Shakespeare’s Narrative Sources: Italian Novellas and Their European Dissemination

Anon. Iulia e Pruneo

The novella of Iulia (Giulia) and Pruneo, by anonymous, is extant in six manuscript collections: Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Typ. 24 (digitised here); Yale University, Beinecke Library, MS 412; Bodleian Library (Oxford), MS. Canonici Ital. 39 (which contains only ‘Iulia and Pruneo’ and Boccaccio’s Filostrato); Biblioteca Marciana (Venice), MS Ital. VI, 618 (6351); Biblioteca Capitolare of Verona, MS CCCCLXXI 314; Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale of Florence, MS Magl VI, 169. The version which has been used as the copytext of this transcription is the codex preserved at the Houghton Library, which is written in the hand of the Veronese humanist, scribe, and antiquarian Felice Feliciano (d. 1479). This ascription means that this text already circulated alongside (and, possibly, before) the version of Masuccio Salernitano, whose Novellino was first published in 1476.

The other manuscript collections include altogether different novellas (see e.g. the contents of the Beinecke Library manuscript here). Nevertheless, scholarship has collectively called the four recurring novellas Refugio (or Refrigerio) de’ mixeri (i.e., The Shelter or Relief of the Wretched). We have evidence that, by the end of the fifteenth century, this corpus had been ascribed to Petrarch. In the 1497 edition of Petrarch’s works, edited by the physicians Bernardo Lapini and Niccolò Peranzone, the latter commented that Petrarch had written a book in prose “chiamato el Refrigerio delli miseri el quale recita quattro casi admorosi de digna commemoratione come spero si vederà presto facendolo venire ad luce” (“entitled ‘The Relief of the Wretched’, which relates four amorous incidents worthy of remembrance, which hopefully will be published soon”). While this attribution has been unfailingly considered spurious by contemporary scholars, it certainly boosted the circulation of such texts. (Incidentally, the name Pruneo seems to have been coined by Boccaccio in his Ninfale Fiesolano).

The four novellas of the corpus (‘Iulia and Pruneo’; ‘Hyeronimo and Lucretia’; ‘Antonia and Antonio’; ‘Estore and Camilla’) share a setting in Veneto (Venice, Padua, Montagnana, and Verona, respectively) and all end with the suicide of the lovers. On the other hand, the novella of Ippolito and Lionora, which has a happy ending and is set in Tuscany, shares some traits with Da Porto’s version, especially since it introduces the topic of the two feuding families which is thematised in neither Masuccio nor in the novella of Iulia and Pruneo. Da Porto’s version is closer to Masuccio’s, which contains important narrative segments such as the lover’s banishment and the sleeping potion, which are entirely absent in the novella of Iulia and Pruneo. However, the latter features elements which can be found in Da Porto, but not in Masuccio: the similar names of the main characters, the setting in Veneto (Da Porto’s region), the Count Paris figure, the young woman’s violent suicide, and the young man’s suicide at the tomb of his beloved.



Bumgardner, G. H. 1974. Novelle Cinque: Tales from the Veneto. Barre, MA: Imprint Society.

Cracolici, Stefano. 2007. “All’ombra di Giulietta: Il Refugio de’ mixeri e il giallo dell’acronimo F. P.,” Italica 84 (2/3): 578-94.

Curti, Elisa. 2014. “‘Misere historie’ e ‘pietose novelle’ in area veneta.” In Giovanni Boccaccio: tradizione, interpretazione e fortuna. In ricordo di Vittore Branca, edited by Antonio Ferracin and Matteo Venier, 297-310. Udine: Forum.

Monga, Luigi. 1989. “Romeo and Juliet Revisited: More Novelle from the Italian Renaissance.” Manuscripta 32: 47-53.

Romano, Angelo, ed. 1993. Le storie di Giulietta e Romeo. 2 vols. Roma: Salerno Editrice.

Wilkins, E. H. 1954. “The Tale of Julia and Pruneo.” Harvard Library Bulletin 8: 102-7.