Appendix G: Arthur Brooke’s “Romeus and Juliet” and North’s Wedding-Turned-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 discussed in Thomas North: The Original Author of Shakespeare’s Play, 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 Shakespearean tragedy 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.)

An Original Poem

As noted in Chapter Seven of Thomas North, North would often write original passages in his translations. That is, he would veer from the language of his source-text, at times preferring to craft his own lines and descriptions as opposed to closely transcribing the work in front of him. One extraordinary example is North’s original, 110-line poetic complaint of Camma in his The Dial of Princes (1557), a poem that is eerily reminiscent in language, style, and storyline to various Juliet-related passages in Romeo and Juliet (and to The Rape of Lucrece too). And while Thomas North explores hundreds of borrowings from North in the Shakespeare canon, this one is particularly informative, for it clinches the case that North wrote the original play on Romeo and Juliet in ~1560, four years before Shakespeare was born. It also confirms this was the very same tragedy mentioned by Arthur Brooke in 1562 and that the young poet, Brooke, often turned to North’s play when writing his own poem on the star-crossed lovers.

The background to North’s poem is as follows: Camma, renowned for her beauty and virtue, had been happily married when Sinoris murdered her husband hoping to take her for his wife. The devastated widow seems to acquiesce to Sinoris’s proposal only to poison the cup of wine from which they both drank on their wedding day. Before she sips, however, Camma recites a final prayer to Dian, the Goddess of chastity and protector of women’s honor, in which she expresses her extreme grief over her slain husband and her plan for both revenge and suicide.

In the French text from which North worked, the prayer is fairly straightforward and in prose. But North transforms this prayer into a long poem comprising 28 quatrains of iambic pentameter and a final couplet. In the last couplet, which is entirely North’s invention, Camma compares herself with Lucrece. This is peculiarly prescient as the two poems on Camma and Lucrece, North’s and Shakespeare’s, do share a number of features. As with The Rape of Lucrece, North’s poem on Camma is a “complaint,” that is, a dramatic first-person monologue from a virtuous female protagonist who describes the agonizing and tragic circumstances inflicted on her by an evil male. As Tarquin lusts for Lucrece, who is the wife of his friend, so Sinoris lusts after Camma, who is the wife of his cousin. Both Camma and Lucrece express love for their husbands, are renowned for their beauty and virtue, and intend to commit suicide to maintain their honor. And interestingly, between 1568-1570, ballads on Lucrece and Camma were entered into the Stationers’ Register, though none are extant.[i]

Camma and Juliet

Camma’s story should also seem familiar to fans of Romeo and Juliet. Both tales include a deadly rivalry for the young woman’s hand, a suicide by a cup of poison,[ii] the grieving bride’s apparent choice to die on her wedding day, her desire to be buried with her husband, and the claim that it is the most lamentable tale in the history of the region. The last three quatrains and final couplet of North’s poem on Camma comprise a sonnet, and no fewer than three such sonnets appear in Romeo and Juliet, including its famous 14-line prologue. Even North’s summary of the tragic ending is reminiscent of the star-crossed lovers: “And when the prayer was ended, that this fair and virtuous Camma made, she drank and gave to drink to Sinoris of this cup of poison… And truly, her death of all Greece with…great sorrow was lamented.”

But perhaps the most conspicuous resemblance involves Camma’s description of turning her wedding into a funeral—all the elements of which are repeated in Shakespeare’s tragedy, in which Juliet’s wedding is similarly transformed into a funeral. This includes that the wedding bed will become the grave; the light music will become a funeral dirge, etc.

Of course, Juliet is not really dead in this scene (4.5.); she has simply taken a potion to create the illusion in order to avoid marriage to Paris, but the ideas and language are the same. Indeed, the playwright foreshadows this scene in the first act when Juliet echoes Camma, stating that “my grave is like to be my wedding bed” (the playwright also repeats Camma’s language in Timon of Athens):

Camma’s Poem:  The DialRomeo and Juliet and Timon of Athens
O bright Dian….
In place of Hymen’s high unfiled bed,
They lay thee up in closure of thy grave (191-2)      

Bright, Dian, thy grave, Hymen’s-unfiled bed
Juliet: My grave is like to be my wedding bed (1.5. 134)  

Then, Timon, presently prepare thy grave… thou bright defiler/ Of Hymen’s purest bed! … Whose blush doth thaw the consecrated snow That lies on Dian’s lap! (4.3.380-9)

Bright, Dian, thy grave, defiler-Hymen’s- bed

Even the title of North’s chapter (and its second line) on Camma clearly inspired the following exchange between the nurse and Juliet:

Camma Title: Of the revenge a woman of Greece took of him that had killed her husband….
Sinatus and Sinorus which were by blood cousins (189)

Romeo and Juliet: Will you speak well of him that killed your cousin?
Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband? (3.2.96-7)

An EEBO analysis of just this last parallel leaves little doubt about the connection between the works.[iii] And when we come to the apparent death of Juliet (4.5), the borrowings become more obvious still. What is remarkable is the playwright’s continuous juxtaposition of the same word-groupings that also appear together in Camma’s poem (189-93):

Camma’s Death on Her Wedding DayJuliet’s “Death” on Her Wedding Day
O since him their kindled spite hath slain,
With tender love whom I have weighed so dear.
Since he by fate is wrest from fortune’s reign,
For whose decay I dreadless perish here.  
Since him by whom my only life I led,
Through wretched hands the gaping earth now have…   The first black day my husband slept in grave
By cruel sword my life I thought to spend…
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 

[words/phrases appear in same 2 or 3 lines]
spite hath slainlove
my only life wretched;(ll.13-18)
black dayby cruellife;  (ll.33-34)
lamenting joyful …
cruel deathwretched noise …. (ll.94-6)]
Lady Capulet: What noise is here?
Nurse: O lamentable day!…
Lady Capulet: O me, O me! My child, my only life
Paris: Beguiled, divorced, wronged, spited, slain!
Most detestable death, by thee beguil’d,
By cruel cruel thee quite overthrown!
O love! O life! not life, but love in death
Lady Capulet: Accursed, unhappy, wretched, hateful day! … But one thing to rejoice and solace in,
And cruel death hath catch’d it from my sight!…
Nurse: Never was seen so black a day as this. (4.5.44-6, 70-9)

[Words/phrases appearing in brief passage:]
spited slain…love
my only life…. wretched
black a day…by cruel…life
lamentable… rejoice
cruel death… noise …wretched (4.5.44-6, 70-9)

To press my corpse to feed thy liking lust,
The rout of Homer’s gods, 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…   Instead of song and music’s tuned sound,
They wait on thee, with loud lamenting voice,
In change of joyful life, and high renown      

[corpse … rich array… feast …
music’s tuned sound…lamenting voice (ll. 82-95)]
Friar Laurence: On this fair corpse; and, as the custom is,
In all her best array bear her to church:
For though fond nature bids us all lament,
Yet nature’s tears are reason’s merriment.
Capulet: All things that we ordained festival,
Turn from their office to black funeral;
Our instruments to melancholy bells,
Our wedding cheer to a sad burial feast,
Our solemn hymns to sullen dirges change,
Our bridal flowers serve for a buried corpse,
And all things change them to the contrary.    
griping grief… /Then music with her silver sound  (4.5. 107-117, 151-3)  

[corpse… best array … feast…
lament… wedding…
dirges change (4.5.107-17)
griping grief …. music with her silver sound (4.5.151-3)

            Both passages repeatedly use the same terminology to describe the same peculiar event: a young bride’s wedding that will be turned into a funeral, with every joyous celebration of nuptials changed into the dark traditions of a wake.  Both refer to corpse, rich/best array, cruel death, black (a) day, feast, lament(ing), by cruel, my only life, spite(d)-slain, wretched, noise, and sound of happy music contrasted with a dirge. All the other borrowed phrases and language also confirm the obligation. Just checking EEBO for all works that place spite NEAR slain and include “my only life”[iv] results only in The Dial and Romeo and Juliet.

            But this scene in the tragedy is so overwhelmingly Northern that it also includes rare verbal connections to another chapter of The Dial and North’s Plutarch’s Live:

Plutarch and DialRomeo and Juliet
  Alas the day that ever I was born!
Plutarch 525  
O woeful world! O miserable world!  
O subtle world! O world unstable and unconstant! —Dial 493-4
  Nurse: Alas, alas! Help, help! my lady’s dead!
O, well a day, that ever I was born! (4.5.41-2)
Lady Capulet: Most miserable hour that e’er time saw…
Nurse: O woe! O woeful, woeful, woeful day! Most lamentable day, most woeful day….
O woeful day, O woeful day! (4.5.75-85)  
Shakespeare and Brooke: Changing Weddings Into Funerals

Significantly (and seemingly impossibly), Arthur Brooke also borrows extensively from North’s 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. And both Shakespeare and Brooke use this material to help shape their description of Juliet’s wedding-turned-funeral:

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:

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)    

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 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 shown above, 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.)

So did both Brooke and Shakespeare independently decide to borrow from the same little-known, original, 1557 poem by North at the exact same point in their respective tragedies?Or were both working from North’s old play of Romeo and Juliet?

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.

Thus, it would seem that North, having recently traveled through Veronan territories with Montague, wrote an early version of Romeo and Juliet, amending it according to his own writings and experiences. This is the tragedy that Brooke praised and that Gascoigne later echoed when addressing Viscount Montague. And it was North who based a long passage on Juliet’s wedding/funeral on his own original poem on the wedding/funeral of Camma. Then, parts of North’s description of Juliet’s wedding/funeral ended up in Brooke’s poem and other parts ended up in the extant (Shakespeare’s) Romeo and Juliet.

[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 the daughter of the Viscount Montague, but it would not be published till the following year.

Leave a ReplyCancel reply