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Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

1. A Trip to the Theatre

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About this Lecture


In this module, we imagine ourselves going to the theatre in the 1590s to watch a new play called ‘Romeo and Juliet’, focusing in particular on: (i) the theatrical context: the location of the theatre (simply called ‘The Theatre’) in Shoreditch, the acting company (The Lord Chamberlain’s Men) and its most famous actor (Will Kemp), the playwright (Mr. William Shakespeare, most well-known for his narrative poem Venus and Adonis), and some of his more famous contemporaries (Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe); (ii) the sources for the play, including Arthur Brooke’s Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562), Matteo Bandello’s Novelle (1554), Luigi da Porto’s Historia Novellamente Ritrovata (1524) and Dante’s Divine Comedy; (iii) the tension between Italian setting of the play and its engagement with English folklore (Queen Mab) and contemporary history (the 1592-3 London plague); and (iv) the genre of the play, which looks for so long as if it will be a comedy.


In this course, Professor Helen Smith (University of York) explores Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In the first module, we imagine a trip to the theatre in the late 16th century, thinking about the literary, historical and theatrical context of the play. After that, we think about the presentation of love in the play, before turning in the third module to the themes of books and bookishness, reading and being read, and the extent to which Romeo and Juliet’s unique publication history might impact our interpretation of the play. In the fourth module, we think about Romeo and Juliet as a play to be acted and seen – the physicality of the actors, the importance of posture and gesture, etc. in interpreting the play – before turning in the fifth module to the critical history of the play from its earliest viewers such as Francis Meres and Samuel Pepys (“the worst [play] I have ever seen in my life”) to the direction of scholarship in the twenty-first century.

Note: We used the Arden edition of the play (Third Series, ed. René Weis). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.


A graduate of Glasgow and York, Helen taught at St Andrews and Hertfordshire before returning to York in 2004. Her wide-ranging interests embrace Renaissance poetry, drama, and prose; history of the book; feminist literary history and theory; religion and conversion; the history of reading; and materiality.

Helen has published more than thirty articles and chapters on topics ranging from the printing of Shakespeare’s early plays to the links between reading and digestion, the cultural and domestic presence of animals, the imaginative connections between physical illness and spiritual trial, and the many uses of early modern paper.

Her first monograph, Grossly Material Things: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, 2012) was awarded the Roland H. Bainton Literature Prize and the DeLong Book History Prize. Helen is co-editor of Renaissance Paratexts (Cambridge University Press, 2011; paperback 2014), The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England, c. 1530-1700 (Oxford University Press, 2015; awarded the Roland H. Bainton Reference Prize), and Conversions: Gender and Religious Change in Early Modern Europe (Manchester University Press, 2017).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Smith, H. (2020, January 21). Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet - A Trip to the Theatre [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Smith, H. "Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet – A Trip to the Theatre." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 21 Jan 2020,