CHAPTER VI
Romeo and Juliet

THE OUTBREAK OF PLAGUE that, early in 1593, had closed the playhouses and dispersed the players, was among the severest that had yet attacked London. Month by month, the toll of deaths increased. At the beginning of June, the Court left for Windsor, whence Londoners and citizens of other infected places were commanded to absent themselves; in July, the holding of Bartholomew Fair was temporarily prohibited; and, on August 14th, it was reported that, during the course of a single week, between seventeen and eighteen hundred persons had died within the walls of the City alone. Until autumn came, there was no relief from the sickness. Meanwhile Shakespeare was no doubt travelling; or maybe he had returned to Stratford. He had used his leisure to write Venus and Adonis; and, at the same time, he appears to have composed a new comedy, Love's Labour's Lost, which many scholars believe was specially written for a private audience. That audience may have been Southampton's party, assembled like the narrators of the Decameron in his country house at Titchfield. It is an odd and interesting play; and what distinguishes it from earlier and later comedies is not its construction but its general tone. It seems to have been designed less to please the groundlings than to amuse a small sophisticated group, who would appreciate all the esoteric jokes with which the text is thickly strewn. It suggests a fashionable pantomime, full of snip-snap repartee;1 and the points made in its dialogue are

____________________
1
Armado: 'Now by the salt wave of the Mediterraean, a sweet touch, a quick venue of wit, snip snap, quick and home, it rejoiceth my intellect . . .' Love's Labour's Lost Act V Scene i.

-141-

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Shakespeare: A Biography
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Chapter I - Childhood and Youth 17
  • Chapter II - London Apprenticeship 41
  • Chapter III - The Climate of the Age 66
  • Chapter IV - Early Poems 95
  • Chapter V - 'His Sugared Sonnets' 120
  • Chapter VI - Romeo and Juliet 141
  • Chapter VII - Romantic Comedies 166
  • Chapter VIII - Historical Drama 196
  • Chapter X - A New Reign 252
  • Chapter XI - Othello and Antony 274
  • Chapter XII - 'Unaccommodated Man' 298
  • Bibliography 335
  • Index 339
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