Shakespeare's Montaigne: The Florio Translation of the Essays, A Selection

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Overview

An NYRB Classics Original

Shakespeare, Nietzsche once wrote, was Montaigne’s best reader. It is a typically brilliant Nietzschean insight, capturing the intimate relationship between the ever-changing record of the mutable self constituted by Montaigne’s Essays and Shakespeare’s kaleidoscopic register of human character. For all that, how much Shakespeare actually read Montaigne remains a matter of uncertainty and debate to this day. That he read him there is no doubt. Passages ...

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Shakespeare's Montaigne: The Florio Translation of the Essays, A Selection

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Overview

An NYRB Classics Original

Shakespeare, Nietzsche once wrote, was Montaigne’s best reader. It is a typically brilliant Nietzschean insight, capturing the intimate relationship between the ever-changing record of the mutable self constituted by Montaigne’s Essays and Shakespeare’s kaleidoscopic register of human character. For all that, how much Shakespeare actually read Montaigne remains a matter of uncertainty and debate to this day. That he read him there is no doubt. Passages from Montaigne are evidently reworked in both King Lear and The Tempest, and there are possible echoes elsewhere in the plays. But however closely Shakespeare himself may have pored over the Essays, he lived in a milieu in which Montaigne was widely known, oft cited, and both disputed and respected. This in turn was thanks to the inspired and dazzling translation of his work by a man who was a fascinating polymath, man-about-town, and master of language himself, John Florio.
 
Shakespeare’s Montaigne offers modern readers a new, adroitly modernized edition of Florio’s translation of the Essays, a still-resonant reading of Montaigne that is also a masterpiece of English prose. Florio’s translation, like Sir Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy and the works of Sir Thomas Browne, is notable not only for its stylistic range and felicity and the deep and lingering music of many passages, but also for having helped to invent the English language as we know it today, supplying it, very much as Shakespeare also did, with new words and enduring turns of phrase. Stephen Greenblatt’s introduction also explores the echoes and significant tensions between Shakespeare’s and Montaigne’s world visions, while Peter Platt introduces readers to the life and times of John Florio. Altogether, this book provides a remarkable new experience of not just two but three great writers who ushered in the modern world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Read Montaigne in order to live.” —Gustave Flaubert

"Stephen Greenblatt and Peter Platt have annotated selections in Shakespeare's Montaigne and the result is a crash course in Elizabethan lit, a multiculti study of the development of English, and, above all, a revisionist biography of a monumental dramatist who not only cribbed the classical education he lacked but also responded to his sources with a fierce and censorious intelligence." —Joshua Cohen, Harper's Magazine

“Like Montaigne, Florio wrote by exuding ever more complex thoughts as a spider exudes silk. But while Montaigne always moves forward, Florio winds back on himself and scrunches his sentences into ever tighter baroque spirals until their meaning disappears in a puff of syntax. The real magic happens when the two writers meet. Montaigne’s earthiness holds Florio’s convolutions in check, while Florio gives Montaigne an Elizabethan English quality, as well as a lot of sheer fun.” —Sarah Bakewell, How to Live, or, A Life of Montaigne

“He was the first who had the courage to say as an author what he felt as a man.” —William Hazlitt
 
“That such a man wrote has truly augmented the joy of living on Earth.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
 
“Montaigne is the frankest and honestest of all writers.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
“I defy any reader of Montaigne not to put down the book at some point and say with incredulity: ‘How did he know all that about me?’ ” —Bernard Levin, The Times (London)
 
“So much have I made him my own, that it seems he is my very self.” —André Gide
 
“Here is a ‘you’ in which ‘I’ is reflected; here is where all distance is abolished.” —Stefan Zweig
 
“It is not in Montaigne but in myself that I find everything I see there.” —Blaise Pascal
 
“Upon his version of Montaigne’s Essays [Florio] exhausted his gifts and lavished his temperament. ...Turn where you will in his translation, and you will find flowers of speech.” —The Cambridge History of English and American Literature

From the Publisher
“He was the first who had the courage to say as an author what he felt as a man.” —William Hazlitt
 
“That such a man wrote has truly augmented the joy of living on Earth.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
 
“Montaigne is the frankest and honestest of all writers.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
“I defy any reader of Montaigne not to put down the book at some point and say with incredulity: ‘How did he know all that about me?’ ” —Bernard Levin, The Times (London)
 
“So much have I made him my own, that it seems he is my very self.” —André Gide
 
“Here is a ‘you’ in which ‘I’ is reflected; here is where all distance is abolished.” —Stefan Zweig
 
“Don’t read him as children do, for amusement, nor as the ambitious do, to be instructed. No, read him in order to live.” —Gustave Flaubert
 
“It is not in Montaigne but in myself that I find everything I see there.” —Blaise Pascal
 
“Upon his version of Montaigne’s Essays [Florio] exhausted his gifts and lavished his temperament. ...Turn where you will in his translation, and you will find flowers of speech.” —The Cambridge History of English and American Literature
 
“Like Montaigne, [Florio] wrote by exuding ever more complex thoughts as a spider exudes silk. But while Montaigne always moves forward, Florio winds back on himself and scrunches his sentences in a puff of syntax. The real magic happens when the two writers meet. Montaigne’s earthiness holds Florio’s convolutions in check, while Florio gives Montaigne an Elizabethan English quality, as well as a lot of sheer fun.” —Sara Bakewell, How to Live, or, A Life of Montaigne
Library Journal
04/01/2014
Despite its title, this is not a book about William Shakespeare. It is, rather, a reprint of the English-language edition of Montaigne's essays that was available during the Bard's lifetime—the deeply personal and philosophical essays by French author Montaigne (1533–92) were popular in England when they appeared in John Florio's 1603 version. While this is neither the most accurate translation of those works (subsequent ones have corrected Florio's errors and tried for a tone more representative of Montaigne's), nor the most accessible to today's readers, its editors Greenblatt (Cogan University Professor of English & American Literature & Language, Harvard Univ.; Will in the World) and Platt (English, Bard Coll.; Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox) argue for its significance because of its influence on important English authors, most notably Shakespeare. Helpful introductory essays discuss the significance of Montaigne, his influence on the playwright, and the importance of Florio as both an author and translator. VERDICT Florio's prose can be a tough read for modern audiences. Recommended only for specialists who want to examine the influence of Montaigne on Shakespeare and other English writers. Readers can find more complete and approachable translations of Montaigne's essays in recent volumes published by Penguin Classics (1993) and Everyman's Library (2003).—Nicholas Graham, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590177228
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 4/8/2014
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 126,499
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre, and commonly considered the father of modern skepticism.
 
John Florio (1553–1625) was an Anglo-Italian linguist and lexicographer, a royal language tutor at the Court of James I, a possible friend and influence on Shakespeare, and the translator of Montaigne’s Essais into English.
 
Stephen Greenblatt is the Cogan University Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in Vermont. His most recent book, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
 
Peter Platt is Professor of English at Barnard College, where he is also the department’s chair. He is the author of Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox and Reason Diminished: Shakespeare and the Marvelous and the editor of Wonders, Marvels, and Monsters in Early Modern Culture.
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