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Romeo and Juliet

There's a balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet

There's no balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet

The most famous scene in Romeo and Juliet?

Most people, when asked to name the most famous scene from Romeo and Juliet, would reply with the balcony scene. This is understandable because it's probably the best known play in the world, and has been retold many, many times in the 500+ years since it was written. You see it in every theatrical production, every movie - even in every parody.

Yet this isn't in the original.

The only reference is to a window.

Even stranger - Shakespeare wouldn't even have known what a balcony was because there was no balcony at the time anywhere in the whole of England. The earliest use of the word "balcony", according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was in 1618 which is 15 years after Romeo and Juliet was first performed.


Unlike most of Shakespeare's other works, Romeo and Juliet actually largely existed already before he drew on it for his play. It was one of his first plays, and was translated from an Italian 1562 work called "The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet" by Arthur Brooke and a poem with similar content from 1567 in William Painter's "Palace of Pleasure". Shakespeare condensed the structure and added many new characters, as well as imprinting his inimitable style on the whole work.

Wherefore art thou, balcony scene?

Time to rename it to "the window scene" - he famously asks "What light from yonder window breaks?".

So many people, if asked to remember anything at all about the play, instantly bring up the balcony. It's clearly there in all the multitude of adaptations throughout history, such as movies and TV shows - including the parodies. Perhaps there's a clue in the original script, which no-one seems to read since their schooldays. If most people are relying on these adaptations, and one early on added the balcony for better effect, it would most likely have been a success. That means further performances would have wanted to build on it, so repeat this literary exaggeration, and from then on all are doing it. The scene is a key point in the play - it's almost as if it was designed for dramatic effect.