Shakespeare’s Narrative Sources: Italian Novellas and Their European Dissemination


Arthur Brooke’s poem (The tragicall historye of Romeus and Iuliet written first in Italian by Bandell, and nowe in Englishe by Ar. Br) was entered into the Stationers’ Register in 1562-1563 as a publication of “master Tottle” (Richard Tottell or Richardi Tottelli, as the frontispiece reads): Recevyd of master Tottle for his lycense for pryntinge of the Tragicall history of the Romeus and Juliett with sonettes iiijd”. We have three extant copies of this edition: a perfect copy kept in the Malone collection at the Bodleian Library, Oxford; another perfect copy, belonging to Mr Huth, now in the British Library; and an imperfect copy missing the “first three leaves (*1-3?)” (see the Library’s STC) at the Trinity College Library, Cambridge. A reprint issued in 1567 is today kept at the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery in S. Marino, Calif.,and is also available as a reproduction in EEBO (STC (2nd ed.) / 1356.8). According to the Stationers’ Register, Tottell also obtained a licence to reprint the book on 18 February 1583, but no copy of it survived.This copy has neither frontispiece nor prefatory material and presents accidental variants. A third edition was printed by Ralph Robinson in 1587, and is now kept at the Trinity College Library, Cambridge. An imperfect reproduction is available in EEBO (STC (2nd ed.) / 1356.9). This edition presents a few orthographic and lexical variants in respect to the 1562 one, and also lacks the verse address “To the Reader” as well as 10 lines (371-80).


Very little is known about the life of Arthur Brooke (d. 1563). He was admitted to Inner Temple at the recommendation of Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton, authors of Gorboduc, and possibly penned the masque of Beauty and Desire that accompanied the performance of that play during the Inner Temple’s Christmas revels in 1561-1562. He is best known for his long poem in poulter’s measure (3,020 lines) on the story of  Romeo and Juliet, which he did not translate from Bandello’s Italian novella, but from Boaistuau’s French rendition of it. The poem is the main source of Shakespeare’s play and also inspired Bernard Garter’s “The tragicall and true historie which happened betweene two English lovers, 1563. Written by Ber. Gar., 1565. In ædibus Richardi Totelli”. Of protestant persuasion, Brooke appended to the poem a prose address “To the Reader” where he condemned the two lovers for “thralling themselves to unhonest desire, neglecting the authority and advice of parents and friends” and the friar for being “superstitious” and helping them in furthering “their purpose”. However, this moralistic view is contradicted by the poem itself in which both the lovers and the friar are sympathized with and often commended. In 1563 the printer Lucas Harrison issued another translation of his, this time of a Huguenot prose work: An Agreement of sundry places of Scripture seeming in shew to Iarre, seruing in stead of commentaryes, not only for these but others lyke. Translated out of French and nowe fyrst publyshed by Arthure Broke. Apparently by then Brooke had died, as the printer says in his prefatory address “The Printer to the Reader” hinting at his voyage abroad when “the Realme thought good to commaund him” (<¶i.v>). Brooke passed on his way to Le Havre on board of the Greyhound which shipwrecked off Rye. In the epitaph George Turberville wrote for his death he praised his virtues, his poetic excellence (“Agréede (quoth I) for sure his Vertues were / As many as his yeares in number few”, 5-6), and referred to his voyage at the service of the Queen:

In proufe that he for Myter did excel
As may be iudge by Iulyet and hir Mate:
For there he shewde his cunning passing well
When he the Tale to English did translate.
But what? as he to forraine Realme was bownd
With others moe his soueraigne Quéene to serue,
Amid the Seas vnluckie youth was drownd,
More spéedie death than such one did deserue.
Aye mée, that time (thou crooked Delphin) where
Wast thou, Aryons help and onely stay,
That safely him from Sea to shore didst beare? (13-23)




Allen, Ned. B. 1944. “Shakespeare and Arthur Brooke.” Delaware Notes: 91-110 ( 

Bland, Desmond Sparling. 1976. “Arthur Broke’s masque of Beauty and Desire: a reconstruction.” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama. 19: 49-55. 

Bullough, Geoffrey. 1961. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Vol. 1. New York: Columbia University Press. 

Daniel, Peter Augustin. 1875 ed. Originals and Analogues. Part I. Romeus and Iuliet. Arthur Brooke. Rhomeo and Iulietta. William Painter. Published for The New Shakespeare Society. London: N. Trüblner & Co ( 

Hazlitt, William Carew; John Payne Collier. 1875. Shakespeare’s Library. Vol. 1. Preface signed by W.H.C. Based on Collier’s edition of 1843 under the same title. Includes prefaces and notes by Collier and Halliwell. ( 

King, Andrew. 2004. Rev. 2009. “Broke or Brooke, Arthur.” Oxford DNB.( 

Lee, Sidney. 1965. “Broke or Brooke, Arthur.” Oxford DNB. (

Munro, John James. 1908. Brooke’s ‘Romeus and Juliet’ Being the Original of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Newly Edited by J.J. Munro. New York: Duffield and Company; London: Chatto & Windus. 

Moore, Olin H. 1950. The Legend of Romeo and Juliet. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press. (


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Digital archive created by Roberta Zanoni