I knew a Sicilian once. Mad as a hatter.
But he did have a castle, and also an enormous nose.
His sense of theatre was perfect. He had easy comic timing teamed with a taste for danger which tended to take one unawares. We- a household of university students- called him Lobbo.
One day he bought a real-life machete. He was not the sort of person to use a machete but he did love brandishing it with fairly wild theatre. He spent hours working out how to get it through customs and back to his home.
Ah yes: his home. We were all huddled round the communal television in the kitchen one day, watching Inspector Morse, when there was a chase scene where the murderer ran up a palatial flight of stone stairs. Lobbo piped up: “That’s just like the one we have at home.”
I do not know, to this day, whether Lobbo really did live in a Sicilian castle. But I like to think he did, and that he was one of some dynasty of institutionalised Sicilian crooks who loved machetes and wore immaculate suits.
There is a Monty Python sketch, a game show called “Stake Your Claim’. John Cleese interviews various people and the point of the game is to discredit their tall tales.
The first contestant is Mr Norman Voles of Gravesend. His claim is that he wrote all Shakespeare’s plays, and his wife wrote all his sonnets.
To which Cleese responds: “Mr Voles, these plays are known to have been performed in the early 17th century. How old are you, Mr Voles?”
“Forty three,” responds Voles, cheerfully.
“Then how is it possible for you to have written plays performed over 300 years before you were born?”
“Ah,” responds a sanguine Voles, “This is where my claim falls to the ground.”
There is a small but stubborn contingent who insist that William Shakespeare was not actually William Shakespeare, but Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza.
The smouldering Sicilian suspicion was published in Shakespeare Era Italiano (2002), written by a retired Sicilian professor, Martino Iuvara.
His claims are many and lavish. Crollalanza, it seems, means Shakespeare in Sicilian: his family fled the Inquisition and came to London. Crollalanza was taught the classics by monks; and in a final flamboyant Sicilian twist, on his travels in Europe he met and fell in love with a 16-year-old girl named Giulietta. The families opposed the liaison, runs the tale, and Giulietta committed suicide.
Outrageous. But there it is, in black and white, and talk to residents of Messina as the BBC did for a recent documentary, and you will find many of them most solemnly swearing Shakespeare was born there. Otherwise, how could he know so much about them?
How indeed? The academics have long puzzled over the issue of whether Shakespeare travelled to Italy. Anyone who looks at La Casa Di Giulietta in Verona would find it hard to believe he had not been there.
We have all, in our minds eye, seen the balcony with a fresh faced beautiful young girl talking to her lover below. Who would think it stands in Verona to this very day?
Yet there is just such a house with just such a balcony. Enchanting, pale Renaissance brick and plaster casa, once owned by the Del Capello family; a name so winsomely close to Capulet.
For me, it was love at first sight.
Yet, as with my friend Lobbo, and Mr Normal Voles, it pays to scratch beneath the surface of a lovely story. For while the house is most centainly 13th century, the balcony was added in a restoration carried out in the 1930s.
Was this Juliet’s house? Was Shakespeare there, once upon a time?
There is nothing like an artful smokescreen, hung with impeccable taste, to make such myths sparkle.