Suggested Resources: “The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet” (Identities 9) or scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (e.g., the idealized view of love in the Pyramus and Thisbe scene)
Shakespeare’s plays help us find out about life and relationships. In Romeo and Juliet, we see friendship and loyalty between men and women, men and men, women and women, and between masters and servants. We also see love between young lovers and between members of one family. In the play, Juliet has married Romeo secretly because her parents and his are enemies. Unfortunately their married happiness has been cut short because Romeo has been banished for killing Juliet’s cousin in a duel. Also, Juliet’s parents, Lord and Lady Capulet, have found a suitable husband for her – the Count Paris. They want to cheer her up for the death of her cousin and so have arranged the marriage to take place in three days’ time, to Juliet’s horror. Romeo and Juliet shows us a lesson that the families and friends of Romeo and Juliet learned the hard way. Can the love of two people mend generations of family conflict?
Note: The synopses and scene excerpts presented in “The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of … Romeo and Juliet” (Identities 9) highlight for students the main action and universal themes of Romeo and Juliet: a family feud, friendship, love, loyalty, revenge, and tragic death. These short texts accompanied by the viewing of a film version of the play provide a short but sufficient introduction to Shakespeare for Grade 9 students. If students are interested in reading the entire play, Romeo and Juliet (Cambridge School Shakespeare) and Romeo and Juliet with Related Readings (ITP) are accessible and useful texts.
If students are not familiar with drama and theatre, teachers may wish to review the elements of drama including: Script (the written form of the play containing stage directions and dialogue often divided into acts and scenes), the parts of a stage (C [centre], UR [up right], UC [up centre, UL [up left]), and the elements of spectacle (i.e., the lights, sets, curtains, costumes, makeup, music, sound effects, properties, and movements of the actors including any special movement such as mime or dance).
Students may wish to start a Scene Log (highlighting when and where the scene takes place, the characters in it, what happens, any thoughts and comments) and a Character Log (noting key points about the character, reasons for choosing these/any quotations), or they may wish to create a diary for a character of their choice.
Throughout this study of Romeo and Juliet, help students consider the relationships and the themes of love and loyalty. Help students understand the events of the play but keep the emphasis on the characters, their motivations, actions, decisions, and the consequences.
Prologue (Identities 9, p. 176 or other version of the play)
Consider the following situation:
Scene: The school soccer field just prior to a scheduled soccer practice.
Characters: Trevor, Andy, Mark, Lucien, several other students, coach.
Action: Trevor and Andy are best friends, as are Mark and Lucien. Trevor and Andy have a long-standing grudge against Mark and Lucien. The four meet on the school soccer field and a loud, shoving match provoked by Trevor and Andy begins. Suddenly other students join in the disagreement, taking one side or the other. When the coach arrives, his attempts to find out who started it fail as each side blames the other. The coach then gives the two sides a warning about what will happen if they fight in the future. How do you think it might sound? What happens when people disagree?
Explain to students that a disagreement of a similar nature happens at the beginning of the play, Romeo and Juliet, because of a long-standing feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, two old families of Verona, Italy.
The play begins with a prologue, in which a single actor comes onto the stage and speaks to the audience. This prologue gives an outline of the play.
Retell the prologue in your own words. What is going to happen in this play? What key words or phrases in the prologue are particularly important to your understanding? Explain why.
How would you present the prologue as true-life drama in Canada today?
Language and Technique
Throughout this part of the unit, help students understand the key words and phrases found in the play (e.g., avenging, citizen, banishment, feud, dejectedly, exile, foul, friar, monastery, nunnery, spited, vial) as well as the colourful terms and phrases for which Shakespeare is renown (e.g., slug-a-bed).
What words, phrases, or sentences in the prologue most clearly indicate the atmosphere at the beginning of the play?
You are a young woman or man very much in love with your boy/girlfriend. You are confident that one day you will marry each other but your family does not approve of your boy/girlfriend or his/her family. Do you obey your family or follow your heart?
Have students read the synopsis section and consider the questions:
What does this act remind you or make you think of?
What is your impression of Romeo or Juliet based on this act?
What did you find out about the characters’ personalities?
Read the synopses and script excerpt (Identities 9, p. 177 or Act I, Scene V excerpt from another version) aloud to the students, explaining the terms and ideas as you go. Use the “Pause and Think” strategy, footnotes, and prompt question provided.
Now, view the opening scenes of a movie version of Romeo and Juliet (e.g., Franco Zeffirelli’s version). Pause after Act I, Scene I and help the students prepare and complete a chart that identifies the characters loyal to the Capulets and those who are loyal to the Montagues, as well as any other characters they encounter. Have students add to their chart as they encounter new characters during the play.