Was this what really happened to Romeo & Juliet?
Think you know the world’s most famous love story? Think again. What if the story of Romeo & Juliet really happened – but not quite in the way we’ve all been told?
This part-prequel, part-sequel to the original tale, told from the point of view of the Friar, tells how an ancient Italian manuscript reveals secrets and lies which have remained hidden for hundreds of years, and casts new doubts on the official story of Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers.
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IN FAIR VERONA
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life,
Whose misadventured, piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife…
So begins William Shakespeare’s tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet, the story for which the city of Verona is justly famous. In fact, more than one-third of Shakespeare’s plays are set wholly or partly in Italy, and all of them display an amazingly detailed knowledge of the country, its customs and its people. Indeed, some Shakespeare scholars believe that this is where the Bard spent his so-called “lost years” (between leaving his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1585 and arriving in London seven years later).
The jury is still out on whether or not this is true, but the fact remains that Verona (perhaps more than any other place which is the setting for a Shakespeare play) has definitely made the most of this association. Fans of Romeo & Juliet can now visit several sites in the city which claim to have links with the characters and events from this iconic love story.
The best-known and most popular of these is the Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s house), situated in a small courtyard just off the busy Via Cappello. The attraction itself is a twentieth-century invention, but the three-storey period house is tastefully and sensitively furnished, and includes some of the costumes and furniture which were used in Franco Zeffirelli’s amazing 1968 film. The courtyard, which is free to enter, is home to a bronze statue of Juliet – no doubt a reference to Lord Montague’s promise to “raise her statue in pure gold” – and is overlooked by a small balcony which is accessible from inside the house.
A couple of blocks away, along the Via Arche Scaligere, is the Casa di Romeo (Romeo’s House). This impressive-looking fifteenth-century building is believed to have originally been the home of the Montecchi family (who became the Montagues in the play). The house is now a restaurant.
The other main attraction is the Tomba di Giulietta (Juliet’s tomb) – a fine red marble sarcophagus which can be found in the medieval cloister of a former Capuchin monastery. This is the scene where, in Shakespeare’s play, Friar Lawrence’s plan to reunite the lovers goes so horribly wrong. A short walk away is the magnificent San Remo church with its highly unusual two-storey structure. Although there is nothing to link this church directly to the story of Romeo & Juliet, I can easily imagine the chapel in the crypt being the location for the lovers’ secret wedding.
My personal favourite place in Verona is the discreet spot where tasteful homage is paid to the English playwright who placed the city so firmly on the literary map. In one corner of the Piazza Brà, adjacent to the large arched portal which marks the start of the road to Mantua, is a small bronze bust of Shakespeare himself. Alongside, in English and Italian, are inscribed the words spoken by Romeo on receiving the news of his banishment from Verona:
There is no world without Verona walls
But purgatory, torture, hell itself,
Hence banishèd is banished from the world,
And world’s exile is death.
If, like me, you love the story of Romeo & Juliet but are sadly disappointed with the way it ended, you might enjoy The Ghostly Father. This part-prequel, part-sequel to the original story is told from the point of view of the Friar, and features a few new twists and a whole new outcome. I originally wrote the story just for myself, because it was the ending I’ve always wanted – but judging by the number of people who have bought it, read it, and been kind enough to say they’ve enjoyed it, it seems that I’m not by any means the only person who prefers the alternative dénouement. And I will always treasure the words of one particular friend: “After reading The Ghostly Father, I will never feel sad in Verona again.”
Thank you, Sue Barnard and RachelsRandomResources.
About the author
Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet. She was born in North Wales some time during the last millennium, but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester. After graduating from Durham University she had a variety of office jobs before becoming a full-time parent. If she had her way, the phrase “Non-Working Mother” would be banned from the English language.
Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.
Sue speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad. She is also very interested in family history. Her own background is far stranger than any work of fiction; she would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.
Sue now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.
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