Letters To Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare’s Greatest Heroine, The Magical City Of Verona, And The Power Of Love, by Lise Friedman & Ceil Friedman
Like many people, I have participated in various reenactments of the famous balcony scene–once in the ninth grade when our English class read Romeo & Juliet and a second time as a college student when some friends and I trespassed on a defunct religious college in Pasadena, California for a birthday celebration and reenacted the scene at a building called Mayfair. The appeal, therefore, of love letters and of Romeo & Juliet and the city of Verona is something I can definitely appreciate . That does not mean, necessarily, that I would write letters and send them to Italy to be answered by the people discussed in this book, as many people apparently do, but rather than the appeal of Juliet, and to a lesser extent Romeo, is something I definitely understand. And let us make no doubt, this book is appealing. It seems designed to sell something–a few things rather–but the book as a whole is an appealing one in that it grounds the story of Romeo and Juliet in a sense of reality both temporally and geographically, and provides it a literary context.
In terms of its contents, this book is an easy one to read. After a short introduction, the book provides a look at the tale of Romeo & Juliet through history, starting from Greek myth and winding its way through Italian literature eventually to English literature where the story is immortalized by Shakespeare. The author notes that Shakespeare makes Juliet younger than any of the other writers do–only thirteen, which prompts some obvious questions of why such a young lady should be the subject of such a romance. The author then discusses the way that Juliet’s tomb was modified throughout history to make it more appealing and romantic for tourism from the 19th century to today, as well as the start of the phenomenon of sending letters to Juliet in the hope of some sort of romantic assistance. Indeed, the book throughout is peppered with examples of these letters, and many of them are rather unfortunate cases. The author discusses the reputed site of Juliet’s house, and Romeo’s, and what this has meant for tourism to Verona, and spends a couple of chapters looking at some of the famous people who have answered Juliet’s mail and encouraged holding her in fond esteem throughout the past few decades, like the Club di Giulietta that remains popular in the city.
This book has a lot to offer, despite the fact that it seems a love letter to the story as well as the city of Verona more than a sober sort of book. This is a book about the endless and massive appeal of love, which is all the more suitable for a book whose existence is likely an attempt to set the context for the novel and movie of the same title. It fulfills that purpose, definitely. The book also is full of quirks–it shows the divided nature of Italy during the Middle Ages and Renaissance rather well, connects the romance of Romeo & Juliet to the same history of conflict between Guelf and Ghibelline that ensnared such people as Dante, and also manages to point out to the reader the existence of Veronese as a separate language than Italian, something many people may not be aware of. As a novel, it is a reminder of the danger and division of Italy that continues to this day, making the hopes of Romeo & Juliet to bring their feuding families together rather more poignant than the mere lovesick wishes of possibly fictive teenagers.
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