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I just noticed that a character in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has the same name as a character in Homer's Iliad: Paris. In both stories, Paris is one of two men who wish to be with the same woman; Paris of Troy elopes with an already married woman, while Paris of Verona is engaged to marry a woman already in love with someone else. In both stories, Paris ends up dead at the hands of an enemy.

Is there any evidence that this is more than a coincidence? I've provided some circumstantial evidence, but I don't know much about Shakespeare's sources for the story of Romeo and Juliet, whether earlier versions also featured Paris and whether he always had that name, or indeed whether those stories in turn could potentially be traced back to Homer. It's clear at least that Shakespeare knew the story of the Iliad, as can be seen from his play Troilus and Cressida.

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As I mentioned elsewhere, Shakespeare's main sources for Romeo and Juliet were

There is no evidence that Shakespeare read any of the French or Italian sources for this story, such as Pierre Boaistuau or Matteo Bandello.

An older version of the story that Bandello used was Luigi Da Porto's Historia novellamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti ("Newly found story of two noble lovers"), published in 1531. In this version, Giulietta's father wants her to marry the Count of Lodrone.

Another version of the story was published in Venice in 1553; this was a poem entitled L'Infelice Amore dei due Fedelissimi Amanti Giulia e Romeo, scritto in Ottava Rima da Clitia, nobile Veronese, ad Ardeo suo. Who Clitia (the author) and her Ardeo were is unknown. In this version of the story, the Count of Lodrone is known as Francesco.

In Bandello's version of the story, published in 1554, the Count of Lodrone / Conte di Lodrone is now for the first time named Paris. (Bandello was also the first author to add Juliet's nurse to the story.) I have not been able to find out why Bandello chose Paris as a name.

Pierre Boaistuau or Boisteau seems to have kept the name of Paris in his French version of Bandello's stories, Histoires Tragiques extraictes des Œuvres de Bandel (1559).

The name Lodrone is no longer present in Arthur Brooke's narrative poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (1562), but it is interesting that the first mention of Paris does not refer to the Count but to the character from Homer's Iliad:

At length he [Romeus] saw a maid, right fair, of perfect shape,
Which Theseus or Paris would have chosen to their rape.

("Rape" here has the older meaning of "to carry off", as in The Rape of the Lock. Theseus was also "a great abductor of women".)

Count Paris is introduced much later:

Among the rest was one inflamed with her desire,
Who County Paris clepéd was; an earl he had to sire.
Of all the suitors him the father liketh best,

In Brooke's poem, Romeus does not encounter Paris at the Capulet tomb; Paris survives until the end.

The connection between Paris of Troy and Count Paris is not a simply a parallel, since a number of things are reversed in Shakespeare's play:

  • Paris of Troy has no right to abduct Helen, who is married to Menelaus.
  • From a "public" point of view (i.e. what the Capulet household knows), Count Paris is a perfectly suitable match for Juliet.
  • However, Juliet has secretly married Romeo, so the private or secret here clashes with the public point of view.
  • Whereas Brooke mentions both Paris of Troy and Count Paris, Shakespeare does not mention Paris of Troy. (Helen is mentioned by Mercutio in Act II, scene 4 and a certain "lively Helena" is on the guest list for the Capulet party in Act I, scene 2. However, Helen is a not an unusual name in Shakespeare's plays: there is also a Helen in A Midsummer Night's Dream, All's Well That Ends Well and obviously in Troilus and Cressida. Helen of Troy is also mentioned in other plays, such as As You Like It, Henry VI Part 3 and Henry IV Part 2.)
  • There is indeed a parallel between Paris of Troy and Shakespeare's Count Paris in that both die. I am not aware of evidence that Homer's Iliad gave Shakespeare this idea. Rivalry between men who love the same woman is a common theme in Shakespeare's plays, from the early The Two Gentlemen of Verona to the late The Two Noble Kinsmen.
  • Upvoted for good research and info, but I probably won't accept this unless you can find some more conclusive evidence one way or the other (which I realise may not actually exist). Agreed that the similarities between the characters are far from exact, and "Rivalry between men who love the same woman is a common theme in S̶h̶a̶k̶e̶s̶p̶e̶a̶r̶e̶'̶s̶ ̶p̶l̶a̶y̶s̶ literature" :-) – Rand al'Thor Jan 5 at 19:32

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