Did you know Romeo and Juliet was a much older story—older than Shakespeare led readers to believe? During his time, Shakespeare was exposed most likely to several pre-existing versions of the tale, most of them Italian stories.
In one of the older Italian tales, author Luigi da Porto spins the story of the lovers, Giulietta and Romeo, two members of eminent, historical families engaged in a bloody feud in Verona.
Sound familiar? That tale was written well before Shakespeare’s time.
Because of the tragic storyline of two ill-fated loves at odds with a materialistic society (and here we have our reason why the story works even today!), the tale endured from the 1300s and was retold thru the centuries, with Shakespeare retelling the most famous of them all.
So. This got me thinking while writing Forbidden Kiss. How was the tale transmitted down through the years? Here’s my take on how it happened:
“And thinking me already dead, she took her life, using this dagger to stop her beautiful heart.” Romeo Montague ripped the dagger from his belt and slammed it down upon the scarred surface of the trestle table, causing the heads of nearby tavern patrons to turn at the sound.
Romeo’s companion, who less than an hour ago had been a total stranger, laid a curious finger on the blade of the weapon. “She went to her death, unaware you lived? And if the friar had been but minutes earlier- ”
“He could have prevented Juliet’s death.” The bitterness of the words killed the taste of the ale in Romeo’s mouth. The discussion, one he avoided religiously with the exception of lonely nights like these, sobered him with a long standing pain that ached like an old wound.
“More ale!” he demanded of the passing serving girl who ignored his look. Ten years ago he would never have been ignored, but The Anchor Pub, situated along a busy and profitable strip of the Thames River, had outgrown the capacity of the barmaids – bursting from its humble wooden two-story frame to include hastily built additions to accommodate the new traffic. The Anchor’s wealth of new customers spilled over from the hugely successful public playhouse just a few doors down.
Romeo couldn’t decide if he should shake the girl or tip her an extra crown. A timid and quiet thing, the barkeep’s daughter tripped earlier over Romeo’s outstretched leg and fell into the lone man sitting at an adjacent table, spilling drink on the startled man’s shoes.
“If you’ll notice, sir, the girl responds to a nod and a smile. Not a forbidding scowl and sharp words,” his companion advised.
Will, as he’d introduced himself, appeared an earnest, if not disheveled young man who made a point of seizing the open seat next to Romeo in lieu of an apology for wet shoes. Unabashed, he ordered a drink – at his host’s expense.
“And the friar? What became of him?” Will asked between lusty gulps, attracting further attention from locals imbibing before scurrying off to hearth fires and children.
Romeo swilled the last of the tepid drink in his mug, thinking of Lawrence. “Well, he lived, of course. When you’re using the people around you for personal gain, the first ass you save is your own. As was the case with Lawrence.”
Will slipped his elbow along the table until his head rested in his hand. The flicker of lit wall scones reflected in his thoughtful eyes.
“What could he do? Your wife was dead. Tragic, really. But a love story like no other.”
What Lawrence could have done didn’t keep Romeo teetering on a knife’s edge all these years, a hair away from insanity – it was what Lawrence had done.
“Mr. Shakespeare, sir!” A gawky youth, out of breath from a hurried search, found them seated near the rear of the tavern. “Mr. Shakespeare! You’re needed right away at the Globe, sir!”
Will sat up, shaking the obvious melancholy from his spirit like so many cobwebs. He stood, nodding at Romeo. “Sir, I thank you for the story and the ale. May fortune smile down upon you.”
And he left. Out the front door and straight into the heavy stink of the Thames with the boy close at his heels.
Romeo pushed his drink away and stood, flipping his payment on the table with a quick toss. He made his way to the door, just moments behind Will, berating himself the entire way for telling his sorry tale to an upstart young writer like Shakespeare.
Jule Casale is the perfect daughter. Obedient. Trustworthy. Loyal. With her high profile Italian family, her public image must be impeccable. And now to gain the respect and position she’s desired in the academic world, she hopes to discover the unknown artist behind a masterpiece of Renaissance art.
Rom Montgomery seeks the unobtainable: forgiveness. Those who could grant him relief are dead. Instead, he wanders across continents and through time searching for salvation and the means to right an ancient wrong. But when Jule comes knocking on his door, it’s the closest he’s ever come to finally finding redemption.
The closer Rom draws to correcting his past mistakes, the more his secrets threaten to destroy the woman who might hold the key to his future.