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Romeo and Juliet

Written: 1595; Texts: Quartos 1597, 1599, First Folio 1623 (Tragedy)
Source: Brooke, Arthur (?-1563). The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (English translation in 1562)
Characters: Romeo, Juliet, Friar Lawrence, Capulet, Nurse, Mercutio, Benvolio, Lady Capulet, Prince Escalus, Paris, Montague, Tybalt
Setting: Verona
Time: AD 1303

Romeo and Juliet is assumed to have been written in 1595 chiefly, but not exclusively, based on the Nurse's ramblings in Act 1, Scene 3, in which she attempts to establish Juliet's age in relation to an earthquake. “But, as I said, / On Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen. / That shall she. Marry, I remember it well. / ‘Tis since the earthquake now eleven years, / And she was weaned (I never shall forget it) / Of all the days of the year, upon that day.” Scholars assume the Nurse is referring to the London earthquake of April 6, 1580, which terrorized theater audiences. The fact that this play is set in Verona a few hundred years earlier is irrelevant.

The versions of this play that today's audiences read or watch may be based on some combination of the bad quarto (1597), the good quarto (1599), the folios, and future editors' and directors' emendations to any or all of the above. There is no “authoritative” text.

Richard, Romeo, Juliet and the Sonnet

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Two of Shakespeare’s earliest playsRichard III and Romeo and Juliet, open with sonnets and then employ variations on the sonnet’s structure for dramatic and poetic effect, which is not surprising. At this point in Shakespeare’s life he seems to have had dual career goals. First, he wanted to make money, which he could accomplish through theatre.
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Unhappy Fortune! The Plague in the Plays

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Shakespeare killed scores of his characters — by sword, by dagger, by poison, by flame, by drowning, by hanging, by murder, by suicide, by accident — men, women, children, all ages, killed by many means, even by a bear. But the deaths of only two of his central characters can be attributed to the plague, and even then, only by proximate cause, not directly by the plague.
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Banishment: Romeo and Coriolanus

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For two of Shakespeare’s most passionate male characters, banishment holds passionately different meanings. Romeo, banished from Verona, is grief-stricken and in fear of never seeing Juliet again. For him, banishment is the equivalent of death. Coriolanus, banished from Rome, is enraged and contemptuous of the plebeians who he hopes he will never have to see again. For him, banishment is an opportunity for a new life. 
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You and Thee

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In Henry IV Part 1, in the exchange between Hotspur and Owen Glendower, about calling up devils from the vasty deep, Hotspur deliberately shifts from the word you to thee when he addresses Glendower. You was often used to convey respect while thee was used when speaking to someone of inferior rank,
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A Plague and a Scourge

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Mercutio’s curse, “A plague o’ both your houses!” is fulfilled, although not literally. Despite the numerous ways scores of characters die in Shakespeare’s plays, no one in this play or any other Shakespeare play dies of the plague. But the plague is the proximate cause of Romeo’s and Juliet’s deaths.  When Friar Lawrence sends Friar John to deliver a letter to Romeo telling him of Juliet’s fake death,
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Tombs and Wombs

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Friar Lawrence’s rumination on soil as both a tomb and a womb works as a metaphor of one of the play’s central themes. The “misadventure’d piteous overthrows” of  Romeo and Juliet in the Capulet tomb at the end of the play gave birth to a growth of amity between their two families.
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Plagiarizing Himself

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Shakespeare often reused images and metaphors, stealing from himself. The simile in Friar Lawrence’s musing from Romeo and Juliet,

And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume.

is echoed in the metaphor of the third quatrain of  Sonnet 73.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
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Caves, Temples & Palaces

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Juliet’s biting reference to Romeo as “a gorgeous palace,” when she hears that Romeo has killed her cousin, contrasts with Romeo’s earlier reference to Juliet as “this holy shrine.” Both metaphors are echoed about fifteen years later near the end of Shakespeare’s career when Miranda in The Tempest speaks of Ferdinand in a similar figure of speech.
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Richard III and the Sonnet

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“Now is the winter of our discontent” is nearly as familiar as Hamlet’s, “To be, or not to be” and Mark Antony’s, “Friends, Romans, countrymen”. Not one of these three passages is a dramatic dialogue. Mark Antony addresses a large Roman crowd in an extended speech. Hamlet muses to himself in a soliloquy while we the audience listen in.
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Birds — Martial and Marital

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In Hamlet (1.1.432), a cock trumpets in the morn, a bird more fitting to the combative nature of Hamlet than the lark that heralds the morn after the first night of marital bliss in Romeo and Juliet (3.5.6).
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Sonnets in Romeo and Juliet

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Shakespeare, who had begun writing his sonnets sometime in the 1590’s, decided that the form would be useful in Romeo and Juliet. In fact, he wrote four sonnets in the play. The first, spoken by a chorus, opens Act 1. The second appears in Act 1, Scene 5, and it is dialogue spoken by Romeo and Juliet.
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Friars, Friends and Deceivers

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Friar Francis in Much Ado About Nothing (4.1.221), like Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, is a sympathetic character who aids the romantic interests of the young lovers. Both friars fashion a conspiracy whose central conceit is the fake death of the lady. Friars fare better than the Catholic hierarchy in Shakespeare’s plays, even though the friars are as devious in their means as cardinals and archbishops.
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Two households, both alike in dignity

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Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudgeParenthesis
break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.Antanaclesis & Synecdoche

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life

From forth the fatal loins of these two foesAlliteration,
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Gregory, on my word we’ll not carry coals.

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Sampson
Gregory, on my word we’ll not carry coals.
Gregory
No, for then we should be colliers.
Sampson
I mean, an we be in choler, we’ll draw.
Gregory
Ay, while you live, draw your neck out of collar.

No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you,
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Act 1
Scene 1
Line 1

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Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace

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Prince
Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
Profaners of this neighbor-stainèd steel—
Will they not hear?—What ho! You men, you beasts,
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins:

Three civil brawls bred of an airy word
By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,
Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets

On pain of torture,
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Act 1
Scene 1
Line 83

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O, where is Romeo? Saw you him today?

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Lady Montague
O, where is Romeo? Saw you him today?
Right glad I am he was not at this fray.
Benvolio
Madam, an hour before the worshiped sun
Peered forth the golden window of the east,
A troubled mind drove me to walk abroad,
Where underneath the grove of sycamore
That westward rooteth from this city side,
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Act 1
Scene 1
Line 118

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Good morrow, cousin

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Benvolio
Good morrow, cousin.
Romeo
Is the day so young?
Benvolio
But new struck nine.
Romeo
Ay me, sad hours seem long.
Was that my father that went hence so fast?
Benvolio
It was. What sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours?
Romeo
Not having that which,
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Act 1
Scene 1
Line 163

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But now, my lord, what say you to my suit?

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Paris
But now, my lord, what say you to my suit?
Capulet
But saying o’er what I have said before.
My child is yet a stranger in the world.
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years.
Let two more summers wither in their pride
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.
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Act 1
Scene 2
Line 6

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Tut, man, one fire burns out another’s burning

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Tut, man, one fire burns out another’s burning,Analogy
One pain is less’ned by another’s anguish;Analogy
Turn giddy, and be holp by backward turning;Analogy
One desperate grief cures with another’s languish:Analogy
Take thou some new infection to thy eye,
And the rank poison of the old will die.

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Act 1
Scene 2
Line 47

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My master is the great rich Capulet

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Servingman
My master is the great rich Capulet, and, if you be not
of the house of Montagues, I pray come and crush a
cup of wine. Rest you merry.  He exits.
Benvolio
At this same ancient feast of Capulet’s
Sups the fair Rosaline whom thou so loves,
With all the admirèd beauties of Verona.
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Act 1
Scene 2
Line 85

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Madam, I am here. What is your will?

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Juliet
Madam, I am here. What is your will?
Lady Capulet
This is the matter.—Nurse, give leave awhile.
We must talk in secret.—Nurse, come back again.
I have remembered me, thou ’s hear our counsel.
Thou knowest my daughter’s of a pretty age.
Nurse
Faith, I can tell her age unto an hour.
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Act 1
Scene 3
Line 7

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O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you

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Mercutio
O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate stone
On the forefinger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomi
Over men’s noses as they lie asleep.

True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
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Act 1
Scene 4
Line 58

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