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ROMEO AND JULIET.
The story on which this play is founded, is related as a true one in Girolamo de la Corte's History of Verona. In 1562, Mr. Arthur Brooke published a poem on the Tragicall Historie of Romeus and Juliett;' the materials for which he chiefly obtained from a French translation, by Boisteau, of an Italian novel by Luigi da Porto, a gentleman of Vicenza, who died in 1529. A prose translation of Boisteau's work was also published in 1567, by Painter, in his Palace of Pleasure; and on the incidents of these two works Shakspeare is supposed to have constructed this interesting tragedy. Malone imagines that the present piece was designed in 1591, and finished in 1596; but Chalmers refers it to 1592, and Dr. Drake to 1593. There are four early editions of it in quarto, namely those of 1597, 1599, 1609, and one without date; the first of which is less copious than the others; since each successive edition appears to have been revised, with additions to particular passages.
* This play,' says Dr. Johnson, ‘is one of the most pleasing of our author's performances. The scenes are busy and various, the incidents numerous and important, the catastrophe irresistibly affecting, and the process of the action carried on with such probability, at least with such congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires.
Here is one of the few attempts of Shakspeare to exhibit the conversation of gentlemen, to represent the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakspeare, that he was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third act, lest he should have been killed by him :' yet he thinks him * no such formidable person, but that he might have lived through the play, and died in his bed,' without danger to the poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in quest of truth, in a pointed sentence, that more regard is commonly had to the words than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously understood. Mercutio's wit, gaiety, and courage will always procure bim friends that wish him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated; he has lived out the time allotted him in the construction of the play; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakspeare to have continued his existence, though some of his sallies are perhaps out of the reach of Dryden; whose genius was not very fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humor; but acute, argumentative, comprehensive, and sublime.
The Nurse is one of the characters in which the author delighted : he has, with great subtilty of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest.
• His comic scenes are happily wrought, but bis pathetic strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations. His persons, however distressed, have a conceit left them in their misery; a miserable conceit.'
The violent feuds subsisting at Verona between the powerful
families of the Capulets and Montagues form no obstruction to the establishment of a mutual attachment between Romeo, the only son of Montague, and Juliet, the heiress of the house of Capulet. A secret marriage appears to realise their fond anticipations of felicity, when Tybalt, a nephew of Capulet, rouses the indignation of the young bridegroom by the murder of his friend Mercutio, and falls a sacrifice to his resentment in single combat. This outrage subjects Romeo to a sentence of banishment by the prince ; wbile the unsuspecting relatives of Juliet, attributing her grief to the loss of her cousin, resolve to divert her melancholy by an immediate marriage with Count Paris. Finding her parents inexorable to every entreaty of delay, the unfortunate lady repairs to the cell of Friar Laurence, who had married her; and receives from his hands a powerful soporific, causing a temporary suspension of the vital functions for two and forty hours. On the day appointed for the nuptials, Juliet is discovered stiff and cold, and is conveyed, amidst the tears of her family, to the cemetery of her ancestors. The good friar, in the mean time, despatches a messenger to the residence of Romeo at Mantua, arranging his secret return to his native city before the expiration of Juliet's sleep. But the destiny of the lovers is misfortune : the letter of Friar Laurence never reaches its destination; and the distracted husband, learning from another source the death of his mistress, hastens to Verona, forces an entrance in the obscurity of night to the monument of the Capulets, takes poison, and expires; soon after which the friar arrives to await the recovery of Juliet from her trance, who, reviving to a sense of her hopeless woe, and seeing the dead body of Romeo stretched before her, finds means to terminate her existence by plunging the dagger of her husband into her heart. The rival families now too late bewail their miserable infatuation, and, at the intercession of the prince, bury their animosities in a treaty of peace and alliance.