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Posts Tagged ‘Letters to Juliet’

In college, like any good English major, I took a Shakespeare course – and fortunately, I adored my professor, a witty, wise man with a self-deprecating sense of humor. He took neither himself nor Shakespeare too seriously, which I appreciated. However, I was surprised to hear him declare, during our first class, that he hated Romeo and Juliet.

He claimed it was one of Shakespeare’s worst-written plays, and refused to include it in our class curriculum because (a) he thought the story was lame and (b) most of us had already read it. I hadn’t liked Romeo and Juliet when I read it in high school, so skipping it was fine with me. (Do high school English teachers think reading a doomed love story will somehow calm and caution our raging adolescent hormones?) I was amazed, though, to hear a professor dismiss what’s supposed to be the greatest tragic love story of all time.

Recently I’ve revisited Romeo and Juliet through three adaptations: a movie, a book and a song. And while all three of them recast the story in different ways, making it smarter, funnier and more interesting, one major change is the same: this time, the star-crossed lovers get a happy ending.

Somehow I missed seeing the movie Letters to Juliet when it came out, so I recently watched it on my laptop, standing in the kitchen peeling butternut squash to make soup. I loved the smart, kind circle of women who serve as Juliet’s secretaries, and the spunky main character, Sophie, who insists on helping an elderly English lady find the Italian love she had lost fifty years before. I loved watching the sweet, if predictable, romance between the older folks unfold, and though I thought the ending was cheesy (did he really have to climb the balcony and then fall?), I was glad it ended happily for Sophie, too.

Embedded in the film, near the end, was a song I already loved: “Love Story,” by Taylor Swift. I love the dreamy music video and the wildly happy twist on the story’s ending (“I love you and that’s all I really know”). It’s the way we all wanted Romeo and Juliet to end, right?

A few weeks later I picked up Juliet by Anne Fortier, remembering my friend Amanda’s favorable review. I enjoyed the richly layered story of Julie Jacobs/Giulietta Tolomei, who discovers she’s descended from the real Juliet, and travels to Italy to uncover her history and search for a treasure. As you can probably guess, in the end she finds her own Romeo – and it ends much more happily for them than it did for Shakespeare’s two star-crossed teenagers. (Interspersed with fascinating historical flashbacks, unfortunately minus the happy ending.)

I know some women sigh over a love that made Romeo and Juliet kill themselves rather than live without each other. (At least, supposedly they do – I don’t know any woman who holds this love story up as a model for her own.) But I much prefer these adaptations, with their happy endings – no less hard won, but so much more satisfying.

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