Will Kemp, Shakespeare and the Composition of Romeo and Juliet

  • Elizabeth Ford Cardiff University
Keywords: Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Will Kemp,


The famous stage direction, ‘Enter Will Kemp’, unique to the 1599 second quarto edition of Romeo and Juliet, tells us much about how Shakespeare’s composition habits were an amalgam of page and stage. If, as the direction clearly suggests, the renowned stage clown, and sharer in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was intended to play the Capulet servant Peter in original performances of the play, it also indicates a moment where authorial agency is potentially overridden by the anarchic potential of comic extemporization. Kemp’s presence in the text thus provides a way of reading the play as a problematical dialectic between the material form of the actor and the author’s creation of the illusory stage world of Verona – one that Kemp is able to disrupt.

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