Have you got theFacts?
Did you know:
1. Romeo and Juliet was probably written around 1594 or 1595. In 1916, a silent film version of the play was made. In 1936, an early sound version first appeared. A more recent film, which presented the story as an historical re-creation, appeared in 1968, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. The most recent film production of Romeo and Juliet was made in 1996, directed by Baz Luhrmann, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and this interpreted the story a gangster film, set in modern-day Los Angeles.
2. Shakespeare did not invent the story of Romeo and Juliet. He probably heard it via a poem: Romeus and Juliet (1562) written by a poet called Arthur Brooks. It was ‘a long and plodding poem’, but ‘many of the details of Shakespeare’s plot are lifted directly from Brooks’s poem, including the meeting at the ball, the secret marriage, Romeo’s fight with Tybalt, the sleeping potion, and the lovers’ eventual suicides.’ Such taking from other stories is typical of Shakespeare, who often wrote plays based on well-known stories. But Shakespeare made it more exciting by adding the character of Mercutio, and by fitting the story into four frantic days. Shakespeare may also have known of the Italian version Giulietta e Romeo (1530) by Luigi da Porto who set the tale of Romeo and Juliet in Verona in Italy.
3. The play is set in Verona – in Renaissance Italy - considered the height of fashion in Elizabethan England.
4. Shakespeare wrote in a period called ‘The Renaissance’ (the word means ‘rebirth’), a time when art and literature flourished. Renaissance writers tried to recreate the glories of the Greeks and Romans; in particular, they thought deeply about human nature, and things like love and honour – and this comes out in Romeo and Juliet.
5. Juliet and Paris – in Shakespeare’s time, the father DID have the right to decide whom his daughter married – marriage was a business agreement, and one of the reasons Capulet is so keen to marry Juliet off to Paris is because it represents a sound business investment. Girls were married off very young.
6. Romeo and Juliet is the first play about romantic love, and contains the first romantic stage kiss.
7. Astrology was an integral part of English society – every noble family in Italy had horoscopes drawn for their children upon birth, and most governments employed astrologers to advise them. Many people believed that the stars dictated the outcome of your life. The power of the stars in determining the Fate of the characters can be found many times in Romeo and Juliet.
8. The feud: Life in Elizabethan England was very violent, and feuds were happening all the time. Some historians try to guess which particular feud that Shakespeare was talking about – one between the Danvers and Long families of England was well-known in Shakespeare’s time – but Shakespeare probably simply took the feud from Luigi da Porto, who called the rival families Montecchi and Capuleti – actual feuding families of thirteenth century Verona.
9. The 'plague' which Mercutio wishes upon the two families with his dying breath, and which eventually stops Friar John from delivering the letter to Romeo, was probably the bubonic plague – in the days before antibiotics, there were many ‘plagues’ (epidemics). Bubonic plague broke out in England in 1563 and 1578, and there was a bad epidemic in 1593 which killed 5% of the people of London. Shakespeare lost 3 sisters, and brother and his only son, Hamnet (who died when he was just eleven years old) to the plague.
10. Duels and street-fights were common too – calling someone a liar, or a coward … or just taking his place in a queue, could lead to a fight. Mercutio’s sudden rage at the word ‘consortest’ was typical of Shakespeare’s times. Duels were illegal – which explains the prince’s anger at Romeo.
11. Many Tudor people used ‘oaths’ to empower their words (the word ‘zounds’ comes from the Tudor phrase ‘by God’s wounds…’). When he says: ‘By my head’ Benvolio means ‘on my life…’. When he says ‘By my heel’, Mercutio is swearing to crush Tybalt under his heel.
12. Minstrels were common, but they though to be little better than thieves and beggars – this is why Mercutio is outraged when he says: ‘Dost thou make us minstrels?’
13. Apothecaries – people in those days before proper medicines believed in all kinds of magic potions and cures, and would have totally believed that an apothecary, or a priest who studied plants, could have made potions such as Juliet and Romeo took.
14. Tudor theatre audiences were vulgar and rude, and they would have cheered Mercutio’s rude sexual innuendos.