While many things about theaters and plays have changed since the late 1500s and early 1600s, from stages, to who could be an actor, to even pronunciation itself, at least when we go see a Shakespeare play today we can be confident that one thing is virtually unchanged: The story. Shakespeare died in 1616, but just a few years later a full 36 of the approximately 39 plays he wrote had been collected and published in a book known as the First Folio. This has enabled his works to be passed down through the ages, and lets modern theaters and actors today make sure that they are telling these stories the way that he had written them. However, this has not always been the case. In fact, there was a time not too long ago that Shakespeare's plays may have been all but unrecognizable to Shakespeare himself!
Shakespeare got something of a makeover during the Victorian Period, which lasted from 1837 until 1901. The upper-class during the Victorian Period were a rather strange group of people, and their habits and tastes were no longer aligned to Shakespeare’s plays as he wrote them, so they decided to change them. Much of the comedy and violence that were usually found in his plays was removed. Some tragedies were given happy endings, and greater and greater emphasis was placed on set design and visual spectacle.
The most popular version of Romeo and Juliet during the Victorian Period was an adaptation that had been created during the middle of the 1700s by an actor named David Garrick. One of the biggest changes he made to the play was to recast Romeo as more of a hero than Shakespeare had written him, probably because Garrick was to play the role himself. Much of the comedy and many of the puns of the original were removed, as were the original violent sword fights. Juliet was rewritten to be a charming, simple girl. Since Victorians thought that men shouldn’t act as Romeo did, emotional and passionate, they would sometimes instead have the role be played by a woman.
As you can see, the Victorian Period was something of a strange time for Shakespeare’s plays. Though they lived far closer in time to Shakespeare’s own day and age than we do now, just two centuries after his time period, they were less receptive to what he had originally written, and as such their versions of his plays were a lot less truthful to the originals. Even though our own time period is twice as far away from Shakespeare’s as theirs was, many contemporary Shakespeare plays are much closer to what one would have seen during the Elizabethan Era then the Victorian era plays that span the gap between now and then.
Shakespeare in the Victorian Era | Biscuits to Biscuits - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LpcJrWYQl8
Romeo and Juliet through the Ages - https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/romeo-juliet