Behind the scenes at Orlando Shakespeare Theater

Tales of Star Crossed Lovers – Part 3

Over the next few weeks, we’ll post synopses of four tales that preceded Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Comparing them will give you a sense of the continuities and transformations of the central plot, as it was told over time. Look for shifts in the interpretation of the events, differences and similarities, and the evolution of the narrative arc.


3. Matteo Bandello, La sfortunata morte di dui infelicissimi amanti che l’uno di veleno e l’altro di dolore morirono, con vari accidenti (The Unfortunate Death of two Most Wretched Lovers, one of whom Died of Poison, the other, of grief; with Various other Unhappy Events) Novelle, Part II (novella 9), 1554

During the time of Bartolomeo Scala’s rule in Verona, two noble families, Capelletti and Montecchi – wealthy and with great influence in the city’s affairs – are embroiled in a bloody feud. and so are all their numerous servants and supporters. Romeo, the only heir to the Montecchi, not twenty-one years old and quite beautiful, has been madly but vainly in love with a woman for two years.

At Christmas time a friend advises him to divert his thoughts from this hopeless love by attending the celebrations held in the city. Romeo, his identity concealed by a mask, goes to a party given by the Capelletti. There he meets Giulietta, seventeen. They fall in love on the spot, before knowing each other’s identity.

Despite the enmity between their families, they resolve to marry and seek the help of a friar, Lorenzo, Giulietta’s spiritual father (who also happens to be very close to Romeo). Giulietta confides her love to a trusted old female servant who in turn lends her hand to implement the young lovers’ plan. The friar weds them in secret as Lent begins. The couple keeps meeting regularly while Friar Lorenzo endeavors to restore the peace between the two families.

However, during Easter, a large band of the Capelletti attack several Montecchi. Romeo intervenes to stop them. In the brawl Tebaldo, Giulietta’s cousin, tries to kill Romeo but gets killed by him. According to law Romeo must face punishment; but since he is not the one who started the fight, he is exiled from Verona and escapes the death penalty. The Capelletti are mourning Tebaldo’s death. Giulietta weeps, too; yet it is her husband’s banishment that’s causes her tears.

Giulietta’s mother, thinking that her daughter’s grief springs from her envy of other married women, plans to find a husband for her. Around the same time, Giulietta’s father meets Count Paris of Lodrone, a very handsome young man of not yet twenty-five, who seems the right choice as their prospective future son-in-law. Soon a marriage between the wealthy suitor and the Capelletti maiden is arranged, and the wedding is set for September, although against the bride’s will.

As Assumption Day approaches, Giulietta asks to go to confession. She actually intends to seek Friar Lorenzo’s council and help once more. The young woman first wishes to go to Mantua dressed as a boy; then she wants to poison herself. The friar’s way to assist her is to provide her with a potion that can make her appear dead, thus preventing the second marriage. The night before the wedding ceremony, Giulietta drinks the potion in spite of dreadful apprehensions about being trapped in a tomb. On the next morning she is found ‘dead’ to the shock and of her disconsolate family. Her burial is a heartbreaking ceremony.

Friar Lorenze writes to Romeo about the developments involving Giulietta and gives the letter to a trustworthy messenger, a friar of his order, asking him to take it to Mantua. Upon arrival the friar is quarantined because of an outbreak of the plague. In turn, Pietro, Romeo’s servant, rushes to Mantua right after the funeral to report the news about Giulietta’s death.

Romeo tries to kill himself on the spot, but Pietro stops him. Romeo departs for Verona still determined to kill himself, but only after joining Giulietta in her tomb. before taking off he writes to his father about his love. Once in Verona he opens the tomb with Pietro’s help. He embraces the corpse of her beloved spouse, takes the poison, and, as he is about to die, confesses to Pietro explaining his suicide.

Giuletta wakes up. She has barely the time to tell Romeo of the anguish that led her to feign being dead. Friar Lorenzo arrives with another friar, but it is too late to redress the situation. Giulietta scolds him and faints, exhausted. With Pietro’s help the friar revives her and urges her to stay alive; but she expires quietly with Romeo’s body in her arms.

Guards, seeing light in the tomb, run up and arrest both the Friar and Pietro. The story is reported to Lord Bartolomeo who visits the two bodies in the morning. The word spreads through town, and solemn funerals are carried out with the two unhappy lovers being buried in the same tomb as ordered by the lord of the city. Their death is the price of peace between the Montecchi and Capelletti. Sadly, this peace does not last long.

SOURCE: Play guide published by the Guthrie Theater | EDITORS: Jo Holcomb, Courtney Kersten


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