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On 23 April 1564, William Shakespeare was born. He died on 23 April 1616, and in 1623, the first complete and accurate edition of his Romeo and Juliet was published.
Although the exact date of Shakespeare’s birth isn’t documented, it is generally accepted that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on 23 April 1564. His father was a successful merchant and local official, so the young Shakespeare was exempted from tuition fees and attended Stratford’s grammar school. It was not until around 1588, that he arrived in London and, much to the annoyance of the local established writers, began to make a name for himself as an actor and playwright. By 1594, he was not
only acting and writing for, but was also a managing partner in the prestigious act troupe, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (soon to become the King’s Men). He was so popular, that he became the first writer ever to have his plays published as popular literature during his lifetime. By 1611, he had made enough money from his plays to retire to Stratford, where he died in on 23 April 1616.
During his lifetime, over half of Shakespeare’s 38 plays remained unpublished. In 1623, the first complete and, more important, accurate folio of his works was published. Plays first published in this folio include Twelfth Night, Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew and The Tempest. Romeo and Juliet was written in 1594 and originally published in 1597.
Contrary to some people’s beliefs, Shakespeare did not simply make up the story of Romeo and Juliet. The ideas had been around for centuries and tales of star-crossed lovers were very popular in the Europe of his day. For example, Luigi da Porto’s Istoria Novellamente Ritrovata di due Nobili Amanti, published around 1530, tells the story of two aristocratic families, the Montecchi and the Cappelletti, who are sworn enemies, and the love between their respective children, Romeo and
Giulietta. This quite closely corresponds to Shakespeare’s later version. However, it’s not known whether Shakespeare read many of the play and poems that were around at the time, which could have provided him with the inspiration for his own play.
The only source we know that Shakespeare certainly did use is a lengthy poem by Arthur Brooke, published in 1562, called The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, which in turn is a loose translation of Pierre Boaistuau’s Of Two Lovers. Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet of Romeo and Juliet simplifies
the plot a little, and some of the lesser characters are missing entirely. To read the complete story of the ballet, click here
Click on the thumbnails below to see some photos of BRB’s Romeo and Juliet.