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ROMEO AND JULIET.
The original relater of this story appears to have been Luigi da Porto, a gentleman of Vicenza, who died in 1529. His novel seems not to have been printed till some years after his death; being first published at Venice, in 1535, under the title of “ La Giulietta :" there is, however, a dateless copy by the same printer. In the dedication to Madonna Lucina Savorgnana, he tells her, that the story was related to him by one of his archers, named Peregrino, a native of Verona, while serving in Friuli, to beguile the solitary road that leads from Gradisca to Udine.
Girolamo della Corte, in his History of Verona, relates it circumstantially as a true event, occurring in 1303 ;* but Maffei does not give him the highest credit as an historian. He carries his history down to the year 1560, and probably adopted the novel to grace his book. The earlier annalists of Verona, and, above all, Torello Sarayna, who published, in 1542, “Le Historie e Fatti de Veronesi nell Tempi d'il Popolo e Signori Scaligeri,” are entirely silent upon the subject, though some other domestic tragedies grace their narrations.
As to the origin of this interesting story, Mr. Douce has observed, that its material incidents are to be found in the Ephesiacs of Xenophon of Ephesus, a Greek romance of the middle ages: he admits, indeed, that this work was not published nor translated in the time of Luigi da Porto, but suggests that he might have seen a copy of the original in manuscript. Mr. Dunlop, in his History of Fiction, has traced it to the thirty-second novel of Massuccio Salernitano, whose “ Novelino,” a collection of tales, was first printed in 1476. The hero of Massuccio is named Mariotto di Giannozza, and his catastrophe is different; yet there are sufficient points of resemblance between the two narratives. Mr. Boswell observes, that
Captain Breval, in his Travels, tells us that he was shown at Verona what was called the tomb of these unhappy lovers; and that, on a strict inquiry into the histories of Verona, he found that Shakspeare had varied very little from the truth, either in the names, characters, or other circumstances of this play. The fact seems to be, that the invention of the novelist has been adopted into the popular history of the city, just as Shakspeare's historical dramas furnish numbers with their notions of the events to which they relate.
we may, perhaps, carry the fiction back to a much greater antiquity, and doubts whether, after all, it is not the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, enlarged and varied by the luxuriant imagination of the novelist.”
The story is also to be found in the second volume of the Novels of Bandello (Novel ix. ); and it is remarkable that he says it was related to him, when at the baths of Caldera, by the Captain Alexander Peregrino, a native of Verona; we may presume, the same person from whom Da Porto received it, unless this appropriation is to be considered supposititious. The story also exists in Italian verse; and I had once a glance of a copy of it in that form, but neglected to note the title or date, and had not time for a more particular examination. It was translated from the Italian of Bandello into French, by Pierre Boisteau, who varies from his original in many particulars; and, from the French, Painter gave a translation in the second volume of his Palace of Pleasure, 1567, which he entitled Rhomeo and Julietta. From Boisteau's novel, the same story was, in 1562, formed into an English poem, with considerable alterations and large additions, by Årthur Brooke : this poem the curious reader will find reprinted entire in the variorum editions of Shakspeare. It was originally printed by Richard Tottel, with the following title:-“ The Tragicall Hystorye of Romeus and Juliet, written first in Italian, by Bandell; and nowe in English, by Ar. Br.” Upon this piece Malone has shown, by unequivocal testimony, that the play was formed. Numerous circumstances are introduced from the poem, which the novelist would not have supplied; and even the identity of expression, which not unfrequently occurs, is sufficient to settle the question. Steevens, without expressly controverting the fact, endeavored to throw a doubt upon it by his repeated quotations from the Palace of Pleasure. In two passages, it is true, he has quoted Painter, where Brooke is silent; but very little weight belongs to either of them. In one, there is very little resemblance; and in the other, the circumstance might be inferred from the poem, though not exactly specified. The poem of Arthur Brooke was republished in 1587 with the title thus amplified :- :-“ Containing a rare Example of true Constancie: with the subtil! Counsells and Practices of an old Fryer, and their ill Event.”
In the preface to Arthur Brooke's poem there is a very curious passage, in which he says, “I saw the same argument lately set foorth on stage with more commendation then I can looke for, (being there much better set forth then I have or can dooe.)” He has not, however, stated in what country this play was represented: the rude state of our drama, prior to 1562, renders it improbable that it was in England. “Yet (says Mr. Boswell) I cannot but be of opinion that Romeo and Juliet may be added to the list, already numerous, of plays in which our great Poet has had a dramatic precursor, and that some slight remains of the old play are still to be traced in the earliest quarto.”