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Background Info

Author Bio

Full Name: William Shakespeare

Date of Birth: 1564

Place of Birth: Stratford-upon-Avon, England

Date of Death: 1616

Brief Life Story: Shakespeare's father was a glove-maker, and Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, but left his family behind around 1590 and moved to London, where he became an actor and playwright. He was an immediate success: Shakespeare soon became the most popular playwright of the day as well as a part-owner of the Globe Theater. His theater troupe was adopted by King James as the King's Men in 1603. Shakespeare retired as a rich and prominent man to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and died three years later.

Key Facts

Full Title: The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

Genre: Tragic drama

Setting: The Italian cities of Verona and Mantua during the Renaissance (around the fourteenth century).

Climax: Romeo and Juliet's double suicide in the Capulet tomb.

Protagonists: Romeo and Juliet

Antagonists: There are many antagonists to Romeo and Juliet's love. The most important include the feud between the Capulets and Montagues; Tybalt; the Prince, citizens, and laws, of Verona; and fate.

Historical and Literary Context

When Written: early to mid 1590s

Where Written: England

When Published: 1597

Literary Period: The Renaissance (1500-1660)

Related Literary Works: As with many other of his plays, Shakespeare adapted his version of Romeo and Juliet from earlier sources. Shakespeare's most direct source was an English narrative poem published in 1562 by Arthur Brooke, which was itself a based on a French version of an Italian story. Shakespeare's play and Brooke's poem share many similarities of plot, including how Romeo and Juliet met and died. However, while the plots are similar, Brooke's version is generally considered to be plodding, while Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is one of the most exciting plays ever written. Shakespeare transformed the story in a variety of ways. Three of the most important include cramming a plot that in Brooke's poem took nine months to unfold into just four frenetic days, having Tybalt kill Mercutio, and having Romeo and Juliet's wedding day occur on the same day that Romeo is banished. But just as important in creating the ecstatic intensity of Romeo and Juliet is the unparalleled power of Shakespeare's language. In addition to its similarity to earlier versions of the Romeo and Juliet story, Shakespeare's play is also similar to the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, which was best told by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses. Shakespeare was not only aware of the similarity between the stories of Romeo and Juliet and Pyramus and Thisbe, he explicitly references Pyramus and Thisbe within Romeo and Juliet.

Historical Context: Unlike many of Shakespeare's other plays, Romeo and Juliet does not contain any real overt or even hidden references to the day and age in which Shakespeare lived.

Extra Credit

Shakespeare or Not? There are some who believe Shakespeare wasn't educated enough to write the plays attributed to him. The most common anti-Shakespeare theory is that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and used Shakespeare as a front man because aristocrats were not supposed to write plays. Yet the evidence supporting Shakespeare's authorship far outweighs any evidence against. So until further notice, Shakespeare is still the most influential writer in the English language.