There were many other written stories of Romeo and Juliet before William Shakespeare first wrote his version of Romeo and Juliet (Watts 13). The earliest rendition of the play Romeo and Juliet dates back to the third century AD. Then the story reappears in the fifteenth century in a more detailed form. Luigi da Porto publishes a version of this story in 1530. De Porto’s play version is where Shakespeare gets the plot of his version of Romeo and Juliet (Bentley138). Then in 1544, Matteo Bandello publishes his version of the story of Romeo and Juliet based on De Porto’s play. Boiastuau then translated Bandello’s play into French in 1559. Then in 1562 Arthur Brooke translates the French version of Romeo and Juliet into English with a few additions. From these stories William Shakespeare based his famous play Romeo and Juliet.
The earliest rendition of Romeo and Juliet was a story called Ephesiaca of Xenophon of Ephesus that was written in the third century AD (Gibbons 33). The wife Anthia is separated from her husband and rescued from robbers by Perilaus; to avoid marrying him she obtains a drug from a doctor that she believes will kill her but it is only a sleeping potion. She awakens in tomb and is carried off by tomb robbers.
In the fifteenth century the story is written by Masuccio Salernitano titled Cinquante Novelle (Campbell and Quinn 710). The story takes place in Siena; Mariotto secretly marries Giannozza with the help of a bribed Friar. In a fight Mariotto kills a prominent citizen, and he is then banished. Mariotto asks his brother to keep him informed of the events that take place in Siena as he goes into exile in Alexandria. Giannozza now comes under pressure of her father to marry a suitor that he thinks to be satisfactory. She bribes the Friar to make her a sleeping potion, which she drinks, after sending a message to her husband. She is then buried, and is brought out of the tomb by the Friar. She then sails for Alexandria to reunite with her banished husband. However, pirates captured the message that she sent to her husband. Mariotto, on hearing of her supposed death, returns to Siena disguised as a pilgrim. He tries to open her tomb but is caught and beheaded. Giannozza comes back to Siena and dies of grief in a convent.
In 1530 Luigi de Porto publisher his own version of the legend sets the scene in Verona. In his story the lovers are named Romeo and Guilietta and the two families of Montecchi and Capelletti are enemies (Gibbons 34). There is a Friar Lorenzo, and de Porto invents Marcuccio, Thebaldo, and the Conte di Lodrone (Shakespeare’s Paris). Romeo goes disguised as a nymph to a carnival ball at his enemy’s house in the hope of seeing a lady who is as beautiful as his Rosaline. Giulietta falls in love with him at first sight and, in a dance, a change of partners brings him next to her. They express their attraction to one another and they meet each other each night at Giulietta’s balcony until one night Romeo asks her to marry him and she accepts. Friar Lorenzo, a friend of Romeo, marries the two, hoping to bring peace to the two feuding families. Then in a brawl Romeo at first tries to avoid harming any Capelletti, but when his friends are threatened he kills Thebaldo. Romeo then flees to Mantua, leaving a message to the Friar to keep him in touch with events in Verona. Since Giulietta is eighteen, her parents interpret her grief as a sign that she wishes to be married (Gibbins 35). They arrange for her to be married to Lodrone. She refuses, and so angers her father. She asks the Friar for poison but he substitutes it with a sleeping potion intended to last for forty-eight hours. The next morning she is found apparently dead and is buried in the family vault. A message from Friar Lorenzo fails to reach Romeo, but a servant, believing that Giulietta is dead, gives Romeo the fatal news. Romeo returns to Verona disguised as a peasant and carrying poison: he goes to the tomb and cries over Giulietta, takes the poison and embraces her. She awakens and speaks to him before he dies. The Friar arrives and tries to persuade her to enter a convent but she commits suicide by holding her breath until at last she falls on to Romeo’s body. The two families become reconciled and Romeo and Giulietta are buried in a great ceremony.
Matteo Bandello again redid the tale of Romeo and Juliet in 1554. His version of Romeo and Juliet was focused more on the feud between the two families and his love for Rosaline (Gibbons 35). Romeo goes to the ball and is disguised by wearing a mask. When he removes his mask he is recognized but no one insults him because he is so young and handsome. In this version of Romeo and Juliet the name of Paris is given to De Porto’s Conte Ladone. Rome only learns of Julietta after he is leaving the ball from a friend, and Julietta learns of Romeo from the Nurse. At their (Romeo and Julietta) first meeting at Julietta’s balcony, they decide to marry. After Romeo kills Tibaldo he hides in the Friars house. He refuses Julietta’s request to accompany him to Manuta so; Romeo comes up with the sleeping potion scheme. Romeo is unable to receive the message from the Friar because of quarantine placed on the city because of a plague. When Romeo hears of Julietta’s supposed death he tries but fails to commit suicide with a sword. Romeo then returns to Verona disguised as a German. As he is taking the poison Julietta awakens; Romeo urges her to live on after his death but she refuses. Julietta then holds her breath until she collapses next to Romeo.
Bandello’s version of Romeo and Juliet is then translated into French by Pierre Boiastuau in 1559 (Campbell and Quinn 710). There were only a few small alterations made by Boiastuau to Bandello’s version of Romeo and Juliet. Before Shakespeare wrote his version of Romeo and Juliet, Arthur Brooke used the translated version, of the French version of Romeo and Juliet. Brooke also made additions to the play (Alexander 114). From Brooke’s version of Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare based his play on. Shakespeare added his own additions to the play and made it into the famous play that we know of today.
In all of the different variations of the story of Romeo and Juliet there seems to be one consistent theme throughout the story. Love can spring from even the worst of enemies and sometimes only death can bring those enemies a new beginning and a newfound friendship with each other.