From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated edition, c. 1900; first published, 1824]; pp. 169-188.
Luigi da Porto.
Perhaps the title of novelist was at one time the least of Luigi’s claims, as he acquired the reputation of an elegant and accomplished scholar and poet, and displayed much classical taste in his compositions both in the Italian and Latin languages. He is said by Marzari, the historian of Vicenza, to have produced several other novels, a supposition which, if true, must lead us to deplore their loss, as there are too few in the voluminous catalogue of Italy which can boast of the purity and excellence of his “Giulietta.” It is dedicated to the lady Lucina Savorgnana, one of his near relations.
There are two old editions of the “Giulietta,” both published within a short period of each other at Venice. One of these has the date of 10th June 1535, 8vo, from the press of Bindoni, and the other from that of Marcolini, 8vo, 1539. A more recent one has likewise appeared, edited by the Cavalier Michel-Angelo Zorzi of Vicenza, including the “Rime” of the author, printed in Vicenza, 4to, 1731, by Lavezzari. The story of “Giulietta” is in this edition an exact reprint from that of Marcolini, the editor not appearing to have been aware of the earlier one of Bindoni, between which and the more recent one many striking variations may be perceived. This doubtless arises from the circumstance of one of them having received the corrections, 172 and perhaps embellishments, of the celebrated Bembo, while the other was probably taken from the original MS. From a letter of Bembo, dated the 18th February 1531, addressed to Bernardino, the brother of Luigi, it appears that the writer was desirous of having in his possession the MSS. of his deceased friend. Four years subsequent to the date of this letter the novel first made its appearance, during which time it is highly probable it may have undergone the revision of Bembo. It is certain that Luigi was highly esteemed by him, as appears from a letter directed to our author during his lifetime; nor is Bembo thought by other writers to have overrated the merits of his “Giulietta,” compared with the novels of his countrymen.
Though his sole remaining production in the class of fictitious narrative, it is fully sufficient to establish his claim to a high station among Italy’s best novelists. He cannot, indeed, boast of the merit of its invention; but his improvements on the old story, attributed to so many different sources, and even on that of Massuccio Salernitano, are of such a kind as to give it all the effect, beauty, and pathos of an original narrative.
Though this story is extended much beyond the limits of a great portion of the Italian novelle, the translator has scarcely thought himself at liberty to make the least alteration or curtailment, no less on account of its own intrinsic merits, than its relation to one of the sweetest and most favourite productions of England’s greatest dramatist. Not that this tale supplied Shakespeare with the plot and incidents of his “Romeo and Juliet,” which are evidently taken from a version of Massuccio’s story of an earlier date, but it may serve to show how far the dramatist, who has not, indeed, improved upon his model of Massuccio, has fallen short of the pathetic beauty of Luigi da Porto’s story in its conclusion. It is only in the latter that we meet with the affecting circumstance of Juliet rising from her trance before the death of Romeo, all other versions of the story omitting a scene so essential to the pathos of the catastrophe. And though the rest of the variations in these different productions are of minor importance, they will uniformly be found in favour of Luigi da Porto; a circumstance which strongly favours the supposition that Shakespeare never perused his novel. He must have been misled, then, on this point, by the metrical history of “Romeus and Giuliet,” which was taken, as Mr. Dunlop remarks, from several minute coincidences, from the old drama by Luigi da Groto, which accords with Shakespeare’s in many particulars. In both there is a garrulous old nurse, and it would appear from several other particulars pointed out by Mr. Walker, in his “Memoir on Italian Tragedy,” that the old play by Da Groto must have been seen by the English dramatist.
But though not the exact source from which Shakespeare drew one of the earliest and most favourite of his dramas, it is this Italian story which has since suggested the improvement that has been adopted on the stage at its close, where Romeo does not expire before the revival of Juliet. Besides, its own dramatic interest and its language and character, are altogether such as to place it among the happiest specimens in the class of pathetic novels. Still, its merits will be 173 found to consist, with very few exceptions, in the superior manner in which it has been treated, as there is too striking a coincidence between the works of Da Porto and of Massuccio to allow us to believe that the author of “Giulietta” was not acquainted with the “Mariotto” and “Giannozza” of his predecessor. In most of the leading circumstances, though not in the conclusion, they are precisely similar. Luigi himself, however, asserts that the story was related to him while serving as a soldier in Friuli, by one of his archers who usually attended him, to beguile the solitary road leading from Gradisca to Udino. But it is certain that the same story had long before been familiar to the writers of various countries, wheresoever it may have first taken its origin, whether derived in some connected chain of tradition from one source, or, as is more probable, founded on a similar occurrence in different countries. It has been traced to a Greek romance, and was historically treated as a real event by Girolamo della Corte in his history of Verona. It also forms the ninth of the second part of Bandello’s novels, borrowed from Luigi da Porto, where the event is said to have happened in the time of Bartolommeo della Scala: this tale corresponds very nearly with the novel of “Giulietta,” The same story passed into France, where it is related by Adrien Sevin of two Sclavonians residing in the Morea. Thus it was adopted into the tragic stories of Belleforest, and likewise into Painter’s “Palace of Pleasure.’ From its traditionary character, therefore, it is not impossible that Luigi da Porto may have heard it from the lips of one of his archers, though this can hardly be reconciled with the numerous coincidences that exist between his story and that of Massuccio.
There are several other dramas besides Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” founded upon the same subject, but none nearly so faithful to the simplicity and pathos of the original as found in the novels of Da Porto and Massuccio. If Shakespeare was unfortunate in not preserving one of the most touching incidents in the catastrophe, it is a fault in him scarcely perceptible, and amply compensated by such transcendent beauty of language and sentiment as appeals with irresistible force to the soul of the reader, leaving the plot, so essential to the success of other writers, with him only a secondary consideration. But in other dramatists, their departure from the truth and beauty of the story has been wilful, nor atoned for by those superior charms of sentiment and passion which lie scattered with so profuse a hand in the works of its English imitator. Two of these rival productions are from the pens of Spanish dramatists, contemporary likewise with Shakespeare; one being written by the prolific Lope de Vega, and the other by Fernando Roxas, which, of the two, approaches nearest to the English “Romeo and Juliet.” But in Lope, the names as well as the incidents are altered, and the tragic close is turned into “a merry meeting” and a marriage sanctioned by the lady’s friends. The Spanish lover has the grave precaution not to swallow poison before visiting the tomb of the lady, and on her recovery from her trance, he forthwith escorts her to a castle of her father’s, but seldom frequented by the aged gentleman. There, however, preparing to celebrate a new marriage, he is somewhat surprised to meet with his 174 deceased daughter, and mistaking her for a spirit, he begins to deplore his former harshness to her, declaring how happy he should be could he now unite her to the object of her choice. The hero now comes forward; and as soon as the father is fully satisfied of their corporeal existence, he consents to their union, and the lovers, after embracing each other, fall at his feet.
Both families, we are told, were equally powerful and wealthy, abounding in friends and relatives, and highly favoured in Verona, under the above-mentioned prince. Whether of a private or a public nature, the feud which arose between them was of a very ferocious and fatal character, various partisans on both sides falling victims to its rage. Nor was it until weary of mutual wrongs, and awed by the repeated commands and entreaties of their prince, that they were induced to enter into such terms as to meet or to address each other peaceably without apprehension of further violence and bloodshed. But daily becoming more reconciled, it happened that a festival was to be given by Messer Antonio, the head of the house of the Cappelletti, a man of gay and joyous character, who made the most magnificent preparations to receive all the chief families in the city. At one of these assemblies there one evening appeared a youth of the Montecchi family, who followed thither some lady whom he was desirous, as lovers often are, of accompanying in person (no less than in mind) upon such occasions of general festivity. He had a noble and commanding person, with elegant and accomplished manners; and he had no sooner withdrawn his mask, screening himself in the character of a wood-nymph, than every eye was turned with admiration on his beauty, which appeared to surpass even that of the most beautiful ladies present. But he more especially attracted the attention of an only daughter of Messer Antonio, whose charms both of mind and 175 person were unrivalled throughout the whole city. Such was the impression she received at his appearance, that from the moment their eyes first met she found that she was no longer mistress of her own feelings. She saw him retire into a distant part of the assembly, seldom coming forward either in the dance or in converse with others, bearing himself like one who kept a jealous watch over some beloved object whom he would fain have held aloof from the joyous scene. Such a thought struck a chill to her heart, as she had heard he was a youth of warm and animated manners. About the approach of midnight, towards the conclusion of the ball, was struck up the dance of the torch, or of the hat, whichever we choose to call it, usually proposed with us before the breaking up of the feast. While the company stand round in a circle, each dancer takes his lady, and the lady him, changing partners as they please. As it went round, the noble youth was led out by a lady who chanced to place him near the enamoured daughter of Cappelletti. On the other side of her stood a youth named Marcuccio Guercio, whose hand, ever cold to the touch, happened to come in contact with the fair lady’s palm; and soon after Romeo Montecchi, being on her left hand, took it in his, as was customary. On which the lady, anxious to hear his voice, said, “Welcome to my side, Messer Romeo;” and he, observing her eyes were fixed upon his awaiting his reply, and delighted at the tone of her voice, returned, “How! am I indeed then welcome?” “Yes, and I ought to thank you,” she returned, smiling, “since my left hand is warmed by your touch, whilst that of Marcuccio freezes my right.” Assuming a little more confidence, Romeo again replied, “If your hand, lady, feels the warmth of mine, my heart no less has kindled warm at your eyes.” A short bright smile was the only answer to this, except that in a lower tone, as fearful of being seen or heard, she half whispered back, “I vow, O Romeo, there is no lady here whom I think nearly so handsome as you seem to me.” Fascinated by her sweet address, Romeo, with still greater warmth, replied, “Whatever I may be, I only wish you, sweet lady, to hold me ever at your service.” When the festival broke up, and Romeo had retired to his chamber, dwelling on the harsh usage of his former love, from whose eyes, he had drunk softness mixed with too much scorn, he resolved to give his soul wholly, even to the fair foe of his father’s house. She, on the other hand, had thought of little else since she left him than of the supreme felicity she should enjoy in obtaining so noble a youth for her lord. Yet when she reverted to the deadly enmity which has so long reigned between the two houses, her fears overpowered the gentler feelings of her soul, and unable wholly to subdue them, she inveighed against her own folly in the following words: “Wretch that I am! what enchantment thus drags me to my ruin? Without hope or guide, O how shall I escape? for Romeo loves me not. Alas! he perhaps feels nothing but hatred against our house, and would perhaps only seek my shame. And were it possible he should think of taking me for his wedded wife, my father would never consent to bestow my hand.” Then revolving other feelings in her mind, she flattered herself that their attachment might become 176 the means of further reconciliation between the houses, even now wearied with their mutual feuds; and, “Oh!” she exclaimed, “what a blissful means of changing foes into relatives!” Fixed in this resolve, she again met Romeo with eyes of softness and regard. Mutually animated with equal ardour and admiration, the loved image was fixed so deeply in their imagination, that they could no longer refrain from seeing each other; and sometimes at the windows and sometimes in the church, they sought with avidity every occasion to express their mutual passion through their eyes, and neither of them seemed to enjoy rest out of the presence of the beloved object. But chiefly Romeo, fired at the sight of her exquisite charms and manners, braved all risks for the pleasure of having her near him; and he would frequently pass the greatest part of the night around her house, beneath her windows, or, scaling the walls, force his way to the balcony that commanded a view of her chamber, without the knowledge either of herself or others; and there he would sit for hours, gazing and listening his soul away, enamoured of her looks and voice. He would afterwards throw himself listlessly to sleep, careless of returning home, in the woods or in the roads. But one evening, as love would have it, the moon shining out more brightly than usual, the adventurous Romeo was discovered by his lady, as she opened the casement, on the balcony. Imagining that it might be some one else, he retreated, when, catching a glimpse of his figure, she gently called to him, “Wherefore, O Romeo, come you hither?’ “It is the will of love: therefore do I come,” he replied. “And if you should be found here, Romeo, know you it will be sudden death?” “Too well I do, dear lady; and I doubt not it will happen so some night, if you refuse me your aid. But as I must at some time die, wherever I may be, I would rather yield my breath here as near you as I dare, with whom I would ever choose to live, did Heaven and you consent.” To which words the lady replied, “Believe me, Romeo, it is not I who would forbid thee to remain honourably at my side; it is thou, and the enmity thou and thine bear us, that stand between us twain.” “Yet can I truly aver,” replied the youth, “that the dearest hope I have long indulged has been to make you mine; and if you had equal wishes, on you alone it would rest to make me for ever yours: no hand of man, believe me, love, should sunder us again.” On saying this, they agreed on further means to meet again, and converse much longer some future evening; and they retired, full of each other, to rest.
The noble youth having frequently in this way held appointments with her, one winter’s evening, while the snow fell thick and fast about him, he called to her from the usual spot: “Ah, Juliet, Juliet! how long will you see me thus languishing in vain? Do you feel nothing for me, who through these cold nights, exposed to the stormy weather, waits on the cold ground to behold you?” “Alas! alas! I do indeed pity you,” returned a sweet voice, “but what would you that I should do? often have I besought you to go away.” “No, no,” returned Romeo, “not away: and therefore, gentle lady, deign to give me refuge in your chamber from these bitter winds.” Turning towards him with a somewhat scornful voice, the lady reproached him: 177 “Romeo, I love you as much as it is possible for woman to love; therefore it is that you ask me this; your worth has led me further than I ought to go. But, cruel as you are, if you dream that you can enjoy my love by long prevailing suit in the manner you imagine, lay such thoughts aside, for you deceive yourself, Montecchi. And as I will no longer see you nightly perilling your life for me, I frankly tell you, Romeo, that if you please to take me as I am, I will joyfully become your wife, giving myself up wholly to your will, ready to follow you over the world wherever you may think best.” “And this,” replied the gentle youth, “is all I have so long wished; now then let it be done!” “So let it be, even as you will,” cried Juliet; “only permit the Friar Lorenzo da San Francesco, my confessor, first to knit our hands, if you wish me wholly and happily to become yours.” “Am I to suppose, then, that Friar Lorenzo, my love, is acquainted with the secret of your breast?” “Yes, Romeo,” returned Juliet, “and he will be ready to grant us what we request of him;” and here, having fixed upon the proper measures, they again took leave of each other.
The friar, who belonged to the minor order of Osservanza, was a very learned man, well skilled no less in natural than in magical arts, and was extremely intimate with Romeo, in whom he had found it necessary to confide on an occasion in which he might otherwise have forfeited his reputation, which he was very desirous of maintaining with the vulgar. He had fixed upon Romeo in his emergency, as the most brave and prudent gentleman he knew to trust with the affair he had in hand. To him only he unbosomed his whole soul; and Romeo, having now recourse to him in his turn, acquainted him with his resolution of making the lovely daughter of Messer Antonio as quickly as possible his wedded wife, and that they had together fixed upon him as the secret instrument and witness of their nuptials, and afterwards as the medium of their reconciliation with her father.
The friar immediately signified his consent, no less because he ventured not to oppose or disoblige the lover, than because he believed it might be attended with happy results; in which case he would be likely to derive great honour from the heads of both houses, as the means of their reconciliation. In the meanwhile, it being the season of Lent, the fair Juliet, under semblance of going to confession, sought the residence of Friar Francesco, and having entered into one of the confessionals made use of by the monks, she inquired for Lorenzo, who, hearing her voice, led her along after Romeo into the convent. Then closing the doors of the confessional, he removed an iron grate which had hitherto separated her from her lover, saying, “I have been always glad to see you, my daughter; but you will now be far dearer to me than ever if you wish to receive Messer Romeo here as your husband,” To which Juliet answered that there was nothing she so much wished as that she might lawfully become his wife, and that she had therefore hastened thither, in order that before Heaven and him she might take those vows which love and honour required, and which the friar must witness, as her trust in him was great.
Then in the presence of the priest, who performed the ceremony under the seal of confession, Romeo espoused the fair young Juliet; and 178 having concluded how they were to meet each other again at night, exchanging a single kiss, they took leave of the friar, who remained in the confessional awaiting the arrival of penitents. Having thus secretly obtained the object of their wishes, the youthful Romeo and his bride for many days enjoyed the most unalloyed felicity, hoping at the same time for a favourable occasion to become reconciled to her father, in acquainting him with their marriage. But Fortune, as if envious of their supreme happiness, just at this time revived the old deadly feud between the houses in such a way, that in a few days, neither of them wishing to yield to the other, the Montecchi and the Cappelletti meeting together, from words proceeded to blows. Desirous to avoid giving any mortal hurts to his sweet wife’s relatives, Romeo had the sorrow of beholding his own party either wounded or driven from the streets, and incensed with passion against Tebaldo Cappelletti, the most formidable of his adversaries, he struck him dead at his feet with a single blow, and put his companions to flight, terrified at the loss of their chief. The homicide had been witnessed by too many to remain long a secret, and the complaint being brought before the prince, the Cappelletti threw the blame exclusively on Romeo, who was sentenced by the council to perpetual banishment from Verona. It is easier for those who truly love to imagine than it is here to describe, the sensations of the young bride on receiving these tidings. She wept long and bitterly, refusing to hear any consolation; and her grief was deepened by the reflection that she could share it with no one. Romeo, on the other hand, regretted leaving his country on her account alone, and resolving to take a sorrowful farewell of the object of all his soul’s wishes, he had again recourse to the assistance of the friar, who despatched a faithful follower of Romeo’s father to apprise his wife of the time and place of meeting, and thither she eagerly repaired. Retiring together into the confessional, they there wept bitterly over their misfortune. The young bride at length checking her tears, exclaimed in an accent of despair, “I cannot bear to live! What will my life be without you? Oh, let me fly with you; wherever you go I will follow, a faithful and loving servant. I will cast these long tresses away, and by none shall you be served so well, so truly, as by me.” “No, never let it be said,” replied Romeo, “that you accompanied me in other guise than in that of a cherished and honoured bride. Yet were it not that I feel assured that our affairs will soon improve, and that the strife between our two families will very shortly cease, indeed I could not bear, my love, to leave you. We shall not long be divided, and my thoughts, sweet Juliet, will be ever with you. And should we not be quickly restored to each other, it will then be time to fix how we are to meet again.” So, after having wept and embraced each other again and again, they tore themselves asunder, his wife entreating that he would remain as near her as possible, and by no means go so far as Rome or Florence.
After concealing himself for some time in the monastery of Friar Lorenzo, Romeo set out more dead than alive for Mantua, but not before he had agreed with the servant of the lady that he was to be informed, through the friar, of every particular that might occur during 179 his absence; and he further instructed the servant, as he valued his protection and rewards, to obey his wife in the minutest things which she might require of him. After her husband had departed, she gave herself up a prey to the deepest grief, a grief so incessant as to leave its traces on her beauty, and attract the attention of her mother. She tenderly loved her daughter, and affectionately inquiring into the cause of her affliction, she merely received vague excuses in reply. “But you are always in tears, my daughter,” she continued; “what is it that can affect you thus? Tell me, for you are dear to me as my own life, and if it depend upon me, you shall no longer weep.” Then imagining that her daughter might probably wish to bestow her hand in marriage, yet be afraid of avowing her wishes, she determined to speak to her husband on the subject; and thus, in the hope of promoting her health and happiness, she pursued the very means that led to her destruction.
She informed Messer Antonio that she had observed, for many days past, that something was preying on their daughter’s mind, that she was no longer like the same creature, and that although she had used every means to obtain her confidence as to the source of her affliction, it had been all in vain. She then urged her suspicions that Juliet perhaps wished to marry, but that, like a discreet girl as she certainly was, she was averse to declare her feelings. “So I think, Messer Antonio, we had better without more delay make choice for our daughter of a noble husband. Juliet has already completed her eighteenth year, on St. Euphremia’s Day; and when they have advanced much beyond this period, the beauty of women, so far from improving, is rather on the wane. Besides,” continued her mother, “it is not well to keep girls too long at home, though our Juliet has always been an excellent child. I am aware you have already fixed upon her dower, and we have nothing to do but to select a proper object for her love.” Messer Antonio agreed with his lady, and highly commended the virtues and the prudence of his daughter. Not many days afterwards they proposed and entered into a treaty of marriage between the Count of Lodrone and their daughter. When it was on the point of being concluded, the lady, hoping to surprise her daughter with the agreeable tidings, bade her now rejoice, for that in a very few days she would be happily settled in marriage with a noble youth, and that she must no longer grieve, for it would take place with her father’s consent and that of all her friends.
On hearing these words, Juliet burst into a flood of tears, while her mother endeavoured to console her with the hope of being happily settled in life within the course of eight days. “You will then become the wife of Count Lodrone; nay, do not weep, for it is really true: will you not be happy, Juliet, then?” “No, no, my dear mother, I shall never be happy.” “Then what can be the matter with you? What do you want? Only tell me; I will do anything you wish.” “Then I would wish to die, mother; nothing else is left me now.” Her mother then first became aware that she was the victim of some deep-seated passion, and saying little more, she left her. In the evening she related to her husband what had passed, at which he 180 testified great displeasure, saying that it would be necessary to have the affair examined into before venturing to proceed further with the Count. And fearful lest any blame might attach to his family, he soon after sent for Juliet, with the intention of consulting her on the proposed marriage. “It is my wish, my dear Juliet, to form an honourable connection for you in marriage. Will you be satisfied with it?” After remaining silent for some moments, his daughter replied, “No, dear father, I cannot be satisfied.” “Am I to suppose then, that you wish to take the veil, daughter?” “Indeed I know not what” —— and with these words out gushed a flood of bitter tears. “But this I know,” returned her father, “you shall give your hand to Count Lodrone, and therefore trouble yourself no further.” “Never, never!” cried Juliet, still weeping bitterly. On this Messer Antonio threatened her with his heaviest displeasure did she again venture to dispute his will, commanding her immediately to reveal the cause of her unhappiness. And when he could obtain no other reply than sobs and tears, he quitted the apartment in a violent passion, unable to penetrate into her motives, leaving her with her mother alone. The wretched bride had already acquainted the servant intrusted with their secret, whose name was Pietro, with everything which had passed between herself and her parents, taking him to witness that she would sooner die than become the wife of any lord but Romeo. And this the good Pietro had carefully conveyed through the friar to the ears of the banished man, who had written to her, encouraging her to persevere, and by no means to betray the secret of their love, as he was then taking measures, within less than ten days, to bear her from her father’s house. Messer Antonio and his lady Giovanna being unable in the meanwhile, either by threats or kindness, to discover their daughter’s objections to the marriage, or whether she was attached to another, determined to prosecute their design. “Weep no more, girl,” cried her mother, “for married you shall be, though you were to take one of the Montecchi by the hand, which I am sure you will never be compelled to do!” Fresh sobs and tears at these words burst from the poor girl, which only served to hasten the preparations for their daughter’s nuptials. Her despair was terrible when she heard the day named, and calling upon death to save her, she rushed out of her chamber, and repairing as fast as possible to the convent of the friar, in whom, next to Romeo, she trusted, and from whom she had received tidings of her husband, she revealed to him the cause of her anguish, often interrupted by her tears. She then conjured him, by the friendship and obligations which he owed to Romeo, to assist her in this her utter need. “Alas! of what use can I be,” replied the friar, “when your two houses are even now so violently opposed to each other?” “But I know, father, that you are a learned and experienced man, and you can assist me in many ways if you please. If you should refuse me everything else, at least, however, grant me this. My nuptials are even now preparing in my father’s palace; he is now gone out of the city to give orders at the villa on the Mantuan road, whither they are about to carry me, that I may there be compelled to receive the Count, without a chance 181 of opposition, as he is to meet me on my arrival at the place. Give me, therefore, poison, to free me at once from the grief and shame of exposing the wife of Romeo to such a scene. Give me poison, or I will myself plunge a dagger into my bosom!”
The friar, on hearing these desperate intentions, and aware how deeply he was implicated with Romeo, who might become his worst enemy were he not in some way to obviate the danger, turning to Juliet, said, “You know, my daughter, that I confess a great portion of the people here, and am respected by all, no testament, no reconciliation taking place without my mediation. I am therefore careful of giving rise to any suspicions which might affect me, and should especially wish to conceal my interference in an affair like the present. I would not incur such a scandal for all the treasure in the world. But, as I am attached both to yourself and Romeo, I will exert myself in your favour in such a way as I believe no one ever before did. You must first, however, take a vow that you will never betray to others the secret I now intrust you with.” “Speak, speak boldly, father,” cried Juliet, “and give me the poison, for I will inform nobody.” “I will give you no poison,” returned the friar; ‘young and beautiful as you are, it would be too deep a sin. But if you possess courage to execute what I shall propose, I trust I may be able to deliver you safely into the hands of Romeo. You are aware that the family vault of the Cappelletti lies beyond this church in the cemetery of our convent. Now I will give you a certain powder, which, when you have taken it, will throw you into a deep slumber of eight and forty hours, and during that time you will be to all appearance dead, not even the most skilful physicians being able to detect a spark of life remaining. In this state you will be interred in the vault of the Cappelletti, and at a fitting season I will be in readiness to take you away, and bring you to my own cell, where you can stay until I go, which will not be long, to the chapter; after which disguised in a monk’s dress, I will bear you myself to your husband. But tell me, are you not afraid of being near the corpse of Tebaldo, your cousin, so recently interred in the same place?” With serene and joyful looks the young bride returned, “No, father; for if by such means I can ever reach my Romeo, I would face not this alone, but the terrors of hell itself.” “This is well; let it be done,” cried the friar; “but first write with your own hand an exact account of the whole affair to Romeo, lest by mischance, supposing you dead, he may be impelled by his despair to do some desperate deed; for I am sure he is passionately attached to you. There are always some of my brethren who have occasion to go to Mantua, where your husband resides: let me have your letter to him, and I will send it by a faithful messenger.”
Having said this, the good monk, without the interference of whose holy order we find no matters of importance transacted, leaving the lady in the confessional, returned to his cell, but soon came back bringing a small vase with the powder in it, saying, “Drink this, mixed with simple water, about midnight, and fear not. In two hours after it will begin to take effect, and I doubt not but our design will be crowned with success. But haste, and forget not to write the letter, 182 as I have directed you, to Romeo, for it is of great importance.” Securing the powder, the fair bride hastened joyfully home to her mother, saying, “Truly, dear mother, Friar Lorenzo is one of the best confessors in the world. He has so kindly advised me that I am quite recovered from my late unhappiness.” Overjoyed on perceiving her daughter’s cheerfulness, the Lady Giovanna replied, “And you shall return his kindness, my dear girl, with interest; his poor brethren shall never be in want of alms.” Juliet’s recovered spirits now banished every suspicion from the mind of her parents of her previous attachment to another, and they believed that some unhappy incident had given rise to the strange and melancholy disposition they had observed. They would not have been glad to withdraw their promise of bestowing her hand upon the Count, but they had already proceeded so far that they could not, without much difficulty, retreat. Her lover was desirous that some one of his friends should see her; and her mother, Lady Giovanna, being somewhat delicate in her health, it was resolved that her daughter, accompanied by two of her aunts, should be carried to the villa at a short distance from the city — a step to which she made no opposition. She accordingly went; and imagining that her father would immediately on her arrival insist upon the marriage, she took care to secure the powder given to her by the friar. At the approach of midnight, calling one of her favourite maids, brought up with her from childhood, she requested her to bring her a glass of water, observing that she felt very thirsty; and as she drank it in the presence of the maid and one of her aunts, she exclaimed that her father should never bestow her hand upon the Count against her own consent. These simple women, though they had observed her throw the powder into the water, which she said was to refresh her, suspected nothing further and went to rest. When the servant had retired with the light, her young mistress rose from her bed, dressed herself, and again lay down, composing her decent limbs as if she were never more to rise, with her hands crossed upon her breast, awaiting the dreaded result. In little more than two hours she lay to all appearance dead, and in this state she was discovered the next morning. The maid and her aunt, unable to awake her, feeling that she was already quite cold, and recollecting the powder, the strange expressions she had uses, and, above all, seeing her dressed, began to scream aloud, supposing her to have poisoned herself. On this, the cries of her own maid, who loved her, were terrible. “True, too true, dear lady: you said that your father should never marry you against your will. Alas! you asked me for the very water which was to occasion your death. Wretch that I am! And have you indeed left me, and left me thus? With my own hands I gave you the fatal cup, which, with yours, will have caused the death of your father, your mother, and us all. Ah! why did you not take me with you, who have always so dearly loved you in life?” And saying this she threw herself by the side of her young mistress, embracing her cold form. Messer Antonio, hearing a violent uproar, hastened, trembling, to ascertain the cause, and the first object he beheld was his daughter stretched out in her chamber a corpse. Although he believed her gone beyond recovery, when he 183 heard what she had drunk, he immediately sent to Verona for a very experienced physician, who having carefully observed and examined his daughter, declared that she had died of the effects of the poison more than six hours before.
The wretched father, on hearing his worst fears confirmed, was overwhelmed with grief; and the same tidings reaching the distracted mother, suddenly deprived her of all consciousness. When she was at length restored, she tore he hair, and calling upon her daughter’s name, filled the air with her shrieks. “She is gone! the only sweet solace of my aged days. Cruel, cruel! thou has left me without even giving thy poor mother a last farewell! At least I might have drunk thy last words and sighs, and closed thine eyes in peace. Let my women come about me, let them assist me, that I may die! if they have any pity left, they will kill me; far better so to die than of a lingering death of grief. O God! in Thy infinite mercy take me away, for my life will be a burden to me now!” Her women then came round her, and bore her to the couch, still weeping, and refusing all the consolation they could offer to her. The body of Juliet was in the meantime carried to Verona, and consigned with extraordinary ceremonies, amidst the lamentations of a numerous train of friends and relatives, to the vault in the cemetery of San Francesco, where the last rites to the dead were discharged.
The friar having occasion to be absent from the city, had, according to his promise, confided Juliet’s letter to Romeo to the hands of his brethren going to Mantua. On arriving, he called several times at the house without having the good fortune to meet with Romeo, and unwilling to trust such a letter to others, he remained it in his own hands, until Pietro, hearing of the death of Juliet, and not finding the friar in the city, resolved to bear the unhappy tidings to his master. He arrived in Mantua the following night, and meeting with Romeo, who had not yet received the letter from the priest, he related to him, with tears in his eyes, the death of his young bride, whose burial he himself had witnessed. The hue of death stole over the features of Romeo as he proceeded with the sad story; and, drawing his sword, he was about to stab himself on the spot, had he not been prevented by force. “It is well,” he cried, “but I shall not long survive the lady of my soul, whom I valued more than life! O Juliet, Juliet! it is thy husband who doomed thee to death! I came not, as I promised, to bear thee from thy cruel father, whilst thou, to preserve thy sweet faith unbroken, hast died for me; and shall I, through fear of death, survive alone? No, this shall never be!” Then, throwing a dark cloak which he wore over Pietro’s shoulders, he cried, “Away, away! leave me!” Romeo closed the doors after him, and preferring every other evil to that of life, only considered the best manner of getting rid of it. At last he assumed the dress of a peasant, and taking out a species of poison which he had always carried with him, in case of emergency, he placed it under the sleeve of his coat, and immediately set out on his return to Verona. Journeying on with wild and melancholy thoughts, he now defied his fate, hoping to fall by the hands of justice, or to lay himself down in the vault by the side of her he loved and die.184
In this resolution, on the evening of the following day after her interment, he arrived at Verona without being discovered by any one. The same night, as soon as the city became hushed, he resorted to the convent of the Frati Minori, where the tombs of the Cappelletti lay. The church was situated in the Cittadella, where the monks at that time resided, although, for some reason, they have since left it for the suburb of San Zeno, now called Santo Bernardino, and the Cittadella was formerly, indeed, inhabited by San Francesco himself. Near the outer walls of this place there were then placed a number of large monuments such as we see round many churches, and beneath one of these was the ancient sepulchre of all the Cappelletti, in which the beautiful bride then lay. Romeo approaching near not long after midnight, and possessing great strength, removed the heavy covering by force, and with some wooden stakes which he had brought with him, he propped it up to prevent it from closing again until he wished it; and he then entered the tomb and replaced the covering. The lamp he carried cast a lurid light around, while his eyes wandered in search of the loved object, which, bursting open the living tomb, he quickly found. He beheld the features of the beautiful Juliet now mingled with a heap of lifeless dust and bones, on which a sudden tide of sorrow sprung into his eyes, and amidst bitter sobs he thus spoke: ‘O eyes, which while our loves to Heaven were dear, shone sweetly upon mine! O sweeter mouth, a thousand and a thousand times so fondly kissed by me alone, and rich in honeyed words! O bosom, in which my whole heart lay treasured up, alas! all closed and mute and cold I find ye now! My hapless wife, what hath love done for thee, but led thee hither? And why so soon two wretched lovers perish? I had not looked for this when hope and passion first whispered of other things. But I have lived to witness even this!” and he pressed his lips to her mouth and bosom, mingling his kisses with his tears. “Walls of the dead!” he cried, “why fall ye not around me and crush me into dust? Yet, as death is in the power of all, it is a despicable thing to wish yet fear it too.” Then taking out the poison from under his vest, he thus continued: ‘By what strange fatality am I brought to die in the sepulchre of my enemies, some of whom this hand hath slain? But as it is pleasant to die near those we love, now, my beloved, let me die!” Then seizing the fatal vial, he poured its whole contents into his frame, and catching the fair body of Juliet in his arms in a wild embrace, ‘Still so sweet,” he cried, “dear limbs, mine, only mine! And if yet thy pure spirit live, my Juliet, let it look from its seat of bliss to witness and forgive my cruel death; as I could not delighted live with thee, it is not forbidden me with thee to die;” and winding his arms about her, he awaited his final doom. The hour was now arrived when, the vital powers of the slumbering lady reviving, and subduing the icy coldness of the poison, she would awake. Thus straitly folded in the last embraces of Romeo, she suddenly recovered her senses, and uttering a deep sigh, she cried, “Alas! where am I? in whose arms, whose kisses? Oh, unbind me, wretch that I am! Base friar, is it thus you keep your word to Romeo, thus lead me to his arms?” Great was her husband’s surprise to 185 feel Juliet alive in his embrace. Recalling the idea of Pygmalion, “Do you know me, sweet wife?” he cried. “It is your love, your Romeo, hither come to die with you. I came alone and secretly from Mantua to find your place of rest.” Finding herself within the sepulchre and in the arms of Romeo, Juliet would not at first give credit to her senses; but, springing out of his arms, gazed a moment eagerly on his face, and the next fell on his neck with a torrent of tears and kisses. “O Romeo, Romeo! what madness brings you hither? Were not my letters which I sent you by the friar enough to tell you of my feigned death, and that I should shortly be restored to you?” The wretched youth, aware of the whole calamity, then gave loose to his despair. “Beyond all other griefs that lovers ever bore, Romeo, thy lot has been! My life, my soul, I never had thy letters!” And he told her the piteous tale which he had heard from the lips of her servant, and that, concluding she was dead, he had hastened to keep her company, and had already drunk the deadly draught. At these last words, his unhappy bride, uttering a wild scream, began to beat her breast and tear her hair, and then in a state of distraction she threw herself by the side of Romeo, already lying on the ground, and pouring over him a deluge of tears, imprinted her last kisses on his lips. All pale and trembling, she cried, “Oh, my Romeo! will you die in my sight, and I too the occasion of your death? Must I live even a moment after you? Ah, would that I could give my life for yours! Would that I alone might die!” In a faint and dying tone her husband replied, “If my love and truth were ever dear to you, my Juliet, live, for my sake live; for it is sweet to know that you will then be often thinking of him who now dies for you, with his eyes still fixed on yours.” “Die! yes! you die for the death which in me was only feigned! What, therefore, should I do for this your real, cruel death? I only grieve that I have no means of accompanying you, and hate myself that I must linger on earth till I obtain them. But if shall not be long before the wretch who caused your death shall follow you;” and uttering these words with pain, she swooned away upon his body. On again reviving, she felt she was catching the last breath, which now came thick and fast, from the breast of her husband.
Friar Lorenzo, in the meanwhile, aware of the supposed death and of the interment of Juliet, and knowing that the termination of her slumber was near, proceeded with a faithful companion about an hour before sunrise to the monument. On approaching the place, he heard her sobs and cries, and saw the light of a lamp through an aperture in the sepulchre. Surprised at this, he imagined that Juliet must have secreted the light in the monument, and awaking and finding no one there, had thus began to weep and bewail herself. But on opening the sepulchre with the help of his companions, he beheld the weeping and distracted Juliet holding her dying husband in her arms, on which he immediately said, “What! did you think, my daughter, I should leave you here to die? To which she only answered with another burst of sorrow, “No! away! I only fear lest I should be made to live. Away, and close our sepulchre over our heads; here 186 let me die. Or, in the name of pity, lend me a dagger, that I may strike it into my bosom and escape from my woes. Ah, cruel father! well hast thou fulfilled thy promise, well delivered to Romeo his letters, and wed me, and borne me safely to him! See, he is lying dead in my arms;” and she repeated the fatal tale. Thunderstruck at these words, the friar gazed upon the dying Romeo, exclaiming with horror, “My friend, my Romeo! alas! what chance hath torn thee from us? Thy Juliet calls thee, Romeo, look up and hope. Thou art lying in her beauteous bosom and wilt not speak.” On hearing her loved name, he raised his languid eyes, heavy with death, and fixing them on her for a short space, closed them again. The next moment, turning himself round upon his face in a last struggle, he expired.
Thus wretchedly fell the noble youth, long lamented over by his fair bride, till, on the approach of day, the friar tenderly inquired what she would wish to do. “To be left to die where I am,” was the reply. “Do not, daughter, say this, but come with me; for though I scarcely know in what way to proceed, I can perhaps fine means of obtaining a refuge for you in some monastery, where you may address your prayers to Heaven for your own, and for your husband’s sake.” “I desire you to do nothing for me,” replied Juliet; “except this one thing, which I trust, for the sake of his memory,” pointing to the body of Romeo, “you will do. Never breathe a syllable to any one living of our unhappy death, that our bodies may rest here together for ever in peace. And should our sad loves come to light, I pray you will beseech both our parents to permit our remains to continue mingled together in this sepulchre, as in love and in death we were still one.” Then turning again towards the body of Romeo, whose head she held sustained in her lap, and whose eyes she had just closed, bathing his cold features with her tears, she addressed him as if he had been in life: “What shall I now do, my dear lord, since you have deserted me? What can I do but follow you? for nothing else is left me: death itself shall not keep me from you.” Having said this, and feeling the full weight of her irreparable loss in the death of her noble husband, resolute to die, she drew in her breath, and retaining it for some time, suddenly uttered a loud shriek and fell dead by her lover’s side. The friar, perceiving that she was indeed dead, was seized with such a degree of terror and surprise, that, unable to come to any resolution, he sat down with his companion in the sepulchre bewailing the destiny of the lovers. At this time some of the officers of the police, being in search of a notorious robber, arrived at the spot, and perceiving a light and the sound of voices, they straightway ran to the place, and seizing upon the priests, inquired into their business. Friar Lorenzo, recognising some of these men, was overpowered with shame and fear; but assuming a lofty voice exclaimed, “Back, sirs, I am not the man you take me for. What you are in want of you must search for elsewhere.” Their conductor then came forward, saying, “We wish to be informed why the monument of the Cappelletti is thus violated by night, when a young lady of the family has been so recently interred here. And were I not acquainted with your excellent character, Friar Lorenzo, I should say you had come 187 hither to despoil the dead.” The priests having extinguished the lamp, then replied, “We shall not render an account of our business to you; it is not your affair.” “That is true,” replied the other; “but I must report it to the Prince.” The friar, with a feeling of despair, then cried out, “Say what you please;” and closing up the entrance into the tomb, he went into the church with his companion.
The morning was somewhat advanced when the friars disengaged themselves from the officers, one of whom soon related to the Cappelletti the whole of this strange affair. They, knowing that Friar Lorenzo had been very intimate with Romeo, brought him before the Prince, entreating, that if there were no other means, he might be compelled by torture to confess his reason for opening the sepulchre of the Cappelletti. The Prince having placed him under a strict guard, proceeded to interrogate him wherefore he had visited the tomb of the Cappelletti, as he was resolved to discover the truth. “I will confess everything very freely,” exclaimed the friar. “I was the confessor of the daughter of Messer Antonio, lately deceased in so very strange a manner. I loved her for her worth, and being compelled to be absent at the time of her interment, I went to offer up certain prayers over her remains, which when nine times repeated by my beads, have power to liberate her spirit from the pangs of purgatory. And because few appreciate or understand such matters, the wretches assert that I went there for the purpose of despoiling the body. But I trust I am better known. This poor gown and girdle are enough for me, and I would not take a mite from all the treasures of the earth, much less the shrouds of the departed. They do me great wrong to suspect me of this crime.” The Prince would have been satisfied with this explanation, had it not been for the interference of other monks, who, jealous of the friar, and hearing that he had been found in the monument, examined further, and found the dead body of Romeo, a fact which was immediately made known to the Prince while still speaking to the friar. This appeared incredible to every one present, and excited the utmost amazement through the city. The friar, then aware that it would be in vain further to conceal his knowledge of the affair, fell at the feet of his Excellency, crying, “Pardon, oh pardon, most noble Prince! I have said what is not truth, yet neither for any evil purpose nor for love of gain have I said it, but to preserve my faith entire, which I promised to two deceased and unhappy lovers.” On this the friar was compelled to repeat the whole of the preceding tale. The Prince, moved almost to tears as he listened, set out with a vast train of people to the monument of the family, and having ordered the bodies of the lovers to be placed in the Church of San Francesco, he summoned their fathers and friends to attend. There was now a fresh burst of sorrow springing from a double source. Although the parties had been the bitterest enemies, they embraced one another in tears, and the scene before them suddenly wrought that change in their hearts and feelings which neither the threats of their Prince nor the prayers of their friends had been able to accomplish. Their hatred became extinguished in the mingled blood of their unhappy children. A noble monument was erected to their memory, on which was inscribed the occasion of their 188 death, and their bodies were entombed together with great splendour and solemnity, and wept over no less by their friends and relatives than by the whole afflicted city. Such a fearful close had the loves of Rome and Juliet, such as you have heard, and as it was related to me by Pellegrino da Verona.
But whither art thou now fled, sweet piety and faith in woman? What living instance could we boast of that truth, proved unto death, shown by Juliet to her Romeo? Can it be that her praises shall not soon be sung by the most eloquent and gifted tongues? How many are there, who, in these times, instead of falling by the side of their departed lovers, would have turned their thoughts only to obtaining others? For if I now behold them capable, against every obligation of fidelity and true service, of rejecting those who once were dear to them, when they become oppressed by Fortune, what are we to believe their conduct would be after their death? Unfortunate are the lovers of this age, who can never flatter themselves, either by long devoted service, or by yielding up their very lives, that their ladies will consent to die with them. They are rather, on the other hand, assured that they are no further objects of regard than inasmuch as they devote themselves altogether to the good-will and pleasure of their ladies.