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New State Library purchase reveals true author of Romeo and Juliet!

Friday, 22 April 2016

The State Library of NSW has just acquired an incredibly rare document that inspired William Shakespeare’s most popular and most performed play, Romeo and Juliet!

A 1564 collection of stories by Italian author Matteo Bandello, one featuring the story of ill‐fated young lovers, will go on public display for the first time at the State Library, ahead of the global celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on Saturday 23 April 2016.

According to Maggie Patton, the State Library’s rare books expert, “Romeo and Juliet (along with Hamlet) remains one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, performed for over 400 years. But many people may be surprised to learn that the story of Romeo and Juliet was not an original Bard tale.”

“Shakespeare’s skill as a playwright and wordsmith was built upon his ability to adapt and re‐tell historical events and fictional tales,” says Ms Patton.

Bandello’s stories would have been circulating in England in the 1560s and in 1562 English poet Arthur Brooke published his own retelling of the tale under the title The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet.

“Shakespeare used Brooke’s poetic version of Bandello’s story as the foundation of his production, which was staged as early as 1594,” says Ms Patton, who believes that readers today may have preferred Bandello’s ending.

“We are all familiar with the tragic fate of the young lovers in Shakespeare’s play. In Bandello’s original story Romeo and Juliet spent time together in the tomb and had time to say their farewells.

“Shakespeare’s version also features a much younger Juliet at almost 14 (Bandello’s Juliet was 18) and he compacted the time period of the young lovers meeting and dying from Bandello’s two weeks to just a few days.”

Bandello’s collection of stories will go on display in the Library’s Amaze Gallery today, alongside Australia’s only complete set of Shakespeare’s four folios. Romeo and Juliet is one of 36 plays published in Shakespeare’s First Folio, 1623.

The Library will also host a major Shakespeare 400 Fan Day tomorrow, Saturday 23 April, 10am - 3pm, with roving performers, Morris dancing, fairy grotto, craft activities and more! Leigh Hobbs, Australian Children's Laureate, will run drawing workshops and sign books.

Maggie Patton is available for interviews.

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