Romeo and Juliet Summary Sources Theatrical History

Romeo and Juliet Summary Sources and Theatrical History 

Romeo and Juliet Summary Analysis Sources Theatrical History


Written around 1595, Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, is the tragic story of two young people whose love is forbidden because of a feud between their families. It is one of Shakespeare's earliest tragedies and is among his best known plays. To judge from the well-thumbed pages of Romeo and Juliet we can say that the drama was as popular among Oxford undergraduates in the 1600s as it is among young people even today. The reasons are plain to see for its intense love story accompanied with exquisite pathos along with Shakespeare's romantic power made Romeo and Juliet among the best ever written. 

Summary of Romeo and Juliet 

The play is set in the Italian city of Verona, where two noble families, the Montagues and the Capulets, are engaged in a feud. The action begins with some bawdy wordplay that leads to a brawl between the servants of these two families but soon passes into the realm of romantic comedy. Romeo, a member of the Montague family, enters as a love sick young man sighing over the lady Rosaline, who refuses to return his love. His friend Benvolio persuades him to go to a masked ball the Capulets are giving and see the other beauties there. As they approach the party, they meet another friend, Mercutio, who engages Romeo in a witty dialogue about love. Mercutio teases Romeo about his passion for Rosaline, accusing him of falling under the influence of Queen Mab, the fairy who brings dreams into lovers' brains.
Romeo enters the Capulets' house in disguise and meets Juliet, their daughter. The two immediately fall in love, but both recognize the dangers that face them as members of opposing families. When Juliet's cousin Tybalt sees Romeo at the ball, he becomes furious at this intrusion and must be restrained by his uncle from attacking Romeo. After the party ends, Romeo, who can not bear to leave his love, sneaks into the Capulets' garden and stands outside her window. Hidden in the garden he overhears Juliet, standing in her balcony, sighing over her love for him. In one of Shakespeare's most famous scenes, they swear their eternal love to each other. The following day, Friar Lawrence marries then in secret, believing that their marriage may succeed in reconciling the two feuding families. 
Soon afterward, Tybalt finds Romeo in the town square and challenges him to fight. Romeo refuses to duel with a man who is now related to him by marriage, claiming that he has better reason than Tybalt knows to wish him well. Mercutio, outraged at Romeo's behaviour, fights Tybalt instead. When Romeo tries to break up the duel, Mercutio is fatally wounded. Feeling that he must now avenge his friend's death, Romeo kills Tybalt. When the prince of Verona learns what he had happened, he banished Romeo from the city forever.
Mercutio death marks the point at which the play turns from comedy to tragedy. Romeo returns secretly to Juliet, but they have only one night together before he is forced to leave the city. Unaware that their daughter is already married, Juliet's parents order her to wed her suitor Paris. Juliet turns for advice to her old Nurse, who urges her to marry Paris because Romeo is banished. At this moment Juliet matures from a girl into a woman. Quietly rejecting the Nurse's advice, she seeks help from Friar Lawrence. He gives her a portion that will make her seem dead, though she will really be in a temporary deep sleep. Her family, believing she has died, will place her body in the family's tomb. Friar Lawrence plans to send word to Romeo to return to Verona, find Juliet in the tomb and carry her away from the city.
By an unfortunate mischance, however Romeo does not receive Friar Lawrence's letter explaining the plan. Hearing only that Juliet has died, he buys a vial of poison from a down-on-his-luck apothecary and returns to Verona. He finds Paris in the Capulets' tomb, mourning his intended bride, and kills him in an unfortunate skirmish. Romeo then takes the poison and dies beside Juliet before she awakens. Friar Lawrence, hurrying to the tomb, tries to spirit Juliet away, but she refuses to leave. Instead, she chooses to die with her beloved Romeo, stabbing herself with his dagger. The death of the two lovers ends the feud between their families. The heads of the Capulet and Montague households recognize their foolishness at last and clasp hands, pledging to build golden statues of their children as a memorial. But this reconciliation comes at a terrible price: the sacrifice of their two children, cut off in their youth before they had a chance to live out their lives in love and happiness. 

Sources of Romeo and Juliet 

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet around 1595 or 1596, at roughly the same time he was writing A Midsummer Night's Dream and Richard II. These three plays are known as Shakespeare's lyric group because they contain an abundance of rhyming and song like verse. With them, he began to master skills with which he would soon create some of the greatest works in the tragic form, including Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth
Shakespeare's main source for his tragedy was Arthur Brooke's narrative poem The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, written in 1562, but as usual the playwright altered his source considerably. He greatly enlarged the role of Mercutio, barely mentioned in Brooke's poem, and essentially redefined the character of the Nurse, making her warmer and more comical. He also drew on other sources, such as handbooks on dueling that were popular at the time, despite the fact that dueling had been outlawed in England during the reign of King Henry VII. Mercutio's wonderful Queen Mab speech may have been inspired by parts of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene(1590 - 1596) or Thomas Nash's The Terrors of the Night (1594).

Romeo and Juliet Analysis 

In Brooke's poem fate and fortune play a large role in determining the outcome of the story, and Shakespeare's text largely reflects this influence. At several places the characters in Shakespeare's play see themselves as victims of cruel destiny. After killing Tybalt, Romeo cries, "O, I am fortune's fool!" However, critics do not universally regard these characters as the victims of fate. On one hand it is pure chance that Romeo fails to receive the message from Friar Lawrence informing him of the plan. On the other hand, the young couple's own actions have much to do with their tragedy. Their love, as Juliet says, "too rash, too unadvised, too sudden," driving them into a hasty marriage without their parents' permission. As Friar Lawrence warns Romeo before his marriage, "these violent delights have violent ends."
The lovers' ultimate destiny is the result of their own choices. Born into a society in which they can not control their own lives, they feel that the only way they can fulfill their desires is to seek a better world elsewhere. 

Theatrical History of Romeo and Juliet 

Romeo and Juliet seems to have been popular on the stage from the very beginning, when it was performed by Shakespeare's company, the Chamberlain's Men (later called King's Men when James I became their patron). Richard Burbage, the leading actor of the company, probably created the role of Romeo; Master Robert Goffe played Juliet in the first performance, as women did not perform on the public stage at that time. The title pages of the play's earliest Quartos indicate that it was frequently staged, but there is no actual record of a performance before 1642, when all the Elizabethan Theatres were shot down by the Puritans. 
In 1662, after the theatres were allowed to open, William Davenant staged a revival of Romeo and Juliet in London, with Henry Harris as Romeo, Thomas Betterton as Mercutio and Mary Saunderson - probably the first woman to enact the role of Juliet on public stage. In 1700s, David Garrick rewrote the play so that Juliet awakens before Romeo dies, and in a moving dialogue they profess their eternal love before both expire. 
Perhaps the most fascinating and successful production of Romeo and Juliet in  the 1800s was staged by Charlotte Cushman, the noted American actress who herself took the role of Romeo playing opposite her sister Susan as Juliet. Other famous productions included those by Samuel Phelps, who played Mercutio and by another American, Mary Anderson, who played Juliet. 
In the 1920s and 1930s, John Gielgud became justly famous for his portrayal of Romeo very early in his career. In a 1960 production at London's Old Vic Theatre, the Italian director Franco Zeffirelli broke new ground by casting two very young actors (Judi Dench and John Stride) in the leading roles. He also rejected the romanticism of previous productions and designed Verona as a real Italian city inhabited by real Italian families. 
In Zeffirelli's 1968 film version, he again cast young actors in the leading role. Zeffirelli's screenplay cut about 60 percent of Shakespeare's text, perhaps he preferred to show through scenic display what Shakespeare had conveyed through verse imagery. The film was immensely popular. Later a film version of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Baz Lurhmann in 1996, also cut the text heavily. In addition he moved the play's setting from Verona, Italy,  to present day Verona Beach, Florida. Guns replaced swords, the Capulets and Montagues looked more like Mafia families than Renaissance aristocrats, and the prince of Verona became Captain Prince, chief of police in Verona Beach. There is no need to say that Romeo and Juliet as a film was commercially successful and especially popular among young generations after generations. 

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