What is the historical and cultural context of "Romeo and Juliet"?

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lhc | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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It would take a great deal of time (and space) to sufficiently analyze the historical, social and cultural context of Shakespeare's vast body of work, but in "Romeo and Juliet" a couple of things are easily identifiable.  The concept of "courtly love" which flourished in English literature during this time is well-entrenched in the story of the young Italian lovers.  In the concept of courtly love, two people fall in love immediately, experiencing great anguish until they are sure that the love is reciprocated, and then at some point, performing extreme deeds to prove their love of this other person.  It is a highly melodramatic endeavor to be involved in, with every emotion portrayed in extremity.  Another characteristic of the society in which Shakespeare wrote was the idea of an arranged marriage, exemplified in "Romeo and Juliet" by the Capulets' wish that their daughter marry Paris, which becomes most inconvenient when Juliet falls in love with Romeo,.  Arranged marriages at this time were the rule rather than the exception, particularly in the upper range of the social classes, enabling Shakespeare to create a lovers' triangle around which to base his play. 

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