Romeo and Juliet had certainly been performed by 1597,
when the first quarto was published. There are no surviving records
for any performances before the Restoration in 1660, but it is likely
that Romeo and Juliet was first acted by the Lord
Chamberlain’s Men at the Theatre
and then at the Curtain.
It has been suggested that Richard
Burbage may have played Romeo, with the boy actor Robert
Goffe as Juliet.
Publication in quarto and folio
Romeo and Juliet appeared in seven editions before 1642.
- First quarto, 1597. A ‘bad’ quarto, based on a text
reconstructed from memory by a group who knew the play on stage.
The text may have been one cut and adapted for performance. The
title-page refers to ‘L. Hunsdon his seruants’, the
name of Shakespeare’s company only until 16 March 1597.
- Second quarto, 1599. A ‘good’ quarto, probably printed
from Shakespeare’s foul papers, described on the title-page
as ‘Newly corrected, augmented, and amended’. The
first quarto was probably also used, perhaps to help interpret
the manuscript. The text is nearly half as long again as that
in the first quarto.
- Third quarto, 1609. Printed from the second quarto.
- Fourth quarto, . Printed from the third quarto, but the
first quarto was also used. The titlepage is undated, but modern
scholarship suggests the publication date of 1622. (Additional
copy of a variant, with ‘Written by W. Shake-speare’
on the title-page, from the Folger Shakespeare Library.)
- First folio, 1623. Printed from the third quarto, although a
number of passages follow the fourth quarto.
- Second folio, 1632. Printed from the first folio.
- Fifth quarto, 1637. Printed from the fourth quarto.
The first ‘bad’ quarto was probably printed between
late 1596 and March 1597, by the printers John Danter and Edward
Allde. Danter was raided by the Stationers’ Company and his
presses destroyed in February or March 1597, for printing books
without their authority. The second ‘good’ quarto was
printed by Thomas Creede for Cuthbert Burby in 1599. Burby transferred
his copyright in Romeo and Juliet to Nicholas Ling on 22 January
1607. Ling in his turn transferred the copyright to John Smethwick
on 19 November 1607. The third quarto did not appear until 1609,
when it was printed by John Windet for John Smethwick. The fourth
quarto, printed for Smethwick by William Stansby, appeared in 1622.
John Smethwick also published the fifth quarto of 1637, printed
by R. Young.
Library copies of Romeo and Juliet contains detailed
bibliographic descriptions of all the quarto copies of the play.
Shakespeare may have known the story of Romeo and Juliet in several
versions for some years before he wrote his play. Two sources were
particularly important for its creation.
- Arthur Brooke, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Iuliet,
written first in Italian by Bandell (1562)
Titlepage. Arthur Brooke,
The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, 1562. British
Library, Huth.34. Larger
- Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘Troilus and Criseyde’, in The
Workes of Geffrey Chaucer (1561)
Story of the play
Note: the links below will take you to the page in the quarto where
each act begins, according to standard modern editions. (The quartos
themselves have no act divisions.) The quarto shown for each play
is always the earliest in the Library's collection - unless it is
a 'bad' quarto in which case it is the earliest 'good' quarto.
Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona, where a feud between
the Montague and Capulet families often leads to violence.
(Prologue) The Chorus tells, briefly, the story of the play.
Romeo and Juliet, the story.
Arthur Brooke, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Iuliet,
1562. British Library, Huth.34, Sig. Para.4v. Larger
1) Young men belonging to the feuding families fight in the
streets, but are stopped by the Prince of Verona. Lord and Lady
Capulet consider a possible marriage between their only daughter
Juliet and the County Paris. They hold a banquet at their house
at which the two are to be introduced. Romeo, the only son of Lord
and Lady Montague, attends the banquet with his friends in disguise.
Romeo and Juliet meet and immediately fall in love. Lady Capulet’s
nephew, Tybalt, recognises Romeo and forces him to leave.
2) Romeo secretely enters the Capulets’ garden and sees
Juliet on her balcony. They reveal their mutual love and decide
to marry. The next day they meet at the cell of Friar Laurence,
and he marries them.
3) Tybalt meets Romeo in the street and picks a quarrel with
him. A fight begins, and as Romeo tries to stop it Tybalt fatally
stabs his friend Mercutio. Romeo avenges Mercutio’s death
by killing Tybalt. The Prince banishes Romeo from Verona. Romeo
and Juliet meet in secret for their wedding night, before Romeo
must leave for Mantua. Lord and Lady Capulet order Juliet to marry
4) Juliet visits Friar Laurence for help, and is given a sleeping
potion which will make her appear as if dead. The Friar sends to
Romeo to rescue Juliet. She takes the potion the day before she
must marry Paris.
5) Friar Laurence’s message to Romeo does not reach him.
Romeo learns instead of Juliet’s death, and immediately returns
to Verona. As he enters Juliet’s tomb, he meets Paris and
kills him. He finds Juliet, apparently dead, takes poison and dies.
She awakes and, finding Romeo dead beside her, kills herself with
a dagger. The Friar explains the story to the assembled Montagues
and Capulets, who end their feud and join in mourning their dead