Romeo and Juliet and its Intertexts

  • David Lucking University of Salento
Keywords: Shakespeare; Ovid; Chaucer; Golding; Metamorphoses; Romeo and Juliet; A Midsummer Night’s Dream


It sometimes happens that texts categorized as sources for a Shakespearean play are in fact more or less overtly invoked by the work itself, and should accordingly be regarded not only as genealogical antecedents or imaginative influences but as implicit intertexts in relation to which it elaborates its own meanings. Such is the case with some of the works inspiring Romeo and Juliet, and in particular with the story of Pyramus and Thisbe contained in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This tragic little tale is frequently cited as being that from which Romeo and Juliet ultimately derives, and what is of considerable interest in this connection is that it is also explicitly referenced in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play that might in certain respects be read as a comic pendant to Shakespeare’s Veronese tragedy and indeed as a kind of intertext in its own right. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is however one that has appeared in a variety of guises in the course of the centuries, and to the degree that these versions are also echoed in Romeo and Juliet they too might be considered to constitute intertexts in the broadest sense of the term.


Download data is not yet available.


Avezzù, Guido (2022), ‘River, Town, and Wilderness: Notes on Some Hellenistic Narrative Motifs Behind “Pyramus and Thisbe”’, in Bigliazzi, Silvia; Stelzer, Emanuel (eds.), Shakespeare and the Mediterranean 1: ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Verona, Skenè, 51-71.

Barber, C.L. (1990), Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom, Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Bate, Jonathan (2008), Soul of the Age: The Life, Mind and World of William Shakespeare, London, Viking.

Bate, Jonathan (1997), The Genius of Shakespeare, London, Picador.

Bate, Jonathan (2001), Shakespeare and Ovid, Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Bate, Jonathan (2000), ‘Shakespeare’s Ovid’, in Nims, John Frederick (ed.), Ovid’s Metamorphoses: The Arthur Golding Translation 1567, Philadelphia, Paul Dry Books, xli-l.

Bradbrook, M.C. (1932), Elizabethan Stage Conditions: A Study of Their Place in the Interpretation of Shakespeare’s Plays, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Brooke, Arthur (ed. Munro, J.J. 1908), The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, New York, Duffield and Company.

Brooks, Harold F. (2006), ‘Introduction’, in Brooks, Harold F. (ed.), Arden Edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, London, Bloomsbury.

Bush, Douglas (1931), ‘The Tedious Brief Scene of Pyramus and Thisbe’, Modern Language Notes 46 (3), 144-147.

Chaucer, Geoffrey (ed. Skeat, Walter W. 1969), Complete Works, London, Oxford University Press.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (ed. Foakes, R.A. 1989), Coleridge’s Criticism of Shakespeare–A Selection, London, Athlone Press.

Davies, Anthony (2005), ‘Romeo and Juliet’, in Dobson, Michael; Wells, Stanley (eds.), The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 397-402.

Fahmi, Mustapha (2010), ‘Quoting the Enemy: Character, Self-Interpretation, and the Question of Perspective in Shakespeare’, in Bristol, Michael D. (ed.), Shakespeare and Moral Agency, London, Continuum Books, 129-141.

Forey, Madeleine (1998), ‘“Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee! Thou art translated!”: Ovid, Golding, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Modern Language Review 93, 321-329.

Freeman, Donald C. (1999), ‘“The Rack Dislimns”: Schema and Metaphorical Pattern in Antony and Cleopatra’, Poetics Today 20, 443-460.

Garber, Marjorie (2005), Shakespeare After All, New York, Anchor Books.

Gibbons, Brian (1993), ‘Introduction’, in Gibbons, Brian (ed.), Arden Edition of Romeo and Juliet, London, Routledge, 1-77.

Hardy, Barbara (1997), Shakespeare’s Storytellers: Dramatic Narration, London, Peter Owen.

Hemingway, Samuel B. (1911), ‘The Relation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Romeo and Juliet’, Modern Language Notes 26 (3), 78-80.

Highet, Gilbert (1985), The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature, New York, Oxford University Press.

Honan, Park (1998), Shakespeare: A Life, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Hunt, Maurice (1988), ‘Compelling Art in Titus Andronicus’, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 28 (2), 197-218.

Keightley, Thomas (1867), The Shakespeare-Expositor: An Aid to the Perfect Understanding of Shakespeare’s Plays, London, J. Russell Smith.

Keith, A.M. (2001), ‘Etymological Wordplay in Ovid’s “Pyramus and Thisbe” (Met. 4.55-166)’, The Classical Quarterly 51 (1), 309-312.

Kermode, Frank (2001), Shakespeare’s Language, London: Penguin.

Knox, Peter E. (1989), ‘Pyramus and Thisbe in Cyprus’, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 92, 315-328.

Knox, Peter E. (2014), ‘Ovidian Myths on Pompeian Walls’ in Miller, John F.; Newlands, Carole E. (eds), A Handbook to the Reception of Ovid, Chichester, Wiley Blackwell, 36-54.

Lucking, David (1997), ‘“And all things change them to the contrary”: Romeo and Juliet and the Metaphysics of Language’, English Studies 78 (1), 8-18.

Lucking, David (2011), ‘Translation and Metamorphosis in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Essays in Criticism 61 (2), 137-154.

Lucking, David (2012), Making Sense in Shakespeare, Amsterdam, Rodopi.

Lucking, David (2020), ‘Stony Limits and Envious Walls: Metamorphosing Ovid in Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Skenè: Journal of Theatre and Drama Studies 6 (2), 147-168.

Marlowe, Christopher (ed. Ribner, Irving 1963), The Complete Plays, New York, Odyssey Press.

Maslen, R.W. (2000), ‘Myths Exploited: The Metamorphoses of Ovid in early Elizabethan England’, in Taylor, A.B. (ed.), Shakespeare’s Ovid: The «Metamorphoses» in the Plays and Poems, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 15-30.

Mazzotta, Giuseppe (1986), The World at Play in Boccaccio’s Decameron, Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Muir, Kenneth (1954), ‘Pyramus and Thisbe: A Study in Shakespeare’s Method’, Shakespeare Quarterly 5 (2), 141-153.

Muir, Kenneth (2005), The Sources of Shakespeare’s Plays, London, Routledge.

Munro, J.J. (1908), ‘Introduction’, in Munro, J.J. (ed.), Arthur Brooke’s The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, New York, Duffield and Company, ix-lxii.

Nuttall, A.D. (2007), Shakespeare the Thinker, New Haven, Yale University Press.

Ovid (trans. Miller, Frank Justus 1951), Metamorphoses, Vol. 1, Books I-VIII Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ovid (ed. Nims, John Frederick 2000), Ovid’s Metamorphoses: The Arthur Golding Translation 1567, Philadelphia, Paul Dry Books.

Partridge, Eric (1968), Shakespeare’s Bawdy, London, Routledge.

Plutarch (trans. North, Thomas 1579), The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romaines, London, printed by Richard Field.

Riess, Amy J.; Williams, George Walton (1992), ‘“Tragical Mirth”: From Romeo to Dream’, Shakespeare Quarterly 43 (2), 214-218.

Rudd, Niall (2000), ‘Pyramus and Thisbe in Shakespeare and Ovid’, in Taylor, A.B. (ed.) Shakespeare’s Ovid: The Metamorphoses in the Plays and Poems, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 113-125.

Shakespeare, William (ed. Gibbons, Brian 1993), Romeo and Juliet, London, Routledge.

Shakespeare, William (ed. Bate, Jonathan 1995), Titus Andronicus, London, Routledge.

Shakespeare, William (eds. Proudfoot, Richard; Thompson, Ann; Kastan, David Scott 2001), The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works, London, Thomson Learning.

Shakespeare, William (ed. Brooks, Harold F. 2006), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, London, Bloomsbury.

Shapiro, James (2015), The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, New York, Simon & Schuster.

Spisak, James W. (1984), ‘Chaucer’s Pyramus and Thisbe’, The Chaucer Review 18 (3), 204-210.

Stramaglia, Antonio (2001), ‘Piramo e Tisbe prima di Ovidio? PMich inv. 3793 e la narrativa d’intrattenimento alla fine dell’età tolemaica’, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik Bd. 134, 81-106.

Taylor, A.B. (2004), ‘Ovid’s Myths and the Unsmooth Course of Love in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, in Martindale, Charles; Taylor, A.B. (eds), Shakespeare and the Classics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 49-65

Taylor, A.B. (ed.) (2000), Shakespeare’s Ovid: The Metamorphoses in the Plays and Poems, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Valls-Russell, Janice (2010), ‘“So pale did shine the moon on Pyramus!”: Biblical Resonances of an Ovidian Myth in Titus Andronicus’, Anagnórisis 2, 57-82.

Waith, Eugene M. (1957), ‘The Metamorphosis of Violence in Titus Andronicus’, Shakespeare Survey 10, 39-49.

West, Grace Starry (1982), ‘Going by the Book: Classical Allusions in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus’, Studies in Philology, 79 (1), 62-77.

Willson, Robert F. (1969), ‘Golding’s Metamorphoses and Shakespeare’s Burlesque Method in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, English Language Notes 7, 18-25.

How to Cite
Lucking, D. (2023). Romeo and Juliet and its Intertexts. Rhesis. International Journal of Linguistics, Philology and Literature, 14(2), 18-43.