Romeo and Juliet

Moral ambitions

As discussed in Activity: Adaptations and Inspirations, Shakespeare adapted the story of Romeo and Juliet from other sources and made it his own. One of his major sources was Arthur Brooke’s The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet.

Below is a quote from Brooke’s introduction ‘To The Reader’:

And to this end, good Reader, is this tragical matter written, to describe unto thee a couple of unfortunate lovers, thralling themselves to unhonest desire; neglecting the authority and advice of parents and friends; conferring their principal counsels with drunken gossips and superstitious friars (the naturally fit instruments of unchastity); attempting all adventures of peril for th’ attaining of their wished lust; using auricular confession the key of whoredom and treason, for furtherance of their purpose; abusing the honourable name of lawful marriage to cloak the shame of stolen contracts; finally by all means of unhonest life hasting to most unhappy death.

  • Read the above extract.
  • Consider Brooke’s language and underline any words in the passage that you are unfamiliar with. What do you think they mean? Look up a definition and see if you were correct.
  • Compare and contrast Brooke’s representation of the “superstitious” Friar with Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet.
  • Compare each author’s representation of the characters of Romeo and Juliet. How is Shakespeare’s respresentation of the young lovers different to Brooke’s text?
  • Compare each author’s representation of parental influence. How do they differ?
  • Compare and contrast each author’s use of language to describe Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other.
  • What do you think are the main moral ambitions of Brooke and Shakespeare in their approach to telling the story of Romeo and Juliet?

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