Did Shakespeare ever actually go to Italy? That is the question.
Whether he did or not, he certainly set some of his famous plays there and today many of these settings have become pilgrimage sites – even though the characters never actually existed! Or did they?
Verona is the setting for Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona is considered to be Shakespeare’s first play, written about 1590. The play is a comedy and is all about love and friendship, with misunderstandings, girls dressing as boys and a dog called Crab – always a brave move putting an animal onstage!
Romeo and Juliet is the better known of the two Verona plays and tells the story of star-crossed lovers from opposing families. Inevitably it ends with their tragic deaths. Whether Romeo and Juliet really existed or not is still debated, centuries after Shakespeare wrote his play, but it does seem likely that they did and were members of the warring Capuleti and Montecchi families. And this is the basis upon which we make our love pilgrimages to Verona, in the footsteps of the most famous lovers of all.
Sites to visit include:
Juliet’s House (Casa di Giulietta) on Via Capello, just off Piazza delle Erbe
This, along with the Roman Arena, is the most visited place in Verona. Go in through the passageway to the small courtyard. There is a balcony from which she listened to Romeo’s sweet words. Except that the balcony was added in 1936 but somehow this doesn’t take the magic away from the place. Inside the house there is not much to see, unless you want to go up to the balcony. The real treasure is all the love notes left in the entrance-way and stuck to the walls with gum. There’s no doubting that this is a very romantic place and people can and do get married here.
Romeo’s house at 4 Via delle Arche Scaligeri
This is a private residence and you can’t go inside. But being barred entry only makes you feel more like Juliet, right.
Juliet’s tomb at San Francesco al Corso church which is now the Museum of Frescoes G B Cavalcaselle
This is the place that the final tragic scenes are said to have occurred. In the dark crypt below is an empty red marble tomb said to be Juliet’s last resting place. Upstairs in the rooms of the museum, civil marriage unions take place with couples vowing their love for all time as did Romeo and Juliet. Foreigners can also arrange to get married here.
Bra Gate through which Romeo was exiled. This was the main entrance to the walled city of Verona in the 13th century when the play is set, so Romeo would have passed through here on his way out of town.