Unsurpassed and unforgettable, Shakespeare’s tragedy about star-crossed lovers is one of his most frequently performed plays. On first read, Romeo and Juliet is particularly interesting in its subversion of comedic plot devices for tragic ends. Recent criticism has also focused on issues of gender roles and sexuality within the play. Its most enduring features, however, are the brilliance of its incandescent language, and its hauntingly familiar depiction of young love.
The prologue sets out the scheme of the tragedy: in the city of Verona live two families locked in an ancient feud, the Montagues and the Capulets. Juliet, a daughter of the Capulets, is engaged to marry Paris, while Romeo, a Montague, is mooning over his own unrequited love affair. The instant their eyes meet at a party, however, both of their lives are forever changed.
The play is also distinguished by the excellence of its supporting characters. Juliet’s Nurse is an outstanding comedic character whose dialogue is rife with puns and sexual innuendo. Romeo’s friend Mercutio delivers the famous ‘Queen Mab’ speech, and ultimately dies in a spectacular duel sequence.
Romeo and Juliet was first performed at the Curtain in 1596-7. The First Quarto was printed in 1597, and the longer Second Quarto in 1599. This was reprinted in 1609, and followed by the Fourth Quarto in 1622, which was the basis for the Folio text. This text is based on the Second Quarto.