Why did Shakespeare write Romeo and Juliet?

Why did Shakespeare write Romeo and Juliet?

One cannot know for certain why Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, but it would seem that he did so because it's simply a great story that makes for a truly great play.

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Nobody knows exactly why Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. Paradoxically, while we have a long train of legal documents, such as deeds, bills of sale, and a will, all belonging to or associated with Shakespeare, we have not one scrap of personal writing by him. Therefore, we have to rely on commonsense and probability to understand his thinking.

We know that Shakespeare and his partners were seeking profitable material for their theater company. Like such modern, if larger, counterparts as Netflix or HBO, Shakespeare and his friends were ever on the lookout for creative material that had already proven popular.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Shakespeare's thoughts would roam to Arthur Brooke's popular poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, written in 1562. It seems, too, that Shakespeare must have been familiar with Luigi da Porto's 1531 version of the story called Giulietta e Romeo, with which Shakespeare's play shares elements of setting, character, and plot points, such as the Verona location, the friar, the nurse, and Mercutio, and the feud between two families with names close to Montague and Capulet.

Shakespeare almost certainly saw the dramatic potential in this story, realized it could hold the interest of audiences, and adapted it to fit the needs of the 1590s.

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Considering how little is known of Shakespeare's personal life in general, no one knows for sure why he wrote Romeo and Juliet, but one can make a few guesses.

It must be noted that Shakespeare was not the originator of the Romeo and Juliet story. The play has its origins in earlier works, such as Arthur Brooke's 1562 poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. Shakespeare took the basic plot of Brooke's poem and changed the details, most famously in compressing the time over which the story takes place (Brooke's lovers know one another for months, while Shakespeare's only know one another for days) and in increasing the sympathy for the ill-fated lovers (Brooke presents them as foolish and immoral in the opening). However, even Brooke took the story from earlier sources. So, Shakespeare was adapting audience-tested material that had endured for years, putting his own touch to the story.

Obviously, this worked, since Shakespeare's take on the story has endured for centuries, while earlier versions have become relegated to historical footnotes. Though many will argue Shakespeare would write better tragedies in the future, Romeo and Juliet is no doubt among Shakespeare's most popular works to this day. He tapped into something primal and moving with his dramatization of this story of passionate love and hatred. Even if his later work eclipses it in sophistication, he achieved something of no small significance in his adaptation of this story, which helped to establish Shakespeare as one of the great talents of the Renaissance stage.

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We have no hard evidence from Shakespeare himself as to why he wrote Romeo and Juliet, so we cannot know for certain why he did so. However, one can reasonably surmise that he adapted the original source material into dramatic form because he realized that it had the makings of a really good play.

As both an actor and a playwright, Shakespeare had an instinctive feel for what would and wouldn't work on stage. And one cursory glance at the original sources of the story of Romeo and Juliet would've told him that this tale, with its passionate love, feuding families, and tragic deaths, would've been ideal for the stage.

As a man of the theater, Shakespeare knew what kind of play would be popular with an audience. For the most part, audiences wanted spectacle, romance, and a touch of moral edification. All of these elements are present in Romeo and Juliet, which effortlessly ticks all the boxes of what the average Elizabethan theatergoer would've been looking for.

Shakespeare may not have invented the tale of Romeo and Juliet, but he transformed it into an enduring work of dramatic art that has enthralled successive generations of theatergoers and still retains an extraordinary degree of relevance down to the present day.

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Many people do not know this, but the story of Romeo and Juliet is not one that Shakespeare is completely responsible for, though he is given full credit for its creation.  An earlier version was written in Italy and then translated into poetic verse by a man named Arthur Brooke around 1562; he titled it The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet.  Shakespeare did not write his play until the 1590's.  Why we wrote it is unknown, though many critics have said it was originally meant to be a comedy by his intentions and then he decided instead to turn it into a tragedy.  Though, when you think about it, it does have many of the makings of a tragedy:  humor in the opening lines, a conflict, marriage, irony, etc.

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"Romeo and Juliet" was written early in Shakespeare's career. Since Shakespeare was a relatively young playwright, he wanted to experiment with several ideas not seen in plays of his time. These ideas include the differences and similarities of love and hate, the use of light and dark imagery to portray good and evil, the role Fate plays in our lives. Shakespeare also handles time and it's effects on Fate and questions whether omens and dreams should be used to warn use of tragic consequences. Although the play is not considered as great as some of Shakespeare's later work, it is an exceptional work of a young playwright destined for much bigger things.

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Ascertaining an author’s exact intent in writing a book, poem, or play is tricky business. Let’s look at your question from both a pragmatic and figurative perspectives.

The pragmatic response to your question would be that William Shakespeare wrote his tragedy Romeo and Juliet to earn money. By the time he wrote Romeo and Juliet sometime between 1591 and 1596, Shakespeare was a successful actor in his company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and a promising playwright. However, the nature of Elizabethan theater meant that new plays needed to be created regularly to continue to bring in an audience. Without new plays, an acting company would quickly go bankrupt. The fact that Shakespeare authored at least 37 plays through a relatively short career (spanning less than two decades) is a testament to the need for regular additions to a theater's repertoire. Shakespeare did not pen his stories for literary fame or glory. He was a businessman who happened to earn his money in the theater business, and he was good at it!

However, although Shakespeare did write his plays for pay, he was clearly interested in exploring themes of love, lust, and resistance to societal expectations in Romeo and Juliet. The most obvious thematic exploration is the nature of love. Romeo and Juliet both believe they are deeply in love with one another. However, in the very first scene, Shakespeare acknowledges through his character Romeo that love is messy and difficult to define:

Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first created!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

The question Romeo poses in this passage is: What is love (baby, don’t hurt me)? With an emotion so difficult to describe with language, is it any wonder that love gets so many people into sticky situations? Differentiating between authentic love and temporary lust or infatuation is difficult and has been for all human existence. Shakespeare explores this theme by writing the story of the “star cross’d lovers,” leaving his audience to wonder whether Romeo and Juliet showcase true love or naivety; with love, it’s not always so easy to determine!

A second theme Shakespeare explores is the consequences of fighting societal expectations. Romeo and Juliet go against their family’s wishes with their clandestine romance, and their decision has far-reaching ramifications. Romeo and Juliet’s struggle against oppressive expectations for their behavior resonates with modern audiences because it is universal. All humans have faced it, in some form or another. We can never know for sure, but dissecting these themes are likely part of why Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. I hope this helps!

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It is always hard to know why an author chose to write a text or what their intentions were while writing unless we have diaries or letters where they state this information directly, and we have no such evidence from Shakespeare's life.

Given the play's subject matter, it seems that he may have wanted to explore how much of a role fate plays in our lives as compared to free will. There are a great many references to fate in the play—that the lovers are "star-cross'd," Romeo's belief that there is "Some consequence . . . hanging in the stars" on the night of the Capulets's party, that he is "Fortune's fool," and so on—and these contribute to the idea that we are not necessarily in control of our own decisions.

Shakespeare also seems to criticize the Capulet and Montague families for their violence, which then resulted in their children's violence against themselves. These are two possibilities.

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Shakespeare based Romeo and Juliet on earlier stories. The poet Arthur Brooke wrote a poem called "The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet" that introduced the story of the young lovers into the English language in 1562, as earlier editions had been in French and Italian. This poem was based on real people, Juliet and Romeo, who died in Verona around 1303. From Brooke, Shakespeare took many elements of his plot, including the introduction of Romeo to Juliet at the ball, their marriage, and their eventual suicides. Brooke's poem begins in part, "Love hath inflaméd twain by sudden sight,/ And both do grant the thing that both desire /They wed in shrift by counsel of a friar." In Brooke's poem, the lovers also fell in love at first sight and wed secretly with the help of a friar, though their marriage lasts three months in this poem. While adapting the story from Brooke, Shakespeare made the action take only days instead of months, thereby making the story more exciting.

Shakespeare often borrowed from existing stories to write his plays.  By borrowing a story that had been in circulation from a while, Shakespeare was more certain of producing a work that people liked, as the story was already popular and known. 

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