54. The Description of Romeo’s Sorrow Comes From North’s ‘Dial’ & Pre-Dates 1562 Poem

Shakespearean editors have long known that an English play of Romeo and Juliet existed even before the future playwright was born in Stratford in 1564. Young poet Arthur Brooke complimented the staged version in the foreword to his 1562 poem on the doomed lovers. Those scholars who have carefully studied all the iterations of the Romeo and Juliet legend, both English and continental, have concluded that it is likely that both Brooke and Shakespeare borrowed from that pre-1562 play. [1] And as we have seen in the last few posts, it is quite clear that North was the author of that tragedy — a fact that should surprise no one. After all, in 1555, North had traveled to Italy and the Veronan territories with the Viscount Montague, the very person who gave Romeo Montague his family name (in the English versions); in 1560, Jasper Heywood placed North at the top of a list of best tragedians (Brooke also had connections to Inns of Court); and North’s passages appear throughout the tragedy. 

But even more importantly, in the prior post we discover that both Brooke and Shakespeare independently seem to borrow from the same stanzas of North’s original poem on the tragic, wedding-day suicide of Camma (Dial, 1557), which served as the source of Juliet’s apparent death on her wedding day and especially the changing of Juliet’s nuptial ceremonies to a funeral. This same text of The Dial of Princes provides still other evidence of what North had included in the original, likely mostly rhymed version of Romeo and Juliet (~1560).

As is uncontroversial, and as shown in the featured pic above, Shakespeare’s and Brooke’s account of Romeo’s sadness are intricately linked (red and green words). But as is also clear, North’s writings on sorrow compose the seminal source for these passages. What is more, it is clearly the play-passage that is the direct descendant North’s — not Brooke’s. Indeed, the language shared between North and Brooke are merely faint echoes, and include only one word, “bitter” (blue), not found in the play’s descriptions. In contrast, the playwright borrows extensively from North, repeating words and phrases absent in Booke’s poem, and staying faithful to North’s images and ideas that Brooke had transformed:

The Dial’s “Description of Sorrow”The Description of Romeo’s Sorrow
to water their plants with tearsWith tears augmenting the fresh morning’s dew
[Cor: He water’d his new plants with dews of…]
with his deep sighs he pierceth the heavensAdding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs;
The sun not yet thy sighs from heavens clears
to hide and withdraw themselves within their houses
and to lock themselves into their own chambers
sigheth in the day, watcheth in the night
The light he hateth, the darkness he loveth
Away from light steals home my heavy son
And private in his chamber pens himself
locks fair daylight out
And makes himself an artificial night.
 heavy importuneheavy importuned

The parallels are pointed and numerous. Both describe tears falling to the earth, while sighs float upward toward the clouds and heavens. North’s passage even notes the sorrowful “water their plants with tearsjust as Romeo augments the dew with tears, and the playwright, as shown in the quote from Coriolanus, associates dew with watering plants. Both also discuss hating the day and light, while preferring darkness and night. And in both cases, the sorrowful “lock themselves into their own chambers”/ “in his chamber pens himselflocks fair daylight out.”  (Notice also that in Richard III, the dramatist juxtaposes pierce, clouds, heaven: “Can curses pierce the clouds and enter heaven?” [1.3.195])

Perhaps, most surprisingly, just the word-string with his deep sighs confirms the obligation. This is a fingerprint phrase of North’s, occurring nowhere else in EEBO except for The Dial and Romeo and Juliet.

An EEBO search for “{with his deep sighs].” The curly brackets ensure the search includes variations in spelling.

The evolutionary history of these related descriptions of depression is quite clear: the play’s passage had to serve as the indispensable conduit between North’s passage in The Dial and Brooke’s poem. After all, it is wildly unlikely that the playwright could have known which passages in North were vaguely echoed by Brooke so that he could then reconstruct a perfect intermediary between the two.

The extant description of Romeo’s sorrow in the tragedy has obviously been updated. North likely revised it in early 1580s and perhaps reworked it again (with Shakespeare) in the 1590s. However, so much of the original passage has remained that its relationship to the seminal source in North’s Dial remains conspicuous. Finally, in 1591-2, when North was thumbing through his own copy of his The Dial of Princes, he made sure to mark the relevant passage (Fol. 296 in 1582 edition; 475 in 1619 ed.) that he had found so memorable and had used for Romeo and Juliet.

“For truly the man which is sorrowful, sigheth in the day, watcheth in the night, delighteth not in company, and with only care he resteth. The light he hateth, the darkness he loveth, with his bitter tears he watereth the earth, with heavy sighs he pierceth the heavens.”

(The “Description of Sorrow” passage marked in North’s Dial)

[1] J. J. Munro, ed., Brooke’s “Romeus and Juliet'” Being the Original of Shakespeare’s “Rome and Juliet,” (New York: Duffield and Company, 1908), xliii-xlvi. See also Harold de Wulf Fuller, “Romeo and Juliette,” Modern Philology (1906), 4(1): 1-114.

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