Sunday, January 9, 2011

Romeo, Romeo, Wherefor art thou Romeo?

I've been on a pretty decent reading kick recently and my latest victim (so to speak) was Juliet by Anne Fortier.  It's set in modern day with Julie Jacobs discovering after her great aunt's death that she's a decendant of the Juliet on which Shakespeare based his infamous play.  Now, if you're like me, you're kind of thinking, "Ok, it's going to be some sappy love story about how she learns about the 'real' Romeo and Juliet in Italy and then meets her own Romeo." And to an extent, you are correct.  After her aunt's death Julie learns her name is really Giulietta Tolomei, the same as her ancestor credited in being the famous Juliet, and she travels to Siena, Italy to search for treasure and discover her past.

Upon arrival in Siena Julie learns that instead of searching for a family heirloom or treasure that she's picking up where her mother left off in trying to break the curse that was beset on the families of the lovers.  Not surprising, all the families involved in the original story are still around and, while they aren't outright killing each other like their predecessors, there is still traditional and long standing hostility.  The interesting thing is that in the "original" story portrayed in Fortier's rendition  there were three families involved, not just two.  Giulietta was a member of the Tolomei family sent to live with her uncle in Siena after her family was murdered at their estate while she was at a local church for confession.  The Salimbeni family is the other great family in Siena at the time and the head of its household is credited with the murder of Giulietta's family, although he is never formally accused or tried because he has the whole town under his thumb.  Salimbeni decides that he's had enough of his current wife and needs something younger and with more spirit; what better choice than the daughter of the man he just had murdered? But of course, Romeo has already been on the scene and fallen in love with Juliet and they've been married in secret.  Now here's where the third family crops up.  Romeo is neither a Salimbeni nor a Tolomei, he's a Marescotti; a well respected family in Siena for their generosity and peacefulness.  They do not engage in the debauchery and low ball tactics on which the other two families seem to thrive.

As tangled and complicated as most Italian tragedies (and family trees) tend to be, the way Fortier portrayed the original story was quite captivating.  It's like a series I read based on the King Arthur legend written by Jack White that basically stripped away all the mysticism and hype and boiled it down to a historical possibility.  Fortier did the same thing with Romeo and Juliet.  She placed the story in a realistic context that both made sense and kept it's romanticism intact.  It was still as tragic as the story we're all familiar with if not more so because of the inherently dangerous nature of the time period.  It was kind of like the feeling I got when I watched "Titanic" back in high school; you know how the story ends but you still can't help but be pulled in by the story anyway.

It's a fun, engaging read that's not too heavy handed or mind bending. At times Fortier can get too verbose and overly effusive with her writing but given the subject matter I kind of think it was almost requisite.  Since I'm not a Shakespeare purist I was able to look at this somewhat objectively, I believe, and see it for the fun and modern twist on the story it was meant to be.  Besides, since Shakespeare really wasn't the first to write about a doomed love affair, why not give the real victims their time in the lime light?

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