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The Challenges of Romeo and Juliet

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2007

Stanley Wells
Affiliation:
University of Birmingham
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Summary

The story of Romeo and Juliet – one of the great myths of the Western world – first appeared fully formed in an Italian version of 1530, and since then has had a vigorous afterlife, not all of it deriving from Shakespeare. It has been frequently reincarnated and recollected in a multitude of forms and media – prose narratives, verse narratives, drama, opera, orchestral and choral music, ballet, film, television and painting among them. Besides being presented seriously it has been parodied and burlesqued; there are several full-scale nineteenth-century travesties of Shakespeare’s play, and its balcony scene in particular has often formed the basis for comic sketches. Romeo is a type name for an ardent lover, and Juliet’s ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ is often jokily declaimed even by people who have never read or seen the play.

Already when, around 1594, Shakespeare decided to base a play on the story, he was able to consult more than one version. He worked closely from The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, by Arthur Brooke (who, like the hero and heroine of the story, himself died young), first published in 1562 and reprinted in 1587. Brooke had used a moralistic French adaptation, by Pierre Boaistuau, of a story by the Italian Matteo Bandello, and Shakespeare probably also read William Painter's translation of Boaistuau in his Palace of Pleasure, of 1567.

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Shakespeare Survey , pp. 1 - 14
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1996

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