This study guide will help you analyze the tragedy Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.
Please note that we also have authored a Lektürehilfe for the German translation: Romeo und Julia.
Presentation of the text
Title: The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (1597)
Author: William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English poet and playwright. He became famous already in his lifetime, and today he is one of the most recognized writers in the world.
Back then in the 16th century, information was not documented in the same way as it is today, and therefore there are large parts of Shakespeare's life that we do not know much about. He is believed to have been a student at the local Latin school in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18, he married the slightly older Anne Hathaway from the local area. Together they had three children: Susanna and the twins Hamnet and Judith.
However, his career began when Shakespeare moved to the capital London and became an actor and writer. Although the theater was not considered respectable in the England of that time, Shakespeare gained so much recognition that he is today referred to as "the Bard" - "the national poet". It is believed that he either wrote or co-authored 39 plays and 154 sonnets.
The tragedy Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's earliest works and became very popular already in his lifetime. We do not know exactly when the play was written, but probably in the early 1590s, when Queen Elizabeth I reigned. The first printed version of the play came in 1597, but was inaccurate compared to the original play. In 1599 a more reliable printed edition was made known.
Romeo and Juliet builds on earlier works by other authors. The story of two young lovers cursed by fate already existed in an old Italian tale, which was later retold by English writers. These works then became the inspiration for Shakespeare, who used the main plot but added secondary plots and supporting characters.
In our topic guide on William Shakespeare and his texts in general, you can find a lot of information about how to analyze the texts. You can also read about Shakespeare's historical context (the elizabethan era) and much, much more.