Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen

Find in catalogIn “Juliet’s Nurse,” Portland author Lois Leveen, showcases her knowledge both of literature and history in a retelling of the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, from the perspective of Juliet’s nurse.  She’s clearly studied every line of dialogue in the play as well as historical Verona, including the plague, the class system, the role of the church, and even medieval bee keeping.

Romeo and Juliet is probably Shakespeare’s most famous play, assigned to countless high-school and college classes for generations.  It takes place over five short days in which civil unrest and feuding lead to the tragic deaths of the star-crossed lovers.  In the play, the secondary character of the nurse provides a humorous, lower class, earthy contrast to Juliet’s idealized view of love.

In her novel, Leveen has carefully constructed a plausible back-story to the familiar Shakespearian events, and has grounded it in a meticulously researched historical context.  The tale is told in two parts, the first from Juliet’s birth until she is weaned; the second part takes place twelve years later and covers the events of the play.  It’s fun to overhear bits of familiar dialogue from this unaccustomed angle.

I found Leveen’s novel to be simultaneously fascinating and a little boring.  With the story told entirely from the nurse’s first person point of view, the narrative suffers from being limited to the narrow confines of sex, education, and class.  It made me ponder not only gender, but also elements of the writer’s craft, such as the magic of changing point of view. – Connie Bennett, Library Director

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