‘Give me the ocular proof’
Shakespeare’s Italian language-learning habits
in ‘Who the devil taught thee so much Italian?’
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This chapter examines the Italian language-learning habits of William Shakespeare. It investigates whether Shakespeare learned Italian by means of a professional language teacher or from his own self-study of the language-learning manuals so popular in the late Elizabethan period. It discusses his meeting with John Florio and analyses Shakespeare's borrowings from Florio's manuals to determine what they might reveal about the playwright's attempts to acquire some knowledge of Italian. It explains that it was Florio who provided Shakespeare with both a rudimentary knowledge of the language and guided access to a collection of Italian books. This chapter highlights Shakespeare use of the tragicomedic practice, an Italian model which he continued to engage and experiment with until the end of his dramatic career.

‘Who the devil taught thee so much Italian?’

Italian language learning and literary imitation in early modern England

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