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Studying Shakespeare's star-cross'd lovers? Well there's no need for your lessons to have a tragic ending with these great resources, ideas and activities
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Literary misconceptions throughout history, #1: Romeo and Juliet is a romance.
Let’s run through this shall we?
There. That’s settled.
“Ah, but that’s just a cynical jokey internetty thing”. Sure, but it’s pretty clear that Shakespeare went out of his way to show that this young couple were not really in love. For a start, when we first meet Romeo he’s all head over heels for Rosaline, saying things like this:
Well, in that hit you miss. She’ll not be hit
With Cupid’s arrow. She hath Dian’s wit,
And, in strong proof of chastity well armed,
From love’s weak childish bow she lives unharmed.
He’s pretty melodramatic about the fact that she won’t return his “love”. Or more to the point, that she chooses to remain chaste.
But that all changes when he sees Juliet. When Friar Laurence asks him if he’s been with Rosaline, he responds: “With Rosaline, my ghostly father? no; I have forgot that name, and that name’s woe.”
Quick as that. “Oh, that’s because it’s true love with Juliet.” Sure it is. Because everything we know about Romeo up til now points us in the direction of someone who knows what true love is.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Google. It’ll tell you. See: Romeo and Juliet is NOT a love story. It is a cautionary Laptop Case. Wait, what?
A cautionary laptop case?
But seriously, read this, for starters, on why we should hate Romeo (and, in their words, but also my sentiments, “and not just the Leonardo DiCaprio Romeo, either”), on how he’s actually the villain of the piece.
If they know nothing else about Romeo and Juliet, you students will probably at least know them as the most famous couple in literature. So that’s a good a place as any to introduce the play and its themes.
With that in mind, this article features some great conversation-starter questions about the play, including this one:
Romeo and Juliet may be the most famous pair of lovers in Western literature, but, seriously: is their love real, or is it just infatuation? Are they just melodramatic teenagers, or are they a model of romantic love? What proof does the play provide that their love is “real love,” not just infatuation?
Check out the full list here.
Always handy for Shakespeare and young students. Lots of characters with names they’re less than familiar with? Get yourself a handy character map and guide to hand out.
Download this one here.
And if you want to go one further, this free infographic plots out key themes and other facts and figures.
Get it here.
As with any Shakespeare play there are more than a few adaptations kicking around. No doubt you’ve seen at least one, and maybe even have your own personal favourite, but just in case, here’s a quick rundown.
Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968) is perhaps the definitive film version, and it’s a straight-up, no-gimmick adaptation, but today’s youngsters might find the acting a little hokey.
In that case Baz Luhrmann’s stylish modern take, Romeo + Juliet might be more up their street. And the needless plus sign in the title means it has cross-curricular mathematical appeal, right? No? OK.
West Side Story is an even looser modern take on the tale, of course being set in 1950s New York City, and might make for an interesting study (especially if you fancy a debate on casting and ethnicity issues in Hollywood).
Plus there’s Gnomeo and Juliet, Warm Bodies, Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride and Carlo Carlei’s 2013 version.
Probably best sticking to one of the first three though.
If you prefer your art forms much more quiet and motionless then why not check out the many, many paintings that feature Shakespeare’s young Veronesi.
This Wikimedia Commons page has a pretty comprehensive collection of all the major works where you’ll find our young pair.
Full disclaimer: The style of this post might seem immediately off-putting, but trust me. This is from Film Crit Hulk. He’s my favourite film critic. He’s my favourite Hulk. He’s one of my favourite people.
However, some people do not like the “Hulk-speak” style of writing, nor that part of that means reading something in all caps (if that’s you, convertcase.net is your friend). Also, there are is an F-bombs in here so probably best not to share it with students who definitely do not know or use that word, ever.
But, what you do get is a super-articulate and intelligent breakdown of Shakespeare’s five-act structure using Romeo and Juliet as an example.
Here are the basics:
But click here to read the column in full (or scroll down a bit if you want to skip straight to the breakdown).
There are a bunch of good Romeo and Juliet resources at teachit.co.uk, but this one is particularly interesting.
It looks at how Juliet is introduced to the audience, with a series of questions, prompts and activities for closely analysing the text to see what Shakespeare was intending.
You can find it here.
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