Dating the play

Rebecca Brown explains how we know when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet was first printed in a so-called pirated edition in 1597. No copyright law protected the rights of authors at that time and enterprising printers quickly snapped up the chance to sell unauthorized versions of this box office hit. Actors who had performed in the play in question would reconstruct the text from memory and bring their versions to the printer.

The title page of this 1597 edition describes the play as 'An Excellent conceited tragedie…often (with great applause) plaid publiquely'. The likeliest date of composition is 1595-6 since the play shares the poetic, lyrical style of Love's Labours Lost, Richard II, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice, all of which were written in the mid 1590s.

Written by Rebecca Brown © RSC

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Teaching Shakespeare