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Michele Piscitelli

Languages and Literature, University of Birmingham

Thesis title:

An Englishman without techyng can not speake the wordses of an Ytalyan�: Italian language learning during the reign of Henry VIII

By focusing on the presence, teaching and learning of the Italian language in England, this project will offer new insights into Anglo-Italian relations in pre-Elizabethan times. Building on my Masters research into Thomas More and the influence of the Italian Renaissance on the English Humanism I will show that certain important people in England spoke and wrote in Italian and translated from and into Italian and that the cultural innovations and trends established by Henry VIII at his Court had long-term implications for England and set the pattern for the next hundred years and beyond.

More sub-questions must be added to this main question to get a better understanding of the subject and targeting specific objectives:


  • To what extent was Italian widespread in 16th century England? In which contexts were Italian words present (e.g. literature, music, visual arts, fashion, military science, ornamental gardening, gastronomy, medicine)Was Italian taught informally in different social sites frequented by Italians (e.g. churches, markets, printing houses, taverns)?

  • Who could speak Italian? What were the learners’ profiles and motivations? How were their social networks organised? Did they have interactions with Italians? Did they travel to Italy? Did they have a formal or informal education on Italian language?

  • Which teaching techniques and texts were used? Were these techniques and texts similar to those used for teaching other languages (e.g. Latin, Greek, French)? Were there early modern institutions of learning (Schools, Universities, Inns of Court) where Italian was taught formally?

  • Who were the Italian language tutors, masters, teachers, experts? What was their role in the society? Did they have a specific technical or pedagogical training? Were they English, Italians or other immigrants? Were they organised in a community of teachers where to share knowledge and practical experience?

  • At this time, a lively debate was taking place in Italy, la questione della lingua, aimed at codifying which vulgar Italian form would be more suitable to acquire a literary status. Was this debate important for tutors and learners of Italian? Did the tutors participate in the debate? How? Did this debate influence the development of Early Modern English?

Research Area

  • Languages and Literature


 "Tabula Cebetis. A multimodal text for Renaissance linguistic and moral education", conference title: Valorizing Practice: Grounded Histories of Language Learning and Teaching, held at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (Bremen), 13-15 November 2019.

Other Research Interests

  • Thomas More
  • Utopian and dystopian literature
  • Explorers of the Renaissance
  • Idea of progress and globalisation
  • Pedagogy and media