the miracle of just a single person, what’s more a work of art is not by an author and neither is life, as Carmelo Bene used to say. Anyway Florio was a great scholar, linguist, lexicographer, translator, and what’s more he died a poor man, so we have a lot of things in common. What we can’t absolutely deny is the enormous influence that his literary works had on the English language, culture and intertextuality of the writers of the period, included the superb Shakespeare’s production and consequently our appreciation of it. All this said, as in the market we can’t be sure of anything, the hypothesis being fascinating and what’s more even Shakespeare through Iago once said: “I am not what I am.” while Matthew Gwinne, a doctor whose pen name was “Il Candido” in a sonnet devoted to his dearly esteemed friend and fellow wrote: “I am, all that I am, Florio, thy debter.”
Carl William Brown
Florio is one of the many individuals who have been proposed as the real author of the works of William Shakespeare by advocates of the Shakespeare authorship question. The case for an Italian, either John or his father Michelangelo Florio, as author of Shakespeare’s works was initially associated with resurgent Italian nationalism of the Fascist era. The theory is linked to the argument put forward by other anti-Stratfordians that Shakespeare’s work shows an intimate knowledge of Italian culture and geography. Florio was proposed by Santi Paladino in 1927, but Paladino mixed up John and his father Michelangelo. He claimed that Florio came from a Calvinist family in Sicily. Forced to flee to Protestant England, he created “Shakespeare” by translating his Sicilian mother’s surname, Crollalanza, into English. John Florio was first specifically proposed by Erik Reger, in a review of Paladino’s pamphlet entitled “Der Italiener Shakespeare” contributed during 1927 to the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. Paladino later argued that the two Florios worked together. He continued to publish on the subject into the 1950s. In his later writings he argued that Michelangelo Florio wrote the works in Italian, and his son John rendered them into English. One or both of the Florios have since been promoted by Franz Maximilian Saalbach (1954), Martino Iuvara (2002) and Lamberto Tassinari (2008).
Tassinari in his book states that Florio’s style was highly appreciated, first by his friend playwright Ben Jonson and poet, brother in law, Samuel Daniel; then by Florio’s biographers Clara Longworth de Chambrun (1921) and Frances Yates (1934), and critics Felix Otto Matthiessen (1931) and André Koszul (1931). Frances Yates rated Florio’s translation of Montaigne’s Essays a classic of English literature, second only to the translation of King James Bible.
Scott McCrea, author of The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question (2005), reviewing Tassinari’s book declared that it is full of “inconsistencies and ridiculous logic”. McCrea refers to Tassinari’s argument that Shakespeare purposely massacres the Italian language in the plays because Florio is “concealing his identity by mangling his Italian”, a claim which, according to McCrea, contradicts “his mission of improving English culture”. McCrea compares Florio’s own poetry to Shakespeare’s, observing that “Reading Shakespeare alongside Florio makes one painfully aware of how beautiful and poetic even the two dedications to Southampton are, and how prosaic and fundamentally different is Florio’s mind”. Saul Gerevini and Giulia Harding have argued that John Florio’s language appears poetically similar to that of Shakespeare. (Wikipedia main source)