Lois Leveen, author of the novel Juliet’s Nurse, talks about the power of the plague in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet

“As Mercutio is dying he says not once, not twice, but three times, ‘A plague on both your houses!’ And that made me think about plague, which first came to Italy in 1348 and killed about 40 percent of the population.

LoisLeveenHeadshot by John Melville Bishop

“When I started the novel I never thought that we would be struggling with something like what’s happening with Ebola now. But certainly there is so much fear about contagion and disease. We understand contagion and infection much better, but in an era where understanding about why some people got sick and others didn’t, why some people died and others got better…

©Globe/Opus Arte

©Globe/Opus Arte

 

“Trying to imagine, not what it was like live through that – because the book is set ten years after that wave – but people are really dealing with what it means to be dealing with that aftermath. Cultural or social post-traumatic stress disorder that everybody in society is dealing with.

JulietsNurseCover

“And trying to think about what it would be like to have to go on in the wake of that when you don’t really have a scientific understanding of what happened, and trying to make sense of the world.”

Read the full interview with Lois Leveen in Shakespeare Magazine 05.

Author Lois Leveen talks about the suffering that underpins the main character of her Shakespeare-inspired novel Juliet’s Nurse

“In some ways, I had to stop looking at what the core theme might be for Shakespeare, because I had to discover what it was for Juliet’s Nurse. There are plot points, and certainly characters, and even lines or riffs on lines, that I pull over from Shakespeare. But it really is ultimately Angelica’s, the Nurse’s, story. In that sense, the theme was really clear from the beginning – that line about having her own daughter who died.

©Globe/Opus Arte

©Globe/Opus Arte

“I remember talking to someone I know, a mother of young children, about the experience of having a child die and the mother said, ‘If that happened to me, I don’t know – I would lay down and die too’.

“And that was not an option for Angelica, or other women and men living who loved their children dearly in those centuries and centuries in which the death of a child was quite common. We shy away from suffering, and think of it as something to be avoided, but suffering is inevitable and survival is not something that happens in opposition to suffering. Survival is something that happens because we learn to assimilate suffering into our lives.

LoisLeveenHeadshot by John Melville Bishop
“So again, on a social level what’s present for the Nurse and for the other characters in the novel, because it’s present in the play, is the question of how do you make sense of suffering and how do you find hope in what seems like devastating loss?

“I wouldn’t say that was Shakespeare’s theme in Romeo and Juliet, but it definitely became my theme in Juliet’s Nurse.”

JulietsNurseCover
Want to find out more about Lois Leveen and Juliet’s Nurse?
Read the full interview with her in the latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine.

Shakespeare rules Verona!

verona_shakespeareThe Arena di Verona Opera Festival is the place to be for opera buffs with a taste for Shakespeare. Running from 20 June to 7 September, the Festival’s highlights include productions of Carmen, Turandot and Madama Butterfly from Franco Zeffirelli, director of the legendary 1968 film of Romeo and Juliet.

Speaking of which, on 23 and 28 August and 6 September Charles Gounod’s opera Roméo et Juliette (Romeo and Juliet) is staged, with the immortal Veronese lovers played by Lana Kos and Vittorio Grigolo.
Tickets from www.arena.it or email biglietteria@arenadiverona.it