What are the differences between Romeo and Juliet and Pyramus and Thisbe?

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The main difference between the plays is that Pyramus and Thisbe’s parents hated each other, but there was no feud.

It is a tale as old as time.  Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl are forbidden to be together.  Shakespeare uses Pyramus and Thisbe ...

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The main difference between the plays is that Pyramus and Thisbe’s parents hated each other, but there was no feud.

It is a tale as old as time.  Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl are forbidden to be together.  Shakespeare uses Pyramus and Thisbe as a play within a play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so he was obviously familiar with it.  There are some similarities to Romeo and Juliet, but also some clear differences.

Pyramus and Thisbe lived next to each other, which is different.  Their parents were feuding, but it does not seem to be one of those town-splitting feuds where everyone is on one side or the other.  Their parents just didn’t like each other and didn’t want their offspring marrying.  In Romeo and Juliet, however, the families just live in the same town and the feud is tearing the town apart.

Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
Profaners of this neighbour-stained steel,--
Will they not hear? What, ho! you men, you beasts,
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins … (Act 1, Scene 1)

The difference is a significant one, because it is really the prince's proclamation that leads to Romeo and Juliet's deaths.

The prince gets fed up with the feud and orders the families to stop killing on pain of death.  This is a difference between the stories, because this doesn’t happen in Pyramus and Thisbe.  It is actually because of this proclamation that Romeo and Juliet die.  Romeo is banished when he kills Tybalt, which leads Juliet to fake her death to avoid marrying Paris.

Pyramus and Thisbe looked at each other and kissed through a wall.  However, it is a misunderstanding that leads to their deaths too.  There is no intentional death-faking.  It is an accident.  Pyramus thinks that Thisbe got mauled by a lion when he sees a lion with her shawl, and Thisbe returns and finds Pyramus has stabbed himself with his sword.  (Romeo drank poison.)  Thisbe then takes the same sword and kills herself.  That part is the same—they both end up dead!

 

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