History of the Text
Humanism and the Early Modern Renaissance: Shakespeare wrote in the late 16th and early 17th centuries when humanism was a dominant philosophical ideology in England. The humanist cultural movement turned away from medieval, religious scholasticism to revive ancient Greek and Roman literature—which focused on human thoughts, feelings, and motivations rather than divine or supernatural matters.
- Romeo and Juliet reflects humanist ideology. The many soliloquies throughout the play attempt to capture the human experience. The many Greek and Roman allusions throughout the text reference a period that was seen as the apex of human potential.
Disreputable Early Modern Theaters: In Shakespeare’s time, theater was considered low-brow entertainment. The Globe Theater and Blackfriars, the two main theaters where his plays were performed, were located outside the city walls of London. This meant they were able to challenge and subvert the crown’s laws more securely. It also meant that other disreputable forms of entertainment, such as prostitution and bear baiting, surrounded the theaters.
- The location and culture of the Early Modern theaters accounts for the prevalence of body humor throughout Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare’s Source Text: Shakespeare’s main source text for the play comes from a 1562 poem by Arthur Brooke titled Romeus and Juliet.
- Pierre Boisteau’s Historie de Deux Amans might have been Brooke’s source text.
- Potentially, the stories come from a real event in 1303 that is cited in Girolamo della Corte’s Storia di Verona. Dante’s Divine Comedy also references the Montecchi and Cappelletti families for their feuding.