Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
Table of Contents
Important background 2
Shakespeare did not invent the story of Romeo and Juliet. In fact, he didn’t introduce the story into the English language. A poet named Arthur Brooks first brought the story of Romeus and Juliet to an English-speaking audience in a long poem that was also not original; an adaptation of adaptations that stretched across nearly a hundred years and two languages.
Much of Shakespeare’s plot is lifted from Brooks’ poem, including the meeting of Romeo and Juliet at the ball, their secret marriage, Romeo’s fight with Tybalt, the sleeping potion, and the timing of the lover’s suicides. Such use of other stories is characteristic of Shakespeare, who often wrote plays based on earlier works.
Shakespeare’s use of existing material for his plays should not, however, be taken as a lack of originality. Readers should note how Shakespeare crafts his sources in new ways while displaying a remarkable understanding of the literary tradition in which he is working.
Romeo and Juliet is no exception. The play distinguishes itself from its predecessors in several important aspects: its characterization (Shakespeare almost wholly created Mercutio); the intense pace of its action (compressed from nine months into four days); the story’s themes; and Shakespeare’s extraordinary use of language.
Much of the conflict and tension in the play is based on the social context of its setting, and how this context opposes a relationship between Romeo and Juliet – members of opposing, feuding families.
1) In families, the father is the authority figure; Capulet cannot accept Juliet’s refusal to comply with his wishes.
2) The law and those who implement it desire public order; little effort is made to secure a lasting peace be...