Shakespeare Didn't Write Romeo and Juliet - Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts

October 12, 2018

If you have migrated here due to clicking a link with that clickbait title then we can only apologise because yes, Shakespeare did write Romeo and Juliet. Of course he did! Most of us studied it at school and if you ever look at a list of Shakespeare plays, Romeo and Juliet is guaranteed to be listed under tragedies.

But fascinatingly - to us anyway (hence 'fascinating facts') - he didn't invent the characters. Now many literary scholars cite Shakespeare as a bit of a plagiarist when it comes to his plays; allegedly it's possible to work out what he was reading at the time he wrote each play with the only 'true original' being The Tempest! Even with this information, we didn't know that he took the characters of Romeo and Juliet in quite so obvious a manner.

You see, some thirty plus years before William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, a narrative poem titled The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet was written by Arthur Brooke. Like any historic piece of writing there are numerous theories on where Brooke got his idea with a few believing that he translated it from an Italian novella by Matteo Bandello and others thinking that he translated it from a French translation of Bandello's work which features characters named Reomeo Titensus and Juliet Bibleotet. Hmm...

Not much is known of Arthur Brooke - he died in a shipwreck just a year after publishing his most famous work - but it seems highly likely that William Shakespeare used The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet as his inspiration when writing Romeo and Juliet, primarily because the plot of the poem follows the play to the letter (minus the ending).  

As Wikipedia states, 'The poem's ending differs significantly from Shakespeare's play—the nurse is banished and the apothecary is hanged for their involvement in the deception, while Friar Lawrence leaves Verona to end his days in a hermitage.'

So if you ever sit there wondering to yourself why you can't come up with stories as good as Shakespeare, simply pick up a book by Stephen King, J.K. Rowling or some other successful author and plagiarise it for the stage. We wish you the very best of luck. You never know, school children might learn it 500 years from now!



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By Henry Fosdike