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ROMEO and JULIET.
Printed Complete from the TEXT of
SAM. JOHNSON and GEO. STEEVENS,
And revised from the last Editions.
When Learning's triumph o'er her barb'rous foes
DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON,
Printed for, and under the direction of,
ON THE Fable And Composition of
ROMEO and JULIET.
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 ori. ginally published by an anonymous Italian novelist in 1549 at Venice; and again in 1553, at the same place. The first edi. tion of Bandello's work appeared a year later than the last of these already mentioned. Pierre Boisteau copied it with alte. tations 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 im. proved state, it was translated into English, 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 Con. stancie : with the subtill Counsels and Practices of an old Fryer, and their Event. Imprinted by R. Robinson." Among the entries on the Books of the Stationer's Company, I find Feb. 18, 1582. " M. Tottell] Romeo and Juletia." Again, Aug. 5, 1596: “ Edward White] a new ballad of *Romeo and Juliett." The same story is found in The Palace of Pleasure: however, Shakspere was not entirely indebted to Painter's epitome ; but rather to the poem already mentioned.
Stanghurst, the translator of Virgil in 1582, enumerates Jim lietta 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. STEEVÈNS.
This play is one of the most pleasing of our author's performances. The scenes are busy and various, the incidents numerous and important, the catastrophe irresistibly affecting, and the process of the action carried on with such probability, at least with such congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires. . Here is one of the few attempts of Shakspere to exhibit the conversation of gentlemen, to represent the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Mr. Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakspere, that he was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third a£t, lese be should have been killed by him. Yet he thinks him no sucb formidable person, but tbat he might bave lived through the play, and died in his bed, without danger to a poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in quest of truth, that, in a pointed sentence, more regard is commonly bad to the words than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously understood. Mercutio's wit, gaiety, and courage, will always procure him friends that wish him a longer life; but his death is not preči. piţated: he has lived out the time allotted him in the construetion of the play; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakspere to have continued his existence, though some of his salsies are perhaps out of the reach of Dryden ; whose genius was not very fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humour, but acute, argumentative, comprehensive, and sublime.
The Nurse is one of the characters in which the author de. lighted : he has, with great subtilty of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest.
His comic scenes are happily wrought, but his pathetic strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations. His persons, however distressed, have a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable conceit. JOHNSON.
P R O L OG U E.
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 foe's
A pair of star-crost lovers take their life ; Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows
Do, with their death, bury their parents' strife.
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Is now the two hours' traffick of our stage