Shakespeare was born in Stratford, in 1564. His father John was a successful local businessman and his mother Mary Arden was of a good country family. But Professor Martino Iuvara, 71, a retired teacher of literature, claims that he was Sicilian, born in Messina as Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza, and fled to London because of the Holy Inquisition, changing his name to its English equivalent.
Crollalanza or Crollalancia literally translates as Shakespeare. In an interview with the magazine Oggi yesterday, Professor Iuvara said that the key to the mystery was 1564, the year John Calvin died in Geneva.
It was the year that Michelangelo was born in Messina of a doctor, Giovanni Florio, and a noblewoman named Guglielma Crollalanza, both of whom had Calvinist sympathies. The Inquisition was on the trail of Dr Florio because of his heretical ideas, and the family fled to Treviso, near Venice, buying Casa Otello, built by a retired Venetian mercenary called Otello (Othello) who, to local legend, killed his wife out of misplaced jealousy.
Michelangelo studied in Venice, Padua, and Mantua, and travelled in Denmark, Greece, Spain, and Austria. He was befriended by the philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was to be burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600.
Bruno, Professor Iuvara says, had strong links with William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, and the Earl of Southampton. In 1588, aged 24, Michelangelo went to England under their patronage.
His mother, Signora Crollalanza, had an English cousin at Stratford, who took the boy in. The Stratford branch had already translated their name as Shakespeare, and had a son called William, who died prematurely. Michelangelo, the professor says, simply took over the name for himself, becoming William Shakespeare.
Fifteen of the Bard's 37 plays have an Italian background.