Romeo and Juliet is an early tragedy by William Shakespeare about two teenage “star-cross’d lovers” whose “untimely deaths” ultimately unite their feuding households. The play has been extremely appreciated by literary critics for its language and dramatic effect. It was among Shakespeare’s most accepted plays during his lifetime and, along with Hamlet, is one of his most regularly performed plays. Romeo and Juliet belong to a tradition of disastrous romances stretching back to antique Greece. Its plot is based on an Italian tale, translated into verse as Romeos and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562, and retold in prose in Palace of happiness by William Painter in 1582. Brooke and Painter were Shakespeare’s chief sources of motivation for Romeo and Juliet. He borrowed heavily from both, but developed minor characters, mainly Mercutio and Paris, in order to enlarge the plot. Believed written between 1591–1595, the play was first published in a quarto version in 1597.
Actually Shakespeare’s use of dramatic structure, particularly his expansion of minor characters, and the use of subplots to adorn the story, has been praised as an early sign of his dramatic skill. The play ascribes different poetic forms to different characters, sometimes changing the form as the character develops. Romeo, for example, grows more proficient at the sonnet form over time. Characters frequently compare love and death and allude to the role of fate. Since its publication, Romeo and Juliet has been adapted numerous times in stage, film, musical and operatic forms. During the Restoration, it was revived and heavily revised by William Davenant. Garrick’s 18th century version, which continued to be performed into the Victorian era, also altered several scenes, removing material then measured indecent. Performances in the 19th century, including Charlotte Cushman’s, restored the original text, and focused on greater realism. Gielgud’s 1935 version kept very close to Shakespeare’s text, and used Elizabethan costumes and staging to enhance the drama.