|Juliet's balcony with some of her letters|
Back in 2010, I saw the film Letters to Juliet. It is fluffy film with some nice views of Verona and Sienna, Italy. The plot revolves around the odd phenomenon of people writing letters to Shakespeare's most famous romantic heroine. What the film made me think about at the time was when I wrote my own letter to Juliet.
I have written letters to authors, but I must say that this was my only letter to a fictional character. When i was teaching Romeo and Juliet I came across an article about how visitors to Verona, Italy often left letters addressed to the fictional Juliet Capulet.
People also mail her letters. They may be only addressed to “Juliet, Verona, Italy” but they reach a destination. The Club di Giulietta is a volunteer group that answer the letters and has been doing that since the 1930s.
Was there ever a real Juliet? It seems that Shakespeare’s play was based on a similar true love story of young lovers who were separated by warring families. A historical Giulietta became a character in a narrative poem by Arthur Brooke and that is probably where Shakespeare got the idea for his version.
There are plenty of famous and popular characters of fiction, but does anyone write to them? The only other one I know of is is Sherlock Holmes.
I asked my students to write to Juliet and some actually mailed their letters. I wrote one too and mailed it - and got an answer.
Brooke's version of Juliet was 16 years old, but Shakespeare made her just about to turn 14 (possibly to allow a young boy to play the role on stage - no females were allowed on the stage in his time – see Shakespeare in Love) My middle school students could really identify with these young teens.
My students had issues with the idea of the warring families. But some of my Middle-Eastern students were able to tell us about their own families' arranged marriages. Parents being opposed to your friends and prejudices against some groups was unfortunately not foreign to the students.
My letter to Juliet was written based on something that happened when I was in seventh grade. At 13, I was in love. I know now that that was not love, but back then it was absolutely real. That was my letter's topic.
I had a few innocent dates - a movie, walking home together, being at a school dance and dancing together, an embrace, a kiss. All that ended when her parents found out. Why? I wasn’t Jewish. They told her that she could not date me. I was shocked.
Unlike Juliet, she obeyed her parents. We stopped dating, but we saw each other every day at school. It was hard. It made no sense.
When I saw the Zeferelli film of Juliet that year, it all made sense. (I also developed a crush on Olivia Hussey as Juliet.) For my students, it was the Romeo + Juliet 1996 version directed by Baz Luhrmann.
In her letter to me, Juliet understood the parents decision, though she did not agree with it, and sympathized with their daughter wanting to obey her parents. She didn't recommend rebellion, but wished for better understanding amongst all.
There is a book that collects some of the letters to Juliet - Letters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare’s Greatest Heroine, the Magical City of Verona, and the Power of Love.