Together with Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet is almost certainly the most performed of Shakespeare’s plays. The date of the first performance is unknown but it was first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men: the Second Quarto inadvertently gives the name of one of its actors, Will Kemp. The first Romeo was probably the company’s leading actor of the time, Richard Burbage, with Master Robert Goffe as the first Juliet. It was probably the first Shakespeare play to be performed outside England, at Nordlingen in Bavaria, Germany, in 1604.
The earliest performance of the play in America was an amateur one, on 23 March 1730. A physician named Joachimus Bertrand placed an advertisement in the Gazette newspaper in New York, promoting a production in which he would play the apothecary. The first professional performances of the play in North America were those of the Hallam Company, an English group led by the Hallam Company, the first American professional theatre company. It later became the America Company.
The text was altered and performed with the alterations many times in the nineteenth century. The most famous of those productions was David Garrick’s, which ran for almost a century. The most notable actors performing the title roles were Henry Irving and Ellen Terry in 1882 and Johnson Forbes-Robertson in 1895. The American actors, Edwin Booth (brother of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin) and his wife, Mary McVicker, popularised the play at their Booth’s Theatre in New York. The twentieth century saw such big names as Ralph Richardson, John Geilgud, Lawrence Olivier, Peggy Ashcroft and Judi Dench in the roles.
No Shakespeare play has been more regularly filmed than Romeo and Juliet. The three most notable are George Cukor’s 1936 film, which attracted an array of Oscars, Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film and Baz Luhrman’s dark violent film in 1996, featuring Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes, which brought a mass audience of young people to the play. Notable, too, is Leonard Bernstein’s musical adaptation, West Side Story of 1961. There have been countless television productions.
Other Manifestations of Romeo & Juliet
There have been at least 25 operas based on Romeo and Juliet. The most famous of these is Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, 1867. There are several ballets, most notably, Prokofiev’s. The play has inspired jazz and pop musicians like Duke Ellington with his Such Sweet Thunder. The Supremes, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, Lou Reed and Tom Waits have all been influenced by the play. Dire Straits’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is one of the most well known of such works in the popular music field.