In it’s approximate 500 year history, Romeo and Juliet has been seen and read the world over countless number of times. From Hollywood to live theater to English classrooms, most of us know something of the play.
One of the more prominent characters is Juliet’s nurse. Middle aged and Rubin-esque, she is both comic relief and mother figure to the play’s leading lady. We know nothing of her background, of her family, what her life was like before she took on the task of nursing Juliet or what her life was like after the death of her charge.
Lois Leveen’s new novel, Juliet’s Nurse, answers these questions in a way that is compelling, dramatic and hooks the reader from the beginning.
The nurse’s name, the reader will learn early on is Angelica. Angelica and her husband, Pietro had several children before they were lost to the plague. Their sorrow first turns to joy and then back to sorrow as their newborn daughter dies within a day of coming into the world. In another part of Verona on the same day, Lady Cappelletto has given birth to a baby girl, Juliet. Angelica is commissioned to be the child’s wet nurse.
Lady Cappelletto is an emotionally distant teenage mother forced into a loveless marriage to her much older husband. While Lord Cappelletto adores his daughter, he is also a man of his station who still wishes for a son to one day inherit. It is up to Angelica to provide the emotional and physical nourishment to Juliet and Tybalt, her employer’s rowdy nephew. While taking care of the children, Angelica must also get around the rules that state that she must have limited contact with her husband.
What I enjoyed about this novel was that Ms. Leveen fleshed out the lives and stories of the characters that are normally bound to the context of the play. I appreciated the fact that Angelica comes from a working class background. The voices of those who resided in the lower levels of society within this period are normally not heard.
I recommend this book.