Romeo and Juliet (Folger Shakespeare Library Series)

Romeo and Juliet (Folger Shakespeare Library Series)

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In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare creates a violent world, in which two young people fall in love. It is not simply that their families disapprove; the Montagues and the Capulets are engaged in a blood feud.

In this death-filled setting, the movement from love at first sight to the lovers’ final union in death seems almost inevitable. And yet, this play set in an extraordinary world has become the quintessential story of young love. In part because of its exquisite language, it is easy to respond as if it were about all young lovers.

The authoritative edition of Romeo and Juliet from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:

-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
-Newly revised explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play
-Scene-by-scene plot summaries
-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases
-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language
-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books
-An up-to-date annotated guide to further reading

Essay by Gail Kern Paster

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743477116
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 12/23/2003
Series: Folger Shakespeare Library Series
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 3,911
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 4.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, on England’s Avon River. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children—an older daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare’s working life was spent in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright and poet, but also as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Although some think that sometime between 1610 and 1613 Shakespeare retired from the theater and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616, others believe that he may have continued to work in London until close to his death.

Barbara A. Mowat is Director of Research emerita at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Consulting Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly, and author of The Dramaturgy of Shakespeare’s Romances and of essays on Shakespeare’s plays and their editing.

Paul Werstine is Professor of English at the Graduate School and at King’s University College at Western University. He is a general editor of the New Variorum Shakespeare and author of Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare and of many papers and articles on the printing and editing of Shakespeare’s plays.

Date of Death:


Place of Birth:

Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom

Place of Death:

Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom

Read an Excerpt

Shakespeare's Life

Surviving documents that give us glimpses into the life of William Shakespeare show us a playwright, poet, and actor who grew up in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon, spent his professional life in London, and returned to Stratford a wealthy landowner. He was born in April 1564, died in April 1616, and is buried inside the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

We wish we could know more about the life of the world's greatest dramatist. His plays and poems are testaments to his wide reading -- especially to his knowledge of Virgil, Ovid, Plutarch, Holinshed's Chronicles, and the Bible -- and to his mastery of the English language, but we can only speculate about his education. We know that the King's New School in Stratford-upon-Avon was considered excellent. The school was one of the English "grammar schools" established to educate young men, primarily in Latin grammar and literature. As in other schools of the time, students began their studies at the age of four or five in the attached "petty school," and there learned to read and write in English, studying primarily the catechism from the Book of Common Prayer. After two years in the petty school, students entered the lower form (grade) of the grammar school, where they began the serious study of Latin grammar and Latin texts that would occupy most of the remainder of their school days. (Several Latin texts that Shakespeare used repeatedly in writing his plays and poems were texts that schoolboys memorized and recited.) Latin comedies were introduced early in the lower form; in the upper form, which the boys entered at age ten or eleven, students wrote their own Latin orations and declamations, studied Latin historians and rhetoricians, and began the study of Greek using the Greek New Testament.

Since the records of the Stratford "grammar school" do not survive, we cannot prove that William Shakespeare attended the school; however, every indication (his father's position as an alderman and bailiff of Stratford, the playwright's own knowledge of the Latin classics, scenes in the plays that recall grammar-school experiences -- for example, The Merry Wives of Windsor, 4.1) suggests that he did. We also lack generally accepted documentation about Shakespeare's life after his schooling ended and his professional life in London began. His marriage in 1582 (at age eighteen) to Anne Hathaway and the subsequent births of his daughter Susanna (1583) and the twins Judith and Hamnet (1585) are recorded, but how he supported himself and where he lived are not known. Nor do we know when and why he left Stratford for the London theatrical world, nor how he rose to be the important figure in that world that he had become by the early 1590s.

We do know that by 1592 he had achieved some prominence in London as both an actor and a playwright. In that year was published a book by the playwright Robert Greene attacking an actor who had the audacity to write blank-verse drama and who was "in his own conceit [i.e., opinion] the only Shake-scene in a country." Since Greene's attack includes a parody of a line from one of Shakespeare's early plays, there is little doubt that it is Shakespeare to whom he refers, a "Shake-scene" who had aroused Greene's fury by successfully competing with university-educated dramatists like Greene himself. It was in 1593 that Shakespeare became a published poet. In that year he published his long narrative poem Venus and Adonis; in 1594, he followed it with The Rape of Lucrece. Both poems were dedicated to the young earl of Southampton (Henry Wriothesley), who may have become Shakespeare's patron.

It seems no coincidence that Shakespeare wrote these narrative poems at a time when the theaters were closed because of the plague, a contagious epidemic disease that devastated the population of London. When the theaters reopened in 1594, Shakespeare apparently resumed his double career of actor and playwright and began his long (and seemingly profitable) service as an acting-company shareholder. Records for December of 1594 show him to be a leading member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men. It was this company of actors, later named the King's Men, for whom he would be a principal actor, dramatist, and shareholder for the rest of his career.

So far as we can tell, that career spanned about twenty years. In the 1590s, he wrote his plays on English history as well as several comedies and at least two tragedies (Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet). These histories, comedies, and tragedies are the plays credited to him in 1598 in a work, Palladis Tamia, that in one chapter compares English writers with "Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets." There the author, Francis Meres, claims that Shakespeare is comparable to the Latin dramatists Seneca for tragedy and Plautus for comedy, and calls him "the most excellent in both kinds for the stage." He also names him "Mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare": "I say," writes Meres, "that the Muses would speak with Shakespeare's fine filed phrase, if they would speak English." Since Meres also mentions Shakespeare's "sugared sonnets among his private friends," it is assumed that many of Shakespeare's sonnets (not published until 1609) were also written in the 1590s.

In 1599, Shakespeare's company built a theater for themselves across the river from London, naming it the Globe. The plays that are considered by many to be Shakespeare's major tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth) were written while the company was resident in this theater, as were such comedies as Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure. Many of Shakespeare's plays were performed at court (both for Queen Elizabeth I and, after her death in 1603, for King James I), some were presented at the Inns of Court (the residences of London's legal societies), and some were doubtless performed in other towns, at the universities, and at great houses when the King's Men went on tour; otherwise, his plays from 1599 to 1608 were, so far as we know, performed only at the Globe. Between 1608 and 1612, Shakespeare wrote several plays -- among them The Winter's Tale and The Tempest -- presumably for the company's new indoor Blackfriars theater, though the plays seem to have been performed also at the Globe and at court. Surviving documents describe a performance of The Winter's Tale in 1611 at the Globe, for example, and performances of The Tempest in 1611 and 1613 at the royal palace of Whitehall.

Shakespeare wrote very little after 1612, the year in which he probably wrote King Henry VIII. (It was at a performance of Henry VIII in 1613 that the Globe caught fire and burned to the ground.) Sometime between 1610 and 1613 he seems to have returned to live in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he owned a large house and considerable property, and where his wife and his two daughters and their husbands lived. (His son Hamnet had died in 1596.) During his professional years in London, Shakespeare had presumably derived income from the acting company's profits as well as from his own career as an actor, from the sale of his play manuscripts to the acting company, and, after 1599, from his shares as an owner of the Globe. It was presumably that income, carefully invested in land and other property, which made him the wealthy man that surviving documents show him to have become. It is also assumed that William Shakespeare's growing wealth and reputation played some part in inclining the crown, in 1596, to grant John Shakespeare, William's father, the coat of arms that he had so long sought. William Shakespeare died in Stratford on April 23, 1616 (according to the epitaph carved under his bust in Holy Trinity Church) and was buried on April 25. Seven years after his death, his collected plays were published as Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (the work now known as the First Folio).

The years in which Shakespeare wrote were among the most exciting in English history. Intellectually, the discovery, translation, and printing of Greek and Roman classics were making available a set of works and worldviews that interacted complexly with Christian texts and beliefs. The result was a questioning, a vital intellectual ferment, that provided energy for the period's amazing dramatic and literary output and that fed directly into Shakespeare's plays. The Ghost in Hamlet, for example, is wonderfully complicated in part because he is a figure from Roman tragedy -- the spirit of the dead returning to seek revenge -- who at the same time inhabits a Christian hell (or purgatory); Hamlet's description of humankind reflects at one moment the Neoplatonic wonderment at mankind ("What a piece of work is a man!") and, at the next, the Christian disparagement of human sinners ("And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?").

As intellectual horizons expanded, so also did geographical and cosmological horizons. New worlds -- both North and South America -- were explored, and in them were found human beings who lived and worshiped in ways radically different from those of Renaissance Europeans and Englishmen. The universe during these years also seemed to shift and expand. Copernicus had earlier theorized that the earth was not the center of the cosmos but revolved as a planet around the sun. Galileo's telescope, created in 1609, allowed scientists to see that Copernicus had been correct; the universe was not organized with the earth at the center, nor was it so nicely circumscribed as people had, until that time, thought. In terms of expanding horizons, the impact of these discoveries on people's beliefs -- religious, scientific, and philosophical -- cannot be overstated.

London, too, rapidly expanded and changed during the years (from the early 1590s to around 1610) that Shakespeare lived there. London -- the center of England's government, its economy, its royal court, its overseas trade -- was, during these years, becoming an exciting metropolis, drawing to it thousands of new citizens every year. Troubled by overcrowding, by poverty, by recurring epidemics of the plague, London was also a mecca for the wealthy and the aristocratic, and for those who sought advancement at court, or power in government or finance or trade. One hears in Shakespeare's plays the voices of London -- the struggles for power, the fear of venereal disease, the language of buying and selling. One hears as well the voices of Stratford-upon-Avon -- references to the nearby Forest of Arden, to sheepherding, to small-town gossip, to village fairs and markets. Part of the richness of Shakespeare's work is the influence felt there of the various worlds in which he lived: the world of metropolitan London, the world of small-town and rural England, the world of the theater, and the worlds of craftsmen and shepherds.

That Shakespeare inhabited such worlds we know from surviving London and Stratford documents, as well as from the evidence of the plays and poems themselves. From such records we can sketch the dramatist's life. We know from his works that he was a voracious reader. We know from legal and business documents that he was a multifaceted theater man who became a wealthy landowner. We know a bit about his family life and a fair amount about his legal and financial dealings. Most scholars today depend upon such evidence as they draw their picture of the world's greatest playwright. Such, however, has not always been the case. Until the late eighteenth century, the William Shakespeare who lived in most biographies was the creation of legend and tradition. This was the Shakespeare who was supposedly caught poaching deer at Charlecote, the estate of Sir Thomas Lucy close by Stratford; this was the Shakespeare who fled from Sir Thomas's vengeance and made his way in London by taking care of horses outside a playhouse; this was the Shakespeare who reportedly could barely read but whose natural gifts were extraordinary, whose father was a butcher who allowed his gifted son sometimes to help in the butcher shop, where William supposedly killed calves "in a high style," making a speech for the occasion. It was this legendary William Shakespeare whose Falstaff (in 1 and 2 Henry IV) so pleased Queen Elizabeth that she demanded a play about Falstaff in love, and demanded that it be written in fourteen days (hence the existence of The Merry Wives of Windsor). It was this legendary Shakespeare who reached the top of his acting career in the roles of the Ghost in Hamlet and old Adam in As You Like It -- and who died of a fever contracted by drinking too hard at "a merry meeting" with the poets Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson. This legendary Shakespeare is a rambunctious, undisciplined man, as attractively "wild" as his plays were seen by earlier generations to be. Unfortunately, there is no trace of evidence to support these wonderful stories.

Perhaps in response to the disreputable Shakespeare of legend -- or perhaps in response to the fragmentary and, for some, all-too-ordinary Shakespeare documented by surviving records -- some people since the mid-nineteenth century have argued that William Shakespeare could not have written the plays that bear his name. These persons have put forward some dozen names as more likely authors, among them Queen Elizabeth, Sir Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere (earl of Oxford), and Christopher Marlowe. Such attempts to find what for these people is a more believable author of the plays is a tribute to the regard in which the plays are held. Unfortunately for their claims, the documents that exist that provide evidence for the facts of Shakespeare's life tie him inextricably to the body of plays and poems that bear his name. Unlikely as it seems to those who want the works to have been written by an aristocrat, a university graduate, or an "important" person, the plays and poems seem clearly to have been produced by a man from Stratford-upon-Avon with a very good "grammar-school" education and a life of experience in London and in the world of the London theater. How this particular man produced the works that dominate the cultures of much of the world almost four hundred years after his death is one of life's mysteries -- and one that will continue to tease our imaginations as we continue to delight in his plays and poems.

Copyright © 2003 by The Folger Shakespeare Library

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Romeo and Juliet (Folger Shakespeare Library Series) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 143 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My class at school just finished a quarter unit on this book/play. Like everyone in my class ended up loving it, although when I first saw it on the syllabus, I groaned and thought "Great, we have to read Romeo and Juliet." I liked it especially the quick, sarcastic and witty dialouge, and paraphrasing. You have to be good at that in order to read this, or NONE of it will make sense at ALL. We also watched the 1968 movie version (don't watch the new one-it's awful). My favorite character in the play was Mercutio!!! he was funny.
MMLovejoy More than 1 year ago
As an experienced high school English teacher, I always advise my students and their parents to purchase a Folger's edition of Shakespeare's plays. The notes, summaries, and other commentary serve the novice Shakespearean reader well and make the classical allusions and denotations of unfamiliar and common words and phrases from the Elizabethan age much easier for 21st Century readers to understand.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was asked to play Juliet in a movie for my friend's English project and my crush played Romeo! It was a dream come true. We got to hold hands and hug multiple times!!!
fufuakaspeechless on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shakespeare has a nice writing style, but Romeo and Juliet were really stupid, so I'm feeling this was just okay. It wasn't true love as much as it was infatuation.
Literate.Ninja on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Easily one of my least favorite of The Bard's works. Reading this in high school very nearly put me off Shakespeare for good. One of the first books I ever remember reading that made me want to smack both main characters upside the head and ask them "What the heck are you thinking?!"
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It makes for a more interesting read if you choose to interpret it as a Trainwreck, instead of a love story against which all others should be measured. If ~anyone~ in the entire play had enough sense to tell them "Hey, slow down, you knew each other for under a day when you decided to get married, let's just be rational," things wouldn't have turned out as they did. Shakespeare's very very impressive in how lifelike his characters are, and how engaging his plays are (compared to many other dull dull plays of the time), but...Romeo and Juliet really pushes the boundaries of credibility for me
rinny on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Romeo and Juliet is a huge tragedy. It is a good romance novel though. I liked reading it because I was able to understand all of those classic lines used in the novel. like romeo oh romeo where for out thou romeo.
CynDaVaz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am not a Shakespeare fan. I have never gotten why people think his writing is so great. I'm just not cut out for this kind of reading. I hate it, I really do. Being forced to read him in high school had a lot to do with creating this extreme dislike I have for almost all of his work.
raphaelmatto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fantastic how much can be lost at a young age when actions are driven by obsession.
MissLizzy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this fall semester of my freshman year of high school, and have loved it ever since--it remains one of my most favorite books/plays.
06nwingert on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Underage, star-crossed lovers, gangs and drugs. What more can you ask for? I read Romeo and Juliet as an 11-year-old and fell in love with the aforementioned themes.
paradox98 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I believed this play to be seriously overrated-- and then I read it. LOL. A beautiful piece of literature that truly encaptures what it is to be a "star-crossed lover."
es135 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is proof that Shakespeare plays should be experienced not read. As a piece of literature, this does not work. As a drama, this is exceptional. the movie.
Borg-mx5 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The classic play. Some of the finest dialogue in the English language. This is a student edition with additional materials and illustrations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Do not buy the hard cover edition. I was shocked at the terrible quality of this book. It's very small, and feels weightless. It has a cheap cardboard cover, and the worst quality paper I've ever seen in a book sold in America. The high price makes this quality a disgrace. In terms of content, the contextual notes are not as helpful as other editions available. I returned this book in exchange for a much better edition from Penguin books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is a romantic and tragic story. The story is very emotional and intriguing. It takes place in Verona, Italy where two families the Montague's and Capulet's have a big feud against each other. The story begins as one of the main character Romeo from the Montague family is sad because he loves a girl but she doesn’t love him. After a short time he quickly falls in love with Juliet from the Capulet family. Romeo and Juliet end up getting married secretly. The two families feud escalates as the story goes on. Romeo is banished from Verona due to him killing a Capulet. Juliet becomes very unhappy with her family and goes to friar Lawrence, the priest, for help. They devise a plan to get Juliet and romeo back together. Romeo was suppose to receive a letter from the Friar, but didn't receive it. This causes a tragic event to occur. In the end tragedy to both families end up breaking the feud.
Tallkid More than 1 year ago
The book “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare is a romantic and tragic story, it is when two lovers fall in love in first sight. The only bad thing is that they can’t be together since their families the Capulets and Montagues are in a blood feud which states that they can’t be together. The boy Romeo is a Montague and the girl Juliet is a Capulet. So throughout the book Romeo wants to marry Juliet but bad things went out of hand after. A guy which is a Capulet named Paris wants to marry Juliet but she denies him but she has to. So her and a man that she knows made a plan she won’t marry Paris, and try to marry Romeo but things went completely wrong after. Reading this book will show some emotion to love and will lead to tears at the end. So I would recommend this book.
jc149 More than 1 year ago
“Romeo and Juliet” written by Shakespeare is a very romantic adventurous tragedy which will take you on an adventure and leave you with tears. The main characters Romeo and Juliet are lovers but their families have a big feud with each other and don’t get along. Romeo is a teen with a vibrant attitude but is very fragile when it comes to love. Juliet is a woman who is forced to get married to someone she doesn’t like but tries to find love and a husband in Romeo. The two families the Montagues were Romeo is from and the Capulets were Juliet is from are enemies and have had a long lasting feud for all the time they could remember. Romeo and his Juliet must find a way to keep their relationship a secret from their families so no punishment will come to them and they must find a way to bring peace to their families. Thus this is the plot of Romeo and Juliet. This book is very appealing if you’re in a relationship with someone your family doesn’t approve and this will also appeal to you if you have someone you loved taken away from you. This will give more emotion to your sad side and your peaceful side.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love the book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love it and am reading it in english. My english teacher gave us all parts and we are over doing it especially Dustin who got Mercutio.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
it was helpful to my assignment thank you very much and thank you for the information for the author of this article thank you also
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