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The Social History of Romeo and Juliet

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Jay Rheingeld

on 2 September 2013

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Transcript of The Social History of Romeo and Juliet

Social and Historical
Context of the play

Romeo and Juliet
When the play was written
It is believed that the play Romeo and Juliet was first written between 1591 and 1595 by William Shakespeare. He didn't want his work published because he was afraid people would steal his work. That is why there is not a certain date for this play.
It is believed that the play was first performed sometime between 1594 and 1595. During this time, everyone wanted more entertainment so the play would have been soon after Shakespeare finished writing it.
Date First Performed
The tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet was about two young people who fell in love. Both Romeo and Juliet were only about 13 years old when they both committed suicide because they wanted to be together but their families were enemies so they were forbidden to get married. That way they could be together through death. They only knew each other for three days and four nights.
What is Romeo and Juliet really about?
The town of Verona was originated in the prehistoric time period.
Romeo and Juliet was set in Verona, Italy
Religion during
The Middle Ages
It became a roman town in 49 B.C.
Verona is the second largest city in the region and
the third largest in Northeast Italy.
Dante Alighieri, dedicated a sestina in the verses of the canto XVII of the Paradise to Bartolomeo I della Scala (the ruler of Verona). The poet makes also mention, in his Comedy, to the rivalry between the Montecchi and the Capuleti, in the canto IV of the Purgatory. The events narrated by Shakespeare took place in 1303, that his the age of Bartolomeo I della Scala.
In general Shakespeare's play uses the historical period of the Italian Renaissance period (1330-1550) in which to set the play, but The Elizabethan period in England (1558-1603) is it's literary origin.
By the time Shakespeare wrote the play, Europeans (including Italians), but predominantly the English educated nobles, were becoming interested in individual achievement and emphasized that life in this world was more important than preparation for life in the next world, which was stressed by religion. They believed strongly in the potential for individual accomplishment in the arts, literature, politics, and personal life. Individuals began to be encouraged to excel in a wide range of fields and showcase their talents.
Death was no longer just meant dread of judgement, but also the fear of losing the pleasures of the world.
Life in Italy 1303- 1595:
just before and during The Italian Renaissance
A video describing the Renaissance in Venice, Italy. It goes in depth into convents, a girl's life, Simone Martini's frescoes of Saint Martin, and Mary Hoffman's "The Falconer's Knot."
‘Juliet’s funeral’ by Scipione Vannutelli 1888
Wealthy Commoners
Pious Nuns and Brothers
Religious Artists
The Nobles
The Merchants
The Professionals
Mathematicians, Doctors, Professors etc.
Rich families
The Workers
Apothecary workers, Farmers, Marketplace folk,
Everyone in medieval times
was expected to go to church,
and to confess their sins to a priest.
If a person was considered to have
committed a really serious sin, they
could be excommunicated, that is
denied the right to attend church
or take communion.

People were expected to pay a
tenth of their income (a tithe) to
the church.

Catholicism's powers on
Italian society in the era the play was set (1303)
Every citizen was expected to go to church, and to confess to their mortal sins to a priest.
Mortal sins included: murder, blasphemy, adultery(cheating on a husband/wife), bigamy(marrying another man's wife), divorce, suicide and more.
Punishment for such sins resulted in excommunication (denied access to services, communion, Last rites: being given permission to heaven.) Death, torture, burning at the stake, kidnapping and banishment. A life of hell.
In Europe, Catholicism was the only religion; that is until 1534 when, under Henry VIII, England broke away from the faith... So Shakespeare wrote this play in a reformed, Protestant England.

A third of the land in Europe was owned by the Catholic church and the people
were expected to
pay a tenth of
their income
to the church..
So it was
a powerful

How can we compare the rules of the faith today?
Sermon on the sins of the flesh, mortal sin, etc.
In 1303, what kind of life did Verona give a teenager like Juliet?
A lifetime devoted to the Catholic faith
To obey all men
Consent to marry as young as 12 with parental consent
A chance to marry if her parents could pay the dowry, if not, she'd become a Nun or stay single and be branded a witch
No choice over who her husband might be, as her parents would decide (in view to improving their own family status)
As a wife, she would have whatever status befitted her husband (or father if single) and have half the rights to solely domestic tasks. Tasks included:weaving, baring children, reading French and Latin, medicating the whole household (including the servants!)
In 1303, what kind of life did Verona give a teenager like Romeo?
A lifetime devoted to the Catholic faith
A life of celibacy perhaps?
The right to education
The right to courtly love; the lady is in control, while he owes her obedience and victories in battle
Consent to marry as young as 14 with parental consent
Up keeping the honour of his family name meant that he would protect their reputation if the slightest wrong needed to be avenged (by revenge, violence, civil unrest or death)
A mini picture would be given to him of his wife to be but could be misleading!
The law would give him full rights of his wife
Courtly Love vs. Real Love
Courtly Love: The Middle Ages - An Age of Chivalry and Romance
Courtly Love was for royalty, the nobility or the general higher status.
It was: polite, restrained, courteous, ceremonious and intellectual. It was concerned with the idea of being in love.
Real Love was for the general working class with lower status. It was: passionate, keen on contact, physical, powerful, emotional and deep.

Real Love: The Middle Ages - Romeo and Juliet elope
"Kissing you"
Act 1 Scene 1
Was Romeo's love for Rosaline, that
of courtly or real love?
Being a woman in the Middle Ages
The wedding would be arranged by the local church. The first stage was 'Crying of the Banns'. The church would announce the marriage on 3 consecutive Sundays leading up to the wedding day to give opportunity for objection and to consider the marriage legal. Shakespeare didn't do this when he married Anne Hathaway, he got a marriage bond instead (2 weeks from the local minister). Allegedly, his father didn't consent and he wasn't at legal age!
This 1617 work by preacher William Whately is a
sermon intended to help marriages by offering separate instructions to husbands and wives. Whately finds domestic violence a debatable issue but ultimately argues that husbands should be able to beat their wives.—JE

People confronted death as a community
The Catholic Church claimed that once the body was dead, the soul proceeded to its eternal fate.
Under the Tudor monarchy the church and state took a strict view on suicide as a mortal sin which was linked to deep despair and demonic pride.
In English Renaissance drama however, suicide was often depicted in a far more subtle fashion, with dying a noble death led to an admiration for suicide dying a noble death leeding to an admiration for suicide

There was, of course, a difference between the sexes:
•It was considered that for a man to commit adultery
with a prostitute harmed no one but his wife, who was merely considered his possession
•However, to commit adultery with another man's wife was dishonourable because it wounded the honour of another man
•Meanwhile, women who committed adultery were always in the wrong and severely punished because they had dishonoured their husband's good name, and it was felt that the husband's governance was representative of the King's

sexual Double Standards
Horrible Histories - Elizabeth I's Online Dating

The Time Traveller's Guide to
Elizabethan England 1x01 -
The Common People

Renaissance means rebirth!
The Social Pyramid
Full transcript