Romeo and Juliet (Folger Shakespeare Library Series)

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Overview

Each edition includes:

  • Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
  • Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play
  • Scene-by-scene plot ...
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Romeo and Juliet

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Overview

Each edition includes:

  • Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
  • Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play
  • Scene-by-scene plot summaries
  • A key to famous lines and phrases
  • An introduction to reading Shakespeare's language
  • An essay by an outstanding scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
  • Illustrations from the Folger Shakespeare Library's vast holdings of rare books

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., 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 www.folger.edu.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743477116
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 12/23/2003
  • Series: Folger Shakespeare Library Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 22,367
  • Product dimensions: 6.78 (w) x 4.24 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet 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—their older daughter Susanna and the twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare’s working life was spent, not in Stratford, but in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright, but as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Sometime between 1610 and 1613, Shakespeare is thought to have retired from the stage and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616.

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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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 120 )
Rating Distribution

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(33)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 120 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2008

    You should read this

    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.

    24 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2006

    Difficult but good

    I just finished reading and watching the play Romeo and Juliet for Freshman english. I must say that at first it's hard to understand but if you watch the movie after you read it it makes a lot more sense.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2010

    Meh

    I didn't really enjoy reading this very much. Romeo acts kind of like a girl. I'm not sure of behavior in the Elizabethan era, but it was so over-dramatized. The sexual puns didn't really add much to the story (my English teacher was explaining them. My oh my..) except for humor. Well, Elizabethan humor. Characterization was so strange, I just found it a bit unusual to read. But I do love the movie, if that counts for anything.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2010

    Thrilling!!!

    Romeo and Juliet is a touching/dramatic experience to go through. It's a non-stop book where you can't put it down.

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  • Posted June 13, 2010

    A Great Edition for High School Students

    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.

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  • Posted November 25, 2008

    Just What I thought...

    Ok, im sorry.... but this just didnt make any sense to me when we read it in class... good plot, though, i guess...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2007

    Wow...

    What a truly amazing book.I have just finished reading it, and I can't help wondering, 'What would of happened it the Montauges and Capulet's didn't hate each other? Would Romeo and Juliet not end in a tradgedy?'Some of you are either a. blowing the whole book out of proportion or b.didn't understand what the book was about. The reason Juliet drank the potion was because she was already married to Romeo, and wanted to remain a loyal wife. But Romeo misunderstood the message delivered to him, and wanted to also remain loyal to his wife, so he killed himself for her. And when she woke up and there was 'not a drop to help her over' (the poison on Romeo drank) she stabbed herself, once again, being a loyal wife The other reason she did that was that if she 'magically' came back alive to her parents, they'd probably really kill her anyways.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2006

    romio and julliet rocks!

    i think its good. im reading it in my class

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2006

    Classic Love Story

    There is a *reason* this story is considered one of the most classic love stories of all time. This is where knock-knock jokes come from - Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet! It's a fantastic tragedy, one that should be read and treasured, and if you don't like it the first time, do try again. You have to keep in mind while reading it several things. First, it is a play, not a fiction novel. Secondly, it was written in the sixteenth century, and things were much, much different back then. I do love this edition, as it explains much of the Shakespearean English and includes some illustrations.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2005

    Decent...

    There are two possible reasons I didn't like this book. 1. I had my expectations too high, 2.It just wasn't that great. I think it was a mix. I think that the book went too fast at some parts and too slow at some. The idea of the story was brilliant, but the story wasn't great or anything.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2004

    Westside story is screwy English

    This book is pretty good I must admit, but reading it aloud has been difficult. You should probably invest in a book on Shakespearean English. I often get tounge tied when reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2003

    JUST NO WORDS TO DESCRIBE IT

    Romeo and Juliet is probably a great beginner's book ofr Shakespeare's reader. It describe situations that occurs in our everyday lives. And this book also decoded Shakespeare's language, a lot easier for me. But A Midsummer Night's Dream is still the best Shakespeare I had read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2003

    Love Birds

    This play was very good. In some parts it was hard to understand, but it was very romantic. I would have to say it was a bit boring, but I liked it more than any other play I have read. I recommend that you read this play.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2003

    This play doesn't even deserve a star.

    I have read all of shakespeares plays and although I havnen't enjoyed all of them this one was the worst. Romeo and Juliet is a play about two star crossed lovers more like two spoiled rich kids seeking attention. Throughout the play both characters ignore solid fact and don't think before they act. This book was extremley unrealistic. If Juliet had told her parents that she'd already wed Romeo and the marriage had been consumated then they couldn't do a thing about it. In the end I belive that the parents would have realized that there childrens marriage strenghtens both houses. Both Capult and Montgue were wealthy families and by the joining of there children are now even wealther. So you see why this play was trash in my mind. Although Shakespeare wove the tale extremlly well and does deserve credit for his efforts and the marvelous writting talent that was wasted on a poor story.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2002

    Best adaption ever!

    As a high school freshman in a honors class, this is the best Romeo & Juliet Book ever! Next to each page is a list of old engish translations from the text on that page. It is an easy book to read because most of the Old English has been translated for ease of use. But while doing this, it does not destroy the "feeling of the piece." Which is wonderful because I want to read it as Shakepere wrote it. Having all of these side notes is having crib notes built into the book. I feel that this is a must have for every English classroom.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2003

    Moving...but not powerful

    The Tragedy of romeo and Juliet is a deeply emotional story, but it is definatly not for people who dont enjoy love stories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2002

    Good Book For Beginners

    I was only 15 when I read this book but it really helped me to understand what some of the harder words meant. I plan on digging it out and reading it again. I recommend this book only if you have a good vocabulary and/or are a patient reader. I still had difficulty since not all of the words and meanings of phrases were explained.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2002

    Captivating!

    This story was beautifully and wonderfully created; romance with a tragic twist of irony. Shakespeare speaks with such eloquence in this play. A tragedy that is truly timeless.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2002

    Arrgg.. I thought it would be good.

    I bite my thumb at you! Hark! ye is be not the greatest play.. Overdramatic and unrealistic. Desperation and love is all good fun until magic potions get all foom with the fire and the evil and the killin.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2002

    Romeo and Juliet

    I'm not giving this book five stars because if something better ever came along, I'd give that five stars -- but this play is one of the most incredible pieces of writing I've ever read. The flow of the language and powerful descriptions provide the imagination with compelling images.

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