On a recent trip to Verona, captivated by the historic aspect of the area, I decided to search for the famous garden where the lovely Juliet searched for her lover, Romeo. I followed a few streets, realizing that I knew little about the story, other than what Miss Caffey taught me in grade 10. I asked a few locals, including an archaeology professor and learned that the famous houses of the Capulets and the Montagues (the families of Romeo and Juliet) opposed each other because of their alliances with Church and State.
The Montagues, loyal to the government, adorned every building they owned with a series of 'M's' along the rooflines, similar to battlements you would find on castles all over Europe. They had separated themselves from the church during the time of Pope Boniface VII, as they felt the corruption in the church had become too much and no longer provided the religious aspect they desperately needed.
The Capulets, on the other hand, were all for the church, the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire. Their wealth had resulted in influential positions within the ecclesiastical body and the family had no use for the nearly excommunicated Montagues. They did, however, have to share the city of Verona with their rivals and the only way to achieve synergy was to declare a feud on the Montagues.
I found a street called Via Cappello (Capulet Avenue, or somewhat similar) and ventured forth. A few minutes of walking and I stood in front of the famed archway, which would lead me to the end of my quest, the famous balcony. I walked into the courtyard, looked up and there it was, exactly as I pictured it... except for the woman wearing a white Tee shirt sporting the logo of the state of Texas. I quickly realized she was a tourist and for a few Euros I too could stand on the famous porch.
Seeing myself more as the Romeo type, I stayed below and imagined how the two doomed lovers would have communicated. At one end of the courtyard stood a bronze statue of Juliet, mostly for the benefit of tourists, and if you place your hand on her left breast your wish would come true. Not sure if it works, as there was no way that I would attempt such a superstitious task.
As I stood in awe, gazing at the balcony, actually wondering why it looked in such good condition compared to any of the other 600 year old buildings, I heard my answer from a tour guide standing next to me with his patrons. "Unfortunately," he began, "Juliet never existed." I froze in my tracks, hanging on his words. He continued. "As a matter of fact, neither did Romeo."
I slumped in despair when I heard the words. How dare a registered tour guide in the beloved Italian City of Verona, lie to unsuspecting tourists. Or worse, could he be telling the truth? I stayed still in my spot listening to the rest of his spiel and felt the need to confront this sayer of falsehoods. "What about the balcony?" I asked, trying to speak softly, instead blurting out my question for half the courtyard to hear.
He turned his gaze toward me and even though I was not part of his group, decided to respond. He went on to explain how a famous townsman had travelled to Hollywood in the early 20th century, after the first Romeo and Juliet film was made (1908, by J. Stuart Blackton) and convinced the Tinsel Town Hierarchy to pay for what would surely be a fantastic advertising spectacle. That's how the balcony came to be.
Exhausted and deflated I left the courtyard and continued my trek for the next landmark: the pub where the two gentlemen of Verona hung out. Nervously I walked along, not wanting to chance a historic fate similar to that I had just witnessed, when I ran into the same tour guide. I quietly asked him about the famous Shakespeare play, Two Gentlemen of Verona and consolingly he shook his head.
He went on to explain that the illustrious William Shakespeare, one of the world's most renowned authors, had never set foot in Italy. “How can this be? “ I gasped. He further explained that Shakespeare had never left England. I could not believe this to be true. The words painted into pictures in the ancient Shakespearean manuscripts visualized Italian renaissance in such vividness that surely it had to be true. Apparently, Shakespeare uncovered their story in literature. A poem, “The Tragic History of Romeo and Juliet,” by Arthur Brooke, was written in 1562. The plagiarist!
I left the guide in anger looking for revenge in the form of a pound of flesh. I wandered through some of the scenic streets around the main square and asked a few more people if they had any idea where those two guys from Verona hung out? "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," I explained to several people, when I was continually faced with questioning stares. “You know,” I paused for dramatic effect. “Shakespeare?” No one had an answer.
Disappointed I wandered back to my hotel and stopped in my tracks when I realized my next destination would be Venice, in search of the famous Merchant. Would there be any point, I thought? If there was no Juliet, no Romeo, no Gentlemen in Verona, why would there possibly be a Merchant in Venice?
I tried to sleep that might, but all I could think about was the trauma of a historic epic dissolved into a thin cloud of mist before it vanished. "Oh, Romeo Romeo, where for art thou Romeo?"
"It matters not for alas, he never existed."