Verona crumbles as the hatred of two families ignites its streets. Once more swords clash, and the Prince decrees: if Montague or Capulet again disrupts the peace, lives will answer to the law. That night Lord Capulet hosts a great banquet—among his guests the Count Paris, who seeks the hand of Capulet's daughter Juliet. Hearing of the Capulet feast, the young Montagues decide to attend, uninvited and in disguise, accompanied by Lord Montague's son, Romeo. There, Romeo encounters Juliet and, innocent of one another's family, the two fall in love. The following morning, Friar Laurence consents to secretly perform the rites of marriage.
Their vows just spoken, Romeo is confronted in the street by Capulet's nephew Tybalt, enraged by the Montagues' bold intrusion of the night before. Mercutio instead takes up Tybalt's challenge and, as Romeo attempts to break the two apart, Mercutio is slain. In blind fury, Romeo turns on his bride's cousin, murdering him. The Capulets demand the young Montague's death; but the Prince sentences Romeo to banishment.
After a wedding night cloaked in secrecy, Romeo parts from Juliet at daybreak. Moments later Lady Capulet seeks out her daughter with news of Juliet's impending wedding day, arranged between her father and Count Paris. The Nurse advises her charge to forget her husband and to marry Paris, and Juliet turns to the Friar, whose desperate plan he prays will end in Juliet reunited with her Romeo and the two families reconciled. But time—and history—are unrelenting, and as Montague and Capulet vow at last to end the killing, it is a peace purchased with their treasures.
To Shakespeare and his audiences, the story of Romeo and Juliet was already a familiar one. The playwright's most direct source was likely the English narrative poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, composed by Arthur Brooke. The popular work was first published approximately thirty years earlier and subsequently reprinted just a few years prior to Shakespeare's play first appearing on stage. Stories of love, death and resurrection followed by death are more ancient than the myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and Ovid's own Pyramus and Thisbe (innocently parodied by Shakespeare's amateur actors in A Midsummer Night's Dream, written in the same period as Romeo and Juliet).
Romeo and Juliet was Shakespeare's first major tragedy, likely first staged c. 1595. Along with A Midsummer Night's Dream and Richard II, also from this period, Romeo and Juliet helped establish Shakespeare as one of London's most successful playwrights. Its immediate popularity contributed no doubt to the imminent publication of a First Quarto in 1597, referenced by scholars as a "Bad Quarto," "piratical and dependent on an especially unreliable means of transmission of the text" (Arden edition, 2000), which was subsequently corrected by a Second ("Good") Quarto, just two years later, which according to its own editors, was "newly augmented and corrected." So popular was this play that by the time the First Folio was compiled posthumously by two members of Shakespeare's acting company, a Third Quarto had already been published—significant within a body of work of which only half had been printed prior to Heminge and Condell's publication of the First Folio in 1623.
The title page of the First Quarto, printed in 1597, proclaims that the play was performed frequently "with great applause," and scholars generally date the play c. 1595. However, no written record remains of any production until 1662—following the Restoration of the English monarchy and the reopening of London's theaters. Just a few years later, Shakespeare's story was adapted to suit contemporary tastes, ending happily—on alternating nights with Shakespeare's tragic version. It was subsequently David Garrick's adaptation that held the stage throughout the eighteenth century. Used as a star vehicle, the play not uncommonly featured a Juliet well into her thirties and forties. It was not until the 1960s that Shakespeare's bawdy comic language was generally restored—notably by Italian director Franco Zefferelli, whose stage version at the Royal Shakespeare Company preceded his classic film released in 1964. More recently, Australian director of opera, dance and film, Baz Lurhmann set his contemporary production in Verona Beach—a violent, multi-cultural amphetamine-driven city where guns and switchblades of deadly street gangs replaced rapiers and daggers. Chicago Shakespeare Theater staged a full-length production of Romeo and Juliet once before in 2005, directed by Mark Lamos.
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