WHAT'S IN A WILL?
A comparison of Shakespeare’s and Florio’s Wills
By Lamberto Tassinari
The great majority of Shakespeare’s readers have never read his will, a document easily found on the internet but regularly omitted in the editions of Shakespeare’s theatre and sonnets and seldom found in the ever growing number of the Bard’s biographies. Why? Because it is an embarrassing , dissonant document within the Shakespeariana. Since its discovery in 1737, scholars have tried in vain to come to terms with this very un-Shakespearian piece of literature. Actually there is nothing Shakespearian within William Shackspeare’s will as one easily discovers upon reading it. For an interesting and revelatory analysis of all the problems and inconsistencies of the will, one should read Shakespeare’s Will… Considered Too Curiously by Bonner Miller Cutting. She writes the following in the opening;
Viewing the will in the best possible light, the exalted 19th century
authority James Halliwell sums it up as “the testimonies we may cherish of his last faltering accents to the world he was leaving.” Failing such eloquence, many scholars are resigned to accepting the Stratford Will more simply as “an enigma”. A closer look may show that the will is not an enigma; it is a disaster. (Brief Chronicles Vol.I, 2009, 205-236; http://www.theshakespeareunderground.com/2011/09/where-theres-a-will-episode-1-with-bonner-miller-cutting)
The will is written in a formulaic, flat prose with no style whatsoever. As for the content, money, property and « household stuffe » are the testator’s sole preoccupation, from the beginning to the end of the document. There is not a single mention of books, not even the Bible. Nothing about culture, theatre, poetry. Nothing about the funding of his grand-children’s education. Beyond all the chronological incongruities and controversial legal aspects of the will which Bonner Miller Cutting discusses with logic acumen and wit, there is nothing about culture, theatre, poetry.. The names of people of high rank are also absent, a strange omission in the last will of a dramatist who supposedly was one of the most successful and loved playwrights at the English court.
Below, in my transcription of this « disaster », are the overwhelming references to property and material goods, money, domestic stuff or land, rendered in bold characters. In Italics bold is an endless, exhausting passage whose objective was to make sure the property would remain within the Shackspeare family up to seven heirs male of his daughter Susanna. Miller Cutting comments this passage: “Where in the world are these seven ‘heirs male’ supposed to come from? It is a strange litany to find in a will when all of the heirs thus enumerated are yet to be born.”
The infamous second best bed (« I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture ») the supposed great dramatist left to his wife is in stark contrast to the tender affection showed by Florio towards his wife mentioned five times with great affection in his will: « my deerly beloved wife Rose Florio, most heartily greiving and ever sorrowing, that I cannot give or leave her more, in requitall of her tender love, loving care, painfull dilligence, and continuall labour, to mee, and of mee in all my Fortunes, and many sicknesses, then whome never had husband a more loving wife, painfull nurce, or comfortable consorte (…) »
Ms. Bonner Miller Cutting (who believes de Vere was Shakespeare) has examined “over 2000 wills and an extensive bibliography dealing with will-making in early modern England” but I’m certain she failed to read the beautiful will of John Florio, the author overlooked by Stratfordians as well as by Oxfordians, Marlowians, Baconians as she would have had several Shakespearian frissons! Remove dates from the wills, make the identity of the two testators disappear and it is certain that no scholar would have any doubt identifying Shakespeare’s will. Florio’s one, « written every sillable with myne owne hand » as he states twice, is in fact replete with particularly refined, elegant and mannered Shakespearian words as comforter, preserver, ascribed, sorrowfull, penitently, confidently, revoke, frustrate, importunity, unheedy, etc. Many, in bold type in my transcript, can indeed be traced to Shakespeare’s works. Between brackets is the number of times they appear in the canon. The words in Italics indicate when the spelling is slightly different from the one appearing in Shakespeare’s printed books.
Florio’s prose is characterized by a remarkable high style. Subjects which, in some respect, possess a particular Shakespearian relevance are underlined. With eloquent and passionate accents John Florio mentions Queen Anne four times and Ferdinando Great Duke of Tuscany once. Florio meticulously refers three times to his own books and writings. William Herbert Earl of Pembroke, the Lord Chamberlain, is named once as one of the executors of the will and to whom Florio bequeathed his 340 Italian, French and Spanish books (« to accept of them as of a signe and token of my service and affection to his honor »). No need to remember the prominent role the Earl of Pembroke played in the Shakespearian narrative as the sponsor of the 1623 First Folio. The English books, very probably in a greater number than the foreign ones, were destined by Florio to his wife Rose. Florio’s 340 non-English books never reached Wilton or Baynards Castle at London as « the executors named in the Will for certain reasons renouncing execution » according to the sibylline closing line of the will. Why didn’t William Herbert (« as hee once promised mee ») keep his promise to Florio? Why did the aristocrat who alongside Ben Jonson (Shakespeare’s literary midwife) held such a fundamental role in the promotion of the works of William Shakespeare step aside two years later deciding not to execute Florio’s will? Historians, and biographers of the Pembroke family have nothing to say.
We have also lost track of the English books left by Florio to his wife Rose, except for two, a copy of the Works of Chaucer (the Toye edition, 1545) which contains the inscription “Jo.Florio ex dono Johan. Dauny; and a copy of the play « Volpone » with an autographed dedication to Florio by its author Ben Jonson which reads : « To his loving Father and worthy Friend Master John Florio. Ayde of his Muses. Ben Jonson seales this testimony of Friendship and Love. »
Florio’s entire library has since disappeared. His Italian, French and Spanish books would have been of decisive importance in resolving the Shakespearian question. But not a single scholar has paid the slightest attention to such a disgraceful lost. In a recent list of book owners compiled by David Pearson there is no reference to Florio’s phantom library. (David Pearson, English book owners in the seventeenth century. A work in progress listing. Latest version July 2011).
A conspiracy? Not in the proper sense. A conspiracy is not necessarily a plot implying top politicians and secret agents, with a real commitment of secrecy among hundreds of people. The national (and personal) interest alone, promoted by mainstream scholars and authorities for centuries, suffices to obliterate the truth. As some one wrote “it is a sort of Niagara Falls of history, there is no conspiracy but everything conspires in the sense that everything respires in the same direction.”
WILL OF WILLIAM SHACKSPEARE
In the name of god Amen I William Shackspeare, of Stratford upon Avon in the countrie of Warr., gent., in perfect health and memorie, God be praysed, doe make and ordayne this my last will and testament in manner and forme followeing, that ys to saye, ffirst, I comend my soule into the hands of God my Creator, hoping and assuredlie beleeving, through thonelie merites, of Jesus Christe my Saviour, to be made partaker of lyfe everlastinge, and my bodye to the earth whereof yt ys made. Item, I gyve and bequeath unto my [sonne and] daughter Judyth one hundred and fyftie poundes of lawfull English money, to be paid unto her in the manner and forme foloweng, that ys to saye, one hundred poundes in discharge of her marriage porcion within one yeare after my deceas, with consideracion after the rate of twoe shillings in the pound for soe long tyme as the same shalbe unpaied unto her after my deceas, and the fyftie poundes residwe thereof upon her surrendring of, or gyving of such sufficient securitie as the overseers of this my will shall like of, to surrender or graunte all her estate and right that shall discend or come unto her after my deceas, or that shee nowe hath, of, in, or to, one copiehold tenemente, with thappurtenaunces, lyeing and being in Stratford upon Avon aforesaied in the saied countrye of Warr., being parcell or holden of the mannour of Rowington, unto my daughter Susanna Hall and her heires for ever. Item, I gyve and bequeath unto my saied daughter Judith one hundred and fyftie poundes more, if shee or anie issue of her bodie by lyvinge att thend of three yeares next ensueing the daie of the date of this my will, during which tyme my executours are to paie her consideracion from my deceas according to the rate aforesaied; and if she dye within the saied tearme without issue of her bodye, then my will us, and I doe gyve and bequeath one hundred poundes thereof to my neece Elizabeth Hall, and the fiftie poundes to be sett fourth by my executours during the lief of my sister Johane Harte, and the use and proffitt thereof cominge shalbe payed to my saied sister Jone, and after her deceas the saied l.li.12 shall remaine amongst the children of my saied sister, equallie to be divided amongst them; but if my saied daughter Judith be lyving att thend of the saied three yeares, or anie yssue of her bodye, then my will ys, and soe I devise and bequeath the saied hundred and fyftie poundes to be sett our by my executours and overseers for the best benefitt of her and her issue, and the stock not to be paied unto her soe long as she shalbe marryed and covert baron [by my executours and overseers]; but my will ys, that she shall have the consideracion yearelie paied unto her during her lief, and, after her ceceas, the saied stocke and consideracion to be paied to her children, if she have anie, and if not, to her executours or assignes, she lyving the saied terme after my deceas. Provided that yf suche husbond as she shall att thend of the saied three years be marryed unto, or att anie after, doe sufficientlie assure unto her and thissue of her bodie landes awnswereable to the porcion by this my will gyven unto her, and to be adjudged soe by my executours and overseers, then my will ys, that the said cl.li.13 shalbe paied to such husbond as shall make such assurance, to his owne use. Item, I gyve and bequeath unto my saied sister Jone xx.li. and all my wearing apparrell, to be paied and delivered within one yeare after my deceas; and I doe will and devise unto her the house with thappurtenaunces in Stratford, wherein she dwelleth, for her naturall lief, under the yearlie rent of xij.d. Item, I gyve and bequeath unto her three sonnes, William Harte, ---- Hart, and Michaell Harte, fyve pounds a peece, to be paied within one yeare after my deceas [to be sett out for her within one yeare after my deceas by my executours, with thadvise and direccions of my overseers, for her best frofitt, untill her mariage, and then the same with the increase thereof to be paied unto her]. Item, I gyve and bequeath unto [her] the saied Elizabeth Hall, all my plate, except my brod silver and gilt bole, that I now have att the date of this my will. Item, I gyve and bequeath unto the poore of Stratford aforesaied tenn poundes; to Mr. Thomas Combe my sword; to Thomas Russell esquier fyve poundes; and to Frauncis Collins, of the borough of Warr. in the countie of Warr. gentleman, thirteene poundes, sixe shillinges, and eight pence, to be paied within one yeare after my deceas. Item, I gyve and bequeath to [Mr. Richard Tyler thelder] Hamlett Sadler xxvj.8. viij.d. to buy him a ringe; to William Raynoldes gent., xxvj.8. viij.d. to buy him a ringe; to my dogson William Walker xx8. in gold; to Anthonye Nashe gent. xxvj.8. viij.d. [in gold]; and to my fellowes John Hemynges, Richard Brubage, and Henry Cundell, xxvj.8. viij.d. a peece to buy them ringes, Item, I gyve, will, bequeath, and devise, unto my daughter Susanna Hall, for better enabling of her to performe this my will, and towards the performans thereof, all that capitall messuage or tenemente with thappurtenaunces, in Stratford aforesaid, called the New Place, wherein I nowe dwell, and two messuages or tenementes with thappurtenaunces, scituat, lyeing, and being in Henley streete, within the borough of Stratford aforesaied; and all my barnes, stables, orchardes, gardens, landes, tenementes, and hereditamentes, whatsoever, scituat, lyeing, and being, or to be had, receyved, perceyved, or taken, within the townes, hamletes, villages, fieldes, and groundes, of Stratford upon Avon, Oldstratford, Bushopton, and Welcombe, or in anie of them in the saied countie of Warr. And alsoe all that messuage or tenemente with thappurtenaunces, wherein one John Robinson dwelleth, scituat, lyeing and being, in the Balckfriers in London, nere the Wardrobe; and all my other landes, tenementes, and hereditamentes whatsoever, To have and to hold all and singuler the saied premisses, with theire appurtenaunces, unto the saied Susanna Hall, for and during the terme of her naturall lief, and after her deceas, to the first sonne of her bodie lawfullie yssueing, and to the heires males of the bodie of the saied first sonne lawfullie yssueinge; and for defalt of such issue, to the second sonne of her bodie, lawfullie issueing, and to the heires males of the bodie of the saied second sonne lawfullie yssueinge; and for defalt of such heires, to the third sonne of the bodie of the saied Susanna lawfullie yssueing, and of the heires males of the bodie of the saied third sonne lawfullie yssueing; and for defalt of such issue, the same soe to be and remaine to the ffourth [sonne], ffyfth, sixte, and seaventh sonnes of her bodie lawfullie issueing, one after another, and to the heires males of the bodies of the bodies of the saied fourth, fifth, sixte, and seaventh sonnes lawfullie yssueing, in such manner as yt ys before lymitted to be and remaine to the first, second, and third sonns of her bodie, and to theire heires males; and for defalt of such issue, the said premisses to be and remaine to my sayed neece Hall, and the heires males of her bodie lawfullie yssueinge; and for defalt of such issue, to my daughter Judith, and the heires males of her bodie lawfullie issueinge; and for defalt of such issue, to the right heires of me the saied William Shackspeare for ever.
Item, I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture, Item, I gyve and bequeath to my saied daughter Judith my broad silver gilt bole. All the rest of my goodes, chattel, leases, plate, jewels, and household stuffe whatsoever, after my dettes and legasies paied, and my funerall expenses dischardged, I give, devise, and bequeath to my sonne in lawe, John Hall gent., and my daughter Susanna, his wief, whom I ordaine and make executours of this my last will and testament. And I doe intreat and appoint the saied Thomas Russell esquier and Frauncis Collins gent. to be overseers hereof, and doe revoke all former wills, and publishe this to be my last will and testament. In witness whereof I have hereunto put my [seale] hand, the daie and yeare first abovewritten.
Witnes to the publyshing
hereof Fra: Collyns
WILL OF JOHN FLORIO
NB Words in common with Shakespeare are in bold character. Between brackets is the number of times they appear in the canon.
In Italics when the spelling slightly differs from Shakespeare’s printed works.
A hapax legomenon or hapax, is a word which occurs only once within the Shakespearian canon.
WILL OF JOHN FLORIO PROVED IN THE PREROGATIVE COURT OF CANTERBURY QY HELE, 1625
In the blessed name of God the Father my gracious (199) Creator & Maker, of God the sonne Jesus Christ my mercifull (merciful, 20) Savyor and in Unity & Trinity my most loving Comforter (5) and preserver (3) Amen. I John Florio of Fullham in the Countie of Middlesex Esquire, being of good health of sound minde & perfecte memory, hearty (9) thankes bee ever ascribed (3) and given therfore unto Allmighty God And well remembring & knowing that nothing is more certayne unto mortall man then death, and noe one thing more uncertayne then is the houre therof, doe make appoint pronounce and declare this my Testament, therein fully contayning my last direct & unrevocable will and intention in manner and forme following (in manner and form following, 2, LLL 1,1, 201) That is to say First & principally as duty and Christianity willeth mee, I most heartily and penetently (penitently, 1 hapax, Measure 4,2,147) sorrowfull (sorrowful, 4) for all my sinnes committ and recommend my soule into the mercifull hands of Almighty God, assuredly (4) trusting and Faythfully beleeving by the onely meritts bitter passion, precious bloud, and glorious death of the immaculate Lambe Jesus Christ his sonne, to have full remission, and absolute Forgivenes of all my sinnes whatsoever, and after this transitory life, to live and raigne with him in his most blessed kingdome of heaven. As for my wretched Body, I commit to the same as earth to earth and dust to dust, to bee buried in such decent order, as to my deare Wife, and by my Executors heere undernamed shalbee thought meete and convenient. And as touching the disposing and ordering of all and whatoever such goods, Cattle, chattle, Leases, monie, plate, Jewells, bookes, apparrell, bedding, hangins, peawter, brasse, houshould stuffe moveables, immoveables, and all other things whatsoever named, or unnamed, specifide (specify, 3), or unspecifide wherwith my most gracious God, hath beene pleased to endowe mee with, or hereafter shall of his infinite mercy bee pleased to bestowe or conferre upon me in this transitory life, I will appoint, give order dispose, & bequeath all, and evary part, and parcell of the same firmely (firmly, 9) and unalterably to stand in manner and forme following That is to say, Item, I give and bequeath unto my daughter Aurelia Molins the Wedding Ring wherewith I married her mother, being aggrieved (1, hapax, Henry V, 4,7,170) at my very heart, that by reason of my poverty I am not able to leave her anything els. Item I give and bequeath as a poore token of my love to my sonne in law James Molins, a Faire blacke velvett deske, embroidered with seede pearles, and with a silver and guilt inkehorne and dust box therin, that was Queene Annes. Item, I give and bequeath unto the right honourable, my singulare, & ever honored good Lord William Earle of Pembroke Lord Chambérlaine: to the Kings most excellent Majestie, and one of his royall counsell of state (if at my death hee shall then bee living) all my Italian, French and Spanish bookes, as well printed as unprinted, being in number about Three hundred and Fortie, namely my new and perfect Dictionary, as also my, tenn Dialogues in Italian and English, and my unbound volume of divers written Collections and rapsodies, most heartilie entreating his Honourable Lordshippe (as hee once promised mee) to accept of them as of a signe and token of my service and affection to his honor, and for my sake to place them in his library, eyther at Wilton or els at Baynards Castle at London, humbly desiring him to give way and favourable assistance that my Dictionarie and Dialogues may be printed and the profitt therof accrud unto my wife. Item, I doe likewise give and bequeat unto his noble Lordshippe the Corinne stone as a jewell fitt for a Prince which Ferdinando the great Duke of Tuscanie sent as a most precious gift (among divers others) unto Queene Anne of blessed memory; the use & vertue wherof is written in two peeces of paper both in Italian and English bring in a little box with the stone, most humbly beseeching his honor (as I right, confidently (2) hope & trust hee will in charity doe if neede require) to take my poore and deere wife into his protection, & not suffer her to be wrongfully (8) molested by any enemi of myne, as also in her extremity to affoorde her his helpe, good word and assistance to my Lord Treasurer, that shee may bee paid my wages, and the arrearages of that which is unpaid or shal bee behinde at my death. The rest, the residue & remainder, of all whatsoever and singular my goods, cattles, chattles, jewells, plate; debts Leases, money, or monie worth, houseould stuffe, utensills, English bookes, moveables, or immoveables, named or not named, and things whatsoever, by mee before not given, disposed or bequeathed (provided that my debts bee paid and my Funerall discharged) I woolly give, fully bequeath, absolutely leave, assigne, & unalterably consigne unto my deerly beloved wife Rose Florio, most heartily greiving and ever sorrowing, that I cannot give or leave her more, in requitall of her tender love, loving care, painfull dilligence (diligence, 11), and continuall (continual, 15) labour, to mee, and of mee in all my Fortunes, and many sicknesses, then whome never had husband a more loving wife, painfull nurce, or comfortable (13) consorte, And I doe make institute, ordaine, appoint & name the right Reverend Father in God, Theophilus Feild, Lord bishoppe of Landaffe, and Mr Richard Cluet Doctor of divinity, Vicar, and preacher of the Word of God at Fulham, both my much esteemed, dearely beloved, & truely honest good Frends my sole and onely Executors and overseers; And I doe give to each of them for their paines an ould greene velvett deske with a silver inke and dust box in each of them, that were sometymes Queene Annes my Soveraigne Mistrisse, entreating both to accept of them, as a token of my hearty affection towards them, and to excuse my poverty which disableth (disable, 2) mee to requite (25) the trouble, paines, and courtesie, which I confidently beleeve they will charitably and for Gods sake undergoe in advising directing and helping my poore and deere wife in executing of this my last and unrevocable will and Testament, if any should bee soe malicious (12) or unnaturall (unnatural , 39) as to crosse or question the same; And I doe utterly revoke (4), and for ever renounce (5), frustrate (5), disanull, cancell (cancel , 6), and make void, all and whatsoever former Wills, legacies, bequests, promises, guifts, executors or overseers (if it should happen that anie bee forged or suggested for until this tyme, I never writt made or finished any but this onely) And I will appoint & ordaine that this, & none but this onely written all with mine owne hand, shall stand in full force and vigor (vigour, 12) for my last and unrevocable Will and Testament, and none other nor otherwise. As for the debts that I owe, the greatest, and onelie is upon an obligatory Writing of myne owne hand, which my daughter Aurelia Molins with importunity (3) wrested from of about threescore pound, wheras the truth, and my conscience telleth mee, & soe knoweth her conscience (126), it is but Thirty Foure pound or therabouts. But let that passe, since I was soe unheedy (1 hapax, Midsummer, I,12,37), as to make and acknowledge the said writing, I am willing that it bee paid and discharged in this forme and manner, My sonne in lawe (as my daughter his Wife knoweth full well) hath in his hands as a pawne a faire gold ring of mine, with thirteen Faire table diamonds therein enchased; which cost Queene Anne my gracious Mistrisse seaven and Forty pounds starline, and for which I might many tymes have had forty pounds readie money: upon the said ring my sonne in the presence of his wife lent mee Tenne pounds, I desire him and pray him to take the overplus of the said Ring in parte of payment, as also a leaden Ceasterne which hee hath of myne standing in his yard at his London-house that cost mee at a porte-sale Fortie shillings, as also a silver candle cup with a cover worth about Forty shillings which I left at his house being sicke there; desiring my sonne and daughter, that their whole debt may bee made up, & they satisfied with selling the Lease of my house in Shoe-Lane, and soe accquitt (acquit, 10) and discharge (32) my poore wife who as yet knoweth nothing of this debt. Moreover I entreat my deare wife that if at my death my servant Artur [blank] shall chance to be with mee, & in my service, that for my sake shee give him, such poore doubletts, breeches, hattes, and bootes as I shall leave, and there withall one of my ould cloakes soe it bee not lyned with velvett. In Witnesse whereof I the said John Florio to this my last Will & Testament (written every sillable with myne owne hand, and with long and mature deliberacon (deliberation? Deliberate vb) digested, contayning foure shieetes of paper, the First of eight and twenty lynes, the second of nyne & twenty, the third of nine & twenty and the Fourth of six lines), have putt, sett, written and affixed my name, and usual seale of my armes. The twentieth day of July in the Yeare of our Lord and Savyour Jesus Christ 1625 and in the First yeare of the raigne of our Soveraigne Lord and King (whom God preserve) Charles the First of that name of England, Scotland, France and Ireland King. By mee John Florio being, thankes bee ever given to my most gracious God in perfect sence and memory.
Proved 1 June 1626 by Rose Florio the relict, the executors named in the Will for certain reasons renouncing execution.