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THE PLAYS OF
ROMEO AND JULIET
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
and a Plate representing GARRICK and Mrs. BELLAMY
as 'Romeo' and 'Juliet.'
The publisher desires to acknowledge the courtesy of Messrs. Macmillan and Co. in granting permission to use the text of
the Cambridge Shakespeare.
Romeo and Juliet, in its original form, must be presumed to date from 1591, or, in other words, from Shakespeare's twenty-seventh year.
The matter was old ; it is to be found in a novel by Masuccio of Salerno, published in 1476, which was probably made use of by Luigi da Porta when, in 1530, he wrote his Hystoria novellamente ritrovata di dui nobili Amanti. After him came Bandello, with his tale, La sfortunata morte di due infelicissimi amanti ; and upon it an English writer founded a play of Romeo and Juliet, which seems to have been popular in its day (before 1562), but is now lost.
An English poet, Arthur Brooke, found in Bandello's Novella the matter for a poem : The tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, written first in Italian by Bandell and now in Englishe by Ar. Br. This poem is composed in rhymed iambic verses of twelve and fourteen syllables alternately, whose rhythm indeed jogs somewhat heavily along, but is not unpleasant and not too monotonous. The method of narration is very artless, loquacious, and diffuse; it resembles the narrative style of a clever child, who describes with minute exactitude and circumstantiality, going into every detail, and placing them all upon the same plane.
Shakespeare founded his play upon this poem, in which the two leading characters, Friar Laurence, Mercutio, Tybalt, the Nurse, and the Apothecary,
were ready to his hand, in faint outlines. Romeo's fancy for another woman immediately before he meets Juliet is also here set forth at length; and the action as a whole follows the same course as in the tragedy.
Romeo and Juliet is the drama of youthful and impulsive love-at-first-sight, so passionate that it bursts every barrier in its path, so determined that it knows no middle way between happiness and death, so strong that it throws the lovers into each other's arms with scarcely a moment's pause, and lastly, so ill-fated that death follows straightway upon the ecstasy of union.
Here, more than anywhere else, has Shakespeare shown in all its intensity the dual action of an absorbing love in filling the soul with gladness to the point of intoxication, and, at the same time, with despair at the very idea of parting.
While in A Midsummer Night's Dream he dealt with the imaginative side of love, its fantastic and illusive phases, he here regards it in its more passionate aspect, as the source of rapture and of doom.
His material enabled Shakespeare to place his lovestory in the setting best fitted to throw into relief the beauty of the emotion, using as his background a vendetta between two noble families, which has grown from generation to generation through one sanguinary reprisal after another, until it has gradually infected the whole town around them. According to the traditions of their race, the lovers ought to hate each other. The fact that, on the contrary, they are so passionately drawn together in mutual ecstasy, bears witness from the outset to the strength of an emotion which not only neutralises prejudice in their own