Shakespeare Geek Facts – Romeo & Juliet

Shakespeare Geek Facts! 

(Because we can’t act footnotes.)

Kentucky Shakespeare 2016 Program Notes from Gregory Maupin, Dramaturg

Kentucky Shakespeare works mostly using Shakespeare’s First Folio. What on earth does that mean? Well, in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, some partners of his decided to publish 36 of his plays for posterity (and, you know, money; theatre people are always in need of money) in a volume known today as the First Folio (“First” because there were later editions that made changes, “Folio” because that’s the size of the paper the printers used). This is one of the surviving Folios that’s part of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust collection in Stratford-upon-Avon:


Shakespeare doesn’t seem to have been particularly worried about or interested in publishing them while he was alive. In fact, he may have been against it – some Quarto copies (“Quarto” paper is half the size of Folio) came out while he was alive that it appears he had nothing to do with. They may have been the equivalent of street corner pirated DVDs. (If the script was published – sometimes as a result of an audience member or former actor just writing it all down from memory – other companies could perform it. England has always been chock full of lawyers, but there was really no such thing as a copyright back then. Good thing too: Shakespeare snagged most of his plots from other sources. There is nothing new under the sun.)

Some of the plays appeared in print for the first time in the First Folio, otherwise we’d never have known about them. Others had one or more Quarto versions before that. What does this mean for a company performing the plays today? Well, if we’re performing Romeo and Juliet, for example (spoiler: we are) there are different typos and different missing words and all sorts of nonsense in literally every period version of the script. There were four (4) Quartos of R&J before the Folio, one more after, and the Folio itself went through multiple editions: let’s say seven or eight different scripts. All kinds of tiny, weird differences. All “by Shakespeare” (or fixed by others, or not, or… it’s been 400 years). None of them definitive.


The nice thing about having all this out in front of us while we prepare our rehearsal script and even after rehearsals begin is we can make choices about which versions of each differing line we choose to go with. Case in point: “Parting is such sweet sorrow” – who says it: Romeo or Juliet? That all depends on which version you use. That whole scene is full of variations and possibilities. Does Juliet have an excited stutter (as actress Megan Massie keeps asking in rehearsals) or are those repeated words typos? Possibilities. Anything that
opens up an actor’s choices – or corners them into making one, which is even better sometimes – is a good thing, we think.

If you’d like to take a look at one of the only 230-ish surviving copies of the First Folio, the Folger Shakespeare Library of Washington, D.C., is sending several of theirs out on a nationwide tour to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on (or about – nothing is certain with Shakespeare, whose daily life ha
s, like his hairline, receded into the past) April 23, 1616. It will be in Louisville at the Frazier History Museum in November and December (details here:


This also seems like a good place for a note of tribute to Neil Freeman.  Professor Freeman, who passed away late last year, is not someone I ever had personal contact with, but his work on the Applause editions of the Folio plays (including the big modern-type edition of the whole kit and caboodle – the thing has three separate ribbon bookmarks attached to its spine and is a glory to behold) has been of immeasurable help to me, the kind of person who loves to dwell in the footnotes, and to everyone in the Kentucky Shakespeare casts of the last few seasons.

“No Exorcisor harme thee,/ Nor no witch-craft charme thee./ Ghost unlaid forbeare thee./ Nothing ill come neere thee.”






A long-standing feud between two noble families – the Montagues and the Capulets – breaks out into brawling in the streets. The Prince of Verona threatens punishment for any further violence.

Young love 

Romeo Montague is hopelessly in love with Rosaline; to cure his lovesickness, his friends persuade him to go disguised to a party at the home of his family’s enemies, the Capulets. There he meets Juliet, only daughter of the Capulets, and without knowing each other’s names, they fall instantly in love. Juliet’s cousin Tybalt has spotted Romeo and his friends but is prevented from challenging them by her father.

Marriage proposals 

Though shocked to discover their families are enemies, Romeo and Juliet are determined to marry in secret. Romeo asks his friend and mentor Friar Lawrence to conduct the ceremony. Friar Lawrence reluctantly agrees, believing such a marriage might end the feud.

Old feuds, new casualties  

Romeo encounters Tybalt, who challenges him to a duel. For Juliet’s sake, Romeo is unwilling to fight; his friend Mercutio takes up the challenge. When Romeo steps between them in an effort to stop the fight, Tybalt kills Mercutio. In a rage, Romeo kills Tybalt and is forced to flee.

The Prince banishes Romeo, who runs to the Friar for advice. Juliet, unaware of her cousin’s death or her new husband’s banishment, eagerly awaits Romeo’s arrival. After delivering the bad news, her Nurse promises Juliet she’ll arrange one night together for the newly-weds before Romeo must leave Verona. At dawn, they part and promise to find a way to be together forever.

Juliet’s parents believe her grief is due to Tybalt’s death; seeking to cheer her, they arrange her immediate marriage to Count Paris. When she refuses, her father threatens to disown and abandon her, so she too seeks advice from the Friar.

Seeing her desperation, the Friar gives her a potion guaranteed to make it appear she has died in her sleep, but the effects of which will wear off within 42 hours, by which time she will be in her family’s crypt. He promises to send a letter of explanation to Romeo immediately, asking him to return in time for Juliet to awaken.

Juliet takes the potion, is discovered ‘dead,’ and her ‘corpse’ is taken to the crypt.

The ending

Stop reading now if you don’t want to know how it ends…

The Friar’s messenger is delayed; instead of learning of the Friar’s plan, Romeo’s servant brings news from Verona of Juliet’s supposed death. Devastated, Romeo purchases poison and hurries back to Verona, planning to die by Juliet’s side.

Love in death

Attempting to break into the crypt, he is interrupted by Paris. They fight. Romeo kills Paris, embraces Juliet’s body and drinks the poison, kissing her as he dies.

After learning of his undelivered message, the Friar runs to the crypt, discovers Paris’s body, and reaches Juliet’s side just as she wakes. Unable to persuade Juliet to leave her dead husband, and fearing for himself if he is discovered there, the Friar flees. Realizing all their plans have failed, Juliet stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger.

The bodies are discovered, the Friar confesses all he knows and is pardoned. Seeing the results of their feud, the warring families are reconciled and agree to build a monument to the young lovers.