“Florio was a friend and literary associate to whom Shakespeare felt personally indebted.”
The Shakespeare and John Florio authorship began with Thomas Spencer Baynes, English philosopher, author and editor of the Ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He wrote, in 1902, the Britannica article on Shakespeare, divided in 46 parts. Part 31 is dedicated to John Florio, and his connection with Shakespeare, titled “Shakespeare Goes to London (cont.): Shakespeare Continues his Education. His Connection with Florio.”1 He also included this chapter in his book Shakespeare studies, and essay on English dictionaries.2 This chapter related to Shakespeare connection with Florio disappeared inexplicably at the Eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Baynes was instrumental in explaining the numerous (otherwise inexplicable) “connections” between the works of Shakespeare and John Florio: Baynes suggests that Shakespeare was well acquainted with Florio’s First Fruits, in which there are many proverbs and dialogues Shakespeare used in his works. Same with Second Fruits, in which there is also one of the earliest Elizabethan sonnet to be printed: “Phaeton to his friend Florio”. For Baynes, Shakespeare is also well aware of Florio’s translation of Montaigne’s Essays, as well as his two dictionaries that he frequently used in his plays. For Baynes, Florio was also instrumental for Shakespeare’s great knowledge of Italy, its cities, its dialects, and its literature, which constitute an important part of his work.
Baynes also underlined that both Shakespeare and Florio had the same patron, Henry Wriothesley: Shakespeare dedicated his Venus and Adonis and his Lucrece to this young nobleman; and three years later, in 1598, Florio dedicated the first edition of his Italian dictionary to the earl in terms that almost recall Shakespeare’s words. Baynes also notices that both Shakespeare and Florio also knew Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, and became Groom of the privy chamber in 1604. He, then, concludes dismantling the old legend of Florio as Holofernes – labelled as “the climax of reckless guesswork and absurd suggestion” – that Florio was a friend and literary associate “to whom Shakespeare felt personally indebted.”
The Shakespeare & John Florio authorship question then continued with Italian journalist Santi Paladino, who translated the long passage from the Encyclopædia Britannica into Italian in the book Un Italiano autore delle opere Shakespeariane. 3
Paladino pointed out that there are too many similarities between the two writers, and concluded his work by asserting that Shakespeare was the pseudonym of an Italian author. He argued that Shakespeare’s works are the result of a collaboration between John Florio and his father, Michelangelo. 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.
The Shakespeare & John Florio authorship question continued with Clara Longworth de Chambrun, Shakespeare’s scholar, wrote the first John Florio’s first biography: Giovanni Florio, un apôtre de la renaissance en Angleterre a l’époque de Shakespeare. She was the first scholar to make an extensive analysis of the similarities between the works of John Florio and Shakespeare.
After Baynes’s article, Clara Longworth de Chambrun, Shakespeare’ scholar, published her biography on John Florio, Giovanni Florio un apôtre de la renaissance en Angleterre à l’époque de Shakespeare, in which she pointed out, for the first time, the many similarities between Florio’s works and Shakespeare’s plays. At that point, a vexed question arose on the relationship between Shakespeare and Florio, evidently following the in-depth study of the works of John Florio.
Subsequently, in 1934, Frances Amelia Yates wrote a biography on John Florio titled John Florio: The Life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England, with the aim to “throw light upon the vexed question of Florio’s relations with Shakespeare.”
Referring to Santi Paladino’s articles, Yates stated, in a note, that there ‘may be some truth’ in Paladino’s words. She concluded her biography by asserting:
“One is again and again reminded that Florio was Shakespeare’s contemporary and that they had the taste for words in common. (…) The way is now clear for an entirely fresh consideration of the whole problem of Florio’s relations with Shakespeare. This book, which is dedicated to the impartial consideration of the facts of Florio’s life, is not the place for such a study, which must contain some controversial elements, but the following is a brief outline of an argument which I hope to develop at length elsewhere.”
Inexplicably, she decided to abandon this project and she didn’t publish the planned book.
John Florio was later proposed by German journalist Erik Reger, in a review of Paladino’s pamphlet entitled “Der Italiener Shakespeare” contributed during 1927 to the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.
In 1954, Franz Maximilian Saalbach published William Shakespeare, alias Mercutio Florio, promoting John Florio as the most likely author of Shakespeare’s plays.
In 2007, Florio’s independent scholar Saul Gerevini founded Shakespeare’s and Florio’s website 4 by publishing numerous articles on the similarities in style and language between John Florio and Shakespeare.
In 2008, Gerevini published a book William Shakespeare, ovvero John Florio, un fiorentino alla conquista del mondo 5
In his book, Gerevini analysed John Florio’s life and career and particularly his rivalry with his contemporaries which can be traced in the Epistles to the reader of his works. According to Saul Gerevini, John Florio is the Johannes Factotum mentioned by Nashe and Greene. The first reference to Shakespeare as a playwright was in 1592. He was attacked in a pamphlet, written by the well-known poet and playwright Robert Greene. Gerevini highlights the fact that in this first ever written mention of Shakespeare as a playwright, by Robert Greene, Shakespeare is identified as someone called “absolute Johannes factotum”, identifiable as ‘Johannes’ the Latin name of John, the term ‘absolute’ as the nickname used by Florio in his signature (precisely the word ‘resolute’) and the term ‘factotum’ as a disparaging definition of tutor, John Florio’s job.
Florio’s scholar Giulia Harding has focused her analysis on the relationship between Shakespeare and Giordano Bruno6 and on Florio’s and Shakespeare’s language.
In 2009, professor of Italian language and literature at the Université de Montréal Lamberto Tassinari published John Florio: The Man Who Was Shakespeare 7 a major study of John Florio’s cultural achievements. The book has been revised and expanded, as an e-book, into a second edition in 2013 which, in January 2016, was published in France by Le Bord de l’Eau as John Florio alias Shakespeare, translated in French by Michel Vaïs. In nearly 400 pages of very detailed, very thorough investigation, Tassinari advocates Florio as a very strong contender to Shakespeare’s literary throne.
In The Genius of Shakespeare 8 Shakespeare’s scholar Jonathan Bate pointed out that Florio’s authorship is more difficult to refute than the other hypothesis:
“Given that Shakespeare knew Florio and his works, the view that Shakespeare’s work was indeed written by Florio is more difficult to refute than the hypothesis that an aristocrat hid behind his name …But since Florio was not an Englishman, the hypothesis never made much headway.”
Bate also points out that the main problem of Florio’s authorship is not due to the lack of evidences, but rather is concerned with his foreign origins:
The alternative possibility, that the plays [of Shakespeare] must have been written by an Italian, has never found favour: perish the thought that the works of Shakespeare might have been written by a foreigner. 9