Arthur Brooke’s poem ‘Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet’ is 3,020 lines long, and is the first English translation of this tale. It served as a key source for Shakespeare with Romeo and Juliet.

We’ve compiled some points for comparison, alongside extracts from each text. What do you think…?

Shakespeare’s Prologue

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

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,

Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;

The which if you with patient ears attend,

What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

Brooke’s ‘Argument’

Love hath inflamed twain by sudden sight.

And both do grant the thing that both desire.

They wed in shrift by counsel of a friar.

Young Romeus climes fair Juliet’s bower by night.

Three months he doth enjoy his chief delight.

By Tybalt’s rage, provoked unto ire,

He payeth death to Tybalt for his hire.

A banished man he ‘scapes by secret flight.

New marriage is offered to his wife.

She drinks a drink that seems to reave her breath.

They bury her, that sleeping yet hath life.

Her husband hears the tidings of her death.

He drinks his bane. And she with Romeus knife,

When she awakes, herself (alas) she slay’th.


Both works begin with sonnets (14-line poems) which summarise the tragic fate of the ‘star-crossed lovers’.

Shakespeare’s drama occurs over just 5 days; Brooke’s poem unfolds over 9 months.

Shakespeare adds in the sword fight in the play’s opening scene, and develops the characters of Tybalt, Paris, Mercutio, and the Nurse.



Shakespeare’s Juliet (13) is younger than Brooke’s (16).

Benvolio does not appear at all in the Brooke poem.

In Brooke’s version, Paris is introduced as a remedy for Juliet’s grief over Tybalt’s death, her mother believing that marriage will give Juliet something to look forward to. In Shakespeare’s take, we meet Paris before we meet Juliet, and it is her father that is interested in the match.


Shakespeare keeps Brooke’s setting of Verona when he adapts the poem for the stage: ‘Verona men name it…’  (Brooke, ll. 2) / In fair Verona, where we lay our scene. (Shakespeare. Prologue .2).

The weather and time of year seem similar, too: ‘The summer of their blisse, doth last a month or twaine’ (Brooke, l. 948) / ‘The day is hot, the Capels are abroad’ (Shakespeare, 3.1.2).