O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell
If Shakespeare’s most famous lovers had really lived, where would they have been and what would their lives have been like. In “O, Juliet,” Robin Maxwell attempts to answer this question.
Juliet Capelletti is a young girl living in 15th century Florence. She is an incredibly lucky girl; the daughter of a merchant, she has been highly educated because of the friendship she struck up with Lucrezia Tornabuoni, the intended bride of Piero de Medici. Piero’s father, Cosimo de Medici felt it to be very important that his daughter-in-law be well educated, and was convinced to allow her friend to attend lessons with her. All Juliet’s love of language, especially that of Dante, may come to naught, however. She is intended to the rather boorish Jacopo Strozzi. True, the Strozzi’s are the second most powerful family in Florence, but Jacopo’s mother is incredibly controlling and neither she nor Jacopo are inclined to help Juliet feed her intellectual curiosity. Unfortunately, Juliet’s father needs Jacopo’s partnership for his business, and is determined to cement their alliance by joining their families.
Being promised to an intellectually and emotionally stifling man is bad enough, but at Lucrezia’s betrothal party Juliet meets a handsome young man named Romeo who can quote Dante as well as Juliet. Even worse, it turns out he is of the Monticecco family, the same family allegedly responsible for sinking Juliet’s father’s latest shipment of cloth. Romeo actually wants his family to make peace with the Capellettis and the Medicis, even more so after he falls head over heels for Juliet. Jacopo Stozzi is not blind to the sparks flying between Romeo and Juliet and, although he’s fine with permitting courtly love, he takes certain steps to ensure that Juliet remains, essentially, his property. And really, you know the rest of the story from there.
“O, Juliet” is the story of Romeo and Juliet set authentically into a backdrop of the Florentine Renaissance. One thing I really appreciated about “O, Juliet” is that even though this is a story that we pretty much all know backwards and forwards, Maxwell still managed to make it seem ‘fresh.’ I think it was the way she so realistically entwined the two of them in the Italian Renaissance, surrounded by actual historical characters like Lucrezia Tornabuoni, the Strozzis, and the Medicis that really made the story pop and come alive again. The touch of their mutual admiration for Dante was quite good, it gave them something to fall in love over, as opposed to simply physical attraction, it gave depth to their relationship.
This is how much Maxwell made the story of Romeo and Juliet seem fresh: at some points I actually truly believed that maybe the story of Juliet Capelletti and Romeo Monticecco was not going to end in the same way as that of Juliet Capulet and Romeo Montague.
I really enjoyed “O, Juliet.” Personally I think it is Maxwell’s best book yet. The prose is good, the storyline is well plotted out. Some people are going to complain about the poetry that Juliet and Romeo write, as it is not Shakespeare, but it really isn’t meant to be, as they are both simply amateur poets. This was a fantastic reimagining of the most famous lovers in literary history, and it is a book you don’t want to miss.
Check back tomorrow for a guest post from Robin and perhaps a giveaway…