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Romeo and Juliet--time setting? - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Romeo and Juliet--time setting?
Okay, so for random reasons, I've had Romeo and Juliet on the brain. And while I can find when it was most likely written, and when its antecedents were written, what I can't find is much information about when it's set. Neither of the people I've asked know for sure either, though all of us have a vague idea that it's Renaissance, with a tentative possibility of late Middle Ages. The Wiki article mentions that the Catholic Church, at the Council of Trent (1545, placing it after the Italian Renaissance proper, I think), made some enemies by recognizing marriages that weren't approved by families, and it might make sense if it took place soon after that, given Friar Lawrence's sneaky wedding without bothering to discuss it with the parents--if it was something that was a hot button issue between the Church and the community, it might have political ramifications. Would 1550-ish work? Is there anything to contradict it? Suggest earlier? Later? Versions back to 1476 appear in Italy (1530 with the names), but apparently it was Shakespeare's version (1599) that took the radical step of sympathizing with the little emo kiddies the lovers.

Anyway, just trying to nail it down.
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harriet_wimsey From: harriet_wimsey Date: May 2nd, 2006 01:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Emo little kiddies is certainly the way I've always thought of them. I have no idea when it's supposed to be set, though. Other than the actually historical plays, I never got the idea that his works were set in any very specific time.
lareinenoire From: lareinenoire Date: May 2nd, 2006 02:10 am (UTC) (Link)
I've always considered Romeo to be more emo than Juliet, but I've liked her ever since I first read the play, so I suppose I'm biased more than a little. And then there's always Mercutio teh sexy.

As to when it's set, I've always assumed it was late 15th/early 16th-century, though the Montecchi family (supposedly a rough basis for the Montagues) were around more notably in the medieval period. While the Council of Trent makes things official, I'd say it's a logical assumption that marriages were being contracted without familial approval prior to that. You've got the case of the Duchess of Amalfi (of John Webster fame), also late 15th/early 16th-century, where the lady in question, recently widowed, married her steward and ended up getting both of them killed when her brothers sought revenge for it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 2nd, 2006 02:20 am (UTC) (Link)
It's amazing how contemporary Mercutio comes off, archaic language and all, isn't it? And yeah, Teh Sexeh. He could be modern romance hero's joking sidekick, and he's a hell of a lot more engaging than Rob Reiner in Sleepless in Seattle. Romance is the only genre where I almost always like the sidekicks more than the heroes, because they're put onstage just to amuse me.

I do actually like both the kids, though Romeo can be quite the little dork. Juliet is beautifully thirteen. I didn't realize how beautifully until I actually had a thirteen-year-old read and her brother read the scene where Juliet is pestering the Nurse for information, and the Nurse keeps changing the subject. The love scenes, she kind of stumbled through, but once she got into the territory, "Ya gotta tell me! Ya gotta!" the age came through loud and clear.
lareinenoire From: lareinenoire Date: May 2nd, 2006 02:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Juliet is beautifully thirteen.

She really truly is. Though I love the Balcony Scene, where Romeo's spouting all sorts of Petrarch-isms, and Juliet just keeps demanding to know why he's there, how he got there, and if anyone saw him. That, and her declarations of love are so simple, they're beautiful.

And you're completely right about the scene with her and the Nurse. That was one thing that struck me when I was directing the play; my Juliet really had that down.
chicleeblair From: chicleeblair Date: May 2nd, 2006 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
we just did this play called "When Shakespeare's Ladies Meet". It's a cute little one-act, if a bit cheesy, which over plays several of shakespeare's characters. One of them was Juliet, and the day when the actors got it the most the girl playing Juliet played this horribly petulent.... thirteen year old.

the girl is what we tend to think of as juliet, sweet, kind. But the character is really a rebel thirteen year old girl!
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 2nd, 2006 02:38 am (UTC) (Link)
The nurse says that it has been eleven years since "the earthquake." This could refer to either an earthquake in Italy in 1570 or one in England in 1580.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 2nd, 2006 02:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Helpful! Since it's in Italy, I'd go with the Italian one, although Shakespeare may well have had the English one in mind; modern readers are pickier about that kind of thing.
sea_thoughts From: sea_thoughts Date: May 2nd, 2006 03:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Romeo is definitely emo ("Oh God, Rosaline doesn't love me, my life is not worth living!") but I never thought of Juliet like that. She just feels, she's not old enough to make a drama out of her emotions. This is something my sister and I were discussing the other day, actually: how old is Romeo? I put him at 16-18 but I could be wrong.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: May 2nd, 2006 08:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I think the anonymous' suggestion about dating by the earthquake is best, if you want an exact date - actually, according to prevalent mediaeval theories of marrriage, you didn't need the consent of your families (though the position is rather complicated, as things were still being worked out: but the debate really centred on whether you needed witnesses or not, IIRC) Quite why Trent would cause an uproar, I'm not sure - unless it restated forcibly something which had been forgotten in the modst of all the rows about indulgences, the Eucharist, translating the Bible- which were the the hot-button issues in the 1520s, say.

But I think myself that it's set in 'vaguely Renaissance land', myself: it doesn't matter when. I think marriage without the consent of your family is always a emotional hot-button issue, and in virtually any culture.
alkari From: alkari Date: May 3rd, 2006 08:27 am (UTC) (Link)
"Juliet is beautifully thirteen." - LOL.

My brother is a teacher, and some years ago was doing the play with his class of 13-14 year olds, who initially turned up their noses at such a 'soppy' story. A fellow teacher commented on all the laughter from the classes, and my brother told him what they were doing. His technique? He had them all read the play aloud, and 'cast' the characters within the class according to RL personalities and looks. With the resident Romeo cast as Romeo, and adorable sexy blonde 13-going-on-25 girl as Juliet, everyone had a great time, and the story of the young lovers really hit home.
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