Was Shakespeare Italian?
By Amanda Mabillard
Over the centuries scholars have been puzzled by Shakespeare's profound knowledge of
Shakespeare had an impressive familiarity with stories by Italian authors such as Giovanni
Boccaccio, Matteo Bandello, and Masuccio Salernitano.
In an attempt to solve the mystery of Shakespeare's Italian aptitude, one former teacher
of literature has unleashed a new hypothesis on a world eager to hear anything fresh about the Bard.
Retired Sicilian professor Martino Iuvara claims that Shakespeare was, in fact, not
English at all, but Italian.
His conclusion is drawn from research carried out from 1925 to 1950 by two professors at
Palermo University. Iuvara posits that Shakespeare was born not in Stratford in April 1564, as is commonly
believed, but actually was born in Messina as Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza. His parents were not John
Shakespeare and Mary Arden, but were Giovanni Florio, a doctor, and Guglielma Crollalanza, a Sicilian
The family supposedly fled Italy during the Holy Inquisition and moved to London. It was
in London that Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza decided to change his name to its English equivalent. Crollalanza
apparently translates literally as 'Shakespeare'. Iuvara goes on to claim that Shakespeare studied abroad and was
educated by Franciscan monks who taught him Latin, Greek, and history. He also claims that while Shakespeare (or
young Crollalanza) was traveling through Europe he fell in love with a 16-year-old girl named Giulietta. But sadly,
family members opposed the union, and Giulietta committed suicide.
Iuvara's evidence includes a play written by Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza in Sicilian
dialect. The play's name is Tanto traffico per Niente, which can be translated into Much traffic for Nothing or
Much Ado About Nothing. He also mentions a book of sayings credited to Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza. Some of the
sayings correspond to lines in Hamlet. And, Michelangelo's father, Giovanni Florio, once owned a home called "Casa
Otello", built by a retired Venetian known as Otello who, in a jealous rage, murdered his wife.
Granted, the above similarities between Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza and Shakespeare
are intriguing, but for now I remain unconvinced. That Shakespeare was Italian sounds as credible as the idea that
Queen Elizabeth I wrote Shakespeare's works in the few spare moments when she was not busy tending to the realm.
And I am not alone in my cynicism. While some Shakespearean scholars, most of whom are Italian themselves, are
quick to support the hypothesis, the majority are skeptical, to say the least. Although the following excerpt from
a biography of Shakespeare by Sir Sidney Lee is not a direct response to Iuvara's claims, it does illuminate
briefly the other side of the argument:
It is, in fact, unlikely that Shakespeare ever set foot on the Continent of Europe in
either a private or a professional capacity. He repeatedly ridicules the craze for foreign travel. To Italy, it is
true, and especially to cities of Northern Italy, like Venice, Padua, Verona, Mantua, and Milan, he makes frequent
and familiar reference, and he supplied many a realistic portrayal of Italian life and sentiment. But his Italian
scenes lack the intimate detail which would attest a first-hand experience of the country.
The presence of barges on the waterways of northern Italy was common enough partially to
justify the voyage of Valentine by 'ship' from Verona to Milan ('Two Gent.' I.i.71). But Prospero's embarkation in
'The Tempest' on an ocean ship at the gates of Milan (I.ii.129-144) renders it difficult to assume that the
dramatist gathered his Italian knowledge from personal observation. He doubtless owed all to the verbal reports of
traveled friends or to books, the contents of which he had a rare power of assimilating and vitalizing (Lee
It was not unusual for an Elizabethan dramatist to set his or her play in Italy. Are we,
knowing this, compelled to assume that Marlowe, Bacon, and Jonson were Italian?
Admittedly, we do not have much information about Shakespeare's education, but why so
blatantly disregard the sound reasoning behind Occam's razor? Why is it easier for Iuvara to assume that
Shakespeare was an Italian refugee than it is to assume that he mastered Italian on his own? Jonson's verses in the
Folio identify Shakespeare as the 'Sweet Swan of Avon', and his birth record and other important documents attest
to the fact that Shakespeare was a resident of England his whole life. Yet some choose to ignore these pieces of
evidence in favor of more esoteric theories. One thing is certain - Iuvara's claim that Shakespeare was Italian
will unite Shakespeare supporters and anti-Stratfordians from the camps of Bacon, Essex, Marlowe, Derby, Rutland,
Oxford, and Queen Elizabeth in a mutual uproar.
Lee, Sir Sidney. A Life of William Shakespeare. New York: Dover Publications, 1968.
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