No one really knows why William Shakespeare set thirteen of his 38 plays in Italy. Some say he never even visited the country and only read Italian novellas and listened to sailors who’d been there and brought back colorful tales of tragedy, political intrigue and romance.
Even more mysterious is why he set three of those Italian thirteen in Verona: There was ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’, a romantic comedy and supposedly his very first play; then came ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the romantic tragedy that left its most indelible mark on the city and caused Verona to now be known as the world’s leading ‘City of Love’; and finally came ‘Taming of the Shrew’, yet another lopsided love story.
I’d love to say I went to Verona over the recent holiday season because I’m a serious Shakespeare buff and so was dying to see some of the sites that appeared in the British Bard’s three plays. But I can’t.
Instead, I was simply a hapless tourist keen to see and learn about as much of the country’s history, culture and people in the little time that I had.
So Verona was relatively close to my family’s home in Vicenza, and with one of our members absolutely committed to seeing sites from the Bard’s most famous love story, we agreed to drive to that picturesque Medieval city in less than an hour.
Our main destination was Juliet’s family home, the ‘Stalla del Cappello’, which is an old stone tower house, built between 1200 and 1300; it’s also the name from which Shakespeare derived ‘Capuleti’, the name of Juliet’s noble family.
Our specific destination was ‘Juliet’s Balcony’, which tourists have been flocking to from all over the world for the last few centuries.
I personally marvel at such dedication to seeing the simulation of an event that probably only transpired in Shakespeare’s play (or in one of those Italian novellas). It happened beneath Juliet’s balcony as Romeo stealthily stood in the family’s courtyard and professed his undying love for Juliet.
It’s a touching moment in the play and in all of its movie iterations as well. But one probably needs to be a fully-fledged romantic (which I am not) to feel compelled to not only come to Verona to stand in the Cappello’s courtyard, but also to pay six euros just to get in a long line so you can have ten seconds (20 at most) standing on Juliet’s balcony. It’s just enough time to take a few selfies and have a family member, friend or sweetheart snap a photograph of you on that world-renowned balcony.
I got cajoled into doing it with a relative who was delirious about getting her ‘Juliet moment’ recorded for consumption of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Fortunately, I was fascinated with the Medieval architecture and the bronze busts both of Juliet (by Nereo Costantin) and of the Bard himself. There were also a number of 18th and 19th century paintings inspired by Shakespeare’s immortal love affair.
By the time I got my brief moment on the balcony, I was totally unprepared. I didn’t want to waste time for all the people standing behind me impatiently waiting for their 15 seconds of fame; but I also did know my family was standing below, primed to take my photo as I peeked out precariously from what was called a ‘balcony’ but was actually a heavy stone sarcophagus that looked like it might break off that ancient wall anytime.
So since I couldn’t see my people, I went ahead and took quick photos of the view from where I stood. Then I quickly climbed back onto the antique wooden floor and in no time, we were back down to solid ground.
Juliet’s House is actually more than just the balcony. It’s actually a museum that for centuries has compelled people, including writers like Charles Dickens, to make pilgrimages to Verona, just to visit Juliet’s balcony as well as her ‘tomb’ at the Monastery of San Francesco. Now a Franciscan convent, the ‘tomb’ is where Romeo found Juliet drugged, took her for dead, and finally decided he couldn’t live without her and killed himself.
Many people also try to visit Romeo’s family home. The Montecchi’s place is a rustic brick castle which is not open to the public, so we didn’t even try to stop by. It was just enough for see the Balcony, walk through Verona’s bustling Christmas fare, and stop for a quick Cappuccino before heading back home.