2023: XXV

Names and sources for Romeo & Juliet

Grant W. Smith
Washington University

Pubblicato 2023-10-05


In his comedies Shakespeare changed most or all the names found in his plot sources, substituting instead names borrowed as analogs from other literature, names taken from common usage, and/or names he coined to describe appearances, actions, or attitudes of his characters. In his histories and tragedies, by contrast, Shakespeare most often relied heavily on the names he found in his plot sources. Romeo & Juliet illustrates the usual pattern of Shakespeare’s tragedies insofar as he used all the names included in his plot source, a narrative poem by Arthur Brooke entitled The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562), which was one of many versions. Thus, his use of names in Romeo & Juliet confirms his heavy reliance on his principal source plot.  However, Shakespeare also added many names in his distinctive version of the story. He also varied the actions of the characters named and even the forms of a few names. Thus, a complete analysis of Romeo & Juliet names helps to illustrate Shakespeare’s linguistic creativity, his relative independence from his plot source, and why we generally consider his version of this popular story to be the definitive version.