Merrimack Repertory Theatre Blog



The following article appears in the student study guide for Flings & Eros, and may be interesting to those looking to learn more about production.

Stephen Bent and Rod Kimball

Stephen Bent and Rod Kimball

Romeo and Juliet is one of William Shakespeare’s tragedies. Thought to be written in the early 1590’s, the play was Shakespeare’s most popular in his time. Today it is still one of Shakespeare’s most produced works. Romeo and Juliet are considered the classic pair of archetypal lovers, each with their own gender-based faults and desires. Apart, they struggle within their oppressive families, whose animosities towards one another act as a boundary between the two lovers, preventing them from marrying, and resulting with the two committing suicide. The tale, however, was not Shakespeare’s original idea. Like many of his plays, he borrowed and used ideas from other writings available to him. The story of Romeo and Juliet is attributed first to The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, written by Arthur Brooke in 1582. Another work, a piece of prose by William Painter in 1582, Palace of Pleasure, adapted Arthur Brooke’s work; and it is this piece that Shakespeare borrowed from and adapted the names Romeo and Juliet, along with the theme of young love, into his famous play.

The story of a man’s melancholy dissipating when he meets his true love, and the hardships one must overcome to obtain such love, is a story much older than Shakespeare, yet it is also just as contemporary and relevant in modern society as it was in the 1600’s. Theatre, television, film, and even pop music still use such a narrative to evoke sadness and hope in audiences today.

Romeo and Juliet has been adapted in many ways since its first appearance on stage over 400 years ago. From the famous musical West Side Story in 1950, to the modern 1996 film adaptation, with firearms replacing sword play, MTV’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. Today, the two names go hand in hand with the word love, and it is impossible to deny the impact the play has had on how audiences view other love dramas and even their own lives.

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