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So, I have heard a rather amusing, but seemingly apocryphal story (as an answer on game show), that Italians called Benito Mussolini "Juliet", due to his liking of speeches given on balconies.

I tried to figure out whether that was indeed the case, and ran into a bit of an evidence problem:

  • Couldn't find any evidence Googling in English (either none exists, or my Google-fu sucks)

  • Don't speak Italian so can't search in Italian

  • Now, Russian, actually gave a bit of a lead.

    Specifically, I found a bunch of places stating this as hearsay, BUT, also, dug up a single Russian article (just one), with an actual cited source - specifically, a Russian translation of a book "Duce! A biography of Benito Mussolini" by Collier. (New York: Viking. 1971).

    Unfortunately, I don't have access to either original NOR searchable Russian translation, to ascertain the validity of the citation. And more importantly, whether it has a cited primary source.

Thus, my question...

Is there any primary source for Mussolini being called "Juliet" by Italians, because of speeches given on balconies?

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    The original Collier book is available to borrow on the Internet Archive (see page 186) but there's no source given for him being called 'Juliet'. Jan 11, 2023 at 10:07
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    FWIW, the Italian for "Juliet" is "Giuletta". But my Ecosia-fu didn't provide more sources.
    – Evargalo
    Jan 11, 2023 at 10:26
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    I'm from italy, and haven't found any source about that; it is also first time I've heard about this kind of nickname. Don't know if abroad was a common nickname, but not widespread in italy - as far as I know.
    – Dan M
    Jan 11, 2023 at 14:47
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    Compton Mackenzie's 1943 Wind of freedom repeats this quip, on p.33: "Juliet the wags of Rome called Mussolini, because he was for ever appearing on balconies." archive.org/details/dli.ministry.07169/page/33/mode/… Jan 11, 2023 at 14:59
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    @DVK: Google's snippet view confirms the Russian reference: Richard Collier, Duce! A Biography of Benito Mussolini. New York: Viking Press 1971, p. 186: " ... for he had ranted so often now from Palazzo Venezia's balcony that cynical Romans nicknamed him 'Juliet' " No primary source appears to be cited, but snippets cut off at unpredictable places.
    – njuffa
    Jan 12, 2023 at 4:42

2 Answers 2

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The sarcastic comments remarking on Mussolini's predilection for balcony speeches and comparing him to Juliet or Romeo goes back to 1935 or earlier in the English-language press.

The November 11, 1935 Dansville (NY) Breeze contains one article about Mussolini reviewing his Italian army from a balcony, and a "barb" mentioning him in conjunction with Romeo and Juliet's balcony:

The forthcoming film, "Romeo and Juliet," may have to be produced in America, since Il Duce apparently has a monopoly on all Italian balconies.

In the September 3, 1937 Albany (NY) Times Union Arthur "Bugs" Baer wrote:

We pointed out some years ago that no European dictator would allow Juliet out on the balcony in the balcony scene. That's because the pigeon ledge is restricted solely for the use of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini, for the reviewing of troops and the broadgabbing of speeches.

The July 10, 1938 Imperial Valley Press from El Centro, California included a filler item (also published in the July 8, 1938 Schenectady Gazette under the byline of William Ritt) that read as follows:

An old-timer is a fellow who can remember when the word "balcony" brought to mind "Romeo and Juliet" and not Benito Mussolini.

The April 13, 1939 Western News from Libby, Montana contained an announcement of a lecture by Dr. Robert L. Housman, a Russian-born professor who earned the first Ph. D. in journalism in the U.S.:

Tuesday morning, the high school was pleased to hear an address by Dr. Housman, head of the Department of Journalism at the University of Montana. . . . He described the Fascist replic [sic] of this system ruled over by Mussolini, to whom he said, correspondents refer to "Juliet," because he is always on a balcony.

The September 27, 1939 Binghamton (NY) Press said:

As a neutral, Muss did maintain the socalled Silence of Cuneo long enough to make European chancellories wonder whether the cat had his tongue. But he stood it just about so long and then broke forth beautifully at a Fascist old home week celebration where he announced that when he had anything important to say he would tell the world from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia, presumably playing the part of Romeo to Hitler's Juliet.

The November 14, 1939 Buffalo (NY) Courier-Express contained an article by William L. White with the following exchange:

"The Old Man is more popular in Italy today than he ever was."
"What about the story that they now call him Juliet, because he is always singing to them from the balcony?"
"Sure they call him Juliet. The Italians are great kidders. They have to kid even the things they love. I could make a book of Italian stories like that on Mussolini I've heard ever since I first came to the country."

The August 25, 1942 Detroit (Michigan) Evening Times ran a syndicated King Features piece that included a list of jokes, including this one:

If Juliet were to play the balcony scene with Mussolini, where would she stand?

By 1942, Mussolini and his balcony were so entwined that there was even a book titled Balcony Empire, subtitled "Fascist Italy at War." However, the book does not seem to have any references to Shakespeare's Romeo or Juliet.

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  • Professors lecturing in Libby on the rise of fascism? Different times ... Jan 12, 2023 at 16:19
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The Scottish author Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972) is famous for his comic novels (notably, Whiskey Galore in 1947), but, in 1943, published a propaganda work Wind of Freedom: The history of the invasion of Greece by the Axis powers, 1940–1941. On page 33, at the very end of Chapter 2, he wrote

Once upon a time Cleon the Tanner bawled as loud as this from the Bema, and Athens followed his voice along the road to ruin. Juliet the wags of Rome called Mussolini, because he was for ever appearing on balconies. One day, will true Italians fling that greasy bag of wind to the Roman mob surging below: and make of their Juliet a Jezebel.

I have not read this book, and do not know if Mackenzie's comment about the wags of Rome is correct, or even if Mackenzie was in a position to know it was correct, or supposing it true, if the wags in question were Italians or foreigners.

So Wind of Freedom is hardly a reliable primary source for the truth of the "Juliet" story.

But this is an instance of the occurrence of the "Juliet" story, and, possibly the first instance.

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    A modern Italian source claims the nickname originated among the literary crowd frequenting the Caffè Aragno in Rome: " Famoso a Roma il caffè Aragno, dove le più velenose lingue dell’intellighentzia nostrana coniavano battute fulminanti, sottovoce, che non le sentisse l’eventuale spia dell’Ovra, travestita da cameriere. Mussolini fu soprannominato Giulietta, perché stava sempre al balcone, e Diego Calcagno gli affibbiò il motto «sbagliando s’impara». "
    – njuffa
    Jan 12, 2023 at 2:48
  • William Shakespeare wrote in english, and balconies have not been prominently used in english architecture, so the connection balcony-Juliet would naturally spring to mind to an english speaker only. As a spaniard, the first idea that comes attached to "balcony" is 'drunk briton dies in Magaluf after falling from a balcony'. We know who Shakespeare was, certainly, but he's not the almost omnipresent figure that is in English-speacking arts, and I guess it's the same for Italy.
    – Rekesoft
    Jan 12, 2023 at 12:28
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    @kimchilover The excerpt I quoted from the website originally seems to be from Cesare Marchi, Siamo tutti latinisti. Rizzoli, 1986, p. 132. A problem with citing modern Italian works is that they may incorporate material from non-Italian sources, and one cannot tell whether that is the case or not when no specific primary source is cited, as is the case here. BTW and FWIW, the nickname mentioned in the very next sentence made me grin from ear to ear: " Italo Balbo, governatore della Libia, ebbe il titolo di Sciupone l’Africano e anche Duca di Cleptis Magna. "
    – njuffa
    Jan 12, 2023 at 21:39
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    @Rekesoft: Ah, but like many of Shakespeare's plays, the plot of Romeo and Juliet was lifted from Italian folklore. Wikipedia mentions an Italian story entitled Giulietta e Romeo, published by Luigi da Porto in 1531, that contains almost all the elements of the play's plot, specifically including the balcony scene. So an Italian wouldn't have to be familiar with English drama or other foreign literature to know the story. Jan 13, 2023 at 16:59
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_based_on_Romeo_and_Juliet shows Italian film adaptations of the play from 1908 and 1912, which probably wouldn't have been commercially viable unless the story was well-known. I would also guess that, for anyone living in or near Verona (where the play is set), they'd be used to encountering British or American tourists looking for "the balcony". Jan 13, 2023 at 17:06

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