Letters to Juliet: A Project of Love for the Lovelorn
One of my favorite things that has been going around the internet for some time is the EMO person who posted, “What if he’s your Romeo, but you’re not his Juliet?” The lightning-fast response was, “That means you’re his Rosaline and you survive the friggin’ play.”
Despite the reality of what happens to the “star cross’d lovers,” the persistence in thinking of them as the romantic ideal lives on.
Most people, even those who have never read or seen the play, are more likely to conjure up this image, or something close to it, than gruesome deaths:
I didn’t know, however, until I heard a story on NPR’s “Morning Edition” yesterday, that men (mostly, I guess) have been penning letters to Juliet for centuries. Initially, shortly after the play’s performances, people left notes at what was thought to be her tomb. The numbers of letters left became so great that the post office of Verona established a special office to handle the volume.
The remarkable thing about the letters left for Juliet is that she actually answers. Well, understudies for Juliet do. Dozens of volunteers in Verona, who call themselves “The Juliet Club” answer, by hand, each of the 6,000+ letters addressed to Shakespeare’s heroine each year. All of the letters are retained in a massive archive, to which more letters are regularly added.
The job must be tough but many of the volunteers have been at it for ten and twenty years, some even longer. What do they say to these heartbroken people? Here is one of their answers to someone who was driving herself crazy asking, “What if?”
“What” and “If” are two words as non-threatening as words can be. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: What if? What if? What if? I don’t know how your story ended but if what you felt then was true love, then it’s never too late. If it was true then, why wouldn’t it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart. I don’t know what a love like Juliet’s feels like – love to leave loved ones for, love to cross oceans for but I’d like to believe if I ever were to feel it, that I will have the courage to seize it. And, Claire, if you didn’t, I hope one day that you will. All my love, Juliet”
You can read more about the long history of the Juliet Project in Lise Friedman’s study, Letters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare’s Greatest Heroine, the Magical City of Verona, and the Power of Love