She came from Messina, Sicily's third largest city. Had I ever been there? No, I told her.
Then she started telling me not only how wonderful her city is, but her favourite fact about the place. William Shakespeare came from Messina!
I kid you not. Her English was very good, so I was not misunderstanding her [and Bob was listening intently too]
She told us that his real name was Crolla-Lanza [Shake-spear] and that his family were persecuted Calvinists. Did we understand what Calvinists were? [Yes, we did!] They fled to Britain to escape execution by Catholics in the Inquisition. Furthermore, if we went to Paris, to Avenue Messine [near Boulevard Hausmann]where many Sicilians once lived, we would find a spot where there was once a statue of William Shakespeare. And how come so many of his plays are set in Italy, and he refers to streets that only a local would know about. Things like Juliet's balcony? I assured her that I would research this when I got home. We stood up to board the plane, and her parting shot was...
Shakespeare WAS a Sicilian, you know!
OK, we thought she was sightly batty - but now I have had a chance to check up, it seems there is a genuine school of thought which takes this view about England's Great Playwright. It was first discussed in a book written around the turn of the millennium.
In 2002, Sicilian professor Martino Iuvara wrote a book entitled ‘Shakespeare era italiano’ [Shakespeare Was Italian] He suggests the Bard was not born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon to a glove maker John Shakespeare [and his wife Mary Arden]. The prof claims that the same year in Messina, Sicily, a doctor and Calvinist priest, Giovanni Florio, and his wife, Guglielma Crollalanza had a son, Michelangelo Florio. This Protestant family had to flee Sicily when he was 15 because of the threat of the Inquisition.
The theory continues… they moved to Veneto to a house owned by a nobleman called Othello, who had killed his wife, Desdemona, years earlier, out of jealousy. The prof claims that Shakespeare travelled in northern Italy – Milan, Padua, Mantua, Verona, Faenza and Venice – and then to Athens where, at the age of 21, he became a teacher. The young Shakespeare continued his world tour, visiting Denmark, Austria, France and Spain before returning to Italy, this time to Treviso. The professor asserts that Shakespeare fell in love with a 16-year-old countess. But the girl’s family were against the union and she committed suicide. Her name? Giulietta, which translates as “Juliet”! This tragedy caused Shakespeare to head to Britain to start a new life. He concealed his identity by assuming the name of a cousin, William Shakespeare, who had died as baby. Iuvara posits that the cousin’s surname, “Shakespeare” is an Anglicisation of “Crollalanza”.
Iuvara suggested that Shakespeare’s Italian nationality was kept secret for nationalistic reasons. In an attempt to find evidence that Shakespeare was a Sicilian, Iuvara wrote to Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 asking for permission to research the poet’s private library. He received no reply. Undaunted, in 2002, Iuvara wrote to Prime Minister Tony Blair and again received no response.
So, that's where she gets her theory from [the French statue, by the way, was put up by an Englishman in 1888, and then melted down in WW2 - and the guy just happened to live in that street, and like Will's work. No apparent Sicilian connections] It strikes me as all a little far fetched. I know there is little historical data about the Bard's early life - and that some say he didn't write these plays at all. But I cannot quite swallow the idea of a wandering Sicilian Calvinist sitting down to write Richard III,can you? Is this a Comedy of Errors, Much Ado About Nothing...or just a Tempest in A Teacup?
However, I think there is material for a film here - rather like those crazy Nicholas Cage ones [National Treasure series] where NC finds amazing hitherto undiscovered historical documents in the White House etc.and has the FBI, CIA and all the rest chasing him.
I'd cast the dashing Rufus Sewell [who played the suave Italian detective, Aurelio Zen, very successfully] as the Prof, racing down Sicilian side streets, unearthing information in Verona, and wandering pensively beside the Avon. And Helen Mirren can be her regal self, making a disparaging remark about his request to rifle through the Royal Libraries. Martin Sheen can be Blair again. Not sure who I'd cast Benedict Cumberbatch as though...
What do you think?