Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Review of Great Literature

Edited by Adolph Caso

Dante University of America Foundation

Calling all literary readers and writers! This is a must-read for you! Romeo and Juliet, as edited by Adolph Caso and published by the Dante University of America Foundation.

This is not a text; no, it is so much more. Personally, I found it a most rewarding adventure into my favorite activity-reading! Long before we had copyright laws that constrain creativity rather than elicit it, the storytellers of the times were able to hear a tale of wonder, enjoy it, explore it and then regurgitate it into an even greater masterpiece or, sometimes, into a moving poem, an artistic rendition of the story, or even a musical!

All of us have picked up a book and upon reading the first few pages may think that they have read it already-the theme is similar-but then the book takes off into an entirely different tale.  Here, however, Adolph Caso brings to his readers what I have come to think of as "the evolution of the Romeo and Juliet story."

Caso has brought together the works of Masuccio Salernitano, Luigi DaPorto, Matteo Bandello, all Italian writers, inasmuch as the story originated in Italy--and William Shakespeare. You see, Shakespeare did not create and write Romeo and Juliet! Did you know that? 

According to the Introduction, written by the editor, "a variant on the theme of Romeo and Juliet can be traced to the literatures of Greece and Rome, it received a unique and modern rendition with Masuccio Salernitan's thirty-third short story... It was amplified and modernized by Luigi DaPorto... given its definitive form by Matteo Bandello," and "immortalized by Shakespeare with his great masterpiece." (p. 7)

So what this book provides is the ability to study the same story, by four different authors.  Personally, I prefer the story written by Matteo Bandello.  By the way, Maurice Jonas translated the stories. I felt that Bandello's story probably more closely followed the actual story (Was this ever based upon a true story? I don't know).

The main thrust of the storyline is that while two families were feuding, a young girl of one family and a young man of the other family met purely by accident and fall in love!

All of the Italian versions place Juliet's age at 18, while Shakespeare moved the age to a much younger one.  All of the Italian versions indicate that Romeo and Juliet are both dead at the end, while Shakespeare's rendition also includes that the man to whom Juliet was to be married, as arranged by her father, was also dead.

The style of poetic writing by Shakespeare is, of course, completely different from all of the others, and, indeed, is expansive in telling the story. It includes beautifully written passages that most of us have heard at one time or another:

          But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

          It is the east and Juliet is the sun!...

As well as,

          O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?... (pps. 121-122)

This change in writing style by Shakespeare is exactly why I feel the book is a must-read for literary readers and writers.  For it is in the reading, study and digestion of the evolved Romeo and Juliet that we may see and understand all that this beautiful story has to tell us.

Indeed, for those unfamiliar with the works of Shakespeare, this is a wonderful way by which you can begin--for the earlier versions ensure that you are totally familiar with the storyline before you begin the story as written by William Shakespeare.

I highly recommend Romeo and Juliet, not only as a wonderful novel, but also as a wonderful study in the writing and evolution of great literature.