The hero and heroine of William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet are the representative types of “star-crossed” lovers in Western literature, music, dance, and theater. Their noble families, the Montagues and the Capulets, are bitter enemies, which leads the young pair to their tragic fates.
Romeo and Juliet was written about 1594–96 and was published in 1597. Shakespeare’s principal source for the plot was a long narrative poem by the Englishman Arthur Brooke titled The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562). Brooke’s poem was itself based on a French translation of a tale by Matteo Bandello, a 16th-century Italian writer.
Shakespeare set the scene of the tragedy in Verona, Italy. Juliet, a Capulet, and Romeo, a Montague, fall in love at a masked ball. Later, they declare their love when Romeo visits her at her balcony in her family’s home. Because the two noble families are enemies, the couple is married secretly by Friar Laurence. After Tybalt, a Capulet, kills Romeo’s friend Mercutio in a quarrel, Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished to Mantua. Juliet’s father then demands that she marry Count Paris. When Juliet goes to Friar Laurence for advice, he gives her a potion that makes a person appear to be dead. He suggests that she take it and that Romeo rescue her; she agrees. Not knowing about the friar’s scheme, Romeo hears of Juliet’s apparent death and returns to Verona. After killing Count Paris, he finds Juliet in a burial vault. He gives her a last kiss and kills himself with poison. Juliet awakens, sees the dead Romeo, and kills herself. Their families learn what has happened and end their feud.
Romeo and Juliet 2017. Britannica School.
Zeffirelli, Franco: Hussey and Whiting in “Romeo and Juliet” [Image]. Encyclopædia Britannica.
(1564–1616). More than 400 years after they were written, the plays and poems of William Shakespeare are still widely performed, read, and studied—not only in his native England, but also all around the world. His works have been translated into almost every language and have inspired countless adaptations. On the stage, in the movies, and on television, Shakespeare’s plays are watched by vast audiences. People read his plays again and again for pleasure. Shakespeare is often called the English national poet. He is considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time.
Shakespeare’s continued popularity is due to many things. His plays are filled with action, his characters are believable, and his language can be thrilling to hear or read. He is astonishingly clever with words and images. Underlying all this is Shakespeare’s deep insight into humanity—how people of all kinds think, feel, and act. Shakespeare was a writer of great perceptiveness and poetic power. He used these talents to present characters showing the full range of human emotions and conflicts.
While watching a Shakespearean tragedy, the audience may be moved and shaken. Shakespeare sets husband against wife, father against child, and the individual against society. He uncrowns kings, levels the nobleman with the beggar, and questions the gods. Great men fall victim to an unstoppable train of events set in motion by their misjudgments. These plays are complex investigations of character and motive.
William Shakespeare 2017. Britannica School.
Shakespeare, William [Image]. Encyclopædia Britannica.