What was happening during the Renaissance that relates to Romeo and Juliet?

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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Shakespeare's most famous play, Romeo and Juliet, is set during the Renaissance period in Italy. Though Shakespeare himself lived quite a while after this time, and in a different country, he masterfully created characters and a fictional narrative that work in their historical context. The entire social setting of the play greatly reflects the values, aspirations, and conflicts of Renaissance Italy. For example, young Juliet has been raised in her wealthy family with the expectation that she will marry a well-off man. Her mother and father expect her to have little agency in her relationships in life and would love to quickly marry her off to the well-matched Paris. As we find out, Juliet has other things in mind and at heart. 

Which brings us to the major conflict of the play... Juliet falls in love with Romeo, the young son of a rival family. In Renaissance and Early Modern Italy, families were often engaged in long-standing feuds with one another. These feuds could be sparked by a quarrel over land, business, resources, or honor, and often they went on for so many generations that people forgot why they started in the first place. Noble families were almost always engaged in feuds with another, using their money and names to gain sway in various cities and territories. Families came to consider each other like natural enemies, just like the Montagues and Capulets. Shakespeare chose a thrilling conflict when he decided to pen his young lovers as being of rival clans! 

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