Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 August 2010
Romeo and Juliet is one of the plays which certainly has a literary history, and a very interesting one. It was first published, in Quarto, in 1597 (Q.I). This edition differs much from the subsequent ones, and probably represents, more or less accurately, the play as originally written by Shakespeare, before the revisions and additions which appear in the next Quarto. On the title-page it is stated that this tragedy has “been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely by the right Honourable the L. of Hunsdon his Seruants.” Lord Hunsdon died while holding the office of Lord Chamberlain, on 22nd July, 1596. It was not until 17th April, 1597, that Lord Hunsdon's successor was appointed Lord Chamberlain. In the interim the Company, whose proper title was “ The Lord Chamberlain's men,” were called simply “ Lord Hunsdon's servants.” It follows that this tragedy must have been played between the dates mentioned above; but that Shakespeare had, at least, commenced it at a much earlier period is tolerably certain. The date of 1591 has been fixed upon, because of the allusion to the earthquake made by the Nurse (i. 3. 23):
“'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years,”
which is supposed to refer to the earthquake of 1580. As Stokes points out, in his Chronological Order of Shakespeare's Plays (p. 21), the Nurse repeats this statement (i. 3. 35):
“And since that time it is eleven years; ”
but I do not think that this point is at all decisive as to the date of the play. It is quite possible that Shakespeare never meant to refer to the earthquake of 1580 at all.