O Juliet by Robin Maxwell is a great retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story—with a twist. Robin Maxwell sets the story in Florence in the early Renaissance, instead of Verona, and she makes the lovers older than they are in Shakespeare’s play: Juliet is 18 instead of 14, and Romeo is 25. Juliet is an aspiring poet who dreams of a great love, but her father, a silk merchant, wants to marry her off to his new business partner, the nasty Jacopo Strozzi. Her best friend Lucrezia is marrying into the ruling Medici family, and at the engagement party Juliet meets Romeo, who has come to make peace between their feuding families. The two are powerfully attracted to each other and discover they share a love for the poetry of Dante. For a while, Romeo, with the help of the city’s ruler, Cosimo de Medici, does manage to bring about peace between the families and it looks like the two lovers may be allowed to marry after all, but then then Jacopo destroys the peace and plots his revenge on the lovers.
Maxwell’s novel provides an interesting twist on a beloved classic, and her use of Dante’s poetry is an excellent addition to the story. Juliet’s friend, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, was a real person. She became a great poet herself, and was the matriarch of the Medici dynasty which ruled Renaissance Florence. If you’re interested in reading more about her, I recommend The Deadly Sisterhood by Leonie Frieda, a biography of eight powerful women of the Italian Renaissance, including Lucrezia.
O Juliet can be checked out from the Shapiro Undergraduate Library Browsing Collection.
The Deadly Sisterhood can be checked out from the Graduate Library.