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THE story on which this play is founded, is related as a true one in Girolamo de la Corte's History of Verona. It was originally published by an anonymous Italian novelist in 1549 at Venice; and again in 1553, at the same place. The first edition of Bandello's work appeared a year later than the last of these already mentioned. Pierre Boisteau copied it with alterations and additions. Belleforest adopted it in the first volume of his collection 1596 : but very probably some edition of it yet more ancient had found its way abroad; as, in this improved state, it was translated into English, by Arthur Brooke, and published in an octavo volume, 1562, but without a name. On this occasion it appears in the form of a poem entitled, The tragicall Historie of Romeus and Juliet : It was republished in 1587, under the same title : “ Contayning in it a rare Example of true Constancie : with the subtill Counsels and Practises of an old Fryer, and their Event. Imprinted by R. Robinson.” Among the entries on the Books of the Stationers' Company, I find Feb. 18, 1582: “M. Tottel] Romeo and Juletta." . Again, Aug. 5, 1596 : “ Edward White) a new ballad of Romeo and Juliett.” The same story is found in The Palace of Pleasure: however, Shakspeare was not entirely indebted to Painter's epitome ; but rather to the poem already mentioned. Stanyhurst, the translator of Virgil in 1582, enumerates Julietta among his heroines, in a piece which he calls an Epitaph, or Commune Defunctorum : and it appears (as Dr. Farmer has observed,) from a passage in Ames's Typographical Antiquities, that the story had likewise been translated by another hand. Captain Breval in his Travels tells us, that he saw at Verona the tomb of these unhappy lovers. Steevens.
This story was well known to the English poets before the time of Shakspeare. In an old collection of poems, called A gorgeous Gallery of gallant Inventions, 1578, I find it mentioned :
“ Sir Romeus' annoy but trifle seems to mine.". And again, Romeus and Juliet are celebrated in A poor Knight his Palace of private Pleasure, 1579. FARMER.
The first of the foregoing notes was prefixed to two of our former editions ; but as the following may be in some respects more correct, it would be unjustly withheld from the publick.This is not the first time we have profited by the accuracy of Mr. Malone. STEEVENS.
The original relater of the story on which this play is formed, was Luigi da Porto, a gentleman of Vicenza, who died in 1529. His novel did not appear till some years after his death; being first printed at Venice in 1535, with the following title: "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.” A second edition was published in 1539; and it was again reprinted at the same place in 1553, (without the author's name). Of the author some account may be found prefixed to the poem of Romeus and Juliet.
In 1554 Bandello published, at Lucca, a novel on the same subject; [Tom. II. Nov. IX.) and shortly afterwards Boisteau exhibited one in French, founded on the Italian narratives, but varying from them in many particulars. From Boisteau's novel the same story was, in 1562, formed into an English poem, with considerable alterations and large additions, by Mr. Arthur Brooke. This piece, which the reader may find at the end of the present play, was printed by Richard Tottel with the following title, written probably, according to the fashion of that time, by the bookseller : The Tragicall Hystory of Romeus and Juliet, containing a rare Example of true Constancie: with the subtili Counsels, and Practices of an old Fryer, and their ill event. It was again published by the same bookseller in 1582. Painter in the second volume of his Palace of Pleasure, 1567, published a prose translation from the French of Boisteau, which he entitled Rhomeo and Julietta. Shakspeare had probably read Painter's novel, having taken one circumstance from it or some other prose translation of Boisteau ; but his play was undoubtedly formed on the poem of Arthur Brooke. This is proved decisively by the following circumstances. 1. In the poem the prince of Verona is called Escalus ; so also in the play.-In Painter's translation from Boisteau he is named Signor Escala ; and sometimes Lord Bartholomew of Escala. 2. In Painter's novel the family of Romeo are called the Montesches ; in the poem and in the play, the Montagues. 3. The messenger employed by friar Lawrence to carry a letter to Romeo to inform him when Juliet would awake from her trance, is in Painter's translation called Anselme : in the poem, and in the play, friar John is employed in this business. 4. The circumstance of Capulet's writing down the names of the guests whom he invites to supper, is found in the poem and in the play, but is not mentioned by Painter, nor is it found in the original Italian novel. 5. The residence of the Capulets, in the original, and in Painter, is called Villa Franca ; in the poem and in the play Freetown. 6. Several passages of Romeo and Juliet appear to have been formed on hints furnished by the poem, of which no traces are found either in Painter's novel, or in Boisteau, or the original; and several expressions
are borrowed from thence, which will be found in their proper places.
As what has been now stated has been controverted, (for what may not be controverted?) I should enter more largely into the subject, but that the various passages of the poem which I have quoted in the following notes, furnish such a decisive proof of the play's having been constructed upon it, as not to leave, in my apprehension, a shadow of doubt upon the subject. The question is not, whether Shakspeare had read other novels, or other poetical pieces, founded on this story, but whether the poem written by Arthur Brooke was the basis on which this play was built.
With respect to the name of Romeo, this also Shakspeare might have found in the poem; for in one place that name is given to him : or he might have had it from Painter's novel, from which or from some other prose translation of the same story he has, as I have already said, taken one circumstance not mentioned in the poem. In 1570 was entered on the Stationers' books by Henry Bynneman, The Pitifull Hystory of ij lovyng Italians, which I suspect was a prose narrative of the story on which our author's play is constructed.
Breval says in his travels, that on a strict inquiry into the histories of Verona, he found that Shakspeare had varied very little from the truth, either in the names, characters, or other circumstances of his play. MALONE.
It is plain, from more than one circumstance, that Shakspeare had read this novel, both in its prosaick and metrical form. He might likewise have met with other poetical pieces on the same subject. We are not yet at the end of our discoveries relative to the originals of our author's dramatick pieces. STEEVENS.
This play, as Mr. Malone conjectured, was written in 1596. See his Essay on the Chronological Order of Shakspeare's Plays. There are four early quarto editions in 1597, 1599, 1609, and one without a date. The variations of any consequence are marked in the margin, quarto A, B, C, and D. And as many passages are omitted in the quarto 1597, I have distinguished them by the following mark (11) where they have not already been specified in the notes, that the curious reader may learn how our author improved upon his first conceptions. Boswell.