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MAPPING THE PLAY. Juliet: Immortal Lover, Excellent Pen-Pal

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By Anna Alison Brenner, Artistic Fellow        

For over 70 years, people have sent letters to Verona, Italy asking for the guidance of one of the most well-known lovers in popular culture: Shakespeare’s Juliet. Volunteers have responded to the letters over the years, but by 1972 the volume of mail sent to Verona had become overwhelming, necessitating a more formalized collective of letter-answerers. That’s when, according to Giovanna Tamassia, her father created the Club di Giulietta, a group of 20 Verona natives who volunteer their time to work as “secretaries,” responding to the thousands of letters written to Juliet every year. Today, the Club has become so popular that it even inspired the 2010 film Letters to Juliet, starring Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave.

Tamassia, who now manages the Club, says that one of the best parts of the job is having “the chance to read a lot of stories that come from all corners of the world.” While the majority of letters are sent from the United States, the Club receives mail from all over, from Australia to China to the Netherlands. But regardless of where the letters originate, “the feeling of love is always the same everywhere, as is the need to try to ask for advice or just to receive some words of understanding.” Furthermore, while Juliet is a fictional character—and arguably synonymous with love itself—to letter writers, she is a friend and confidant. After all, as Tamassia explains, “She is trusted as the most courageous and passionate lover of all time.”

After 22 years of responding to the letters, Tamassia has plenty of advice for the lover within us all. “Love always is mystery and it hurts and it makes you happy,” she explains. “Even though there are many happy stories and many beautiful letters about deep feelings, about passion, joy, etc., love is often a struggle! But it is always worth it.” However, she continues, it is important to remember: “First of all, you have to love yourself and love your life. Only in this way you can love someone else; you should leave your heart open and give love a chance.”

Giovanna Tamassia shares some of her favorite letters to Juliet.

  • “One of the most interesting stories came two years ago from South Africa…She was a young journalist from Sweden and came to South Africa to join the anti-apartheid fight. She met her future husband: an older, black ex-prisoner. Everyone was against their relationship…After 20 years, they are married, with children, in free South Africa. She thinks it is almost a dream.”
  • “A lady from Japan sent us her secret diary she used to write before marrying. After marriage, she did not want her husband to read it, but she didn’t want to throw it out, either. Who better than Juliet can treasure it?”
  • “I once received a letter from a prisoner who asked Juliet to write to the woman he was in love with. I did not respond to it. I was not sure about what he did, and I thought maybe she could be worried or afraid of something he did in the past.”

 

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