The Origins of the Story of Romeo and Juliet

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Origins of Romeo and Juliet

Luigi Da Porto was an Italian condottiero, writer, and historiographer better known as the author of the story of Romeo and Juliet, later dramatized by William Shakespeare for his famous drama.

The Origins of the Story of Romeo and Juliet Weird Italy


The story of Romeo and Juliet is told in Historia novellamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti, written between 1512 and 1524. After the death of Da Porto, the story was printed anonymously in Venice between 1530 and 1535. It was subsequently reprinted and in the following decades, it was transposed into different versions. It was later freely translated by Pierre Boaistuau, Arthur Brooke, and William Painter and finally dramatized by William Shakespeare around 1595 and by Lope De Vega around 1610.

The typical elements of the story (thwarted love, clandestine marriage, fake death) are found scattered in numerous previous works.

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Death of Pyramus and Thisbe by Gregorio Pagani (1559-1605) (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

In Book IV of Ovid‘s Metamorphoses the legend of Pyramus and Thisbe is an emblematic story about the tragic love between two young lovers who, due to the conflicts between their families, are doomed to a tragic fate.

The original legend of the love of a river god of Cilicia (Pyramus) for the nymph Thisbe recalls the myth of Alpheus and Arethusa, and other similar stories.

Mariotto and Ganozza by Masuccio Salernitano, wrote in 1476, is the one version that comes closest to Da Porto’s version.

Unlike Mariotto and Ganozza, Da Porto places the facts narrated in a historical frame. The story is set in the time of Bartolomeo I della Scala, in 1301-1304, in Verona, a city that in the time of Da Porto was strategically important for Venice. The names of the two hostile families, Cappelletti and Montecchi, are found in canto VI, v.106, of the Purgatory. The name of Romeo probably derives from Romeo di Villanova in Paradiso, canto VI, v.127.

According to recent theories, the story was autobiographical. In 1511, Luigi da Porto was very close to his uncle Antonio Savorgnan. He fell in love with his sixteen-year-old cousin Lucina Savorgnan while the conflicts between the Friulian clans were at a critical point. He was thus involved in city feuds.

Pyramus and Thisbe, House of Loreius Tiburtinus, Pompeii

Da Porto was accused of getting two hitmen drunk and then strangling them in their sleep to prevent them from talking about these events.

In June 1511, during a fight, he was seriously wounded in the throat by a pike. He was left for dead in the field but he was providentially saved by Marco di Lazara. Da Porto remained paralyzed and was forced to quit the military career.

He returned to Vicenza having privileges granted to him for his loyalty by the Republic of Venice. Wounded and paralyzed, Da Porto wrote the story in his villa.

Featured image: Thisbe, by John William Waterhouse, detail, 1909, source


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