There is a world elsewhere.
(This article is the 19th chapter of the printed 2013 English edition of my book, also reproduced in the e-book of the same year. Translated from the Italian by William McCuaig)
In a book published in 1928, Scapigliatura italiana a Londra. Sotto Elisabetta e Giacomo G. S. Gargàno tells the stories of various Italian protagonists of London life at the time when Shakespeare, according to orthodox scholarship, was “conquering” the theater. His research in Italian and English archives and a number of letter collections was however undertaken for a different purpose.
My aim—he wrote in his preface—was to find out if any of the many Italians who were in London in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries might have left us a notice, even a fleeting one, regarding William Shakespeare. It was and is worth expending time and trouble to acquire any information that might shed light on a life and career that are still so mysterious.
Gargàno’s search went unrewarded, of course, and he had to content himself with recounting the lives and vicissitudes of Italian ambassadors, merchants, and bankers, which, however interesting, even fascinating in themselves, added nothing to the stock of our knowledge of Shakespeare, in particular his relationship with the Italian community in London, and with Italy.
Yet Italy is a clear, self-evident, literal reality for Shakespeare. Many of the plays are set in the peninsula, whether in ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, or the Renaissance. To the list of these, which any reader may compile, should be added Measure for Measure, as Gary Taylor has demonstrated, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, regarded by some as “an Italian-style comedy in English dress.” Let us pause for a moment to consider these two recent additions to Shakespeare’s “Italian canon.”
Measure for Measure is set, very unusually, in Vienna. If that idea originated with Shakespeare himself, it would be an utter novelty, in the sense that it would make Shakespeare the only English playwright to choose this city as a background for a theatrical plot before 1660. We learn from Gary Taylor that the London public would have been able to “imagine” little or nothing about Vienna, since at that time “it meant almost nothing.” The first production took place at court in December 1604 before James I, staged by the King’s Men (the so called “Shakespeare’s Company”) of which James I had recently become the patron), and was entered in the documents of the Revels this way: “Mesur for Mesur” by “Shaxberd.” That is how the name of the great dramatist could be written, at a time when almost all his works had been staged or published. Gary Taylor cites the view of one critic that “Measure was specifically designed as a ‘royal entertainment’.” This hypothesis accords perfectly with the historical facts: Florio wrote it to accompany and reinforce the gesture of Basilikon Doron, the Italian translation he had signed “Giovanni Florio.” As we have seen, he would follow the same course a year later, writing Macbeth under the usual nom de plume Shakespeare, which must certainly have been a disguise through which some at court could see . . .
There remains the question of Vienna. To sum up Taylor’s elaborate and rigorous research, historical and textual, he maintains that in this comedy, never printed or put on in theaters before the publication of the First Folio in 1623, the name of the Austrian capital was introduced at a late stage to replace that of an Italian city, Ferrara. And indeed, everything in the plot and the atmosphere is Italian, even the names of the characters, while Austria is never mentioned in the text. Moreover, the comedy underwent repeated revisions according to Taylor, in 1606, 1608, 1617 and 1621. The hand responsible for making substantial changes to Measure for Measure in 1621 was that of Thomas Middleton, according to Taylor (and others). It is believed that it was he who substituted Vienna for Ferrara; the change is thought to have been connected with the current political and diplomatic situation, with the allusion to Hungary at a time when Vienna was again the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, under an emperor, Ferdinand II, hostile to the Protestant world. So, if the setting was an Italian city in the original text of 1604, how was that determined? Taylor answers that question with a string of fascinating and convincing arguments, grounded in history and logic, demonstrating that Shakespeare had Italy in mind when he wrote. And for that matter, an impressive number of productions at all periods, from that of Davenant in 1662, down to the musical adaptation by Wagner and the BBC production in 1979, have all situated the action in Italy. The principal source for the comedy is two of the novellas in Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio’s Ecatommiti. In one of these, number 56, the protagonist is a Duke of Ferrara, the city that was the residence of the ducal family, the Este, and the great poets and writers whom they fostered, like Ariosto, Tasso, and Guarini. Cinzio himself was living in Ferrara when he wrote his very popular book. For a list of reasons that need not be spelled out, including the description of the cityscape, the presence of a duke, and various others, Taylor arrives at the totally convincing conclusion that the city in Measure is Ferrara. Among the arguments presented is this:
Ferrara is the first Italian city mentioned in John Florio’s Second Frutes . . . Elizabethans . . . could read, in Florio’s translation of Montaigne’s Essays, of Montaigne’s own visit to Ferrara, and his encounter there with the mad and imprisoned poet Tasso.
One observes how, whenever the topic is Shakespeare and Shakespearian problems, the name of Florio constantly and inevitably appears. What matters in the present context is that Measure for Measure is an “Italian play,” and that the strangeness, ambiguity, and hybridity of the comedy do not depend exclusively on the clash between the changes made by the Calvinist Middleton to material drafted by a Shakespeare whom Taylor sees as “Catholicizing.” While I find totally convincing the thesis that Middleton made adaptations in 1621, with the shift to Vienna and all the rest, it seems to me that the confluence of different elements and styles in Measure for Measure is, at least in part, original. By that I mean: pertaining to Florio personally, specifically tied to his origins, his varied experience of life, and his situation, bracketed between Catholicism and the Reformation, with Judaism in the background. John, by the way, was never a stubborn anti-Catholic like his father. For example, the knowledge displayed about the rules of the order of Santa Chiara (the “Poor Clares”), a female order of the Franciscan observance, is not a clue to the Catholic heritage and feelings of the man from Stratford, but evidence of the Franciscan heritage of Michel Angelo Florio, which he passed on to his son. Georges Lambin has demonstrated, with ten irrefutable parallels, that for the dialogues between Isabella and her mother Francisca, Shakespeare was following the Regula, or rule of the order of the Poor Clares. Here are three of the shorter ones:
When you have vowed (1.4. 10)
Ego soror N…voveo et promitto Deo (Ste. Colette. I,30)
And there receive the approbation (1.2. 180)
in huius modi receptionibus (Ste. Colette. I,29)
Fasting maids (2,2, 154)
omni tempore sorores jejunent
Shakespeare was not improvising, he simply possessed the whole life experience and baggage of knowledge accumulated by the Florios.
As for Merry Wives, derived like The Merchant of Venice from one of the novellas in Il Pecorone by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino available exclusively in Italian, Giorgio Melchiori sees it as lying squarely in the tradition of Italian commedia erudita, a genre influenced by Pietro Aretino, Cardinal Bibbiena, Ariosto, the Accademia degli Intronati of Siena, and Machiavelli: authors whose books were owned and read by John Florio. Merry Wives conforms to the Italian model of the beffa, “so typically Italian a feature,” writes Melchiori, “that there is no exact English equivalent for the word . . . .” Falstaff is a character who, according to Melchiori and O. J. Campbell, has decidedly Italian roots in the stock figure of the Pedant, just as the whole intrigue is Italian despite the pointed use of English place names, which reveal as they conceal. Apart from this local color and a few secondary details, “source hunters looking for the models on which Shakespeare had based it have been unable to find any.” (Melchiori, 109).
So with Measure and Merry Wives added to the total, there are sixteen “Italian plays” by Shakespeare as well as countless allusions to Italy and Italian characters in the rest of the works for the stage. It is an impressive figure, however one interprets it. Of course, this quantitative datum would not, on its own, prove anything definite, but as we have seen, there is much more linking the works of Shakespeare to the Florios. Italy as it appears in Shakespeare’s theater is precisely matched by the lives and works of Michel Angelo and John Florio, where Italy appears for what it is: the land, the folk, and the language that have been lost. To evoke Italy, to make it live again, is a response to angst, emptiness, and loss. Italy is the site of memory of the many exiled characters that populate the works of Shakespeare, “the dark backward and abyss of time,” as Prospero says in The Tempest. One looks for Italy in Shakespeare not in order to “prove” anything in the forensic sense, but rather in order to confirm the fact that the author was an Italian “outside Italy.” I shall therefore refrain from systematically reviewing the evidence gathered over more than a century by a raft of researchers to the effect that Shakespeare knew Italy, because Italy is everywhere in Shakespeare, at every level—stylistic, linguistic, historical, artistic, geographic, topographic, emotive. Because certain emotions can’t be feigned or learned from books. In no other Elizabethan writer do Italy and Italian culture, which do have a recurring presence in that literature, play so large a part as they do in Shakespeare.
That notwithstanding, there obviously exists no outright declaration of “Italianness” in Shakespeare, otherwise the question of authorship would never have arisen. The author appears to be an Italianizer, not an Italian. Nor for that matter do the Florios wear a badge of Italianness. They, like Shakespeare, write as Englishmen. Their Italian origin was no secret, and they were diffusers of Italian culture, but in neither the father nor the son do we find peremptory declarations of “nationality.” Like William, John doesn’t exaggerate, doesn’t make a display of his origins, doesn’t reveal particulars about his private life, just as Shakespeare doesn’t. His stance is vigorously transcultural: tied to his origins, but not viscerally. So, John Florio shuns overemphasis, using his enormous baggage of knowledge of Italian with discretion, avoiding involvement with the most flamboyant Italianizing trends while striving to inculcate a taste for Italian language and literature, “pointedly avoiding the ‘wickedness’ associated with the new Italian humanism” (Yates, 36).
Four hundred years later, Shakespeare is “betrayed,” objectively speaking—and it is this that is so unsettling for orthodox scholarship—by the works not yet translated into English which are the ascertained source for a great many of the plays: Il Pecorone by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, printed at Milan in 1554, which underlies The Merchant of Venice; Gli Ecatommiti by Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio, a collection of 113 stories dating from 1565 that, along with a novella by Matteo Bandello of 1554, underlies Othello; the fifth novella by Cinzio, “Storia di Epitia,” which is the principal source of Measure for Measure. The main source for Much Ado About Nothing, are the (untranslated) Novelle of Matteo Bandello (novella 22, to be precise), and a secondary source is the fifth canto of Ariosto’s Orlando furioso; this last was in fact translated in 1591. As Ernesto Grillo, a forgotten “minor” Shakespearian, wrote, in a book that his British students put together out of lecture notes for courses he gave around 1930, “English critics have tried to minimize the importance of the fact that four-fifths of Elizabethan dramas were based on Italian Novelle” (Grillo, 130).
It was Naseeb Shaheen who in 1994 proved beyond all doubt that Shakespeare had a very strong knowledge of the Italian language. In doing so he cited John Florio as the source of various borrowings from First Fruites and Second Frutes, without of course suspecting for a moment that the lexicographer’s involvement might run a little deeper than that. The proof is rigorously logical (philological), and at least Shaheen does not keep his eyes religiously averted from “unwelcome” realities, like the rest of orthodox scholarship. Without entering into the details of his succinct yet inexorable comparison of dates and texts, it is worth repeating a few of his conclusions:
The best evidence that Shakespeare could read Italian, however, comes from the close adherence of his plays to his Italian sources. For some plays, those Italian sources had not been translated into any other language, and the only logical conclusion is that Shakespeare must have read the source in Italian.
In other instances, although the Italian source had been translated into French or English, Shakespeare’s play is often closer to the Italian original than to the translations or adaptations of the original. At times, there is also a verbal similarity which adds to the evidence that Shakespeare had read the original Italian. (Shaheen, Italian,163)
Shaheen shows (in the wake of Grillo 60 years earlier, and several other critics) that the expression “prophetic fury” in Othello is probably borrowed from a line in Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, “C’havea il furor profetico congiunto.” The logical deduction follows: “A person able to read Ariosto would be able to read not only the prose narratives of Cinthio [i.e. Cinzio] and Bandello, but also the much more difficult and highly structured poetry of one of Italy’s greatest poets.” And he concludes: “It seems clear . . . that Shakespeare could read Italian, and that for a surprising number of plays he read those sources in Italian” (Shaheen, 169).
As with the Bible, music, and the rest, the problem of how and when the man from Stratford acquired a knowledge of Italian so extensive and thorough as to allow him to read the whole of Italian literature has been ignored by the orthodox during the thirteen years subsequent to Shaheen’s demonstration; they had already given the same treatment to the propositions of Ernesto Grillo. One’s jaw goes slack in reading Jason Lawrence’s slanted assertion that Naseeb Shaheen had failed to prove that Shakespeare read Italian with great competence (Lawrence, 118). What is surprising is that Lawrence appears to be driven by the best and most honest intentions, he wants to defend the view that Shakespeare was genuinely cultivated, that he knew literatures and languages. He refrains from the classic absurdities of Richard Farmer, who in the eighteenth-century reduced Shakespeare’s competence to a minimum, but in trying to “account for” the man from Stratford Lawrence loses his way too. He admits that Florio was necessarily the source of the playwright’s knowledge of Italian and Italy, but then engages in acrobatics to construct a story about the relation between the two, and outline the course of Shakespeare’s Italian learning. And here the acrobat starts to teeter: if Florio and Shakespeare met at the residence of Southampton, their common patron, then why do Shakespeare’s works show that his knowledge of Italian precedes this encounter? And besides, what drove Shakespeare to make such a total commitment to learning Italian, advancing from Florio’s first manual to his second one? How did he gain the ability in such a short time to read Matteo Bandello with ease?
Shakespeare, then, evidently has the ability to read Italian prose unaided by the latter 1590s, but by what means does he acquire his knowledge of specific Italian books? (Lawrence, 123 ff.)
Evidently means that the works themselves supply incontrovertible proof that Shakespeare read specific, particular, special books, books in Italian that were not obvious choices nor easy to obtain at that moment in London, like the novellas of Bandello. That is a substantial, disturbing concession. But Lawrence finds an expedient: Florio, having been expelled from critical discourse for eighty years, cannot be kept out any longer, so let’s use him to prop up the man from Stratford. In the words of the candid Lawrence: “The principal advantage in advocating a direct relationship between Florio and Shakespeare is to offer a plausible explanation for how the playwright might have gained access to his Italian materials.”
In the pivotal year 2005, a French academic, Christophe Camard, published an article on the use of the Italian language by Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, and Florio’s role as their source. He reached no new conclusions, but there are some interesting aspects to his review that are worth reporting. For Camard, Shakespeare treats the Italian language in a curious and intimate manner, and is capable of creating new meanings in English, of playing with a foreign language in a way quite different to Jonson, whose relation to Italian is external, a simple question of exoticism and color. With Camard, clearly, we are still in the realm of orthodox criticism and its self-denying ordinance against drawing logical conclusions from the results of its own research.
The same holds true, as I have already noted, for a series of articles by Roger Prior, who in 2004 not only made a key contribution, to the problem of whether or not Shakespeare knew Italian, but also established just how extensive (and refined) his familiarity was with Italian contemporary writers. The article entitled “Tasso’s Aminta in Two Shakespearian Comedies” carries special weight, for in it the critic reveals how deeply Shakespeare drew upon Torquato Tasso. Prior shows that Shakespeare used a very rare edition of Tasso’s verse drama Aminta (the fact that he could lay hands on it at all in London at that time is quite exceptional in itself)—an edition or manuscript that must have contained the Epilogue and the musical Interludes, which are rarely reproduced. Shakespeare, Prior concludes, “had available, therefore, a text of the Aminta which was more ‘complete’ than any that has come down to us from that time. This means that he is likely to have obtained it from an unusually privileged and knowledgeable source” (Prior, 275). Biron’s famous speech in defense of love in Love’s Labours Lost turns out to be a calque from act two of Aminta. And Shakespeare’s careful and meticulous study of Tasso’s texts for the purpose of turning them into English goes well beyond those 42 lines. Prior’s dossier is impressive: dozens and dozens of words copied, adapted, translated, and not just words but poetic ideas and phrases, sometimes even entire episodes.
“What conclusions—asks Roger Prior—can be drawn from this new information? Since Shakespeare borrows from several widely dispersed scenes of the Aminta, we can reasonably assume that he had read the whole play. It seems, on this evidence, that his knowledge of Italian was extensive. He had before him a copy of the English verse translation by Abraham Fraunce, and occasionally used it in As You Like It, but he mostly ignores it in favour of the original Italian” (Prior, 275).
What has been the impact of this discovery, published in 2004, on the field of Shakespeare criticism? Absolutely nothing: the Stratfordians haven’t batted an eyelash. To me these calques from Tasso, and Shakespeare’s use of an edition of Aminta that must have been a complete rarity, appear to be yet one more incontrovertible piece of proof: only the “apostle of the Renaissance” in England, John Florio, was in possession of certain books in London, and more than that, only he was capable of interpreting, translating, and adapting them. The man from Stratford, whom many major critics still regard as rather ignorant of the Italian language, is definitively eclipsed.
John Florio was not just the principal exponent, under the pseudonym Shake-speare, of this Italianizing trend, he was also a “resource center” on Italian culture for his English writer friends. For example, Florio supplies his young colleague and friend Jonson, who thanks him with deferential affection, with all the linguistic and colorful touches he needs to “do Italy,” but for himself, for his own Shakespearian theater, he doesn’t adopt the same straightforward approach. The Italy depicted by the pen of Shake-speare lies deeper, in concealment: “In Shakespeare, the Italian language is utilized in a manner, so to speak, more subtle and also more rare,” for we see the playwright using Italian to enrich and add depth to the English language (Camard, 39-53). When it comes to the Italian connotations of names, Shakespeare is notoriously dexterous. Let us quote Camard directly:
One may cite inter alia the name Gobbo, which signifies “hunchback” (“hunch or croope-backt” in Florio’s definition) and which calls to mind the silhouette of Pulcinella in the Commedia dell’Arte, or the statue of the “Gobbo di Rialto” erected in the sixteenth century by Pietro da Salò, to which the Venetians had the habit of attaching little slips of paper satirizing the clergy or the patricians.
“Othello” is another of the Shakespearian names analyzed by Camard, and indeed it amounts to the most convincing revelation of the author’s Italian roots. Camard reviews several hypotheses, then concludes:
There is another possible explanation which I find highly attractive, based on the link between the name “Moor,” which is what he is called in the source, and that of the great Venetian family of the Moro (which means “Moor” in Italian). The Moro gave Venice one Doge and many military leaders, one of whom fought at Cyprus in 1508. The coat of arms of this family included blackberries (more in Italian, mûres in French), which recall the strawberries embroidered on the handkerchief of Othello, and which are not mentioned in Cinzio. In his book A Dictionary of the Characters and proper Names in the works of Shakespeare, Frances Griffin Stokes claims to have discovered that the fullest and oldest form of the name of this family was “Otelli del Moro.”
In sum: a submerged Venetian context and culture, subtly recalled by one who was, and felt himself, close to Venice, like Florio.
To search for “how and when” the man from Stratford got his cultural baggage is more than a waste of time, as all the biographies prove, it is an absurdity: that man cannot have left literary traces because, while as an actor he must have been able to read, nothing gives reason to suppose that he could write. The undeniable datum is that the works of Shakespeare show that knowledge of this kind always leads us back to John Florio.
It is to him, to the bombastic lexicographer, that all the trails lead when one tries, for example, to understand who taught Shakespeare to write about duels. One of the masters of the Italian school of fencing in London then was Vincentio Saviolo, purported author of the manual Vincentio Saviolo his Practise (1595). Florio refers to Saviolo in his works, and some assert that the one who actually wrote and published this manual was “the ceaselessly active John Florio.” It is certain that in Romeo and Juliet the description of the fights draws upon Saviolo: “Shakespeare used the manual attributed to Saviolo for his technical terminology as well as to explain the situations in which the contestants find themselves” (Rossi, 114). Other terms used by Shakespeare in the same play appear to come directly from A Worlde of Wordes. Despite this attribution, Sergio Rossi openly expresses his low esteem for the translator of Montaigne and Boccaccio, whom he takes for a virtual caricature of Italian culture, “the embodiment of the negative view of a bombastic, rhetorical Italian world” (Rossi, 118). Florio may have frequented the same society as Shakespeare, and it was certainly he who gave Shakespeare all his technical indications, but, writes Rossi:
Florio’s own limitations, however, conditioned his interpretation of this world. Shakespeare, as a good subject of the English realm as well as a man of the theatre, always filtered his sources through the sieve of the ever present demands of a strongly nationalistic audience. (Rossi, 121)
Rossi, a faithful and docile adherent of Stratfordian orthodoxy, fails to see that the filtering action he assigns to Shakespeare is exactly what Florio, the translator, spent his whole life doing in the opposite direction, as we shall presently see.
Returning to Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italian, anyone who accepts the logical conclusion reached by Shaheen and Prior will not fail to find amusement in these words from Harry Levin: “He cannot have known much Italian, but seems to have made use of a few untranslated sources.” He cannot have known “much Italian”? Why not? Because otherwise he wouldn’t be he! And the proof that he is he, the man from Stratford, is supposedly that he wrote Italian clumsily and didn’t know the geography of Italy. Levin was a distinguished scholar, but this is pathetic, and even a little worrying.
Jason Lawrence wished to cut loose from this “negationist” stance, but without succeeding, obviously, in resolving the question.
Other critics over the years, seeking a way out of this cul-de-sac, maintained that the Bard must have traveled in Italy and so picked up the Italian he shows a hundred times over that he knows, along with the history and geography of the peninsula. How else could he describe, as though he had seen it with his own eyes, the tapestry that Borachio describes en passant, but with amazing precision in Much Ado?
. . . sometime like the shaven Hercules in the smirch’d worm-eaten tapestry, where his codpiece seems as massy as his club? (3,3, 124-126)
This tapestry has been identified: according to the authors of the preface to Georges Lambin’s book, it was made in France at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and is on view today at the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Florio has left all kinds of clues in the works of Shakespeare, ranging from macroscopic ones from the Essais of Montaigne, to the ones highlighted by Shaheen, to microscopic ones like the tapestry and others adduced by Ernesto Grillo (the description of a sculpture by Giulio Romano or a painting by Correggio) no less fatal for the already vulnerable man from Stratford. Noemi Magri, an anti-Stratfordian of the Oxfordian persuasion, has put forth the strong claim, in a series of short articles, that the author of the works of Shakespeare had certainly traveled in Italy, visited the cities of which he speaks, and seen the works of art he describes. The case of Giulio Romano is representative of the equivocal and fundamentally dishonest way that orthodox criticism has interpreted the question of Shakespeare’s knowledge of things Italian. It is well known that a bevy of scholars have detected major errors and gaffes with respect to geography and art in Shakespeare. They wear an air of embarrassment as they do so (but I suspect it is feigned). Take the description of the statue of Hermione inThe Winter ‘s Tale:
a piece many years in doing and now newly performed by that Italian master, Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom, so perfectly he is her ape: he so near to Hermione hath done Hermione, that they say one would speak to her and stand in hope of answer. (5.2.94-99)
The critics throw up their hands, faced with a Shakespeare ignorant of the fact that Giulio Romano was a painter and not a sculptor. But it is they who are in error. Here as elsewhere, it is not that Shakespeare has blundered, but that the defenders of the man from Stratford are falling over themselves to show that he was not all that highly cultivated and that he only knew about Italian matters at second hand: the biography of the Bard from Stratford forces them to do so! In fact, as Magri shows, the allusion to Giulio Romano is not made carelessly by Shakespeare, because Giulio was an extremely significant artist. On top of that, Shakespeare’s remarks about him are well focused and surprisingly precise. Giulio Romano was greatly esteemed by Vasari, and is the first and only artist, together with Michelangelo, to represent stories (…) was an innovator and a master of pictorial illusion. His ornamental friezes and wall decorations were counterfeits of Roman reliefs, columns, statues and architectural structures. (…) In Mantua, Giulio was free to apply his artistic principle of the fusion of appearance and reality, of architecture and nature. Sebastiano Serlio, referring to Palazzo Te, defines it as a “mixture” (mistura) of nature and art. (Magri, 54)
Finally, there is testimony to his activity as a sculptor: “he was responsible for a great number of works in clay or stucco for the Ducal Palaces in Mantua.” Magri cites a work by the Mantuan historian Carlo D’Arco (1799-1872) in which it is stated that: “As Giulio was skilled in various arts, he used to train special pupils in each of them. In sculpture one of them was Battista Briziano . . .” (Magri, 55-56). In sum, it is not Shakespeare who commits a blunder, but his critics who err through inept malice or authentic ignorance.
The flat life history of the man from Stratford reveals no trace of either study or travel, and this forces the majority of Shakespearians to either dodge the argument, defy logic—or bring Florio into the picture. For them Shakespeare possessed no more than shards of culture and linguistic knowledge, a minimum of travel and experience, and a maximum of genius and creative imagination. Never in history was so much wrought out of so little! For orthodox critics, the sixteen plays with Italian content, whether drawn from ancient Rome or the medieval chronicles, demonstrate nothing except that Shakespeare, like Webster, Marston, Massinger, Ben Jonson and other contemporary writers for the stage, took inspiration from Italian literary and historical sources, from comedies available to him that have since vanished. Italy is theater, what Levin calls “a histrionic perspective,” a literary panorama rather than a real country.
Wrong. As the anecdote about Giulio Romano and a heap of similar anecdotes show, it is Italy. As for the fact that Italian expressions are sometimes used in an inaccurate or parodic fashion in Shakespeare’s plays, that is not indicative of the author’s real knowledge of the Italian language, and proves nothing. Or rather, it proves that the author pretends not to know Italian, and writes it as an Englishman would; he uses parodic clichés to conceal his own origin, and above all to meet the taste of his public. So when Harry Levin, in Shakespeare’s Italians, ironizes about the splash of Italian color in The Taming of the Shrew and 2 Henry IV, and alludes to examples of Italian that look to him like a cross between Spanish and Esperanto, he is wide off the mark. The truth, as we have seen, is that the works of Shakespeare present us with an author who reads Ariosto and Tasso, and knows the Italian language and literature far too well to stumble into crude formulations like “mi perdonato”or “Si fortune mi tormente, sperato me contento,” and so on. The truth is that the habile Florio translates EVERYTHING with canny linguistic skill and high intelligence: the Italian becomes amazing, unprecedented English, and the English is sometimes made to look like broken Italian. The author, reversing the sense of his own expression, shows himself for what he is: an Italian Anglified. It must not be forgotten that Florio’s “political” objective was to offer England a cultural contribution that his public, his readership, and ultimately History itself, would identify as English.
What is true for language holds good for the country, the geography, the practices and customs.
As regards knowledge of the great cities of Italy—Messina, Florence, Milan, Venice, Padua, Ferrara, Verona, and so on—it has been claimed that Shakespeare did not lack sources of information, including books, pamphlets, and tourist guides, but also what one might call the living chronicles, the first-hand accounts brought to London by Italian immigrants or brought back by upper-class English travellers (which reached a wide audience). Orthodox scholars think they perceive another proof of an indirect and approximate knowledge of Italy on Shakespeare’s part in the fact that in dealing with Italian matters, the author of Two Gentlemen of Verona and All’s Well That Ends Well makes mistakes of every sort. Naturally all this false perspicacity loses significance, or rather takes on a different significance, once one accepts that the author of the works of Shakespeare was Florio. Of course, Shakespeare spoke Italian; indeed, he taught it! He knew the cityscapes and landscapes of Italy: Michel Angelo because he had been born and raised there, and John because he had probably visited Italy, and in any case had for years heard, imagined, imbibed vivid, detailed, and dramatic stories of Italy from his father during their shared exile in Strasbourg, the Grisons, and London.
So why do these two well-informed Italians make so many crude mistakes about the Italian language and Italian geography? The place to look for an answer is a book mentioned above by Georges Lambin: another forgotten work, published in French in 1962, which must have a poor reputation indeed among the orthodox to judge by the virtually complete absence of citations in the Shakespeare bibliography. For Lambin is an anti-Stratfordian, one guilty perhaps of excessive zeal, and who certainly goes too far in his drive to explain everything, and find a historical figure behind every character, in the plays of Shakespeare. In the orthodox academic world, I imagine they refer to him, if his name ever even comes up, with the ironic superiority of scientists dealing with a UFO enthusiast. The way I see it, Lambin merely tried to explain the phenomenon of Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italian matters in the most natural and logical way, like a good historian, as Shaheen and Prior do. Lambin was the strongest advocate, followed by Grillo, of the view that the works of Shakespeare overflow with knowledge (histories, names, places) of the continent, especially Italy and France, of such detail that the author could not have not had direct experience. A great many, if not all, of the French investigator’s historical reconstructions are absolutely well-founded, like the one cited above in connection with Measure for Measure. Anyone who reads the works of Shakespeare in good faith will realize that he is not a sedentary provincial, no matter how extraordinary his genius, but a “genius” who also knows the world, who has traveled, who has left behind a country and its language, who has lived and suffered elsewhere. He or she realizes that the choice of Italy is not simply a matter of fashion and style, but that there is something personal and intimate in the memories and nostalgias of his characters.
In Two Gentlemen of Verona, according to Georges Lambin, Shakespeare chooses that city, and the north-eastern region of Italy comprising Milan, Venice and Mantua for his setting, simply because he knows them well, and he knows them well because he has lived out authentic experiences there for more or less extended periods. Let us briefly review a few salient points from Lambin’s analysis.
What amazes us about the description of locations and atmospheres in the Italian plays, Lambin maintains, is the presence, on one hand, of details, the precision and concision of the particulars, which impart a strong impression of authenticity and concreteness to the reader; and on the other, a few glaring examples of ignorance about things and deeds well known to all. The comments of an Italian critic, Sergio Perosa, supply a perfect example of the way orthodox academics twist this strange phenomenon. He interprets the fact that San Marco and the Arsenale are not mentioned by Shakespeare in connection with Venice as proof that he had never actually been there. But Shakespeare does mention the Ponte di Rialto, the heart of Venice’s economic life, thronging with Venetians. The absence of other highly familiar “common places” is not surprising: nobody remembers cities they have resided in like a tourist. Other more private places, concealed and personal, float to the surface of Florio’s memory instead of those two tourist meccas, which, vice versa, do turn up in Volpone because Florio suggested them to Ben Jonson. When I recall my own city of Florence, or write about it, the first thing that comes to mind is certainly not the Duomo or the Uffizi; it is Piazza Santo Spirito, where the Bar Ricchi throbs with life. And the Florios knew Venice well: Michel Angelo for sure, but John just as surely, who even if he had never set foot there, had heard his father speak of it so often, and while still very young, had studied at Tübingen with the Protestant heretic Pier Paolo Vergerio, ex-bishop of Capodistria and a Venetian university lecturer. So the absence of San Marco and the Arsenale is a natural omission. With that, I do not exclude the possibility that they might have been left out on purpose, so as to avoid a banality, and also so as to misdirect anyone who might suspect that the writer was an Italian. I concur with Georges Lambin and Ernesto Grillo: these are authentic memories on Shakespeare’s part, not local color or folklore—Michel Angelo’s memories, as I see it, vividly handed on to John; or John’s own recollections, for he certainly crossed the channel to France and Italy, perhaps in company with Samuel Daniel. “Life lived” in any case.
The Florios are extraordinary go-betweens, acutely sensitive. Exiles and transcultural polyglots, they know the obverse and the reverse of everything, picking up differences of tone and mood; they have a special flair for “cultural diversity” that allows them to find the right word, to tune in to the connotations of others’ speech, the speech of their English audience, and ignite the intelligence of Englishmen. Harry Levin, orthodox among the orthodox, nevertheless winds up writing: “Yet in so far as Shakespeare’s creative world had a centre, Italy and the Italians were very near it” (Levin, 28).
The same cannot be said of any other Elizabethan or Jacobean author. Why is Shakespeare so close to Italy? Because, the orthodox critics answer, he towered above his contemporaries, he was the “King Kong” of the Elizabethan epoch, able to bring Italy to life through the power of his imagination. Not, Levin continues, because “he had traveled there—he hadn’t, and his sketchy geographical patchwork is evident when his gentlemen of Verona travel by water to Milan” (Levin, 28). Levin is full of self-assurance: Shakespeare couldn’t have been there, and proof lies in the gaffe of having characters travel by boat from Verona to Milan in The Two Gentlemen. But readers of Georges Lambin, who was neither the first nor the only person to challenge the view that it was a gaffe to refer to travel by boat between Verona and Milan, came to the conclusion, on the basis of solid sources, that it was historically well-founded. For Lambin, all the topographical descriptions are not the fruits of fantasy and vague information on the part of a distant foreign author who never set foot in the places he writes about. They are descriptions so precise that today the various land and water routes can be reconstructed in detail. A similarly precise and rigorous demonstration was supplied in 2004 by Noemi Magri.
An example of the pointedness and precision of the recollections of the city of Milan in The Two Gentlemen of Verona can be found in this passage:
Thu. Where meet we?
Pro. At Saint Gregory’s well. Farewell.
Historico-topographical research undertaken by Lambin on this play, which Bardolatry sees as a work of pure “imagination,” has produced results that are convincing, indeed irrefutable in my opinion: this fountain did exist in Milan in the sixteenth century. In describing the voyage of the two gentlemen, the author gives various pieces of precise information about the presence of waterways in Verona, which were not filled with salt water, as Grillo deduces from these lines:
Lose the tide, and the voyage, and the master, and
the service, and the tied! Why, man, if the river
were dry, I am able to fill it with my tears; if the
wind were down, I could drive the boat with my sighs.
(2.3. 13-15 )
So, what is being described is a river, the Adige to be precise, which passes through Verona and which was connected to Milan by navigable canals. Magri states:
As the Adige was navigable from Bolzano to the Adriatic, Verona was a most important port-of-call along the waterway which connected Venice to North–European markets. (Magri, 69)
The attempts by Valentino and Silvia to reach Verona from Milan are described with great precision by the author, who obviously had first-hand knowledge of the route. Such reconstructions supply us with vividly detailed glimpses into the geographical and historical past, into the histoire événementielle of the epoch: the complex world of political maneuvering, diplomatic intrigue, religious struggle and war at a European level, a world as distant from the man from Stratford as it was close and familiar to John Florio, who may have been a double agent at the French embassy in the early 1580s, and was certainly dispatched on missions to France, and Italy too. He subsequently held a position of great privilege and some influence at court, and for sixteen long years was close to the leading figures in the politics and culture of the English kingdom. From this perspective, Lambin’s reading of All’s Well (one of the problem plays, a bizarre and ambiguous work, written no one knows exactly when, published only in 1623, and never staged before the Restoration) is far from startling; on the contrary, it appears not just credible, but true. I refer here to things that orthodox criticism itself has registered: the Catholic Ligue against the Protestants and the sashes of the ligueurs, or the betrayal of Parolles, prepared to address his captors in German, Danish, Flemish, Italian, or French (4.1.76-77). The commentators see him as a pure invention by Shakespeare, but in truth he is historically identifiable with the ignoble duc d’Aumale, a cousin of “Dumain” hostile to him. I have in mind the strange, intriguing names of the volunteers in Tuscany (Spurio, Sebastian, Corambis, Jaques, Guiltian, Cosmo, Lodowick, Gratii, Chitopher, Vaumond, Bentii, and of course Parolles), all of them identified—very credibly—with Catholic zealots, many of whom were implicated in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572. I have in mind the battle of Ivry, with Charles de Lorraine, duc de Mayenne, personified as Dumain, something Lambin demonstrates past all doubt by comparing the confession of Parolles with the Satire Ménippée.
Let us take a look at one final aspect of All’s Well with guidance from the French historian: what did the author of the comedy know about the city of Florence, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and their relations with France? According to Lambin, whoever wrote the comedy reworks a plot from a novella by Boccaccio, “Giglietta di Nerbona,” changing the name of the protagonist to Helena, while adding elements of historical reality from the later sixteenth century. I present his results in schematic fashion, highlighting the salient facts in a tale made tortuous by Florio’s attempt to adjust Boccaccio to the current events to which he wished to allude.
Rousillon is not the county of Roussillon, as Lambin correctly discerns, but Roussillon-en-Dauphiné. The castle of Bertram, “the Count’s palace,” is therefore close to Tournon in the north of Languedoc, and historically it belonged to Just-Henri V, count of Tournon and Roussillon. The substitution of the name Helena for that of Giglietta, the only name from Boccaccio’s novella that Shakespeare changes, is not made at random. Hélène was in fact the name of the countess of Tournon, the daughter of a “dame d’honneur” of the queen of Navarre who had historically lived in that castle and whose cruel death is evoked by the princess in Love’s Labour’s Lost.
When Helena, having become a pilgrim (“I am Saint Jaques pilgrim”), escapes from the castle of Roussillon and arrives at Florence where she asks for Saint Jaques, orthodox critics and tutti quanti assume that this is another gross geographical error by an “ignorant” Shakespeare: he has apparently sent Helena to San Juan de Compostela (or another Saint-Jacques near Orléans), by way of Florence! The destination for pilgrims called Saint Jaques recurs in the comedy (3.4.4) during Helena’s itinerary from Roussillon to the monastery, and is also called great Saint Jaques (3.5.92) or Saint Jaques le Grand in 3.5.31 and 4.3.48. The monastery in question does indeed lie in Tuscany, near Lucca: Lambin correctly identifies it as the monastery of San Giacomo (= Saint-Jacques, or Saint James) at Altopascio, where a great many pilgrims from all over Europe stopped on their way to Rome during the jubilee years 1575 and 1600.
Lambin meticulously reconstructs the movements of Helena and the Widow in Florence:
Widow. […] God save you, pilgrim, whither are you bound?
Helena. To Saint Jaques le Grand, Where do the palmers lodge, I beseech you?
Widow. At the Saint Francis, here beside the port.
Lambin conclusively identifies the latter location as a Franciscan shelter for pilgrims, which lay near Porta a Prato: “En 1602, sur la Via Palazzuolo où nous nous trouvons en ce moment, vient de s’achever l’oratoire de S. Francesco dei Vanchetone” (Lambin, 37). Finally, the marriage of Bertram to Maudlin, daughter of Lafew, corresponds to the historical marriage of the count of Roussillon with Madeleine, daughter of the duc de LArocheFOUcault (Lafeu) which took place on 13 February1583.
Georges Lambin’s research is fascinating, rigorous, and a pleasure to read; his book is recommended to readers, particularly the first three chapters (pp. 25-68). It contains much else that is politically intriguing and historically grounded, but what we have already seen is sufficient, I believe. What is notable about Lambin’s book is that, through unexceptionable historical reconstructions, acute intuitions, and a few convincing assumptions, he succeeds as few have done in reintroducing history into a theatrical oeuvre which the critics normally study in antiseptic isolation; he shows that the author had a life beyond the theater. His reading yields a highly credible portrait that accords perfectly not just with the biography of the Florios but with logic. The orthodox take paradoxical pleasure in the discrepancy between the man from Stratford on one hand and history (and logic) on the other; audaciously, they turn this weakness into a strength, challenging their timid opponents, brandishing the “monstrum” William Shakespeare as living proof of the unconditional, ahistorical power of genius. John Florio, the author of the works of Shakespeare, is on the other hand fully immersed in the political events of his time and moves in the entourage of those in power: not a protagonist, of course, but a minor figure active and visible on the London scene as the Tudor age gave way to that of the Stuarts. With Florio, history comes thundering back in: not only is it legitimate, it is absolutely necessary to talk about Italy, France, and the rest of continental Europe, to talk about politics, religion, exile, languages, knowledge. Shakespearian invention regains its historical footing, and the playwright’s imagination the necessary purchase on reality.
A quick review of Italian sentiments. Evidence of “Italianness” is so frequent and animated in the works of Shakespeare as to render impracticable any attempt to list it exhaustively.
Cymbeline, the final work in the 1623 Folio, may appear to have been written by an English patriot celebrating the virtues of barbarous Britain, yet it contains expressions and accents that reveal the sentiments of an antipapal Italian Protestant who has found refuge in England. These vibrations and words are so intimate that no native genius would have intuited them: “Mine Italian brain” is the brain of one who feels Italy inside him.
The words of Lucius too, which Santi Paladino had already noted, resound with a display of Italian pride and a veiled antinational critique inconceivable in an English poet.
Lucius. Consider, sir, the chance of war: the day
Was yours by accident; had it gone with us,
We should not, when the blood was cool, have threaten’d
Our prisoners with the sword. But since the gods
Will have it thus, that nothing but our lives
May be call’d ransom, let it come; sufficeth,
A Roman with a Roman’s heart can suffer;
Augustus lives to think on ’t
In The Merchant of Venice, the unflattering comments of Portia on the qualities of the English aristocracy reveal a “displaced” style of thought improbable in an English writer:
Ner. What say you, then, to Falconbridge, the young baron of England?
Por. You know I say nothing to him, for he understands not me, nor I him: he hath neither Latin, French, nor Italian; and you will come into the court and swear that I have a poor pennyworth in the English. He is a proper man’s picture, but, alas! who can converse with a dumb-show? How oddly he is suited! I think he bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany, and his behaviour every where.
The same remark holds for the “tardy-apish nation” in Richard II:
Report of fashions in proud Italy,
Whose manners still our tardy-apish nation
Limps after in base imitation (2.1)
This cannot be and is not the thought of a young Englishman recently arrived in London, who would not have been able to contemplate England “from outside,” in such an acerbically self-critical mode. From the point of view of “proud Italy,” in fact.
Two Gentleman of Verona has a proverb signaled by Grillo, “Sound as a fish,” originating in the Italian expression “sano come un pesce,” which the man from Stratford would never have picked up in the dockside taverns.
In Othello we have this:
CLOWN: Why, Masters, have your instruments been in Naples, that they speak i’th’nose thus? (3.1.3-4)
The orthodox will trot out the usual pretexts: the man from Stratford overheard some Neapolitans talking in a tavern in dockland! But the obvious truth is that this regional note is absolutely “made in Italy.”
In Antony and Cleopatra, Charmian expresses a feeling so southern and so “ethnic” that only a native of those sunny countries could have invented it:
CHARMIAN- O, excellent! I love long life better than figs. (1,2.33)
In The Tempest Miranda is surprised at the fact that her father had been a great lord, and questions him:
Sir, are not you my father?
Thy mother was a piece of virtue, and
She said thou wast my daughter; and thy father
Was Duke of Milan; and thou his only heir
And princess no worse issued. (1.2. 55-59)
Prospero doesn’t answer, as we would expect from an English noble, with a simple yes or no, but with a witticism (“Almeno così mi disse tua madre, che era la virtù in persona”) that betrays an all too typically southern Italian mentality.
As for the Commedia dell’Arte, the bergamasque dance proposed by Bottom at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a northern Italian flashback: “Will it please you to see the epilogue or to hear a bergamask dance between two of our company?” This unexpected sally sounds to me like an authentic Italian memory, even though Shakespearian critics, from Walter Sorell to Alan Brissenden, have struggled to “contextualize” it within Elizabethan culture. John was intimately familiar with all of Italian comedy, and his father Michel Angelo had resided briefly at Bergamo before abandoning Italy in 1550.
Readers are invited to ponder the depth of introspection that allows the writer, in The Merchant of Venice, to extract the essence of the character of a Venetian Jewish merchant; and the otherwise truly “curious” fact that almost all the servants bear names that are, in Harry Levin’s words, “indelibly anglicized, even in the homeland of Brighella and Arlecchino they are named Potpan and Sugarsop, Hugh Oatcake and Susan Grindstone” (Levin, 21). This is not the automatic outpouring of a native Englishman, but rather the truly subtle and perfidious vengeance of the Italian Anglified, John Florio.
What animates the Italian tales of Shakespeare is the life really lived in Italy, or at any rate lived in language, in memories vividly handed down. It is not humanistic cultural baggage acquired by the author—and if it were, it would be a mystery where the man from Stratford got it. Italy is a metaphor for England, and England for Italy. As Manfred Pfister puts it, one doesn’t know with John Florio which is the source language and which is the target language: this is the extraordinary power of the genius of Shakespeare, a command of translation that transports, mimics, universalizes everything. John Florio, offspring of the meeting between Renaissance Italy and the Reformation, is the only person to possess it to such a lofty degree in Elizabethan England.
 Gary Taylor, “Shakespeare’s Mediterranean. Measure for Measure,” in Shakespeare and the Mediterranean, 2004, pp. 243-269.
 Thomas Middleton (1580-1627), Jacobean playwright and poet, the author of successful comedies and tragedies. He was active at the court of James I, where numerous masques written by him were staged, and where he very probably knew John Florio.
 “Catholic” settings, protagonists, and liturgy appear with a certain frequency in Shakespearian theater. This fits well with the personal experience of John Florio: for sixteen years he was a close collaborator of Queen Anne, whose Catholic (and Spanish) sympathies were public knowledge, to the point of embarrassing the court on more than one occasion. The sovereign’s personal secretary must have, if not shared, at any rate sincerely tolerated, the Catholic confession.
 Georges Lambin, Voyages de Shakespeare en France et en Italie, 1962, pp. 96-97.
 Giorgio Melchiori, “ ‘In fair Verona’: commedia erudita into romantic comedy,” in Shakespeare’s Italy. Functions of Italian locations in Renaissance drama, ed. M. Marrapodi, A. J. Hoenselaars, M. Cappuzzo, L. Falzon Santucci, 1993. A beffa in Italian novelle is an elaborate practical joke.
 But as we have seen, Florio himself might have had a hand in the translation.
 Naseeb Shaheen, “Shakespeare’s Knowledge of Italian,” Shakespeare Survey, 47, 1994, pp. 161-169.
 Richard Farmer “Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare,” 1767. This essay is well known for its claim that Shakespeare neither spoke nor read Italian, and that he got everything from existing translations and other sources.
 Christophe Camard, “ ‘Petruchio, I shall be your ben venuto’: Shakespeare, Jonson et la langue italienne,” in Shakespeare et l’Europe de la Renaissance, ed. Yves Peyré and Pierre Kapitaniak, 2005, pp. 39-53. http://www.societefrancaiseshakespeare.org/document.php?id=740
 Roger Prior, “Tasso’s Aminta in Two Shakespearian Comedies,” Notes and Queries 51.3 (Sept. 2004), pp. 269-276; “Shakespeare’s Debt to Ariosto,” N&Q ccxlvi (2001), 289-92; and “Shakespeare Debt to Berni” Journal of Anglo-Italian Studies, vii (2002), 1-8. The works of these authors are naturally all to be found in the list of books read (and no doubt owned) by Florio for the compilation of the two editions of his dictionary.
 Sergio Rossi, “Duelling in the Italian manner: the case of Romeo and Juliet,” in Shakespeare’s Italy: functions of Italian locations in Renaissance drama, ed. Michele Marrapodi et al., 1993, p. 113.
 Harry Levin, “Shakespeare’s Italians,” in Shakespeare’s Italy, op.cit. p. 20.
 F. L. Schoell and G. Connes, in Georges Lambin, op. cit. p. 19.
 The painter and sculptor Giulio Romano is the only contemporary artist mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. Grillo writes: “In The Winter’s Tale he [Shakespeare] speaks enthusiastically of his contemporary, Giulio Romano, and describes the supposed statue of Hermione . . . .” A near-contemporary artist is mentioned in The Taming of the Shrew, where we come across Giove ed Io, a painting by Correggio that was on view in northern Italy between 1585 and 1600. Op. cit. pp. 131 and 136.
 Sergio Perosa, Il Veneto di Shakespeare, 2000.
 Daniel was in the entourage of the French ambassador at Paris, and spent many months in Italy in 1586.
 King Kong is an expression of Stephen Booth: “Shakespeare is our most underrated poet. It should not be necessary to say that, but it is. We generally acknowledge Shakespeare’s poetic superiority to other candidates for greatest poet in English, but doing that is comparable to saying that King Kong is bigger than other monkeys. The difference between Shakespeare’s abilities with language and those even of Milton, Chaucer, or Ben Jonson is immense”.
In “Shakespeare’s language and the language of Shakespeare’s time”, Shakespeare and language, Catherine M.S. Alexander, Editor, Cambridge; New York, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
 Georges Lambin, op. cit., gives full bibliographical detail about these sources. Here I shall limit myself to the names of the authors and the dates of publication: Karl Elze, 1874; Gregor Sarrazin, 1900; Sir Edward Sullivan, 1908 and 1918; Ernesto Grillo, 1949.
 Noemi Magri, “No Errors in Shakespeare: Historical Truth and The Two Gentlemen of Verona” in Great Oxford, Essays on the life and work of Edward De Vere, 2004, pp. 67-78.
 Lambin informs us that in 1853 J. O. Halliwell tracked it down in a work entitled Civitates Orbis Terrarum by G. Braun (1582). It was a quadrangular construction around a porticoed cortile with a small edifice in the center. The whole thing was surrounded by basins of flowing water that discharged into larger channels, and bore the name Gregorio because there was a monastery of that name nearby. As the decades and centuries passed, the place became known as the Lazzaretto, since it was used to shelter victims of the plague.
 Lambin lists the gates in the encircling walls of Milan: the Porta di Roma, the Porta di Vercelli, the Porta Orientale (later called Porta Venezia) and the Porta di Como, also known as Porta del Nord. Valentino quite properly chooses the latter: “. . . and meet me at the Northgate” (3.1. 258; 362). As Lambin notes, Como was the main destination of those passing through this gate, but along the way, past Monza, another road branched off toward Vimercate, and from there soon arrived the closest border crossing, the bridge at Trezzo sull’Adda. This was the shortest way toward Verona and Mantua, and exile.
 Georges Lambin, op. cit., pp. 42-45.
 Today the internet supplies confirmation: “Beyond San Paolo, in the Via Palazzuolo, is the suppressed Convent of the Confraternità dei Vanchetone, so called because the members of this society were bound to walk silently in the religious processions which passed through the streets of the city: ‘Vanno chetone,’ they go in silence.” http://www.florin.ms/hwalks30.html