Much ado about Italy

From fair Verona, where we lay our scene, to Mantua, Padua and Rome, Shakespeare was fascinated by this land of romance. Duncan Garwood presents his guide on where to go – without the drama

What's the attraction?

In all likelihood, Shakespeare never set foot in Italy. Yet the country exerted a powerful hold on his imagination and of his 38 plays, 13 are either wholly or partially set on Italian soil: Romeo and Juliet act out their tragic passions in Verona, Shylock demands his pound of flesh in Venice, Julius Caesar conspires and falls in Rome.

This week sees the release of Julian Fellowes' cinematic adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, filmed on location in Lazio, Lombardy and, of course, Verona. But there are plenty more Shakespearean sights and settings to take in throughout Italy, from the beautiful medieval towns of the Veneto to Tuscany, Rome and Sicily.


The most celebrated of Italy's Shakespearean cities lends its name to The Two Gentlemen of Verona and its enchanting medieval streets set the stage for Romeo and Juliet's doomed romance.

Shakespeare's lovers are entirely fictional but still thousands of visitors flock to the 14th-century Casa di Giulietta ("Juliet's House") at Via Cappello 23 to glimpse the play's famous balcony – in fact a 20th-century addition – and to ensure good luck by caressing the right breast of the bronze statue in the courtyard. Admission to the Casa is €6; the courtyard is free.

To stay in theme, Il Sogno di Giulietta (00 39 045 8009932; sognodigiulietta) offers elegant accommodation overlooking the courtyard with doubles from €159 including breakfast.


Mantua, 35km south-west of Verona, is the town to which Romeo is banished after killing Tybalt. And like Verona, it makes a very believable Shakespearean setting with its beautifully preserved medieval centre, grand ducal palaces and grey cobbled piazzas.

Much of the city's splendour dates to its Renaissance heyday as the stronghold of the powerful Gonzaga family. Their main residence, Palazzo Ducale (00 39 0376 224832; on Piazza Sordello, was once one of Europe's largest palaces, and although many of its 500 rooms are now closed to the public, it's still a formidable sight with its elegant courtyards and richly frescoed rooms. Admission €6.50.


A refined and handsome city 25 minutes by train west of Venice, Padua is often overlooked by visitors. But as the setting for The Taming of the Shrew (although Shakespeare mis-locates it in Lombardy: "Tranio, since for the great desire I had / To see fair Padua, nursery of arts, /I am arrived for fruitful Lombardy, /The pleasant garden of great Italy"), it's an essential stop on any Shakespearean tour.

The Bard's choice of Padua owed much to the city's reputation as a cultural and intellectual hub. It had, and still has, a prestigious university – both Galileo and Copernicus studied there – and it's home to one of Italy's great artistic masterpieces, Giotto's fresco cycle in the Cappella degli Scrovegni (00 39 049 2010020; Visits to the chapel at Piazza Eremitani 8 require reservation; admission is €13.


Italy's haunting canal city provides the backdrop to two of Shakespeare's most memorable characters: Othello, the Moor of Venice, and Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in The Merchant of Venice.

In Shakespeare's day, Venice was one of the few European cities where Jews could live and work in relative safety, albeit subject to strict rules. They were confined to a ghetto at night – the first Jewish ghetto ever established in Europe – and they could only do certain jobs, one of which was money-lending. The Museo Ebraico, or Jewish Museum (00 39 041 715359; at Campo del Ghetto Nuovo 2902b explains in more detail. Admission €4. Not far from the Ghetto, the Rialto bridge is one of the few Italian sights that Shakespeare refers to by name: "What news on the Rialto?" in The Merchant of Venice.


Although Verona gets headline billing in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, much of the play's action takes place at the Duke of Milan's court. Throughout the Renaissance, Milan was a powerful duchy ruled by two dynastic families, the Visconti and Sforza. Both left their mark on the city, most dramatically in the form of the Castello Sforzesco (00 39 02 88463700;, a vast castle on Piazza Castello that started life as a Visconti fortress but later served as the Sforza family residence. Today, it houses several museums dedicated to art, archaeology and musical instruments. Admission €7.

Florence and Tuscany

Based on Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron, All's Well That Ends Well is the only play to have scenes set in Florence and Tuscany. But while Shakespeare makes little use of Tuscany's good looks, modern filmmakers regularly feature its celluloid-friendly landscapes. Kenneth Branagh filmed his 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing in a villa near Greve in Chianti, while Michael Hoffman used the hilltop town of Montepulciano as a location for his 1998 Midsummer Night's Dream. In Florence, the friendly Hotel Dalí (00 39 055 2340706; makes a great Tuscan base with doubles from €85 room only.


The Renaissance saw a resurgence of interest in ancient Rome, and Shakespeare based, or partially based, five plays in the Eternal City: Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus and Cymbeline.

Most of these were inspired by real events but, almost inevitably, history and fiction collide in Shakespeare's Rome. So while Mark Antony's famous: "Friends, Romans, countrymen" speech is pure fabrication, the venue for it is not, and you can still see the remnants of the Rostrum where he supposedly stands in the Roman Forum (00 39 06 3996 7700; at Largo della Salara Vecchia. Admission €12. Similarly, Julius Caesar never uttered the immortal words "Et tu, Brute?" but he was assassinated on the Ides of March 44BC on a spot in the present-day Largo di Torre Argentina.


A busy transport hub on Sicily's northeastern coast, Messina is a long way from Stratford-upon-Avon. But there are those who claim that Shakespeare was actually born there and that his real name was Crollalanza. Certainly the playwright knew of the city and he set Much Ado About Nothing there.

Unfortunately, little remains of 16th-century Messina. It was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1908 and few historical buildings have survived.

Shakespeare also set parts of The Winter's Tale in Sicily. No specific city is named but romantics might imagine that King Leontes' palace is in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, perhaps in the Palazzo Reale (00 39 091 626 2833; at Piazza Indipendenza 1. Admission €8.50.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot