Play by William Shakespeare, performed about 1594-95 and first published in a "bad" quarto in 1597. The characters of Romeo and Juliet have been depicted in literature, music, dance, and theatre. The appeal of the young hero and heroine--whose families, the Montagues and Capulet, respectively, are implacable enemies--is such that they have become, in the popular imagination, the representative type of star-crossed lovers.
Shakespeare's principal source for the plot was The Tragically History of Romeos and Juliet (1562), a long narrative poem by the English poet Arthur Broke (d. 1563). Broke had based his poem on a French translation of a tale by the Italian Matteo Bandello (1485-1561).
Shakespeare set the scene in Verona, Italy, during July. Juliet and Romeo meet and fall instantly in love at a masked ball of the Capulet and profess their love when Romeo later visits her at her private balcony in her family's home. Because the two noble families are enemies, the couple is married secretly by Friar Laurence. When Tybalt, a Capulet, kills Romeo's friend Mercutio in a quarrel, Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished to Mantua. Juliet's father insists on her marrying Count Paris, and Juliet goes to consult the friar. He gives her a potion that will make her appear to be dead and proposes that she take it and that Romeo rescue her; she complies. Unaware of the friar's scheme, Romeo returns to Verona on hearing of Juliet's apparent death. He encounters Paris, kills him, and finds Juliet in the burial vault. There he gives her last kiss and kills himself with poison. Juliet awakens, sees the dead Romeo, and kills herself. The families learn what has happened and end their feud.
The most complex of Shakespeare's early plays, Romeo and Juliet is far more than "a play of young love" or "the world's typical love-tragedy." Weaving together a large number of related impressions and judgments, it is as much about hate as love. It tells of a family and its home as well as a feud and a tragic marriage. The public life of Verona and the private lives of the Veronas make up the setting for the love of Juliet and Romeo and provide the background against which their love can be assessed. It is not the deaths of the lovers that conclude the play but the public revelation of what has happened, with the admonitions of the Prince and the reconciliation of the two families.
Shakespeare enriched an already old story by surrounding the guileless mutual passion of Romeo and Juliet with the mature bawdry of the other characters--the Capulet servants Sampson and Gregory open the play with their fantasies of exploits with the Montague women; the tongues of the Nurse and Mercutio are seldom free from sexual matters--but the innocence of the lovers is unimpaired.
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Copyright of Romeo & Juliet Play 2002