In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, what is the significance of the full title and explain its meaning?
Thomas Creede published Wiliam Shakespeare's tragedy in 1597 under the title The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedie, Romeo and Juliet. The plot of this play was not new, having first been written in 1554 in Italian by Bandell under the title "The Tragical Historye of Romeus and Juliet." A man named Arthur Broke translated it into English around 1562. In its inception, it was a narrative poem rather than a play.
Shakespeare would have wanted to distinguish his work from these previously mentioned works, which offers some explanation to the title. He did make significant changes to the narrative poem. For example, he changed the ages of the participants to a much younger age in order to heighten the drama of young love. He also shortened the succession of events from nine total months to just five days.
The original title lets the audience know that the play will be tragic--"lamentable" being the keyword to indicate this. In Shakespeare's time, this word meant "full of or expressing sorrow or grief." The word excellent refers to the quality of the play, not necessarily the events. This would have been a sales pitch for the play, denoting the quality of the show, much like a Broadway playbill denotes quality.
The full and complete title of the play is "The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet." The word "excellent" means that it is a product of high quality; and, the word "lamentable" means "unfortunate." In a way, Shakespeare uses a strong title to sell his product by stating that the play is of high quality and full of drama. The title is significant to catch an audience member's attention and to send a message that the play is worth watching. It also sends the message of intriguing saddness that might spark some play-goers fancy. Further,in "The Norton Shakespeare" anthology, editors Choen, Howard and Maus state in the play's introduction that "[this] tragedy is unusally dependent on coincdence, mischance, and accident to produce what the Chorus, in the sonnet that serves as the prologue, calls the lovers' 'misadventured piteous overthrows.'" Thus, drama is what Shakespeare is selling and drama is what he delivers. Nothing is more sad than young love at the mercy of outside influences as seen in this classic and most famous play.