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Romeo and Juliet: Who were the Capulets and Montagues during Shakespeare’s day?

Democrats and Republicans are two feuding groups

And here you thought it was a sad but romantic love story.
  • And here you thought it was a sad but romantic love story.
  • Photograph by Jim Cox

“Wherefore art thou Romeo?” I’m assuming that’s a line you’ve heard before. For the purposes of this article, I’d like to change it to “Who-fore art thou Romeo?”

Romeo and Juliet

Who were the Capulets and the Montagues? There were two famous families in and around Verona named I Capulletti and I Montecchi. They often fought. The earliest mention of the families comes in Dante’s Purgatorio.

Well and good.

Who were the Capulets and Montagues during Shakespeare’s day? The Montecchi did immigrate from Italy to England and became the Montague family. However, I’m going with Protestants and Catholics. Every single person who saw Romeo and Juliet was aware of the national conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and King Henry’s Church of England. There are several scholarly works written about whether or not Shakespeare was a secret Catholic.

There is even speculation that Shakespeare didn’t write any of his plays but that he was the “front man” for a group of Catholic sympathizers who wrote all of the plays as allegorical propaganda.

The point is that the standing feud between Protestants and Catholics was destroying the lives of the innocent. You might think “destroying the lives of the innocent” to be a bit over-the-top, but conider: 430 Catholics were killed by Henry VIII. His daughter, Mary, aka Bloody Mary, killed some 300 Protestants.

Now we come to our day and time. We need not look too far to find our Capulets and Montagues; we are approaching an election year, after all. Democrats and Republicans are two feuding groups who seem to care neither about the chaos created by their feud, nor the innocence destroyed by it.

After decades of discord, a feud becomes about itself and not about the original sin which got it started. The participants of any feud can list the wrongs committed against their “family” but rarely mention their own acts of aggression. They are, in a way, possessed by the feud.

Our current circumstances are becoming more and more sectarian as the feud in our politics deepens. Neither the right nor the left is very good at listening to the other side. Both are busy spouting the wrongs which have been committed against them.

It’s a potentially tragic situation, like Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet plays at the Old Globe's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre through September.

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