The Episode of the Two Unhappy Lovers

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet sometime in the 1590s, dramatising an Italian story already familiar in Elizabethan England. The original author was the Italian poet Luigi Da Porto (1485 -1529), who wrote the story at his villa near Vicenza. Da Porto’s Istoria novellamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti (‘Newly discovered story of two noble lovers’, 1524) was immediately popular when it was first published, and at least five versions of his book were published in Italy and France over the next thirty years. Da Porto’s novel arrived in England in the 1560s, via translations by Arthur Brooke in 1562 and William Painter in 1567. It is widely accepted that Brooke’s The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet was the primary source used by Shakespeare. In the introduction to his novel, Da Porto dedicates the story to ‘the most beautiful and graceful Lady Lucina Savorgnano’. This dedication reveals both the inspiration behind the now legendary story of the star-crossed lovers, and Da Porto’s own rather poignant and romantic attachment to Lucina herself:
After informing you some days ago that I wished to narrate a touching incident which happened at Verona, and, having heard the same story many times, the writing thereof seemed to be a debt of honour which I owe to you, not only that I should remain faithful to my word, but, being myself very unfortunate in my love affairs, the episode of the two unhappy lovers, of which this novel is full, does in a great measure resemble mine. And I dedicate this story to you all the more willingly, because you are acknowledged among the beautiful, the most beautiful, besides being the most prudent, and in reading it you will clearly perceive what great risks and what rash deeds lovers will commit in the name of love, and in some cases their follies lead them even to death itself. And I address myself all the more willingly to you because I have determined that this venture shall be my last, and after writing this for your sake, my literary work in this kind of art will cease.
And as you are esteemed the harbor of all my worth and every virtue, I pray you to shelter this frail bark of my brain. Although loaded with much ignorance, it has been impelled by love, and having hitherto navigated the less profound seas of poverty, and that she may now on reaching you be placed in more skillful hands and under a brighter star, steer on the same sea and with helm, oars and sails unhampered, achor herself firmly on your hospitable shores. Therefore, my lady, receive it in the spirit in which it was conceived. Peruse it carefully not only for its subject, which in my judgement is a most pitiful one, but also for the close bond of consanguinity and sweet friendship which exists between yourself and the author who now addresses you.
Frontispiece of Giulietta e Romeo (1530)
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