Juliet Capulet was born in Verona around 1290, at the time of Bartolomeo della Scala. She was the only child of the rich Capulet family. Juliet fell in love with Romeo Montague, the rival family’s son. His parents would have liked her to marry a young count, Paris, a relation of the Prince, but she refused. She fought for her love for Romeo, overcoming many troubles, and eventually committed suicide. She died in 1303, at only twelve years old.
The unfortunate love story pushed to look for the places that saw Juliet as protagonist. Even today, many people, from all over the world, send love letters to her and the cinema immortalized her forever, too.
Year 1303. Fifteen days until her birthday.
The warm wind moves the curtains, that slowly reveal the outside.
Juliet wakes up and looks herself in the mirror. She is twelve years old, and
she doesn’t know that this day will be a special day.
A big feast will be held in her honor.
It’s time to get married, as her mother even before her young age.
Juliet is not ready yet, she is still a child.
Juliet’s true story
The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet began as a rewriting of a legend from Verona. Luigi Da Porto (1485-1529), a captain from Vicenza, wrote a Tale […] of two noble lovers with their pitiful death between 1512 and 1524. It was an oral story by Pellegrino, his archer, who came from Verona. The story told of two rival families, the Ghibellines Montague and the Guelph Capulet, also mentioned by Dante himself in Canto VI of Purgatory (cfr. Purg., VI 106). Luigi Da Porto dedicated the story, probably autobiographical, to the “beautiful and graceful Lucina” and their unlucky love.
The success of the Tale was already evident in the numerous sixteenth-century versions such as that of Matteo Bandello in prose (1554), by Gheraldo Boldieri in eighth rhyme (1553); by Luigi Groto in theatrical drama (1578).
William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet between 1597 and 1598. He knew this tale through countless European translations, one of them was the tale by Arthur Brooke, The tragic story of Romeus and Juliet (1562). Shakespeare’s version spread around the world and became part of the collective imagination, a phenomenon that will never fade.
Romeo and Juliet's places
The drama of Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona, but in addition to the city of Verona and the places in the stories, there are other views and mansions that turn on the lights of the scene, allowing us to immerse ourselves further in this tragic tale
Since the nineteenth century the Juliet’s Tomb is included in the historical itineraries of Verona. It is located in the former convent of San Francesco del Corso, already existing in the Middle Ages, just outside the city walls. The tomb is actually a red marble sarcophagus, perhaps from the Roman age. It became the destination of the most illustrious romantic writers such as George Byron and Madame de Staёl who made it a true cult.
Walking through Piazza delle Erbe, we head down via Cappello and there it is on the left, the Juliet’s hause, an old tower-house built between the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth century, called Stallo del Cappello. The Dal Cappello family lived here, as evidenced by the coat of arms (a pilgrim’s hat) sculpted in relief on the keystone of the inner arch of the building’s courtyard.
We are witnessing a real pilgrimage that has Juliet’s balcony as its fulcrum. It increased in the 1930s thanks to the work of Antonio Avena, the Civic Museum’s director, who had Juliet’s balcony installed as a Gothic stone slab recovered from Castelvecchio. Every day the courtyard receives the thoughts of lovers and real ex-votos on the walls of the entrance. Juliet’s statue, made by Nereo Costantini in 1972, is venerated and touched for good luck.
A nineteenth-century legend tells that Luigi da Porto, a man of arms and a scholar from Vicenza from the 16th century, took refuge in his villa in Montorso Vicentino following a war wound. During his stay, he spent his time looking at two castles which he could see from one of the windows in front of the nearby hills of Montecchio Maggiore. They are the Castello della Villa and Castello della Bellaguardia: two small manors that rise above the hill of Montecchio which, they say, inspired him to write his Tale.
Their opposite position, the juxtaposition of the name of Montecchio with that of the Montecchi family, his broken heart, and the reading of ancient fourteenth-century poems laid the ground for the conception and setting of the story brought to us by William Shakespeare.
Today, these two manors are popularly known as Romeo’s Castel and Juliet’s Castel. This strong folklore was born in the romantic climate of the mid-nineteenth century which used the charm of medieval ruins as a setting for evocative and fascinating events.
Letters to Juliet
“Dear Juliet, I am writing to you…”
This is the beginning of thousands of letters which arrive every year in Verona from all over the world, handwritten by many women seeking comfort in Juliet. Letters addressed to “Juliet-Verona” or left in the red post box located in a corner of the courtyard of the Capulets’ House, which became a place of pilgrimage for lovers.
This is a literary phenomenon that has consecrated Verona as a city of Love.
The first to give Juliet a voice was Ettore Solimani, guardian of Juliet’s Tomb who, in 1930, began to collect the first letters which lovers left for Juliet and started replying to each of them, thus becoming the secretary of Juliet.
In 1972 Juliet’s Club was founded, It’s a cultural association, led by Giulio Tamassia and formed by a group of enthusiasts and intellectuals. They have the task of collecting, reading, translating and responding to each letter and they call themselves Juliet’s Secretaries.
Every year they organize a competition entitled “Dear Juliet”, which rewards the most beautiful love letters in honor of Juliet’s birthday, celebrated on February 14th. A phenomenon that has developed and spread in such a pervasive and profound way for anyone who has lived an unhappy or unrequited love.
The cinema and Juliet
Throughout sonor and silent film there are lots of productions about Juliet’s timeless myth. In 1936 George Cukor released his masterpiece Juliet and Romeo, a huge success that justified the record for the most expensive sound film till then ever made. Thanks to the success of the colossal, the director of Veronese museums Antonio Avena had the brilliant intuition to recreate the places of the tragedy in the city, guaranteeing Verona the eternal tourism it still enjoys today.
In 1949 The lovers of Verona was produced, it was another successful film whose authorship is shared between the direction of André Cayatte and the screenplay by Jacques Prévert, who left unmistakable signs of his poetics in the drafting of dialogues. The film has also given us a photograph of Verona still marked by the wounds of a recently ended war.
Only five years later Renato Castellani filmed Giulietta e Romeo, which was faithful to the original screenplay of Luigi Da Porto but following Shakespeare’s plot with a neorealist style with simplified dialogues and less depth in the characters.
West Side Story too is inspired by Shakespearean tragedy; after four years of successful replicas of the theatrical musical, Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise directed the eponymous film transposed into an early 1960s Manhattan. The difficult coexistence of rival bands has an happy ending: the puertorican Giulietta doesn’t die but rather she becomes the emblem of reconciliation between the warring factions.
Romeo and Juliet by Franco Zeffirelli, dated 1968, is probably the greatest film adaptation of the homonymous tragedy, an unforgettable film that became famous also for the two beautiful and very young protagonists.
Among the innumerable productions inspired by the Shakespearean myth we have chosen to conclude with Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet, which tears the tragedy from its hometown to project it in an extremely modern context: Verona Beach, an imaginary postmodern metropolis and theater of conflicts between powerful business empires through shootings in cars and mafia killings.
DA PORTO, Luigi, Historia nuovamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti, con la loro pietosa morte: intervenuta già nella città di Verona, Venezia: Giovan Griffio 1553.
SHAKESPEARE, William, Romeo e Giulietta, translation di Salvatore QUASIMODO, Milano: Mondadori 2006.
ROMANO, Angelo, Le storie di Giulietta e Romeo, Roma: Salerno Editrice 1993.
TESEI, Francesca, «La Storia», Assocazione Giulietta e Romeo in Friuli.
DELLA RAGIONE, Achille, DELLA RAGIONE, Marina, «L’amore tragico di Romeo e Giulietta», La Bibbia dell’amore.
«La Verona di Shakespeare», Il Blog di turismoletterario.