Romeo and Juliet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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In what year does Romeo and Juliet take place?

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William Shakespeare's second tragedy, Romeo and Juliet (the first was Titus Andronicus), was written between 1591–1595 and was first published in an unauthorized and somewhat corrupted version in 1597.

Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona and Mantua, Italy, during the period of the Italian Renaissance.

This doesn't help us determine the year in which the action of Romeo and Juliet is set, since the Italian Renaissance is considered to have spanned the period from the 1340s until the 1550s, or even into the 1600s, depending on which historians you ask.

One of the earliest depictions of the Romeo and Juliet story not set in antiquity is a novella written by an Italian poet, Masuccio Salernitano, who stated that the events in the story occurred during his lifetime, in the mid-1400s.

Another Italian writer, Luigi da Porto, wrote a version of the Romeo and Juliet story, and he insisted that the events in his version of the story took place in the 1300s, a century before Salernitano's version.

Girolamo del Corte told the story of Romeo and Juliet in L'istoria di Verona, published in 1594, claiming that is was a true story which took place in 1303.

Shakespeare might have followed the example of these writers and set his play in the 1300s or 1400s, or he might have set it closer to his own time period.

There's very little in the play itself which helps us to date the action of the play. The Nurse talks about Juliet's upcoming birthday, and says that she was born on "Lammas Eve at night" [1.3.21], which Lady Capulet tells her will be in "A fortnight and odd days" [1.3.19], a little over two weeks. "Lammas" is a feast that celebrates the first harvest, which generally happens around August 1, so we can be fairly certain that Romeo and Juliet takes place in mid-July.

As for the actual year in which Romeo and Juliet is set, the Nurse remarks in Act 1, Scene 3," 'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years" [1.3.27]. There was an earthquake in Dover, England in 1580, which seems to set the play in 1591. It's more likely, however, that this is a clue as to when the play was written, rather than in what year it's set.

The best guess of Shakespeare scholars is that Romeo and Juliet is set in the 1300s or 1400s. However, it's the universal appeal of Shakespeare's story of the "star-crossed lovers" that allows Romeo and Juliet to be set equally effectively in any time period.

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Although Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet during the 1590s, and the work was eventually published in approximately 1597 or 1599, the play itself is set much earlier, most likely in the 1300s.

It is important to note that Shakespeare was not the first writer to pen the story of Romeo and Juliet. Works such as Arthur Brooke's poem "The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet" (1562), William Painter's The Palace of Pleasure (prior to 1580), Matteo Bandello's Giulietta e Romeo (1554), Masuccio Salernitano's Il Novellio, and/or Luigi Da Porto's A Story Newly Found of Two Noble Lovers. Knowing this helps us understand that the dramatization was not meant to be set within Shakespeare's own day and age; rather, it was most likely set during the lifetime of the real-life lovers who inspired the narrative, who lived in Verona in 1303.

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It is believed that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in the 1590s (most likely 1594). He wrote it during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The play was probably published in 1597 and/or 1599. In fact, it was one of the first plays performed when theaters reopened after being closed due to the plague. It is assumed that Shakespeare took several years to write it but there isn't a consensus on this information. We aren't exactly sure about these dates. These are calculations and assumptions made by historians. It is known that Shakespeare wrote many of his plays between 1594 and 1603.

The story itself takes place in either the 14th (1300-1400) or 15th century (1401-1500). We know the month/season specifically. It took place in the summer, in the month of July. (In Scene III, it is mentioned that it is a fortnight and odd days away from Juliet's birthday which falls on "Lammas-eve" and that is believed to be in August or late July. A fortnight is two weeks.) 

On a side note, it is thought that Romeo and Juliet is based on the real life story of two lovers who lived in Verona, Italy around 1303. 

Further Reading:

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"Romeo and Juliet" is generally believed to take place in the fourteenth or fifteenth century.  Most of the literature books that I have used and taught from have given the time period as the 1300's (fourteenth century).  As an English teacher, I have been teaching the play for nine years now and always give the setting as the 1300s.

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lbsmith12 | Student

It's generally thought to be set in the 14th century, so the 1300s.  Hope this helps.

ddouglas12 | Student

It takes place during the black plague

1344-1351