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Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare early in his career about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families.
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Romeo and Juliet
Biography of Shakespeare
Since William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, and many records from that time are lost or never existed in the first place, we don't know everything about his life. For example, we know that he was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, 100 miles northwest of London, on April 26, 1564. But we don't know his exact birthdate, which must have been a few days earlier.
We do know that Shakespeare's life revolved around two locations: Stratford and London. He grew up, had a family, and bought property in Stratford, but he worked in London, the center of English theater. As an actor, a playwright, and a partner in a leading acting company, he became both prosperous and well-known. Even without knowing everything about his life, fans of Shakespeare have imagined and reimagined him according to their own tastes, just as we see with the 19th-century portrait of Shakespeare wooing his wife at the top of this page.
William Shakespeare was probably born on about April 23, 1564, the date that is traditionally given for his birth. He was John and Mary Shakespeare's oldest surviving child; their first two children, both girls, did not live beyond infancy. Growing up as the big brother of the family, William had three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund, and two younger sisters: Anne, who died at seven, and Joan.
Their father, John Shakespeare, was a leatherworker who specialized in the soft white leather used for gloves and similar items. A prosperous businessman, he married Mary Arden, of the prominent Arden family. John rose through local offices in Stratford, becoming an alderman and eventually, when William was five, the town bailiff—much like a mayor. Not long after that, however, John Shakespeare stepped back from public life; we don't know why.
Shakespeare, as the son of a leading Stratford citizen, almost certainly attended Stratford's grammar school. Like all such schools, its curriculum consisted of an intense emphasis on the Latin classics, including memorization, writing, and acting classic Latin plays. Shakespeare most likely attended until about age 15.
For several years after Judith and Hamnet's arrival in 1585, nothing is known for certain of Shakespeare's activities: how he earned a living, when he moved from Stratford, or how he got his start in the theater.
Following this gap in the record, the first definite mention of Shakespeare is in 1592 as an established London actor and playwright, mocked by a contemporary as a "Shake-scene." The same writer alludes to one of Shakespeare's earliest history plays, Henry VI, Part 3, which must already have been performed. The next year, in 1593, Shakespeare published a long poem, Venus and Adonis. The first quarto editions of his early plays appeared in 1594. For more than two decades, Shakespeare had multiple roles in the London theater as an actor, playwright, and, in time, a business partner in a major acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (renamed the King's Men in 1603). Over the years, he became steadily more famous in the London theater world; his name, which was not even listed on the first quartos of his plays, became a regular feature—clearly a selling point—on later title pages.
Shakespeare prospered financially from his partnership in the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later the King's Men), as well as from his writing and acting. He invested much of his wealth in real-estate purchases in Stratford and bought the second-largest house in town, New Place, in 1597.
Among the last plays that Shakespeare worked on was The Two Noble Kinsmen, which he wrote with a frequent collaborator, John Fletcher, most likely in 1613. He died on April 23, 1616—the traditional date of his birthday, though his precise birthdate is unknown. We also do not know the cause of his death. His brother-in-law had died a week earlier, which could imply infectious disease, but Shakespeare's health may have had a longer decline.
The memorial bust of Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford is considered one of two authentic likenesses, because it was approved by people who knew him. (The bust in the Folger's Paster Reading Room, shown at left, is a copy of this statue.) The other such likeness is the engraving by Martin Droeshout in the 1623 First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, produced seven years after his death by his friends and colleagues from the King's Men.
Escalus, Prince of Verona. Paris, a young Nobleman, kinsman to the Prince. Montague,}Heads of two Houses at variance with each other. Capulet, } An Old Man, Uncle to Capulet. Romeo, Son to Montague. Mercutio, Kinsman to the Prince, and Friend to Romeo. Benvolio, Nephew to Montague, and Friend to Romeo. Tybalt, Nephew to Lady Capulet. Friar Lawrence, a Franciscan. Friar John, of the same Order. Balthasar, Servant to Romeo. Sampson, Servant to Capulet. Gregory, Servant to Capulet. Peter, Servant to Juliet's Nurse. Abraham, Servant to Montague. An Apothecary. Three Musicians. Chorus. Page to Paris; another Page. An Officer.
Lady Montague, Wife to Montague. Lady Capulet, Wife to Capulet. Juliet, Daughter to Capulet. Nurse to Juliet.
Citizens of Verona; several Men and Women, relations to both houses; Maskers, Guards, Watchmen, and Attendants.
SCENE.--During the greater part of the Play in Verona; once, in the Fifth Act, at Mantua.
Chor. Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life; Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows Doth with their death bury their parents' strife. The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love, And the continuance of their parents' rage, Which but their children's end naught could remove, Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage; The which, if you with patient ears attend, What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
Scene I. A public place.
[Enter Sampson and Gregory armed with swords and bucklers.]
Sampson. Gregory, o' 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 o' the collar.
Sampson. I strike quickly, being moved.
Gregory. But thou art not quickly moved to strike.
Sampson. A dog of the house of Montague moves me.
Gregory. To move is to stir; and to be valiant is to stand: therefore, if thou art moved, thou runn'st away.
Sampson. A dog of that house shall move me to stand: I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague's.
Gregory. That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes to the wall.
Sampson. True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push Montague's men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall.
Gregory. The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.
Sampson. 'Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I have fought with the men I will be cruel with the maids, I will cut off their heads.
Gregory. The heads of the maids?
Sampson. Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads; take it in what sense thou wilt.
Gregory. They must take it in sense that feel it.
Sampson. Me they shall feel while I am able to stand: and 'tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh.
Gregory. 'Tis well thou art not fish; if thou hadst, thou hadst been poor-John.--Draw thy tool; Here comes two of the house of Montagues.
Sampson. My naked weapon is out: quarrel! I will back thee.
Gregory. How! turn thy back and run?
Sampson. Fear me not.
Gregory. No, marry; I fear thee!
Sampson. Let us take the law of our sides; let them begin.
Gregory. I will frown as I pass by; and let them take it as they list.
Sampson. Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them; which is disgrace to them if they bear it.
[Enter Abraham and Balthasar.]
Abraham. Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Sampson. I do bite my thumb, sir.
Abraham. Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Sampson. Is the law of our side if I say ay?
Sampson. No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir; but I bite my thumb, sir.
Gregory. Do you quarrel, sir?
Abraham. Quarrel, sir! no, sir.
Sampson. But if you do, sir, am for you: I serve as good a man as you.
Abraham. No better.
Sampson. Well, sir.
Gregory. Say better; here comes one of my master's kinsmen.
Sampson. Yes, better, sir.
Abraham. You lie.
Sampson. Draw, if you be men.--Gregory, remember thy swashing blow.
Benvolio. Part, fools! put up your swords; you know not what you do. [Beats down their swords.]
Tybalt. What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds? Turn thee Benvolio, look upon thy death.
Benvolio. I do but keep the peace: put up thy sword, Or manage it to part these men with me.
Tybalt. What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee: Have at thee, coward!
[Enter several of both Houses, who join the fray; then enter Citizens with clubs.]
1 Citizen. Clubs, bills, and partisans! strike! beat them down! Down with the Capulets! Down with the Montagues!
[Enter Capulet in his gown, and Lady Capulet.]
Capulet. What noise is this?--Give me my long sword, ho!
Lady Capulet. A crutch, a crutch!--Why call you for a sword?
Capulet. My sword, I say!--Old Montague is come, And flourishes his blade in spite of me.
[Enter Montague and his Lady Montague.]
Montague. Thou villain Capulet!-- Hold me not, let me go.
Lady Montague. Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe.
[Enter Prince, with Attendants.]
Prince. Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace, Profaners of this neighbour-stained 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,-- On pain of torture, from those bloody hands Throw your mistemper'd weapons to the ground And hear the sentence of your moved prince.-- Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word, By thee, old Capulet, and Montague, Have thrice disturb'd the quiet of our streets; And made Verona's ancient citizens Cast by their grave beseeming ornaments, To wield old partisans, in hands as old, Canker'd with peace, to part your canker'd hate: If ever you disturb our streets again, Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace. For this time, all the rest depart away:-- You, Capulet, shall go along with me;-- And, Montague, come you this afternoon, To know our farther pleasure in this case, To old Free-town, our common judgment-place.-- Once more, on pain of death, all men depart.
[Exeunt Prince and Attendants; Capulet, Lady Capulet, Tybalt, Citizens, and Servants.]
Montague. Who set this ancient quarrel new abroach?-- Speak, nephew, were you by when it began?
Benvolio. Here were the servants of your adversary And yours, close fighting ere I did approach: I drew to part them: in the instant came The fiery Tybalt, with his sword prepar'd; Which, as he breath'd defiance to my ears, He swung about his head, and cut the winds, Who, nothing hurt withal, hiss'd him in scorn: While we were interchanging thrusts and blows, Came more and more, and fought on part and part, Till the prince came, who parted either part.
Lady Montague. O, where is Romeo?--saw you him to-day?-- Right glad I am he was not at this fray.
Benvolio. Madam, an hour before the worshipp'd sun Peer'd forth the golden window of the east, A troubled mind drave me to walk abroad; Where,--underneath the grove of sycamore That westward rooteth from the city's side,-- So early walking did I see your son: Towards him I made; but he was ware of me, And stole into the covert of the wood: I, measuring his affections by my own,-- That most are busied when they're most alone,-- Pursu'd my humour, not pursuing his, And gladly shunn'd who gladly fled from me.
Montague. Many a morning hath he there been seen, With tears augmenting the fresh morning's dew, Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs: But all so soon as the all-cheering sun Should in the farthest east begin to draw The shady curtains from Aurora's bed, Away from light steals home my heavy son, And private in his chamber pens himself; Shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out And makes himself an artificial night: Black and portentous must this humour prove, Unless good counsel may the cause remove.
Benvolio. My noble uncle, do you know the cause?
Montague. I neither know it nor can learn of him.
Benvolio. Have you importun'd him by any means?
Montague. Both by myself and many other friends; But he, his own affections' counsellor, Is to himself,--I will not say how true,-- But to himself so secret and so close, So far from sounding and discovery, As is the bud bit with an envious worm Ere he can spread his sweet leaves to the air, Or dedicate his beauty to the sun. Could we but learn from whence his sorrows grow, We would as willingly give cure as know.
Benvolio. See, where he comes: so please you step aside; I'll know his grievance or be much denied.
Montague. I would thou wert so happy by thy stay To hear true shrift.--Come, madam, let's away,
[Exeunt Montague and Lady.]
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, having, makes them short.
Benvolio. In love?
Benvolio. Of love?
Romeo. Out of her favour where I am in love.
Benvolio. Alas, that love, so gentle in his view, Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!
Romeo. Alas that love, whose view is muffled still, Should, without eyes, see pathways to his will!-- Where shall we dine?--O me!--What fray was here? Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all. Here's much to do with hate, but more with love:-- Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate! O anything, of nothing first create! O heavy lightness! serious vanity! Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms! Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health! Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!-- This love feel I, that feel no love in this. Dost thou not laugh?
Benvolio. No, coz, I rather weep.
Romeo. Good heart, at what?
Benvolio. At thy good heart's oppression.
Romeo. Why, such is love's transgression.-- Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast; Which thou wilt propagate, to have it prest With more of thine: this love that thou hast shown Doth add more grief to too much of mine own. Love is a smoke rais'd with the fume of sighs; Being purg'd, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes; Being vex'd, a sea nourish'd with lovers' tears: What is it else? a madness most discreet, A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.-- Farewell, my coz.
Benvolio. Soft! I will go along: An if you leave me so, you do me wrong.
Romeo. Tut! I have lost myself; I am not here: This is not Romeo, he's some other where.
Benvolio. Tell me in sadness who is that you love?
Romeo. What, shall I groan and tell thee?
Benvolio. Groan! why, no; But sadly tell me who.
Romeo. Bid a sick man in sadness make his will,-- Ah, word ill urg'd to one that is so ill!-- In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman.
Benvolio. I aim'd so near when I suppos'd you lov'd.
Romeo. A right good markman!--And she's fair I love.
Benvolio. A right fair mark, fair coz, is soonest hit.
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