Below is the letter I penned for the mayor of Verona, proposing the trip I'm making in May of this year. They responded immediately, which was a testament more to the hard work of Italian filmmaker Anna Lelario and her husband Antonio, who have spent the last year championing my work, culminating in this event.
To the City of Verona,
You may not know me, but I know you very well. I know your history, I know the shape and feel of your streets. I know your ruins, your towers, your bridges, your churches, your palaces, and your princes.
I met you, just as most American children do, through the works of Shakespeare. I always hated Shakespeare. They made me read him. First it was Julius Caesar, then Romeo & Juliet, which was enjoyable only because we watched the Zeffirelli film. That was my first sight of you.
Then, in my senior year in high school, I took an acting-Shakespeare class. As it happened, the teachers had chosen Romeo & Juliet to do that year. I remembered from the film that Mercutio was the best part in the show, and after auditioning against the rest of the class, I landed the part.
It was somewhere in the middle of rehearsals when I fell in love with Shakespeare, discovering he is meant to be spoken, not read. Today I am a Shakespearean actor, something I would never have believed twenty years ago. Shakespeare even introduced me to my wife, whom I met playing Petruchio to her Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. Once again, I was playing a character from Verona.
In 1998, on the eve of directing Romeo & Juliet for the first time, I visited you. It was only for a day, a quick jaunt up from Florence during a five-day trip. It was rainy, and the streets were slick as I rushed from site to site, drinking in the Shakespeare connections without knowing what I was really looking for. I swore I would return.
Back at home, while working on the play, I discovered many things. Including a cause for the famous Capulet-Montague feud, one I’d never heard before. Even when the play was over, the idea wouldn’t let me go.
Thus a book was born.
I started writing The Master Of Verona in the fall of 2000. The original title was Il Veltro, because by then I had discovered the real Verona, the one buried beneath the Shakespeare. For the first time in my life, I read Dante. I studied the letters that Petrarch found in your church libraries. I learned about Ezzelino, Mastino, Alberto, Bartolomeo, Alboino – and Cangrande. Most of all, Cangrande.
My main character was Dante’s son Pietro Alighieri, swept up by Cangrande’s charisma and daring into the wars with Padua, while trapped between two friends who fall out over a woman – young Capulet and Montague. I also created a life for Cangrande’s bastard son Franceschino, turning him into the character Shakespeare called Mercutio. My goal was to blend the real history of Verona with all the tales Shakespeare set there. Petruchio, Kate, Grumio, Valentine, Proteus, Romeo, Juliet, all rubbing shoulders with Castelbarco, Nogarola, Carrara, and Cangrande.
In 2002, on my honeymoon, I returned to Verona. Though we only stayed a week, that visit has shaped me for the last dozen years. With the help of Antonella Leonardo at the Ministry of Culture, I was introduced to the sights, the tastes, and the people of Verona. I dined and wandered the city with Rita Severi of the University, along with her husband Paolo. We toured the Roman ruins, both above and below ground, with Daniella Zumiani. And we visited the estate of Pieralvise Serego Alighieri for coffee and a tour.
I returned to Chicago with a treasure-trove of books and photos and sensations and wonders. My novel changed drastically, and then sold to a publisher. Just before the sale, my wife and I returned to Verona, bringing my parents with us. Then St. Martin’s Press bought the novel, which was published in the summer of 2007.
Since then I have written other books, some set in Rome, one in England. But I am always drawn back to the story of Cangrande, his bastard heir, Pietro di Dante, and the wars with Padua. These tales are told in Voice Of The Falconer and Fortune’s Fool. Just this week, I have finished writing the death of Cangrande for the fourth novel in the series, The Prince’s Doom.
I have loved Verona up close, and from afar. And at last I’m able to share some of that love with the people of Verona.
When filmmaker Anna Lelario contacted me about using my title for her documentary, I had no idea what a lovely partnership was in the offing. It has been a true joy to collaborate with her and her husband Antonio Bulbarelli. Their passion for my work is flattering, especially considering the quality of their own. We plan to release a combined English edition of The Master Of Verona with a DVD of her film on Cangrande’s life, all in an effort to promote Verona beyond the confines of Shakespeare.
Then came the chance I had never dreamed would come. The publisher La Corte Editore purchased the rights to publish an Italian-language version of The Master Of Verona, which will be released later this year.
I would love to be present when both these projects come to fruition. Alas, I’m only an author and an actor, supporting a family through words. Though highly praised, my novels don’t support travel expenses. Even to places I love.
Therefore I am asking for the funds to bring me to Verona once more, to bear witness to the release of both versions of my work, to cement my partnerships and visit my Veronese friends, to perhaps even talk a little about my passion for Verona’s glorious past. And to walk her streets once more.
Thank you for your time, and believe me to be,
Very truly yours,