Culture & Conversation

A play by any other name…

John Florio2

The way Mark Twain saw it, the plays of William Shakespeare were either written by Shakespeare or somebody else with the same name. What he probably meant was that the brand is unassailable, omnipotent, untouchable. In fact, Twain was one of the great doubters, an anti-Stratfordian, part of a long-simmering movement of opinion holding that the great plays and poems were written by someone other than a ho-hum actor with scant formal education and no ties to people in high places. That “shake-speare”, as it is often written in contemporary documents, was a pseudonym. The real Bard is someone who chose not to reveal his (or her) name.

For many years, Montreal scholar and writer Lamberto Tassinari has been building a case for John Florio, an Italian scholar and courtier who was born in London of an Italian exile, lived in Italy during his youth and returned at the age of 18.

I’d read about Tassinari’s arguments in a piece by Rover editor Michael Mirolla, and found them thoroughly intriguing. Now, the Tuscan-born Tassinari, who settled in Montreal in 1981, has his book out, John Florio, the Man Who Was Shakespeare. He made an appearance at the Blue Metropolis festival this past week, where he was interviewed by Globe and Mail writer Michael Prosser, and questioned by members of a packed audience. Ninety minutes of argumentation, thoroughly delightful. Afterwards, I bought the book.

Seen through Tassinari’s eyes, The Author had a worldliness, a knowledge of European culture, court life and especially of Italy which no landlocked illiterate’s son could ever have gained in a thousand years of eavesdropping in London pubs. Prospero, he argues, contains a string of coded messages through which Florio reveals the truth, just as he is about to give up the ruse. In fact, a good part of Tassinari’s case is built on deciphering clues in the folio. But the most intriguing aspect of his great book is the picture it gives of a writer-in- exile. The Author’s plays are indeed full of references to people who are stranded in a foreign land, or banned from returning home.

Surely there is no doubt that many fine minds have cast doubt on the official details of The Author’s life, scant as they are, and that’s part of the proof. How could a man whose plays are filled with letters, a veritable blizzard, die and leave not a single letter in his hand extant? Possibly because he never signed a letter WS?

Charles Dickens, Henry James, Jorge Luis Borges… the list of great readers who doubt the Bard’s official identity is impressive. The truth, as Tassinari points out, is well within our reach, thanks to the analytical powers of computers. It’s only a matter of time and money before the complete works of Florio/WS are digitized and analysed for similarities and patterns.

Tassinari credits his own 28-year-displacement with giving him the perspective to put the evidence together. Doubly intriguing, that the idea came to him in Montreal, a city that has long lived more or less comfortably with an official history and social dynamic operating alongside quite another reality happening at street level.

Anyway, my personal “Shakespeare” looks more like Joseph Fiennes than the stout burgher who died leaving so little evidence of having lived a life worthy of the great writer. Furthermore, Florio looks a lot like Fiennes.

Bravo to Lamberto Tassinari for throwing a little Tuscan light on the foggy history of England’s least English writer.

John Florio: The Man Who Was Shakespeare can be purchased online at Tassinari’s site.

  • 3 Responses to “A play by any other name…”

    1. Richard Neneman

      This is part two…
      The Florio clan was a clan of travellers by choice or by

      Changing location brings new dreams and new material
      for a creative mind to rely on. Shakespeare utilized this
      knowledge masterly.

      Mr. Lamberto Tassinari, being a world traveler, as well,
      could understand the Shakespeare soul better than any native
      Englishmen does, when operating on one only language.

      Mr. Tassinari is a scholar, knowing a few languages, who by
      his commitment to cause, brought to us all the reality of
      Shakespeare. This is a breakthrough…
      The British imperial lie is forcefully dismantled by his
      remarkable research and equally valuable book.

      Bravo, Lamberto!

      Richard Neneman

    2. Richard Neneman

      Thanks Ms. Marianne Ackerman for your thoughtful piece.

      Dick Cavett : ““Will Shakespeare told us, …- by Bogey in
      “The Maltese Falcon” — that “we are such stuff as dreams
      are made on.” If they’re in fact what we’re made on, it’s
      a mixed blessing.””

      This quotation brings us to two conclusions: we are what we
      experienced, visited and have seen, and all this can be
      reflected in our dreams; another component is a geography
      – Malta, located just one day by sail boat from Sicily, could
      have been the location of Florio’s ancestors, as well.

      Malta, during Shakespeare time was a bit more attractive
      culturally than Sicily…, this is my just little observation.

      The overall conclusion is that Florio clan was a clan
      of travelers, and this is so beautifully reflected in Shakespeare’s
      body of work. More, this location was mostly advanced,
      at the time, Europe, and maybe even quite exotic Malta.

      This is part one…

    3. leon charles

      I have recently read Lamberto's epic on John Florio, "The man who was Shakespeare," I disagree with the title, I believe it should read "the man who is Shakespeare." The book was a difficult, though fascinating read, mainly on account of all of the foot notes, which I must add were essential to assisting the reader to grasp the essance of not only Florio's story, but the same of the various players that continually surrounded him, assisting and thwarting him in equal measure whilst on his mission.

      I cannot help but feel that Mr. Tassinari is missing one vital ingredient, which hopefully he will become aware of in the not too distant future, which will enable him to write the next thrilling instalment of his thrilling saga. Many thanks Mr.Tassinari, and of course a heart ful thanks to the Bard. Yours Sincerely Leon Charles


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