53. Shakespeare and Brooke Both Borrowed from North’s pre-1562 “Romeo and Juliet”: Changing Juliet’s Wedding into a Funeral

In 1562, two years before Shakespeare was born and seven years after Thomas North traveled through the Lombardy regions of Italy with the Viscount Montague, young Arthur Brooke referred to a stage tragedy on Romeo and Juliet. Brooke, who had connections to the Inns of Court, cited the play in a foreword to his long poem on the star-crossed lovers. He wrote that he had seen the subject “set forth on stage with more commendation than I can look for — being there much better set forth than I have or can do” (iiiv). 1562 is also two years after Heywood placed North at the top of a list of best tragedians at the Inns of Court.

As we will show in the next several posts: Thomas North was the author of this early tragedy on Romeo and Juliet, likely in 1559-60, which not only served as the primary source for Shakespeare’s famous play but clearly influenced Brooke as well. Indeed, Shakespeare scholars have found so many proofs of connections, both linguistic and plot-related, between Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Brooke’s poem that they have identified the latter as Shakespeare’s primary source. But as noted, in reality, both the extant play and some of Brooke’s poem derive from North’s earlier tragedy, first likely written all in end-stopped rhyme. (North would also modify his tragedy in the early 1580s.)

We can prove this by contrasting Brooke’s poem with the untranslated source-tale that Brooke mostly used: Pierre Boistuau’s Histoires Tragiques (1559). Such an analysis shows us exactly where Brooke seems to have expanded certain parts of the tragedy, adding new info and long speeches. Importantly, many of Brooke’s seemingly original expansions of the tale appear to derive from North’s Dial (1557)—as well as North’s experiences in Italy as documented in his travel journal (1555.) What is more, Shakespeare’s play also includes analogous speeches that also appear to come from these very same Northern passages.

Importantly, both Brooke and Shakespeare not only share some of the same elements from these Northern passages, they also include different elements from these same Northern passages. In other words, it seems as if both Brooke and Shakespeare, writing more than 30 years apart, scanned through North’s Dial and independently decided to borrow material from the same exact pages and passages of North–even from the exact same poem and stanzas. Even more stunningly, both Brooke and Shakespeare take these same passages of North and reuse them in the very same moments in their respective tragedies.

Of course, this is all wildly improbable. What really happened is that North, as he always did, recycled and echoed his own passages when writing the original Romeo and Juliet, and some of this Northern material ended up in Brooke’s poem and remain in Shakespeare’s extant play.

Brooke’s expansions on the tale that he got from North’s Romeo and Juliet:  
  1. The change of Rome’s last name from Montecchi to Montague –which in Early Tudor times was necessarily connected with Anthony Browne, Viscount Mountague (North’s trip and journal, 1555)
  2. The transformation of Juliet’s wedding to a funeral, from wedding music and Hymen’s bed to a dirge and grave, etc. (From North’s original poem on Camma in The Dial, 1557)
  3. The series of pointed effects of Romeo’s depression (The Dial, 1557)
  4. The advanced irrigation streams of the plains and valleys of Lombardy that make it the most fertile and profitable land in the world (North’s trip and journal, 1555)
  5. The explicit description of the Apothecary’s desperate poverty, which also connects to Arden of Faversham and Comedy of Errors (The Dial, 1557)
  6. Other quotes of North that also appear in Brooke’s augmentations of the story.
North Changes Montecchi to Montague:

As Michael Blanding once wrote to me in an email: it seems strange that the staunchly Protestant Arthur Brooke would honor the overtly Catholic Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague, by changing the name of his protagonist to Montague. It seems more likely, he suggested, that the name change first occurred in the stage play that Brooke had so much enjoyed — and that Brooke was influenced by the play. Brooke did, after all, highly praise the play, and it does seem that he is citing a source. We now have evidence supporting this view, showing not only that the name-change was associated with (and likely done on behalf of) the Viscount Montague, but that it first appeared in the original pre-1562 play of Romeo and Juliet, not Brooke’s poem.

As noted, in 1555, North traveled with Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague, to Italy and back, and his respect for the Viscount explains why he changed Romeo’s name. Indeed, in 1572, George Gascoigne wrote a masque for Viscount Montague in which he clearly echoed the opening of North’s tragedy, confirming that the Montagu name in the tragedy was associated with the Viscount and the language of that early 1560s play was much like the extant version:

To Viscount Montague:

“This token which the Montacutes (Montagues) did bear always, for that

They covet to be known from Capels [i.e. Capulets] where they pass,

  For ancient grudge which long ago ‘twene these two houses was.

Then took me by the hand[i]

Romeo and Juliet on Montagues and Capulets:

Two households both alike in dignity

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

            Importantly, this language –“ancient grudge,” “these two house(holds)” — does not appear in Brooke’s poem, which indicates that Gascoigne was echoing the original play. And as Gascoigne was also in Leicester’s circle of writers, it is understandable why he would be familiar with it.

Shakespeare and Brooke: Changing Weddings Into Funerals

As we saw in the previous post, like many plays in the canon, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet contains a number of borrowings from North’s first translation, The Dial of Princes (1557), published two years after North returned from his trip through Italy. And one of the most pointed resemblances involves North’s original poem on the suicide of the beautiful and virtuous Camma, whose wedding day was turned into a funeral. This clearly was the inspiration for the tragedy’s descriptions of Juliet’s wedding day, which was also suddenly turned into her funeral.

Significantly, Arthur Brooke also takes extensively from this very same poem for Juliet’s wedding/funeral. Indeed, both writers appear to focus on the very same series of stanzas. And most importantly,  Shakespeare and Brooke, working more than 30 years apart, appear to take different elements from these very same stanzas:

North’s Wedding into a FuneralBrooke’s Wedding into a Funeral
[Intro:] And as the fatal destinies had ordained it…he obtained her in marriage for his lawful wife… and by his parents much importuned, that she would… forgive him the death of her husband Sinatus, which then was buried…. that the new married folks should eat together in one dish, and drink in one cup; the day that the marriage was celebrated, Camma determined to prepare a cup with poison….(p. 191)  

And thou Sinoris, which Juno’s yoke dost crave,
To press my corpse to feed thy liking lust,
The rout of
Homer’sgods, thee grant to have,
Instead of royal feast, a throne of dust.

In change of costly robes and rich array,
A simple winding sheet they deign thee give,
And eke instead of honest wedlock’s stay,
They sing thy dirge, and not vouchsafe thee live.
In place of Hymens high unfiled bed
They lay thee up in closure of thy grave: Instead with precious meats for to be fed,
They make the worms for fitter prey thee have.
Instead of song, and music’s tuned sound,
They wait on thee, with loud lamenting voice,
In change of joyful life, and high renown,
Thy cruel death may spread with wretched noise
Unless this wretch, ye ruthless cause to die,
That lives now to slander of your name…(ll. 81-100)  
But now what is decreed by fatal destiny (859)
The one shall use her as his lawful wedded wife (230)  

About her obsequies, to see their darling buried.
Now is the parents’ mirth quite changed into moan,
And now to sorrow is returned the joy of every one ;
And now the wedding weeds for mourning weeds they change
And Hymen into a dirge; Alas! it seemeth strange
Instead of marriage gloves, now funeral gloves they have,
And whom they should see married, they follow to the grave.
The feast that should have been of pleasure and of joy, Hath every dish and cup filled full of sorrow and annoy. Now throughout Italy this common use they have
That all the best of every stock are earthed in one grave For every household, if it be of any fame,
Doth build a tomb or dig a vault that bears the household’s name;
Wherein, if any of that kindred hap to die,
They are bestowed; else in the same no other corpse may lie.
The Capulets her corpse in such a one did lay,
Where Tybalt, slain of Romeus, was laid the other day.; Another use there is, that whosoever dies,
Borne to their church with open face upon the bier he lies,
In wonted weed attired, not wrapped in winding sheet. (2506-25)  
Thee therefore mighty Jove I justly crave
Chose for his fere, when sweetly he had sued
(ll. 45, 52)
[Other phrases from North’s Poem on Camma:]
And eke; but lo; heaps of (lingering) harms; Gladsome; dreadless, wailful; sharp revenge; Ne; greedy worms; foe’n; wedlock; Juno’s yoke  
And mighty Jove with speed of justice bring them low… At sixteen years I first did choose my loving fere,
(ll. 304, 697)  
[Other phrases from Brooke’s Poem on R&J:]
And eke, but lo; heaps of harms, Gladsome,
dreadless, wailful; sharp revenge; Ne, greedy worms, foe’n; wedlock yoke  
[Other lines in North’s Dial, different pages:]
I will do what lies in me to do, and afterward let the fatal destinies do what they can. For the valiant knight … ought more to be esteemed than fickle fortune. (Prologue)
to exercise the feats of arms. And finally, like young men without experience…. (Prologue)  
O how variable is Fortune… with a little spark of fire the house is kindled…(476) For oft times of a little spark commeth a great light (142)    
[Brooke’s Poem on R&J:]
But now what is decreed by fatal destiny,
I force it not; let Fortune do, and death, their worst to me. (859-61)    
The Capulets, as chief, a young man have chose out, Best exercised in feats of arms (963-4)  
when Fortune list to strike… As, of a little spark, oft riseth mighty fire,
So of a kindled spark of grudge, in flames flash out their ire (29,36-7)    

Notice, as highlighted below, the groups of parallels often come in the same order. Most of the shared language occurs in the brief intro and lines 81-100 of North’s poem and in lines 2506-25 in Brooke’s poem. This pic helps give an idea:

Remarkably, Shakespeare also especially borrowed from these very same stanzas of North (lines 81-100), though often taking different elements. And both Brooke and Shakespeare did this at the same moment in their respective tales: Juliet’s wedding/funeral.

The links between Brooke’s and North’s poems are quite clear: The juxtaposition of Hymen with Dirge and winding-sheet (and instead of, change); the use of fatal destiny, chose for his fere (choose my loving fere); craving justice/justly from Mighty Jove; the use of greedy worms, heaps of harms, and eke, foe’n, etc. Also we find other lines from North’s Dial in Brooke’s poem: young men/man who are exercised in feats of arms; the description of fortune as having kindled or oft causing a massive fire out of a little spark; etc. This is all exclusive to Brooke and North (see screenshots of Early English Books Online below).

Meanwhile, as we saw in the prior post, Shakespeare seems to have borrowed different elements from these same stanzas: rich/best array, black (a) day, by cruel, my only life, spite(d)-slain, wretched, noise, and sound of happy music contrasted with a dirge (Brooke contrasts Hymen with a dirge, and North’s poem does both.)

Again, this description occurs in no other version of Romeo and Juliet. The only reasonable explanation for this is that North, having travelled through Veronan territories with Montague, was the author of the tragedy on the star-crossed lovers that Brooke praises (and that Gascoigne later echoes when addressing Viscount Montague); that it was North who based a long passage on Juliet’s wedding/funeral on his own original poem on the wedding/funeral of Camma –and that parts of it ended up in Brooke’s poem and other parts ended up in the extant (Shakespeare’s) Romeo and Juliet.

Within the next few posts, we will see that Brooke’s poem also seems to borrow from North’s travel-diary and especially North’s entries of his Lombardy/Veronan travels. Of course, Brooke didn’t have access to North’s journal, but he did see North’s play.

[i] George Gascoigne, A Hundreth sundrie Flowres bounde vp in one small Poesie…(London: Richard Smith, 1573), 390. See also, Roger Prior,  “Gascoigne’s Poesies as a Shakespearian Source,” Notes and Queries 245 (2000): 444-9 and Brian Gibbons, ed., Romeo and Juliet: The Arden Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1980). Gascoigne originally wrote the masque for a 1572 wedding of Anthony Browne, the Viscount Montagu’s daughter, but it would not be published till the following year.

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