Adapting the Italian Novella:
Romeo and Juliet is NOT an original story.
- Romeo and Juliet comes from a tradition of tragic romances:
- The Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses
- Mariotto and Gianozza by Masuccio Salernitano (1476)
- Luigi da Porto adapted Salernitano’s story as Giulietta e Romeo – rival families of Montecchi and Capuleti, located in Verona (1530)
- Matteo Bandello republished his version of Giuletta e Romeo in Novelle (1554)
- Bandello’s Guiletta e Romeo is translated into French by Pierre Boaistuau (1559)
- In 1562, Arthur Brooke translates Boaistuau’s work into the narrative poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet
- There was a trend for writers and playwrights to write works based upon Italian novellas, which were popular with theatre-goers at the time.
- Shakespeare based many of his plays on Italian novelle eg. The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Much Ado About Nothing, All’s Well That Ends Well
- Shakespeare dramatised Brooke’s translation into Romeo and Juliet
- The use of the Chorus (the lone actor who narrates) in Act 1 and 2 comes from a Greek tragedy convention.
- In Greek tragedy, the Chorus exists to comment on what the audience can expect to happen, creating dramatic irony
- In Romeo and Juliet, although a Chorus is used, not very much is revealed (except for beginning and ending), so the audience is still left to discover the irony themselves
Religious and Philosophy:
Romeo and Juliet reflects Elizabethan notions about fate and cosmology:
- Most Elizabethans believed in Fate or the Wheel of Fortune – a medieval philosophy that everything was predestined in the heavens
- This philosophy was popularised by the philosophical work The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius (A.D. 475-525), which was translated by Queen Elizabeth I
- Boethius suggested that life is ruled by God and Fate, with Fate acting as God’s agent
- Astrology was also a crucial part of Italian society, with many Italians using horoscopes both for deciding daily tasks and major governmental decisions.
- Analysis on fate in Romeo and Juliet:
Protestant and Catholic:
- During the Renaissance, there was a conflict between Catholics and Protestants
- Protestant was the state-endorsed religion in England during the Elizabethan era (Elizabeth I was Protestant), but it was constantly challenged by Catholics and Puritans
- Shakespeare reflects stereotypical views of Catholicism during his time:
- Italy and Italians (a Catholic country and the home of the Pope) were viewed as quarreling, devious and lustful – consider how these traits are seen in Mercutio, Romeo and Tybalt.
- Friar Lawrence (the priest who helps Romeo and Juliet marry) is also Catholic
- He undermines the authority of the family/parents
- He supplies drugs and poisons
- His actions lead to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet
Role of Women:
- English society was a patriarchal hierarchy
- The husband/father controls the entire family
- Women cannot hold property and are completely dependent upon their husband/father