In what time period is Romeo and Juliet set?

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That Romeo and Juliet is set in Renaissance Venice 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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