Was Shakespeare Italian?

I was sitting in a traditional Italian restaurant the other day, and the owner Clem…a lovely, although very chatty man decided to enlighten us with the story of how William Shakespeare is Italian…

Being an English Literature graduate…I immediately seized up, convinced that although I had to pretend that I believed him…NOTHING he said would change my opinion in the slightest and also dug my fingernails into my boyfriends’ thigh (presumably so that he could feel my pain…but possibly just for fun)

Listening to him rattle on about how Italy have claimed the Bard as their own…I kept quiet (still digging for Australia in the boyfriends’ leg…) and let him finish, and the evening continue in peace.

Now, I didn’t think much more of it until curiousity got the better of me and I googled it. Turns out, I’m not the only puzzled Shakespeare lover to have heard this rumour on the grapevine and there is a very long thread on ‘The Literature Network’ entirely dedicated to whether he was Italian. Ignoring the posts that state that Shakespeare was born on Mars, I set about reading through the evidence to see whether any truth can be found…

Ultimately, it seems that Italy (or a few select Italians…) are simply trying to claim Shakespeare and his success as their own. But there is quite a comprehensive gathering of evidence that makes for quite an interesting read. I’ll break it into bitesize pieces…

  • APPARENTLY…a Sicilian merchant from Messina named Florio and his son moved at some point to England where his mother Guglielma Crollalanza had relatives.
  • Crollalanza literally translates to Shakespeare (“Crolla”-shake and “lanza”- spear)
  • Before moving to Stratford, apparently Florio’s son travelled Italy (no doubt learning about the different cities to use in his plays…) and after much Eastenders-esque drama; one of the ‘relatives’ in England died of the plague and in an attempt to escape past persecutions for being Jewish…Michelangelo Florio took this man’s identity and out of love for his mother, took the English version of her name – Shakespeare.

I know, I know…ridiculous! But ‘Retired Sicilian professor Martino Iuvara’ claims that this is the only feasible explanation as to why Shakespeare knows so much about the countries that he writes about. But whatever he writes about, you cannot possibly suggest that Shakespeare’s writing and style of writing, is anything but British! I share this opinion with a couple of writers on the Online Literature Forum.

“His use of the language, his ability to capture the English rhythms within the structure of blank verse, for example, suggests that it was his first language. His plays contain many patriotic and political themes. His sources include English history and mythology, from the recent history of the Wars of the Roses to the ancient stories found in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work. The cultural references, from ballads to folk tales to food, all speak long time residence in England…” – Rosalind (Online Literature Forum)

I’m not convinced, it seems that this is just ANOTHER literary theory designed to confuse English students and scare graduates into thinking “What on Earth did I learn then!?!?!”

Shakespeare is English. Full stop.

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