One of the more overlooked characters from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is Angelica, the nurse. A prequel rather than a retelling, this version of the tale begins with Nurse’s entry to Ca’ Cappelletto upon the birth of Juliet and ends after the tragic series of deaths featured in the original. Though she is plain spoken, her witticisms are lyrically affecting and her personality entirely fleshed out by the recitation of the events that brought her to the most significant role of her life: Juliet’s Nurse.
With much of the narrative leading up to the well-known events, a refreshing story of a lowly born shepherdess-turned-beekeeper’s wife makes for an intriguing foray into the business of making honey and maintaining a thriving hive. In addition, Nurse’s relationship with her husband, Pietro, offers the central theme of a love to outmatch that of even the famous duo, Romeo and Juliet. In fact, the reader hasn’t the time or, more likely, inclination to form an attachment to Shakespeare’s hero in this account. That role is given over to Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, who enters as an adventurous and kindly boy and becomes like a son to our protagonist.
Along with Nurse, Juliet, Romeo and Tybalt, most of the Bard’s other characters make an appearance, though some brief. The tumult between the ruler of Verona and the rival houses introduces the necessary conflict, and is neatly detailed. My only qualm is the stilted speech from the previously fluid dialog once the story moves into the lines from the play. Even so, this is a wonderfully fun story with unforgettable characters that breathes new life into one of literature’s masterpieces.