April 26, 2012

The Love Affair between Italy and Shakespeare

Speaking of Italy, “Anyone who claims Shakespeare’s poetry is lost in translation might have to think again.” At least, this is what the Guardian says in this article by Sonia Massai, Reader in Shakespeare & Early Modern Studies at King’s College, London—but frankly I think there’s no doubt about that. At the same time, there should be few doubts about the (reciprocal) love affair between Italy and Shakespeare:

Crucial to establishing Shakespeare's reputation in Italy has been the long relationship between Italy and England – and between Italy and London in particular. Eminent Italians reached London as political and religious émigrés during Shakespeare's lifetime, and although Italy was not yet in love with Shakespeare, Shakespeare may have fallen in love with Italy – quite literally, if, as the writer and critic Jonathan Bate has argued, the "dark lady" addressed in some of the sonnets was modelled on the wife of linguist John Florio, who taught Elizabeth's court how to speak Italian.

Definitely a must read for anyone who loves Shakespeare as well as those who love Italy, or both things at the same time, whether you are Italian or English, or from anywhere else.

And the love affair between Italy and Shakespeare continues. Worth mentioning are two current offerings of Shakespeare "made in Italy". The Taviani brothers' Caesar Must Die, about to open in the UK, was awarded the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival this year, while Rome's Villa Borghese hosts plays performed in Italian at an imposing replica of Shakespeare's Globe.
What better tribute to Sam Wanamaker's modern reconstruction, and the young Italian company performing Julius Caesar as part of the Globe to Globe season, than a few lines from Agostino Lombardo's splendid translation for Giorgio Strehler's famous 80s production of The Tempest?


  1. There's no doubt about it. I remember from my first impromptu visit to Verona, how proud the Veronese were, for example, of having part of their mythic history immortalised by Shakespear's Romeo and Juliet..
    But all the great writers of the Elizabethan Golden Age were in love with Italy. To be absorbed by Italy, inspired by the Italian Renaissance and its great Italian writers such as Dante and Petrarch, was then considered the necessary finishing touch to one's education. This lasted at least until the 18th century. John Milton, fluent in most European languages, was also very much influenced by Italy. It's said he read every Italian (as well as Latin, Greek and English) book of importance.

  2. 'Francesco de Sanctis, for example, was to argue in 1869-70 that Dante's "mighty figures, standing on their pedestals, rigid and epic, were waiting for the artist who would take them by the hand and throw them into the turmoil of life"; that artist was Shakespeare.'

    How true!

  3. Thanks for posting this, Rob. Shakespeare has always been interesting throughout time and in a changing world. I love "his" Italy -- a place of dazzling achievement, wonder, and danger -- almost as much as i love the "real" Italy.