Definition of historical criticism, examples of passages that connect to historical events, both in Renaissance Italy and Elizabethan England, explanation of connection to history, links to outside resources, images to support analysis

Definition of Historical Criticism:
  • When reading a text, you have to place it within its historical context.
  • Historical refers to the social, political, economic, cultural, and intellectual climate of the time.
  • Specific historical information will be of key interest: information about the time during which an author wrote, about the time in which the text is set, about the ways in which people of the period saw and thought about the world in which they lived.
  • Historical criticism looks at how the text reflects and contributes to historical events.


Quote 1 - "Of honorable reckoning are you both, and pity 'tis you lived t odds so long. But now, my lord, what say you to my suit?" Act I, Scene II Lines: 4-6
Explanation: Familial power belonging to the father; Elizabethan England

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Clothing in the Renaissance


Quote 2- "What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee." Act I, Scene I Lines: 71-72
Explanation: Families feuding; Renaissance Italy

Quote 3- “For this alliance may so happy prove to turn your households’ rancor to pure love”

This quote is an example of Elizabethan ideals. The ideal show here is that the protestant religion is dominant at this time. The catholic friar does not cry the banns or announce the wedding every Sunday for three weeks. This is making the friar look stupid because he does not follow the social norms of Elizabethan Europe.

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Quote 4: Mercutio: Where the devil should this Romeo be? Came he not home tonight?
Benvolio: Not to his father’s. I spoke with his man.
This quote, in Act II Scene IV, relates to the power that was placed on the father in the family. When Mercutio and Benvolio are looking for Romeo, they rely on the word of Romeo’s father. Instead of looking to Romeo’s mother, who has less authority than the father, the boys run straight to the head of the family for information. Benvolio also adds that Romeo did not go to his father’s house, suggesting that perhaps Romeo’s father and mother have different abodes, or maybe just different wings of the same house.

Act IV

Italy in Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet definitely shows some ideas and customs of Italy. Italian fights took place in the street more commonly than they do in England, where the play is being performed. Insults of honor and disrespectful actions evoke fights in Romeo and Juliet. Tybalt is offended by what Romeo has done when he tells him that “this shall not excuse the injuries thou [Romeo] hast done me [Tybalt].” He then tells Romeo to “turn and draw” meaning that he thinks they must fight it out. This need to fight is much more commonly seen in Italy where the play is set. This kind of fighting is frowned upon in England as you will soon find out.

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Romeo and Tybalt fighting

England in Romeo and Juliet

“He is kinsman to the Montague.
Affection makes him false; he speaks not true.
Some twenty of them fought in this black strife,
And all these twenty could but kill one life.
I beg for justice, which thou, Prince, must give.
Romeo slew Tybalt; Romeo must not live.”

In Act 3 Scene 1, the Capulet and Montague families battle on the streets, resulting in two dead. Due to Romeo’s desire for revenge upon Tybalt, he kills him causing uproar in the city. The royal family considers killing Romeo but decides that because Tybalt was a murderer, Romeo shall be banished. This look towards violence resembles that of England. Fighting in England is frowned upon because it is thought that citizens should not show public violence. The punishments also resemble each other: common England punishments consist of banishment and often death.
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Prince deciding to banish Romeo