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Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is not based on a real story, but it is not original to Shakespeare either. An important source is the Roman writer Ovid's Metamorphosis. One of the stories in Ovid's work is Pyramus and Thisbe, about two Babylonian lovers. Their love is forbidden due to a family feud, and both the lovers end up committing suicide over a mix-up. Much closer in time was a sixteenth century poem called The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Iuliet and William Painter's The Palace of Pleasure, a collection of stories including one about Romeo and Juliet.

While the play is based on a fictional tale, it is plausible that there is some factual foundation for the story. At a time when families exercised much more control over marriages, it is likely that two young people in love would have been thwarted by two families in conflict with each other. But we don't know of such a story, only of fictive accounts.

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There isn't much liklihood that Romeo and Juliet is a true story, however: "The plot of Romeo and Juliet was taken from an earlier version of the story. The theme appeared in the fourth century in a Greek tale and later in the sixteenth century as Luigi da Porto’s Hystoria di due nobili Amanti. In the later version, the city is Verona, and da Porto was the first to call the hero and heroine Romeo and Giulietta. Probably Shakespeare’s most direct source was a long English narrative poem written in 1562 by Arthur Brooke, called The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet."

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Romeo and Juliet may be distantly based on a real story—Shakespeare worked from older accounts—but should be considered fiction because of all the specific ways Shakespeare has shaped the story.

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