‘In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…’ – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (I, 1)
I had to start my account of Verona with this song.
It is a French musical from 2001. As you can guess, the song is about Verona. I had it in my head the whole time I was visiting. There is no reason why you should not!
Well, well, well. Let’s start with Romeo and Juliet. This play was written and published by William Shakespeare (and no one else until the news of a co-writer is announced) in 1597. Actually, Shakespeare was inspired by another story. So, in the end, Shakespeare did not create the characters of his play. Almost two centuries before, Dante happened to write about the Cappelletti and the Montecchi, two feuding families from Verona (any resemblance is a total coincidence). Nevertheless, Verona wanted to pay a tribute to the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon because it was him who popularised this story and this city.
Shakespeare is quite a star in the Veneto! This is despite himself because his knowledge of Italy’s geography led him to believe that Padua, for instance, was in Lombardia…Epic fail, Shakie! Nevertheless, it happens that several of his plays take place in this beautiful region of the Veneto:
- Romeo and Juliet in Verona
- The Taming of the Shrew in Padua
- Othello and The Merchant of Venice in …Venice (good guess!)
Others include elements from the Veneto withtout really dwelling upon it (Much Ado About Nothing, The Gentlemen of Verona…) His fascination with Italy is blatant. Some say that Italy was a means to add exotism; others explain that it was an indirect way to criticise what was happening in England at the time. You can also say that Shakespeare wanted to pay tribute to the country who launched the Renaissance and made art flourish. Anyway, Shakespeare put Italy on the foreground of literature, and more particularly Verona.
Verona was not at all famous at the time of Shakespeare. Venice was THE important city. Verona has Shakespeare to thank for its popularity nowadays. The romanticism that is attached to the place comes from the play. Therefore, you are going to eat a lot of Romeo and Juliet in Verona. You will end up being a bit sick because of it. When you think that the story is pure imagination, you have trouble understanding why there is a Juliet’s balcony or even a Juliet’s grave. They are tourist attractions, and this is why Verona is visited by so many people.
The most famous landmark that reminds us of Shakespeare in Verona is Juliet’s Balcony.
My advice is to follow the crowd. They know the way. Or, if you prefer, walk straight from the railway station and follow the indications! This house was built at the end of the Middle Ages. It belonged to a family interestingly called Dal Cappello (Cappelletti or Cappuletti). The Montecchi lived a bit further away. They were both merchants’ families. If you look at a picture from 100 years ago, you will be striked by one teeny tiny wee detail: there is no balcony. Well, this famous balcony was added in the thirties in order to bring the house, already a museum at the time, closer to the legend. Quite a prolific gamble since the museum has become the main attraction of the city. You can easily gather from all the added sarcasm and cynism that I have not visited it.
You can have your picture taken with Juliet if you really want to! You can even visit those little tourists’ shops at the entrance of the museum. They sell hearts and everything is red and lovey-dovey! For me, Romeo and Juliet is not romantic. It just tells of the brief sexual awakening of two teenagers who want to fight against their own family as a normal act of adolescent rebellion. This is not a play about love. This is, to my opinion, a play about lust. That is why I reject this exarcebated romanticism in Verona. If the meridian of romanticism is two teenagers marrying atfer one encounter in order to sleep together ‘properly’, then I am no romantic at all. What surprised me was the entrance of the courtyard. You find writings on the wall, mostly couples immortalising their love by vandalising a historic building! Such a great proof, it is! To be fair, there are not just love scribbles. You have all sorts of doodling!
Around the city, you can also admire the Grave of Juliet. Let me get this straight. At the end of the play, Juliet’s father says ‘As rich shall Romeo’s by his lady’s lie’ (V, 3), meaning that they will be buried together, alright? Nevertheless, in Verona, you will find that a lot of things are only about Juliet. I find it sad for Romeo! Maybe it is because he was banished from the city…
If you are more in a mood for food than tears, I recommend to try ice creams with the sweet names of Giuletta and Romeo. Or try cafés with their names..or cakes…or pizza (I saw a Romeo pizza that was with mushrooms).
This story has become a means to bring tourists and money to Verona. It is a great business that enables the city to care for its others monuments. And there is so much to see. You follow me? I will show you.
In the meantime, if you want to visit the museum of Juliet’s House, we can meet later on la Piazza Brà.
I M Gullivering.