Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Funky cold Messina …

Troppu trafficu ppi nenti Among the many translations of Much Ado About Nothing, that into Italian seems the most appropriate. In Italy, love, intrigue and treachery seem fit matters for comedy: Silvio Berlusconi is a very ordinary Italian, exceptional only in how keenly he plays the national sport(s).

The play translates well. Beatrice’s famous complaint about a hairy husband becomes:

Signore Iddio, un marito con tanto di barba! Non lo sopporterei. Meglio dormire senza le lenzuola.

Don Pedro’s prediction to Benedick:

Eppure prima di morire ti vedró pallido d’amore.

Of course, to appreciate their full music, they should be read in the original:

Diu, ‘n-maritu cu la varva! Meglio durmiri supra ‘n-ghiommiru di lana.

or

Prima di muríri, vi vedró allazzaratu d’amuri

A mystery for Shakespeare scholars has long been his knowledge of Italy, not a country well known to commoners from Stratford (if such `Shakespeare’ was) but with which the author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare was familiar. When the impossible has been eliminated, what remains must be true, and so Andrea Camilleri, author of the Montalbano mysteries, and Giuseppe Dipasquale have gone sleuthing in Sicily and revealed the explanation which has been staring us in the face. Bluntly, `Shakespeare’ was, could only have been, Sicilian.

The biographical details are scanty, but suggestive. One Michele Agnolo Florio Crollalanza, a Quaker resident in Messina, fled that city with his family to escape religious persecution. Keeping ahead of his pursuers, he ascended the Italian peninsula, staying in Verona and in Venice, where it appears that a Moorish neighbour murdered his wife in a fit of jealousy. Finally, reaching England, he laundered his background in the provincial backwater of Stratford on Avon, perfected his colloquial English, and moved to London under the anglicized form of his surname. The first half of his alias appears to been given to him by a host who was reminded of his dead son, William.

Once absorbed, the idea that `Shakespeare’ was Sicilian explains everything: the lack of sturdy Anglo-Saxon common sense, the honour killing by a jealous husband, and, most of all, the intricacy of the conspiracies. As the editors explain in their introduction, Alberto Moravia loved to point out to Leonardo Sciascia the difference between a Sicilian and a Milanese: the Milanese tends to simplify even the most complicated things; a Sicilian complicates even the most simple things.

Thus, this Troppu trafficu ppi nenti is the eternal model of a terribly simple character, like the Sicilian, which loves to complicate existence in a continual arrovugliarsi on itself.

Apart from the background details which give away Crollalanza’s Sicilian connections, the play could only ever be the work of a siculu. Love is not a simple matter of family alliance and the maintenance of a fortune: life turns on love, honour, and, always, intrigue. Where a squire of stout Warwickshire stock would have settled the matter with Beatrice’s father, as in all affairs concerning livestock, the so-called Shakespeare’s protagonists wear masks, court at balls and skulk under balconies, the better to be deceived. What Englishman could act so?

Camilleri, of course, has form: quite apart from the Montalbano stories, he has written extensively on Sicily and its intrigues, murderous or otherwise, and, like his cousin Luigi Pirandello, has a taste for contradiction and absurdity. His accounts of encounters with Mafiosi (Nicola `Nick’ Gentile in La linea della palma) or of their literary style (Bernardo Provenzano in Voi non sapete) can be read as user’s guides to Sicilian life, where even lawful activity can require rituals that approach the religious in their intensity and in the contempt in which the non-observant are held.Thus, he argues, Shakespeare is a true Sicilian, seeking, finding and making complication where none previously existed.

The result of the investigation is, like Sicily, a slightly soiled Mediterranean gem, carrying a trace of all those invaders, traders and raiders who have handled it. The Sicilian language, like English, was the product of invasion and trade in a large island. Where English is French for German speakers, Sicilian is Italian (or French) for Greeks (or Arabs). Translation from one over-influential island to another seems the only appropriate journey for Crollalanza/Shakespeare.

Troppo trafficu ppi nenti, Andrea Camilleri and Giuseppe Dipasquale, 978-88-04-60605-5.

5 comments on “Funky cold Messina …

  1. Moira
    November 15, 2011

    All we need to establish now is whether or not Edward de Vere was Sicilian, and we’ve cracked it.

  2. Chris Harding
    November 15, 2011

    Oh dear, I can’t keep up with all these conspiracy theories about Shakespeare’s ‘real’ identity. Is the Sicilian connection for real, or some kind of spoof? Why can’t Shakespeare just be Shakespeare? A working class hero and natural genius from Stratford on Avon, in England…

  3. kirstyjane
    November 15, 2011

    An erudite and funny review, thank you Michael — and I think the book itself might finally get me interested in the whole Shakespeare identity question. And why should he not be Sicilian? It would certainly explain a lot, and he wouldn’t be the first or the last immigrant to contribute to the UK’s cultural wealth!

  4. Jackie
    November 15, 2011

    Like Chris, I wondered whether this is really a send up or to be taken seriously. In any case, it’s certainly a different angle on things!

  5. Nikki
    November 16, 2011

    Oh this is brilliant! And what I loved most about it is that there’s no suggestion of Royal incest!

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This entry was posted on November 15, 2011 by in Entries by Michael, Shakespeare, Shakespeare Week, Theatre and tagged , , , , , , .

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