It has been suggested by many Shakespeare’s scholars 1 that the famous Danvers-Long feud inspired Shakespeare for the plot of Romeo and Juliet.
But what’s the Danvers case?
On Friday 4th October 1594, John Florio took part in the famous Danvers case, backing Henry Wriothesley’s friends in their efforts to escape. Henry Danvers and Sir Charles Denvers were the two elder sons of Sir John Danvers of Dauntsey. Both close friend to Henry Wriothesley, they committed a crime in Wiltshire.
According to one account, Henry Long was dining in the middle of the day with a party of friends in Corsham, when Henry Danvers, followed by his brother Charles and a number of retainers, burst into the room, and shot Long dead on the spot. Master Lawrence Grose, Sheriff, was informed on the murder, and on the evening of October 12th the following scene took place at Itchen’s Ferry:
“The said Grose, passing over Itchen’s Ferry with his wife that Saturday 12th, one Florio an Italian, and one Humphrey Drewell a servant of the Earl, being in the said passage boat threatened to cast Grose overboard, and said they would teach him to meddle with their fellows, with many other threatening words.”
This incident involved two feuding families, a scuffle among servants, earlier violence, insults, and a quarrel escalated into a murder, which contains many similarities with the plot of Romeo and Juliet. While there’s no prove that Shakespeare lived at Titchfield and was involved in this case, these documents prove that John Florio took part in the Danvers-Long feud while he was living at Titchfield with the young Earl.
Furthermore, it has also been suggested that Vincentio Saviolo‘s manual played a fundamental role for some dialogues written in Romeo and Juliet, specially the duels between Mercutio and Tybalt.2
In fact, Shakespeare uses Saviolo’s Italian fencing vocabulary.
J.D. Aylward was the first scholar to point out that John Florio was the most likely author of Saviolo’s fencing manual, describing Florio as “Saviolo’s ghost.”3
Aylward proved that Vincentio Saviolo’s fencing manual was the result of a collaboration between John Florio, who translated an Italian fencing manual and added the dialogues between the Master and the student, and Saviolo’s technical knowledge on fencing. 4
John Florio also refers to Vincentio Saviolo in his Second Fruits, by using, like Shakespeare, Saviolo’s Italian fencing vocabulary:
John Florio, Second Frutes, Chapter 7: “E. Hee will hit any man, bee it with a thrust or stoccada, with an imbroccada or a charging blowe,with a right or reverse blowe, be it with the edge, with the back, or with the ßat, even as it liketh him.”
The influence of the Danver-Long feud and Saviolo’s fencing manual in Romeo and Juliet can be explained thanks to John Florio’s knowledge of Saviolo’s manual and his involvement in the Danvers-Long feud.