In what time period is Romeo and Juliet set? When was it written?

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Romeo and Juliet is thought to have been written by William Shakespeare some time between the years of 1594 and 1596. An unauthorized quarto was first published in 1597, with the authorized quarto not appearing until two years later in 1599. Shakespeare relied primarily on the plot of "The Tragicall...

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Romeo and Juliet is thought to have been written by William Shakespeare some time between the years of 1594 and 1596. An unauthorized quarto was first published in 1597, with the authorized quarto not appearing until two years later in 1599. Shakespeare relied primarily on the plot of "The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet," a narrative poem written by Arthur Brooke in 1562, who had, in turn, taken his inspiration from a French translation of an Italian story by Matteo Bandello. Furthermore, it can safely be assumed that the play was first performed by 1597; however, there are no surviving records of performances pre-dating 1660 that exist. 

The answer to what time period Romeo and Juliet is set in is a bit more complicated. Scholars do not know for certain when the story is supposed to take place, but the standard assumption seems to be that it is set at some point in the fourteenth century (the 1300s).

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Well, we don't really know for certain when "Romeo and Juliet" is set, or when it was written either. Scholars currently think that the play might plausibly be dated to 1595. We know too that it can't be any later than 1596, or any earlier than 1591. 

There's nothing in the play that would plausibly date it as a medieval play, any more than a play set in the 1300s and 1400s. The feasts, the weapons, the street brawls, the tomb - all are perfectly plausible as a "modern dress" play for Shakespeare: though, of course, one set in Verona, a hugely fashionable city which, although most Elizabethans would never have visited, was the subject of some fascination.

Shakespeare based his play on a poem by Arthur Brooke, and another (Italian) version of the same story by Luigi da Porto. da Porto sets the plot in modern day Verona - 1530, when he wrote the poem. I think the only real assumption that we can make about the play's setting is that Shakespeare's actors (as the evidence suggests they did) would have played it in the modern dress of the day.

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Although “Romeo and Juliet” was written in the late 1500’s it does not take place during that time period.  The play takes place in the 1300s which explains a few of the situations that would not make sense in our time, nor would they have even made much sense in Shakespeare’s time.  For example, the character of Paris who wishes to marry Juliet would have been in his 30s while Juliet is only 13 years old.  This would have been accepted in the 1300s and not looked down upon like it would be in this day and age.

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That Romeo and Juliet is set in Renaissance Verona should come as no surprise. The Elizabethans were both fascinated and repelled by Italy in equal measure, seeing it as a rather colorful, exotic place full of strange customs and traditions. Italy was also a devoutly Catholic country, which to the fiercely Protestant Elizabethans explained its penchant for tyranny, both spiritual and temporal. But above all, Italians were believed to be a very passionate people, and this naturally attracted Shakespeare and other Elizabethan playwrights, who exploited this perceived national character trait to create enduring works of drama.

The love that Romeo and Juliet share is not just intense, it's also deeply subversive of the existing social order. The star-cross'd lovers are knowingly defying their parents, who, as is customary, reserve the right to decide their children's future marriage partners. Such an attack on established custom cannot take place on English soil, as this would be much too close to home. Throughout his works, Shakespeare showed himself alive to the dangers of undermining traditional authority in his native country. So what better place to set such a tale of all-consuming, socially-subversive love and desire than a land where the Elizabethans expected this sort of thing to happen.

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William Shakespeare's most famous play, Romeo and Juliet, is set in Renaissance Italy. Shakespeare was writing during the Elizabethan (or Tudor) period, which is contemporary to the Italian Renaissance. English culture of the time did bear some influence from the intellectual and artistic shifts of the mainland, and Shakespeare had likely read about Italian life or possibly even visited. Shakespeare does not mention a particular year for the setting of his play, but based on context clues, we can assume it to have been set around the time of his writing. For example, noble families played a large part in the development of the Renaissance. These families were wealthy enough that they could sway government and commission buildings or works of art to further their social standing. Of course, rivalries sprung up and often lasted for many generations. The feud between the Montagues and Capulets fits perfectly into the culture of Renaissance Italy.

 

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