Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare lifted his plot from Luigi da Porto’s 1530 Italian novella Giulietta e Romeo. The bard’s main source was a 1562 English verse translation of this text by Arthur Brooke titled The Tragical History of Romeus & Juliet.
|Title page of Arthur Brooke’s poem, Romeus and Juliet.|
According to citations, Romeo Monteveccio and Juliet Cappelleto were married in Citadela, Italy on March 11, 1302. This real life wedding may have had an influence on Shakespeare’s sources.
Written sometime between 1591 and 1595, Romeo and Juliet was first published in a quarto version in 1597. The First Quarto states that “it hath been often (and with great applause) plaid publiquely”, setting the first performance before its 1597 publication.
Shakespeare did not include a balcony in Romeo and Juliet, instead writing that Juliet was wooed by Romeo at a window. (There were no balconies in Elizabethan England.) The ‘balcony scene’ was the brainchild of a playwright called Thomas Otway (1652–85), who rearranged the play. His version, The History And Fall Of Caius Marius, was far more popular than Romeo And Juliet in his era.
|An 1870 oil painting by Ford Madox Brown depicting the play’s famous balcony scene|
Shakespeare popularized the idiom “Wild Goose Chase” in Romeo and Juliet. The phrase features in a scene where Mercutio expresses his inability to understand and keep up with Romeo’s mind, saying, “Nay, if thy wits run the wild goose chase, I have done.”
In Shakespeare’s day, female roles were played by teenage boys, as women and young girls were not allowed on the stage. By the 1660s, however, the laws in England had changed, allowing females to act professionally. English actress Mary Saunderson (1637- 1712) was the first female actress to portray Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.
The first version of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral fantasy Romeo and Juliet received its première performance on March 16, 1870. It was the Russian pianist, conductorand composer Mily Balakiev who suggested he wrote a work based on Shakespeare’s tale about the tragic lovers and the piece was several times re-written to meet Balakiev’s criticisms.
The great French actress Sarah Bernhardt played the young Juliet in several productions of the play. She was a mere 70 years old the last time she took on this role.
The Italian city of Verona, where Shakespeare’s lovers Romeo and Juliet lived, receives about 1,000 letters addressed to Juliet every Valentine’s Day.