The Lives and Deaths of Shakespeare’s First Tragic Heroine

Kirsten Tambling at Literary Review:

In 1611, the Somerset-born traveller Thomas Coryat described an Italian architectural novelty: a ‘very pleasant little tarrasse, that jutteth or butteth out from the maine building: the edge whereof is decked with many pretty little turned pillers … to leane over’. England’s introduction to the balcony came over a decade after the first performance of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. When it was staged in the summer of 1596, just before London’s playhouses were closed owing to a resurgence of plague, the exchange now universally known as the ‘balcony scene’ was probably transacted at a window opening onto the backstage ‘tiring house’ of the Shoreditch Theatre. The popular image of Juliet as a bright-eyed teenager in white muslin leaning over a balustrade only began to form a century and a half later, when a balcony first appeared as part of the stage set. By the late 1930s, the museum director Antonio Avena had improvised a ‘tarrasse’ from a marble sarcophagus and retrofitted it to the walls of Via Cappello 23 – putative home of the ‘historical’ Capulets in Verona. Visitors now pose on ‘Juliet’s balcony’ as part of an international pilgrimage that also includes visiting a bronze statue of Shakespeare’s heroine and rubbing her right breast for luck.

more here.