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ROMEO AND JULIE T.
The pathetic legend on which Shakespeare founded the plot of this beautiful tragedy has been cherished from time immemorial among the traditions of Italian history, although no such story has ever been discovered in the authentic records of any particular state. The Veronese, Lord Byron tells us, are tenacious to a degree of the truth of it, insisting on the fact, giving a date (1303), and showing the tomb. But this is only an instance of pardonable local vanity; no account exists of any actual Romeo and Juliet, but a tale more or less resembling that immortalized by our great dramatist may be found in several ancient writers. Mr. Douce has attempted to trace it to a Middle Greek author, one Xenophon Ephesius. The earliest writer, however, who set forth the romance in a connected narration is believed to be Masuccio di Salerno, in whose “ Novellino,” a collection of tales first printed at Naples in 1476, a similar event is recorded to have occurred, not at Verona, but in Sienna. He relates that in Sienna there lived a young man of good family, named Mariotto Mignanelli
, who was enamoured of a lady, Gianozza, and succeeded in engaging her affections; some impediment standing in the way of a public marriage, they are secretly united by an Augustine monk. Shortly after the ceremony, Mariotto has the misfortune to slay a fellow-citizen of rank in a street brawl, for which he is condemned by the Podesta to perpetual banishment. He obtains a farewell interview with his wife, and departs to Alexandria, where resides a rich uncle of his, Sir Nicolo Mignanelli. After the flight of Mariotto, Gianozza is pressed by her father to accept a husband whom he has found for her. Ilaving no reason which she dare allege to oppose her parent's wishes, she pretends to consent, and then determines to escape the hated nuptials by an act as daring as it was extraordinary. She discloses her miserable situation to the monk who had married her to Mariotto, and bribes him to prepare a soporific powder, which, drunk in water, will throw her into a death-like trance for three days; she drinks the narcotic, is supposed to be dead, and in due time is interred by her friends in the church of St. Augustine. Before this, she had despatched a special messenger to Alexandria, apprising her husband of her determination ; but the messenger is unhappily seized by pirates, and her missive never reaches him; instead of it, he receives another letter written by his brother, informing him of her death and that of her father also, who had died of grief for the loss of his daughter. The wretched Mariotto resolves to return forthwith to Sienna, and die upon her tomb, or perish by the hand of justice. He is taken in an attempt to break open the vault, and is condemned to death. Gianozza, in the meanwhile, recovers from her lethargy, disguises herself in man's apparel, and sets out for Alexandria in search of her banished husband; here she learns, to her dismay, that Mariotto, believing her dead, had departed for Sienna. She returns to that place, and, arriving just three days after his execution, dies of anguish and a broken heart.*
A story closely corresponding with this in the preliminary incidents, though varying in the catastrophe, is told by Luigi da Porto in his Novella, "La Giulietta,” first published in 1535. “ Hystoria Novella mente Ritrovata di dui nobili Amanti: Con la loro Pietosa Morte: Intervenuta gia nella Citta di Verona Nel tempio del Signor Bartholomeo Scala.” Luigi, in his dedication to Madonna Lucina Savorgnana, pretends to have derived the legend from an archer of Verona, one Peregrino, who quotes as his authority for it a relation of his father's. In the
* " La donna no'l trova in Alesandria, ritorna a Siena, e trova l'amunto decollato, e clla sopra il suo corpo per dolore si muore," are the words of the “Argument;" but in the novel itself she is said to retire to a monastery,—"Con in
tenso dolore e sanguinose lagrime con poco cibo e niente dormire, il suo Mariotto di continovo chiamando, in brevissino tempo finì li suvi miserimi giorni."
narrative of Peregrino, we first meet with the families of Montague and Capulet in connexion with the story, which he relates to have occurred in Verona. The real or supposititious archer expresses doubts of the historical truth of the event, since he had read in some ancient chronicles that the Capelletti and Montecchi had always been of the same party.*
In 1554, Bandello published at Lucca a novel on the same subject, which, like Da Porto, he says was related to him by one Peregrino. This was followed at a brief interval by another, in French, by Pierre Boisteau, founded on the narratives of Luigi da Porto and Bandello, but differing from them in many particulars. From the translation of Boisteau, the English versions of the tale—namely, the poem called “ The Tragical Historye of Romeus and Juliet,” (1562.) by Arthur Brooke, and the novel found in Paynter's “ Palace of Pleasure," under the title of “ The goodly hystory of the true and constant love betweene Rhomeo and Julietta"-were both derived; † and to these, more especially the poem, Shakespeare was certainly indebted, not for the story,—which seems to have been popular long before he adapted it for representation,--but for the names of his chief characters, and many of the incidents, and even expressions of his tragedy.
The first edition of “ Romeo and Juliet” was printed by John Danter, in the year 1597, with the title of “ An excellent conceited tragedie of Romeo and Juliet. As it hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely, by the right honourable the L. of Hunsdon his Seruants."
The second edition was printed by Thomas Creede, for Cuthbert Burby, in 1599, and is entitled “ The most excellent and lamentable Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet; Newly corrected, augmented, and amended : As it hath been sundry times publiquely acted, by the right Honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his Seruants."
The two remaining editions, published before the folio collection of 1623, are a quarto printed in 1609, and another without date, both by the same publisher, John Smethwicke.
The first two of these editions are extremely rare and valuable; and there is every reason to conclude that the numerous corrections and amplifications in that of 1599 are exclusively Shakespeare's own, since the former evince the judgment and tact of the master, and the latter comprise some of the finest passages in the play. But a correct copy of the text can only be obtained by a collation of both these editions, as the first is free from certain typographical errors which disfigure and obscure the second, and vice versa. The subsequent copies are all founded on the quarto, 1599, and contain but few deviations from its text.
As Shakespeare was only thirty-three years of age when this play was first published, it must obviously rank among his early productions. But the date of publication is no criterion to determine the period when it was written, or when it was first performed. The words on the titlepage of the first edition, “ As it hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely, by the right honourable the L. of Hunsdon his Seruants,” Malone considers proof that the play was first acted in 1596, because Henry, Lord Hunsdon, who held the office of Lord Chamberlain, died in that year, and his son George, Lord Hunsdon, only succeeded to the office in April, 1597. He is of opinion that the actors would only have designated themselves “ Lord Hunsdon's servants” during the interval of these dates, because they would have been called “ The Lord Chamberlain's servants” at a time when the office was really held by their noble patron. This argument, Mr. Knight remarks, is no doubt decisive as to the play being performed before George, Lord Hunsdon ; but it is not in any degree decisive as to the play not having been performed without the advantage of this nobleman's patronage. Chalmers assigns its composition to the spring of 1592; and Drake places it a year later. The belief in its production at an earlier period than that ascribed by Malone, is strengthened by the indications
* This accords with a passage in Dante (Purgatorio, c. vi.), where the poet, reproaching "Alberto Tedesco," the German emperor Albert, for his treatment of Italy, exclaims:--
“Vieni a veder Montecchi e Capelletti,
Monaldi e Fillippeschi, uom senza cura!
Color già tristi e costor con sospetti." Which Cary renders :
“Come, see the Capulets and Montagues,
The Fillippeschi and Monaldi, man
+ The story must have been eminently popular all over Europe from an early period. It forms the subject of a Spanish play by Lopez de Vega, entitled "Los Castelvies y Monteses," and another by Don Francisco de Roxas, under the name of “Los Vandos de Verona.” In Italy, so early as 1578, it had been adapted to the stage by Luigi Groto, under the title of “Hadriana;" and Arthur Brooke, in the preface to the poem above mentioned, speaks of having seen “the same argument lately set forth on stage with more commendation than I can looke for (being there much better set forth then I have or can dooe):" an allusion most probably to some representation of it abroad, for the rude condition of our drama at the time, renders it unlikely that he should refer to any play of the kind performed in this country.
of matured reading and reflection which are displayed in the augmented edition of 1599, as compared with that of 1597. There is also a scrap of internal evidence which, as proof of an carlier authorship than 1596, is well entitled to consideration. The Nurse, describing Juliet's being weaned, says.—“On Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen ; that shall she ; marry, I remember it well. 'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years." Tyrwhitt was the first to suggest the probable reference of this passage to an earthquake which occurred in 1580, and of which Holinshed has given a striking and minute account:-“ On the sixt of Aprill (1580), being wednesdaie in Easter weeke about six of the clocke toward euening, a sudden earthquake happening in London, and almost generallie throughout all England, caused such an amazednesse among the people as was wonderfull for the time, and caused them to make their earnest praiers to almightie God. The great clocke bell in the palace at Westminster strake of it selfe against the hammer with the shaking of the earth, as diverse other clocks and bels in the steeples of the citie of London and elswhere did the like. The gentlemen of the Temple being then at supper, ran from the tables, and out of their hall with their kniues in their hands. The people assembled at the plaie houses in the fields, were so amazed that doubting the ruine of the galleries, they made hast to be gone. A pecce of the temple church fell down, some stones fell from saint Paules church in London : and at Christs church neere to Newgate market, in the sermon while, a stone fell from the top of the same church.” Such an event would form a memorable epoch to the class which constituted the staple of a playhouse auditory in the sixteenth century; and if an allusion to it was calculated to awaken interest and fix attention, the anachronism, or the impropriety of its association with an historical incident of some centuries preceding, would hardly have deterred any playwright of that age from turning it to account. On the theory that the Nurse's observation really applied to the * earthquake of 1580, we may ascribe the date of this play's composition to the year 1591 ; and, unfortunately, in the absence of everything in the shape of a history of our poet's writings, we can trust only to inferences and conjectures of this description to make even an approximate guess as to the period of its production.
* * * *
ABRAM, servant to MONTAGUE.
Escalus, Prince of VERONA.
LADY MONTAGUE, wife to MontagUE.
Citizens of VERONA; several men and women,
Relations to both Houses; Maskers, Guards,
servants to CAPULET.
SCENE, during the greater part of the Play, in VERONA ; once, in the fifth Act, at MANTUA.