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On A Bard's Tour Of Italy (Part 2)

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Sicily may have produced the real Shakespeare. Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza was born in Messina in 1564, and is known as a writer of plays. During a religious crackdown by the enforcers of papal authority, the young Calvinist fled to England, aged 24, and settled with his mother’s cousin in Stratford-upon-Avon. Crolla derives from the verb crollare, to shake, and lanza meant a spear. So, the argument goes, the anglicized version of Crollalanza is… Shakespeare!

Description: Sicily, Italy

Sicily, Italy

Many buildings including the Palazzo Aiutamicristo, visited by Charles V, and Castello di Caccamo in Palermo recall the courtly life depicted in Much Ado About Nothing, which was written in 1598 at the end of Elizabeth I’s long reign when people were ready for change. Inspiration for the central characters, Benedick and Beatrice, must have come from II Cortegiano, the Book of the Courtier, a well-known text in Italy and England in the 16th century. I felt like a courtier taking Emma Thompson around Palermo discussing Much Ado About Nothing. It was her first visit to Sicily.

Description: Castello di Caccamo in Palermo

Castello di Caccamo in Palermo

Naples, the home of Italian sorcery and magic, remains, even today, the most superstitious place in the country. But also, paradoxically, it is one of the birthplaces of modern science. The magicians of Naples were known as the “professors of secrets”. Although some of their beliefs were mad, they dared to ask big questions about the world. The alchemists of Naples believed that natural contained hidden powers, which, if discovered, could be exploited for human gain.

The Accademia dei Segreti provided a model for Shakespeare’s last great character, Prospero of The Tempest. The playwright located the island where Prospero was exiled somewhere off the coast of Naples towards Tunisia. He may well have been on Stromboli – a volcanic island north of Sicily.

Description: the coast of Naples towards Tunisia

the coast of Naples towards Tunisia

Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance, a melting pot of ideas, new systems of banking and trade, it was home not only to Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, but also to Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote The Prince at his estate at Sant’Andrea in Percussina, near San Casciano on the outskirts of Florence.  Shakespeare may have seen the magnificent 1532 edition, which is now in the library in Florence or, as it was published in London in 1584, he may have heard about it in the pubs of London. Most people think Machiavelli was a villain, and several of Shakespeare’s plays are referred to as being Machiavellian because of their devious and dishonest plotters (lago in Othello and Edmund in King Lear). But this Italian diploma, soldier, statesman, philosopher, historian, musician, poet and playwright stood for a world in which man would take control to ensure that civilization flourished. Not exactly ruthless, he was prepared to do whatever it took to obtain stability (like Octavius in Antony and Cleopatra). With Mark Ryland I talked about the psychological power of Octavius, and how strong his determination was to get power even if it meant sacrificing friends.

Description: View of Florence, Italy

View of Florence, Italy

For more information on the World Shakespeare Festival visit www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk; Shakespeare In Italy with Francesco da Mosto is screened on BBC Two in May

Insider tip: Don’t miss Albergaccio di Niccolò Machiavelli (00 39 55 828 471), a winebar on the site of a tavern that Machiavelli used to visit in San Casciano, near Florence. It serves wine from the Antica Fattoria Machiavelli in Sant’Andrea in Percussina

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