Books Abroad: Visiting “Romeo and Juliet” Lives On In Verona

Anahita Padmanabhan ’18 / Emertainmont Monthly Staff Writer

Copy edited by: Nicholas DeBlasio

Walking along the street to Casa di Giulietta in Verona, Italy and into the courtyard, it is easy to forget that Juliet is not real. People pile into the tiny courtyard, write messages on the walls of the tunnel, and jump to take pictures on Juliet’s balcony. There are shops dedicated to Romeo and Juliet. There is the actual house, decorated to mirror the life that Juliet would have had if she were real. People clamor to snap pictures of them touching the bronzed Juliet’s right breast, hoping to get some romantic luck.

Walking into the tunnel which leads to the courtyard.
Walking into the tunnel which leads to the courtyard
Crowd in the courtyard
Crowd in the courtyard

The scene at Casa di Giulietta is as if she were a historical woman who deeply impacted the city of Verona. To anyone who somehow missed reading Romeo and Juliet, and missed learning about one of the most famous plays ever written, that scene isn’t totally incorrect. Juliet and the story have become entrenched in the history of literature and arts, and of course, the city it’s set in.

Going to see literary places, such as Juliet’s house, is kind of like going to Disney World when you’re an adult. Part of you forgets that the actors are real people. For part of the time you believe they are the characters, that it’s really Aladdin or Cinderella in front of us. But every once in a while, you hear a little voice saying, “This isn’t real. They aren’t real.”

Juliet's Balcony
Juliet’s Balcony

That voice creeps up when visiting Juliet’s house. The balcony was added to the former inn that is now called Casa di Giulietta, most likely after Shakespeare’s death, for the specific purpose of giving Juliet’s house her balcony. Romeo and Juliet-themed things line the streets of Verona. They are the power couple of the city, and it’s easy to get swept up by the love for the characters. But that’s just it. They are characters. Juliet Capulet never existed, even if she is claimed to be based off of someone real.

It honestly is kind of weird. There are street signs ever corner directing visitors to her house. It’s one of the most famous things Verona has to offer. A fake house, dedicated to a fake person, is a highlight of a very real city.

But that voice went away the second I reached the tunnel. It felt like I was in another world. I don’t even know if I had to walk I was just pushed forward by all the people who wanted to get in. Girls stood on Juliet’s balcony taking pictures. People just looked around the tiny courtyard in awe, which by itself is quite pretty. The statue of Juliet was surrounded by a mass of people. There was not a second in which someone wasn’t standing next to the statue to take a picture. The tiny souvenir shop sold Romeo and Juliet-themed items, post cards, key chains, anything and everything.

Writings on the wall in the tunnel
Writings on the wall in the tunnel

As we walked out, someone mentioned that it was kind of weird that there was so much dedication to a fictional character. And at first I agreed. It’s tourist trap-y. With the souvenir shops, fees to go up into the house, it’s marketed at tourists. It’s not the only play Shakespeare wrote that was set in Verona, so it’s not like Romeo and Juliet is its only claim to fame. And they aren’t real. Touching Juliet’s breast isn’t any more likely to help your romantic life anymore than carrying around a rabbit’s foot will give you good luck. It doesn’t make sense.

But then I thought about it. For those us who love to read, especially fiction, we rely on the ability to suspend belief. When we read, we don’t think that things are unrealistic, we believe in the world created by the author. We believe in characters, and those characters are real to us. For the hours or days we read the book they are real. For the months and years afterwards they remain real. We wholeheartedly believe in these worlds created by simple words. And sometimes we believe in them so much, that we dedicate things to them, like a house in Verona. When we visit these places, it’s like reading the book again. For those brief minutes we are there, we believe again.

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