Understanding Romeo and Juliet

This Web page has been designed to assist students to:

  • Explore 16th century English society and its theater..
  • Develop perspective on cultural issues of 16th century Europe.
  • Deepen appreciation for Shakespeare’s talent for layering meaning into his plays.

For ease of study, topics have been divided into 4 categories

  1. William Shakespeare
  2. The Origins of Romeo and Juliet
  3. The World of Romeo and Juliet
  4. Romeo and Juliet
    1. Overview
    2. Themes in focus

Note: Some of these categories will naturally overlap.

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

Although it’s been said that no man can write a good book or play without revealing something of himself to the expert reader, few are content to read Shakespeare’s plays and poetry without making an attempt to understand the man who penned them.

William Shakespeare  Shakespeare Online compiles a list of summaries about Shakespeare’s family life, acting, and development as a playwright.  This is an excellent place to start for one who is encountering Shakespeare for the first time.

William Shakespeare Biographical information is coupled with links on this site to help dig deeper into specific areas of Shakespeare’s life.  It includes thoughtful questions for the reader to consider while exploring.  Towards the bottom, there are excellent links for documented references to Shakespeare’s life.

 William Shakespeare A website designed for quick information on the basic facts of Shakespeare’s background.  The timeline is especially helpful.

Introduction to Shakespeare A free Google eBook. Written in 1910, this book offers insight into Shakespeare’s plays by three Yale professors: Henry Noble MacCracken, Frederick Erastus Pierce, and Willard Higley Durham.

Shakespeare Festivals Stage performances of Shakespeare’s plays are ideal for appreciating his work. Throughout the year, performances of Shakespeare’s plays are held.

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Origins of Romeo and Juliet: The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet

The story of Romeo and Juliet was well known to 16th century Europe, and had been told in Italian, French, and English, but the primary source for Shakespeare was Arthur Brooke’s poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet.

The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke  (PDF) Complete document of the 1562 poem that most scholars believe Shakespeare used as he wrote Romeo and Juliet.

The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke Dr. Michael Delahoyde explains selected pieces of Brooke’s poem.  This essay quickly helps a reader spot the similarities between Brooke’s poem and Shakespeare’s play.

Romeus and Romeo  Ryan McKittrick compares Arthur Brooke’s The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Reading the essay deepens a reader’s appreciation for Shakespeare’s talent in creating characters.

The World of Romeo and Juliet

To 21st century eyes, the struggles Romeo and Juliet face from others seem odd. Comprehending the context of the couple’s world and how 16th century people thought and lived will add meaning when reading the play or watching a performance.

Verona, Italy  Information about the history of Verona as a city-state and the families that ruled over it.

Verona, Italy. A slideshow  of modern-day Verona. Photos include Juliet’s balcony, Romeo’s home, and the city walls from which Romeo was banished.

Elizabethan Drama A short essay about staging in Shakespearean theater. It also includes a brief explanation of how actors traditionally contributed to the play during the 16th century.

The Globe Rosalind Tedford, a former liaison between Wake Forest University and the Globe Theater, created a site using her photographs of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Tedford offers a personal glimpse of working with the Theater.

Globe Theater Shakespeare’s Globe official website. It has photographs, history of the Theater, and schedule of current plays and educational events.

16th century Women  A general overview of the role of women in 16th century England.  The information about arranged marriages is helpful for understanding how strong obligations were to the family, instead of to individual preferences.

Roles of 16th century Men and Women  Good overview of 16th century English life with basic information about the roles of men and women in the family.

Elizabethan Era  Information about Elizabethan family life. Offers brief summaries of the roles of wives, husbands, and children.

Role of 16th century Italian Women Overview of attitude towards 16th century women in Italy

Society and Government  Summary of how the government worked in 16th century England.

Society and Civil Disorder  Law professor, David M. Wagner, gives an in-depth analysis as to why he considers Romeo and Juliet a play beyond a love story, and one that aptly addresses civic disorder with a political solution.

Parent and Child Relationships To grasp the depth of Juliet’s conflict and betrayal against her family by secretly marrying Romeo, a reader ought to understand the parent-child relationship in the 16th century. In this essay, Dr. Gila Aloni examines whether maternal love is a modern invention, how infancy was defined in medieval England, and what obligations parents had to their children.

Renaissance References Excellent list of 16th century essays for deeper reading. Topics are divided into a general overview; history, politics and law; economy, trade and exploration; religion and philosophy; science and medicine; and the plague.

Romeo and Juliet Overview

Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare Online edition of Romeo and Juliet with explanatory notes hyperlinked to difficult phrases in the scenes.

Romeo and Juliet SparkNotes’s online edition of the play with study guide.

Romeo and Juliet Pink Monkey’s online edition of the play with study guide.

Romeo and Juliet Absolute Shakespeare’s summary and commentary of the play.

Theme in focus: A Love Story and A Hate Story

Romeo and Juliet is the most famous love story in theater, and probably in literature. It is a grand passion, an exquisitely beautiful tale of profound love. Yet, Romeo and Juliet is also a hate story. One that from the beginning is filled with destruction, violence, hatred, and feuds.

Power and Passion A review of the play focusing on the power and passion of love and hate. Playwright Bill Johnson explores how Shakespeare structured the story and brought it to life.

Love and Hate Video by writer and high school teacher Peter Vilbig. He summarizes the themes of love and hate and the relationships with parents and children in Romeo and Juliet. An excellent resource if one struggles to understand the significance of themes in literature.


Theme in focus: Is it Fate or Freedom?

Whether seen as a story of destiny or ill luck,  Romeo and Juliet forces a reader to choose a viewpoint.

Split Opinions Wikipedia summary of how scholars have a split mind over the idea.

A Story of Fate In “Defying the Stars”, Erin Reynolds explains why fate is the theme of Romeo and Juliet.

A Story of Fate  Amanda Mabillard also thinks that Romeo and Juliet is a story of Fate in her overview of the play.

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