Updated: May 13
The balcony scene in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has no balcony. Shakespeare likely didn't know what a balcony IS. So why do most productions of the play include a balcony?
It's a long story. Come to The Collector's Corner during this May's book sale and find, among other things, the answer to this question.
Shakespeare has his star-crossed lovers share their most quoted lines through a window. Balconies were not to be found in English architecture of the day: the word itself is not known to have been used before Shakespeare's death. And yet, a balcony is so completely tied to our ideas about the play that it is difficult to imagine Romeo and Juliet without one.
How has a balcony become part of the scene over the course of four centuries?
The balcony scene came to us, not from Shakespeare, but from another playwright altogether: Thomas Otway. When Otway wrote his his very popular The History and Fall of Caius Marius in 1679, which so heavily appropriated from Romeo and Juliet that its heroine, Lavinia, calls out "O Marius, Marius! Wherefore art thou Marius?" Shakespeare's play, nearly a century old, had fallen out of favor, and out of public memory.
Otway explicitly set his scene version of the scene on a balcony. While Caius Marius was staged thirty times in the early 18th century, Romeo and Juliet was not produced at all. When David Garrick produced a staging of Romeo and Juliet in the mid 18th century he added Otway's innovation, the use of a balcony, to Act III, scene II. The change stuck.
We have a beautiful limited edition set of Otway's complete works available for this May's sale, printed by the Nonesuch Press. Stop by to see a side-by-side comparison... it could prove to give you a great addition to your bookshelf, and to your cocktail-party conversations...