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Shakespeare’s Italian Plays

Take a look at two plays based in Verona: spoiler alert!

William Shakespeare set some of his plays in Verona for a number of very good reasons, and it has proved to be an act of genius. At the time of the Renaissance in Italy, Verona was at the height of fashion and sophistication, making it an appealing spot for the playwright. 

Some of Shakespeare’s plays were criticised for being too political and would have in fact been banned if they’d been set in England! Choosing foreign, distant lands as the backdrops of his plays gave Shakespeare the protection and artistic freedom to write about controversial topics.  

 

Romeo and Juliet

‘Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean…’

Romeo and Juliet fall in love but, due to a family feud, are compelled to marry in secret – things later get a little complicated.

Before their wedding night, Romeo kills Juliet's cousin in a duel and in the morning he is forced to flee the city. If he ever returns, he will be put to death by the state for murder.

At the Capulet’s house, Juliet is told by her parents, who are unaware of her secret wedding to Romeo, that she must marry a gentleman called Paris. Juliet refuses - then agrees because she plans to fake her death and escape to be with Romeo.

To avoid marrying Paris, Juliet takes a sleeping potion, which gives her the appearance of being dead. Juliet’s apparently lifeless body is discovered, her parents grieve and hold a funeral to lay their daughter to rest in a tomb. Despite being in exile, Romeo hears of Juliet’s death and rushes back to Verona to visit her grave, tragically killing himself on her tomb when he finds her 'dead'.  In an iconic plot twist, Juliet finally wakes up to discover Romeo dead, which leads her to take her own life for real. It’s the kind of story that even Jeremy Kyle would have been shocked by.

Before Romeo and Juliet, Verona wasn’t very well known, overshadowed by Venice. Now, because of the play, it is regarded as one of the most romantic destinations in the world.

 

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a very early Shakespearean work, thought to be the first play he had written. Like most of his productions, there is plenty of drama and passion.

The story centres around two best friends, Valentine and Proteus. Valentine is going travelling, while Proteus stays in Verona as he cannot bear to leave the woman he loves, Julia.

Eventually, Proteus is sent to Milan by his father against his will, to broaden his horizons. In Milan, Proteus finds Valentine, who appears to have fallen in love with the Duke’s daughter, Silvia.  In true Shakespearean form, love is never easy, with the added complication of Proteus then falling in love with Silvia himself, and Silvia’s father having a separate suitor in mind for her, Thurio.

Valentine tells Proteus he plans to elope with Silvia, who betrays the secret to Silvia’s father, the Duke. On discovering Valentine’s intentions, Silvia’s father banishes him from Milan. Meanwhile, Julia decides to travel in disguise to Verona, dressed as a page boy and calling herself Sebastian, to find her love Proteus. Outside the city walls, Valentine is captured by outlaws, who, like him, have been banished and they make him their leader.

Silvia, Proteus and Sebastian (Julia), go to find Valentine. When they do, Julia (as Sebastian) faints, revealing her identity, and Proteus remembers his deep love for her.

Proteus and Julia marry, as do Valentine and Silvia, and the Duke welcomes the outlaws back to Milan. All’s well that ends well!

 

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