What Year Did Shakespeare Write ‘Romeo and Juliet’?

The Origins of Romeo and Juliet's Tragic Love Story

'Romeo and Juliet' - Title Page from the First Quarto
'Romeo and Juliet' - Title Page from the First Quarto. Photo © British Library

Although there is no record of when Shakespeare actually wrote Romeo and Juliet, it was first performed in 1594 or 1595. It is likely that Shakespeare wrote the play shortly before its premiere performance.

But while Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, the storyline is not entirely his own. So, who wrote the original Romeo and Juliet and when? 

Italian Origins

The origins of Romeo and Juliet are convoluted, but many people trace it back to an old Italian tale based on the lives of two lovers who tragically died for each other in Verona, Italy in 1303.

Some say the lovers, although not from the Capulet and Montague families, were real people. 

While this may as well be true, there is no clear record of such a tragedy occurring in Verona in 1303. Tracing it back, the year seems to be proposed by the City of Verona Tourist Site, most likely in order to boost touristic appeal. 

Capulet and Montague Families

The Capulet and Montague families were most likely based on the Cappelletti and Montecchi families, which did exist in Italy during the 14th century. While the term "family" is used, Cappelletti and Montecchi were not the names of private families but rather local political bands. In modern terms, perhaps the word "clan" or "faction" is more accurate.

The Montecchi was a merchant family that competed with other families for power and influence in Verona. But there is no record of a rivalry between them and the Cappelletti. Actually, the Cappelletti family was based in Cremona.

Early Text Versions of Romeo and Juliet

In 1476, the Italian poet, Masuccio Salernitano, wrote a story titled Mariotto e Gianozza. The story takes place in Siena and centers around two lovers who are secretly married against the wishes of their families and end up dying for each other due to a tragic miscommunication.

In 1530, Luigi da Porta published Giuletta e Romeo, which was based on Salernitano's story. Every aspect of the plot is the same. The only differences are that Porta changed the names of the lovers and the setting location, Verona rather than Siena. Also, Porta added the ball scene in the beginning, where Giuletta and Romeo meet, and has Giuletta commit suicide by stabbing herself with a dagger rather than wasting away like in Salernitano's version.

English Translations

Porta's Italian story was translated in 1562 by Arthur Brooke, who published the English version under the title The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. William Painter retold the story in prose in his 1567 publication, Palace of Pleasure. It is most likely that William Shakespeare read these English versions of the story and was thus inspired to pen Romeo and Juliet.

More Info

Our list of Shakespeare plays brings together all 38 plays in the order in which they were first performed. You can also read our study guides for the Bard’s most popular plays.