The true story of “Romeo and Juliet”

it_flag[versione in Italiano]

text Vito Pinto

There is no lover who does not know, touched by it, the story of Romeo and Juliet, made famous by William Shakespeare, and many musicians such as Cajkovskij, Grounod, Bellini, Zandonai, and directors such as Franco Zeffirelli and Renato Castellani showed interest for it. A story that was even represented in comics by Gianni de Luca and Raoul Traverso, because the tale of the two lovers of Verona is the archetype of the perfect love. However if Sir William had not been Shakespeare, he would have reported of plagiarism for his story of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, written between 1594 and 1596 and set in Verona. In fact it seems like that the English playwright had more than just a peek, maybe an indirect one, but definitely not a distracted one, at a book of Tommaso Guardati, better known as “Masuccio Salernitano”(Salernitan Masuccio), author of the famous “Novellino” published posthumously in 1476. Our Masuccio, in fact, in his XXXIII novel tells about the love affair of Mariotto Mignanelli and Giannozza Saraceni, who were in love and got married in secret, they were forced to separate from each other and she had to fake her death to avoid an arranged marriage. A research of some time ago of professor Geremia Paraggio, historian of Salerno, concluded that Masuccio’s characters are not the result of a medieval fantasy, but they are based on a true episode. Professor Paraggio says: “During the second half of the XV century Montecorvino Rovella, a city a few kilometers away from Salerno, was blood-soaked by the violent war which divided the powerful families of Damolidei and D’Arminio. But, like it happened in Shakespeare’s Verona, love, a feeling that has no obstacles, blossomed between the two descendants of the rival families. So Davide D’Arminio and Maria Teresa Damolidei, in order not to give up to their love made of gazes and delicate gestures, did not hesitate to face the anger of the respective families and started to meet at night, helped by the complicity of the her wet nurse”. The chronicles narrate that Father Emanuele D’Arminio, Franciscan friar of the church of Peace in Montecorvino Rovella and far descendant of the D’Arminio family, found among the documents of the family, a notebook from the ‘30s, with no signature, entitled “Deeds and misdeeds of the D’Arminio family”. In those pages there were references to the story of the battles between the D’Arminios from the hamlet Nuvola and the Damolideis from the hamlet Ferrari and references to the love vicissitudes of Davide and Maria Teresa. It is told that at the end of the XV century the two families, because of serious economic interests about possession of lands, were in a ferocious conflict and they continuously did battles, making brutal massacre of the captured prisoners: they were dissected on a big stump of a tree, then their flesh, wrapped in small paper packages, was sold at great cost to the native families otherwise they would throw it to dogs to be eaten. Whenever there was a capture, the crier of the family who made it, used to go to the other’s territory to announce the prisoner’s execution on the day after. That very day was automatically a day of truce and the prisoner’s family could attend the execution. During one of these sad ceremonies, on which the maker of the commemorative stone situated inside the church of S. Maria della Pace explicitly says “I’m horrified while telling”, it happened that Davide D’Arminio, Michele’s son, and Maria Teresa Damolidei, Orlando’s daughter, hit by love at first sight, fell in love with each other and that was the beginning of a long series of late night meetings, also thanks to a corrupt guardian. At this point, we like to imagine that Maria Teresa too, just like the Shakespearian Juliet, waiting anxiously on the balcony of her father’s house, still visible in Montecorvino Rovella, begged her young lover “… doff thy name and that name which is no part of thee, take all myself”. The story instead, did not last long: the betrayal of the guardian, accomplice of the lovers, brought the Damolideis to the capture of Davide. It’s then that Maria Teresa, desperate and aware of the destiny of her beloved, gave herself to the D’Arminio’s family with a grand gesture of love asking them to “do to her what her brothers would have done to her Davide”.
201406-13-1m“Thanks to the mediation of a Franciscan, father Bernardino Denza, whose memory is now recalled in a street of Montecorvino named after him, – professor Paraggio states – the love of the couple triumphed and there was finally peace between the two families”. In order to seal this concord, the friar suggested the construction of a chapel that, thanks to the two families’ generosity, became a temple which is still nowadays testimony of the story and homage to Santa Maria della Pace. Inside of it a commemorative stone says: “Peace was brought here where the sword killed the bodies”. Following this story, the Salernitan Masuccio wrote his novel, setting it, due to prudence, in Siena and naming to the two characters Mariotto Mignanelli and Giannozza Saraceni, who on the contrary did not fulfill their dream with a happy marriage, like it happened to the lovers of Montecorvino, because in the literary dynamics tragedies fascinated the reader more than a happy ending. Before Shakespeare came to know it, Davide and Maria Teresa’s story was effected by other modifications: it was in fact Luigi Da Porto from Venice who profited by Masuccio’s novel, setting it in Verona, even though he has the view around his residence in Montorso Vicentino, naming the characters Romeo and Juliet. Moreover recent studies are inclined to an autobiographical nature of Da Porto’s story, so behind Romeo and Juliet there are the hidden characters of the author himself and his cousin Lucina Savognan, both involved in the battles between Strumieris and Zamberlanis which inflamed the region Friuli in the first years of 1500. Da Porto, however, kept Masuccio’s narrative style. In 1562 the same story was taken by Arthur Brooke entitled “The Tragicall Hystorye of Romeus and Juliet”. Therefore Stratford-apon-Avon is only the last link, even if it’s the luckiest, of a chain of facts, started in Montecorvino Rovella, which could fully claim its role of homeland of the characters now emblem of Love. Romeo and Juliet’s luck is definitely attributed to the English playwright, but a significant part belongs to the director of the Civic Museum of Verona, Antonio Avena, who decided strategically all the places of the story. It was him who decided which one would have been the House of Capuleti, location of the party where the lovers from two rival noble families first met and of the bloosom of their love. It was Avena again who “found” in a former convent of Capuchin friars of the XIII century the family grave of the Capulets, where all Verona goes with Juliet’s coffin, who let everyone believe she died to avoid the marriage arranged by her father, unaware of the one already happened with Romeo. The grave was “built” in 1937 all around a sarcophagus in red marble that was identified long time ago as Juliet’s tomb by tradition and people’s fantasy. Therefore, fake is the house, fake is the grave and most likely the story too, tragically similar to so many other true stories, which is still capable of bringing under the balcony many romantic couples of lovers, sure that they are a bit like Romeo and Juliet. Some time ago professor Paraggio suggested to the administrators of Montecorvino Rovella to plan a twinning with the city of Verona, which was actually interested into this “meeting”. But so far no achievement. It looks like that local administrators, quoting Giusti, “… for these things they are dead and gone”. In conclusion, is it all going to be consigned to a Southern oblivion, with open arms so big to embrace everything that’s addressed to it? Luckily there are still so many people who love to think that Love triumphs every time and everywhere.

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