Shakespeare — or not?

Scholars of Shakespeare have long known that although the version of Romeo and Juliet that is usually staged now is, to all intents and purposes, as originally penned — this was not the case in the eighteenth century. A recent acquisition of ours illustrates the point (see below).

By the middle of the eighteenth century, Shakespeare's work had fallen out of favour. David Garrick was responsible for a great revival of interest in the plays, both as an actor and a theatre manager. However his production of Romeo and Juliet in 1750 included a number of changes. Notably Garrick wrote a significant piece of extra dialogue to expand his own role. In contrast to Shakespeare’s original version, Garrick had both Romeo and Juliet alive at the Tomb just prior to the discovery of Romeo’s body by Friar Lawrence.[The added text is quoted below].

This extra scene is the one depicted in a painting by Benjamin Wilson (1721-1788) entitled "David Garrick as Romeo, George Anne Bellamy as Juliet and Charles Blakes as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet adapted by David Garrick from William Shakespeare.". The original is now owned by the Theatre Museum in London but a number of engraved copies were produced in the 1760s and the scene, in an adapted form, was used as cast decoration on Old Sheffield Plate boxes. One of these can be found as part of Figure 131 in Old Sheffield Plate by Gordon Crosskey. Our stock number 3137 below shows an example of an apparently otherwise unknown variation.

Box showing scene from 'Romeo and Juliet' variation
A circular Old Sheffield Plate 'Bolsover', the cast lid depicting a theatrical scene
"David Garrick and Miss Bellamy as Romeo and Juliet c.1765" [SN 3137]

Luke Schrager

"Romeo and Juliet" — Garrick's ending

The usual version of Romeo’s dying speech ends with ‘…Thus with a kiss I die [dies]’ and is followed by Friar Laurence’s discovery of his body. In Garrick’s version, however, Juliet wakes immediately after Romeo has drunk the poison:

Juliet:                Where Am I?
Romeo:            She speaks, She lives! And we shall still be bless’d!
                        My kind propitious stars o’erpay me now,
                        For all my sorrows past - Rise, rise, my Juliet,
                        And from this cave of death, this house of horror,
                        Quick let me snatch thee to my Romeo’s arms;
                        There breathe a vital spirit in thy lips,
                        And call thee back to life and love. [takes her hand].
Juliet:              Bless me! How cold it is! Who’s there?
Romeo:         Thy husband;
                        Tis thy Romeo, Juliet; rais’d from despair
                        To Joys unutterable!  Quit, quit this place,
                        And let us fly together—  [Brings her from the Tomb].
Juliet:             Why do you force me so?—I’ll ne’er consent –
                        My strength may fail me but my will’s unmoved, -- I’ll not wed Paris, -- Romeo is my husband—
Romeo:          Romeo is thy husband; I am that Romeo, Nor all the opposing pow’rs of earth or man, Shall break our bonds, or tear thee from my heart.
Juliet:              I know that voice—Its magic sweetness wakes my tranced soul- I now remember well each circumstance—Oh, my lord! My                          husband!—[going to embrace him].
                         Dost thou avoid me, Romeo? Let me touch thy hand, and touch the cordial of thy lips—You fright me—speak—oh, let me hear some                          voice besides my own in this drear vault of death, Or shall I faint—support me—
Romeo:          Oh, I cannot; I have no strength, but want thy feeble aid.  Cruel Poison!
Juliet:              Poison! What means my lord? Thy trembling voice!
                         Pale lips and swimming eyes! Death’s in thy face!
Romeo:          It is indeed ----- struggle with me now --- The transports, that I felt, to hear thee speak,
                         And see thy opening eyes, stopp’d for a moment
                         His impetuous course, and all my mind
                         Was happiness and thee; but now the poison
                         Rushes thro’ my veins - I’ve not time to tell –
                          Fate brought me to this place - to take a last,
                          Last farewell of my love, and with thee die.
Juliet:               Die! Was the friar false?
Romeo:            I know not that —
                           I thought thee dead: distracted at the sight,
                           (fatal speed) drank poison, kiss’d thy cold lips,
                           And found within thy arms a precious grave—
                           But in that moment – Oh!—
Juliet:                 And did I wake for this!
Romeo:            My pow’rs are blasted;
                           ‘Twixt death and love I’m torn—I am distracted!
                            But death is strongest—and I must leave thee, Juliet!
                            Oh, cruel, cursed fate! In sight of heav’n---
Juliet:                 Thou rav’st - lean on my breast.
Romeo:             Fathers have flinty hearts, no tears can melt them:
                            Nature Pleads in vain — Children must be wretched---
Juliet:                 Oh, my breaking heart!—
Romeo:             She is my wife- our hearts are twin’d together—
                            Capulet forebear — Paris, loose your hold ---
                            Pull not our heart-strings thus - they crack, they break—
                            Oh, Juliet! Juliet!

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