Did John Florio edit Shakespeare’s First Folio?

John Florio

John Florio, 1611

In an article published in today’s Guardian, Saul Frampton sets out a case that John Florio, Italian linguist and poet at the English court, may have anonymously played a role in producing the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays.

Modern scholars agree that actors John Heminges and Henry Condell, traditionally considered the Folio’s assemblers, were unlikely to have been entrusted with editing the expensive, 900+ page volume. Frampton quotes scholar Eleanor Prosser: “somewhere behind the Folio … lies a conscientious and exacting editor with literary pretensions,” one “more experienced in the transcription of literary than of theatrical works.”

Frampton, author of a book on Montaigne (whose Essays Florio translated into English) and an upcoming work on Shakespeare and Florio, finds significant correspondences between words Florio used in his writings of the 1570s-1610s and revisions made to the 1623 Folio versions of Shakespeare’s plays. He also suggests that Shakespeare satirized Florio in Hamlet, and that these passages were toned down in the Folio version of the play.

The Guardian article opens with a fashionable rant against inquiry into the authorship of Shakespeare’s works, but Frampton sometimes veers a bit toward authorship heresy himself. His suggestion that street smart commoner Will Shakespeare would risk imprisonment or worse for a few swipes at Florio, a man with powerful friends at court, evades hard realities of the era. And more intriguingly, Frampton notes: “Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Florio’s possible involvement with the Folio is that we may never know its true extent.” While earlier editions of many Shakespeare plays exist for comparison, about half the plays had never previously been published, and “We cannot tell for certain whether the words were written by John Florio or by William Shakespeare.”

For more on the creation of the first great edition of Shakespeare’s plays, listen to our interview with Katherine Chiljan: Mysteries of the First Folio.