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Shakespeare - Setting and sources

Like all writers of his time, Shakespear took other people’s stories and changed them. Only three of his plays are original. He often used Italian stories, which is why so many of his plays are set in Italy.

For his English history plays, Shakespeare read the resolution Holinshed. For his Roman plays, such as Julius Caesar, he read the Greek historian Plutarch in an English translation. Sometimes he took a play by another playwriter that was a success in London ten years before and rewrote it: he did this with two most famous plays, king Lear and Hamlet. But many of his sources are Italian stories by writers such as Boccaccia, Ariosto and Cinghio, which he read in English or French translations.

Where does Romeo and Juliet come from? The stroy starter in folklore, and it was first written down by the italian Masuccio Salernitano in 1476. The settings is the Italian city of Siena in the 15th century, and the loves are called Mariotto and Giannozza.

Then Luigi da Porto (1485-1529) from Vicenza (a town only 50 kilometers from Verona) wrote a new version of the story, which was published in 1530. In his Giulietta e Romeo or Historia novellamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti (“a retold story of two noble lovers”) he caught the settings to Verona at the time of Bartolomeo della Scala (1299-1304), one of the Scaligeri lords of Verona (see page 42.) This is why so many people also invented the feuding families (calling them Capuleti and Montecchi) and changed the lovers’ names to Romeo and Giulietta. But da Porto’s Giulietta is eighteen, and the lovers meet at her balcone several times.

In 1554, the Italian Matteo Bandello wrote a version with small changes. This was translated into French in 1559 by Pierre Boaistuau, and this version was translated several times into English.
Boaistuau French names for the families-Capulet and Montague-are used in English versione. Arthur Brooke’s 1562 poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, was very popular, and Shakespear used this version as his source. But Shakespear reduced this even more: his juliet will be fourteen in two weeks’ time.
For Brooke, the lovers are wrong. He writes that they follow ‘unhonest’ desire’ and do not follow the ‘authority of parents and friends’. His message is that is wrong to disobey parents. But in Shakespear’s paly the lovers become herpes: Juliet in particular is very brave when she disobey her parents.

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