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Romeo and Juliet Through the Ages

By Shane Valenzi

1530 Luigi da Porto, an Italian writer, combines Masuccio Salernitano’s Mariotto e Ganozza (1476) with elements of his own life to write the novel Historia novellamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti (newly found story of two noble lovers), introducing the lovers Romeus and Giulietta, the characters of Mercutio, Tybalt, Friar Laurence, and Paris, and the location of Verona, Italy.

1554 Matteo Bandello, an Italian writer and Catholic Bishop, adapts Luigi da Porto’s novel into a short story.

1559 Pierre Boaistuau, a French writer and translator, adapts Bandello’s story into a poem included in his Histoires Tragiques (Tragic Stories). 1562 Arthur Brooke, a British author, expands Boaistuau’s French poem into a long narrative poem (in English) entitled The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. 

1596? William Shakespeare completes Romeo and Juliet, inspired by Brooke’s narrative poem. He compressed the timeline of the play from 9 months to four days and expanded the roles of supporting characters like Mercutio and Tybalt. 

1662 Mary Saunderson (probably) becomes the first woman to appear as Juliet with a professional company. Until now, all female roles were played by men!

1730 The first documented production of Romeo & Juliet in North America opens. 1776 The first of at least two dozen operas based on Romeo and Juliet opens in Germany. It had a happy ending! 

1845 Shakespeare’s original Romeo and Juliet text is finally performed in America for the first time. The first actor to portray Romeo as Shakespeare envisioned him was actually a woman: Charlotte Cushman, who delivered one of the most celebrated performances of all time. As if that wasn’t strange enough, the role of Juliet was played by Charlotte’s sister, Susan! 

1936 Romeo and Juliet is adapted for film by George Cukor and nominated for 4 Oscars, including Best Picture.

1957 West Side Story opens on Broadway; the musical adaptation with a script by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim is a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet as a battle between rival street gangs in 1950s New York, and is adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1961.

1968 Franco Zeffirelli’s film adaptation is nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, and wins two.

1996 Baz Luhrmann adapts Romeo and Juliet for the “MTV Generation” in his film Romeo + Juliet by setting the play in modern-day Verona Beach. The movie starred a young Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo and featured a relatively unknown Paul Rudd as “Dave Paris.” 

1998 John Madden’s film Shakespeare in Love depicts William Shakespeare writing the play against the backdrop of his own love affair; the film won the Oscar for Best Picture. 

2010 The Royal Shakespeare Company premieres Such Tweet Sorrow, in which actors improvise tweets for audience member Twitter followers over the course of five weeks, acting out the events of the play as the characters might express them via modern social media.


Romeo & Juliet

Educator's Guidebook

Synopsis of Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet

Through the Ages

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