Why did Shakespeare write Romeo and Juliet?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.