This image shows a bird’s-eye view of the city of Verona, in what is now Northern Italy. It illustrates some of the history, customs and architecture of Verona. In the bottom right, we see the ancient Roman amphitheatre which still survives in the city. On the bottom left, a well-dressed man and woman seem to be engaged in romantic courtship, while in the background, a man with a pen overlooks the town and either writes, or perhaps draws a map.
The view helps us to imagine the context of Romeo and Juliet, but also to imagine how far that story had travelled before it reached Shakespeare.
Where does the view appear?
It is part of an opulent atlas of the world’s cities, the Civitates orbis terrarum, first published in six parts between 1572 and 1617, and printed in this early 17th-century edition (c. 1600–23).
This ambitious collection of 546 engraved views of cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and Mexico was edited by the German Georg Braun and largely engraved by Frans Hogenberg. They relied heavily on first-hand drawings and engravings produced by over a hundred other artists including Joris Hoefnagel.
Shakespeare and Verona
Verona is the setting for the action of both Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet. But rather than choosing the setting himself, Shakespeare took it from his source material. The first known version of the story set in Verona is Luigi da Porto’s Historia novellamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti (1535). This version also features lovers called Romeo and Giulietta. Respectively, they belong to the Montague and Capulet families, who are both powerful enough that the feud between them is seriously affecting civic life in Verona. Via the Italian writer Matteo Bandello, (?1480–1562) the story found its way into William Painter’s Palace of Pleasure (1566–67), Belleforest’s French Histoires tragiques (1559–82) and on to Shakespeare’s direct source, Arthur Brooke’s English poem The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Iuliet (1562).