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History Buff is a site
for history lovers everywhere. It is also a site very interested in women
of the past. Although I (sadly) no longer have time to continue these interviews, here is an archive of Q&As about women's lives
in history. And please feel free to stop by History Buff's
sister site for archaeological discoveries making news today. Enjoy!
historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the
past as it's unearthed and reimagined and brought to life. I spend a
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Sunday, September 9, 2007
Q&A With Historical Fiction Author David Blixt
* Your debut novel, THE MASTER OF VERONA, can be considered a prelude to Romeo and Juliet. As a Shakespearean actor, you must be quite familiar with most of Shakespeare's plays, so what made you choose to write a book exploring the reason behind the feud between the Montagues and Capulets?
R&J was my first Shakespeare show, way back in high school, and the one I’ve done most often since (at present I think it stands fourteen or fifteen productions, in almost every male role). But when I first sat down to direct it and started studying the script, I came across a line I’d never paid attention to. At the end of the show, after everybody has died, Lord Montague has this out-of-the-blue line relating how his wife is dead as well. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it – Lady Montague has three lines in the play, all in Act I Scene i. Here we are, we’ve just seen Romeo drink poison and Juliet stab herself – why do we care if some lady we don’t even remember has died?
I broke it down. Okay, dramatic structure says that an off-stage death is symbolic – death symbolizes an ending – the only thing that has closure is the feud, when Capulet and Montague shake hands. Stringing those thoughts together, it meant that Lady Montague’s death was symbolic of the end of the feud. Well, that didn’t make any sense. Unless – unless she were the cause of the feud in the first place! Betrothed to Capulet, she ran off with Montague instead. A feud that ends in love began in love! That was the initial inspiration for the novel. A single line from Shakespeare.
* How much of THE MASTER OF VERONA is based on fact and how much is fiction? I used as much fact as I could find – the battles, the politics, the poetry, the people – then interwove Shakespeare’s Italian characters, making them featured players as well. Once or twice I was able to merge real people with the Shakespeare characters – the Prince in the R&J is named Escalus, a Latinized version of Scala, the ruling family of Verona. So in essence I’ve set Shakespeare and his sources dancing between the raindrops of history.
In picking a time and place for the origin of the feud, I’m in good company. Dante himself mentions the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues in his Divine Comedy – he even calls them to task for it by name! Still, the one aspect of the book I’ll take the most heat for is Dante’s son, Pietro Alaghieri. He was a real person – his descendants still live on the vineyard he bought just outside Verona – but not much is known about his early life. I made him my hero, and made him take a fictional part in historic events. My only defense is that Shakespeare and Dante both would have done it, as they loved a good story.
* Tell us something surprising about women in 14th century Italy.
In another strangely Shakespeare twist, it’s amazing just how often women donned armor and led their husbands’ troops into the field. Most often it was when their spouses were held for ransom, or else had been killed without an heir of age. The local lord would demand soldiers, and in response the more daring women led those soldiers themselves. It reminds me of all the cross-dressing women of Shakespeare – Viola, Rosalind, Portia. So I have a nod to that, too, in the novel.
* Romeo's mother, Lady Montague, plays a major role in your book. In what way, if any, does she reflect the typical Italian woman of her class in 1300s Verona?
“Of her class” is a very important caveat. Because, raised to the nobility, she has fallen for the upper-class fad of “courtly love” that swept the 13th and 14th centuries. Poetry and music extolled the virtues of the noble love-from-afar. The French stories of King Arthur were all the rage, with Guenivere and Lancelot being the ideal of True Love. Romeo’s mother is completely convinced that Love cannot exist without suffering – something she, of course, passes to her son.