As You’re Reading the Play

As You’re Reading Act 1

Shared Lines
Shakespeare’s text contained many clues to help his actors, who had only a few days to rehearse a play. You’ll notice that some lines are deeply indented, starting well to the right of other lines. This happens when two speakers share a ten-syllable (sometimes eleven…) verse line. By sharing a line, Shakespeare indicates to his actors that the pace is fast, and the two lines are to be delivered as one. There should be no pause between the end of one character’s line and the beginning of the next. Romeo and Benvolio share quite a few lines in 1.1. First, identify which lines they share. Then read silently from Romeo’s entrance to the end of the scene. Pair up and read these scenes to one other, each person choosing a part. Whenever a single verse line is split between characters, practice until you get to the point that there is no pause between where one character’s line ends and the other’s begins. You can also use a ball (like a hot potato!) for this activity to throw back and forth as you toss the lines to each other. Discuss what the shared lines suggest about Romeo and Benvolio’s relationship. CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R1, R5, SL1

A “Duel-ogue”
In groups of four, act out the servants’ lines from 1.5.1–14. You’ll find you can perform this tiny bustling scene opening in many different ways. Invent as much “stage business” as you like to suit the words. Using the same characters and the same framework, update the scene to a present-day party. What might be the servants’ concerns now? Shakespeare used duologues—the conversations between two people—to heighten a play’s intensity and to reveal information about each character and about the complexity of the relationship between them. Often the two are left alone together on stage. The duologue can have the feel of a duel between two combatants whose “swords” are their words. Working in pairs, take the duologue between Lord Capulet and Tybalt in 1.5.54–91 (from “What dares the slave...” to “...convert to bitt’rest gall.”). Explore the movement of the scene by standing up and each taking a part. As you read your lines, try to get a feel for the way the duologue positions you for attack and retreat.

The lines, like two swords, “cut and thrust.” At what point specifically is the conflict at its highest tension? At what line is the tension released? CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R1, R6

What She Isn’t Saying
In Shakespeare’s plays, as in real life, you can sometimes tell more from what someone doesn’t say in a conversation than what they do say. The conversation between Lady Capulet and Juliet in 1.3 is a good example. Lady Capulet talks to her daughter about marrying Count Paris. Juliet doesn’t say very much. What do you imagine Juliet is thinking and feeling? Write an inner monologue for Juliet where she responds to her mother. Write in your own style—or try writing in Shakespeare’s. CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R1, L1, W3, W10

As You’re Reading Act 2

All You Need Is Love?
At the end of Act 2, Romeo and Juliet are married by Friar Laurence—the day after they first meet! Make a “Pro and Con” list for their sudden marriage. Imagine that you have the chance to give them premarital counseling— what is some advice you would give them? Do you think they are in love? As a class, discuss the implications of their unique situation of love-at-first-sight, and of love-at-first-sight in general. Think of some modern-day movies or TV shows that deal with love and love-at-first-sight. Compare those situations and relationships with Romeo and Juliet’s. CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R3, R9, SL1, W1

Read Between the Lines
Reading Shakespeare’s plays involves some sleuthing to search out hidden meanings, innuendos and double entendres that he weaves throughout. Shakespeare was famous for weaving in these gems in all of his plays.

When you first read the witty banter between Benvolio and Mercutio in 2.1, it may just sound like a bunch of meaningless words hurled at one another. In groups or pairs, read it aloud once. Now return to the lines and really accentuate those “hidden gems” you have discovered. What are these men doing with their words? CONSIDERCOMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R1, R4, L4, L5

Make the Cut
Rarely is one of Shakespeare’s plays performed in its entirety. Most would last between three and four hours— even without an intermission! And even though the Prologue of Romeo and Juliet refers to “two hours traffic of our stage,” played in its entirety, the play would last at least three hours. You can learn about Shakespeare’s use of language by reducing a longer speech or scene while trying to retain its original meaning, its poetic language whenever possible, and its purpose to further move the plot. In your small groups, work together to edit the first 115 lines of 2.2. Aim for a scene no longer than 65 lines. When you have finished, present your abridgment to the class and see how well each version works. What is lost by cutting text, if anything? What can be gained? CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R2, R3, R5, SL4

As You’re Reading Act 3

Romeo and Juliet’s Geographical Center
As you read Shakespeare, you’ll learn a lot by not only reading “between the lines,” but also “between the scenes”—in other words, by watching out for the way the playwright arranged his scenes, one after another. Often, the juxtaposition of two very different scenes will give you important clues into the behavior of characters or the story’s most important ideas. The “geographical center” of Romeo and Juliet falls between scenes 2.6 and 3.1: the wedding followed by the street brawl that ends in Tybalt’s death. According to scholar Stephen Shapiro, the reversal that takes place in these two scenes encapsulates the meaning of the play. As a class, explore this idea. Why do you think Shakespeare might follow 3.1 hard on the heels of 2.6? What are the contrasts? Are there any similarities? What might Shakespeare be up to? CONSIDERCOMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R2, R3, R5, SL1

There are many ways the same words can be spoken in a script—just as we can convey many different meanings in the way we say a simple “Good morning.” What we imagine the character to be thinking but not saying as he speaks is called the “subtext.” In playing a role, the actor must constantly be making decisions about what he thinks his subtext is in order to bring a certain mood, tone, inflection, and pace to the line. In your small groups, practice saying “Good morning” to one another to express the subtext of:

  • I can’t possibly talk to you right now. I’m in a hurry.
  • I’m so glad to see you.
  • You’re the 200th person my job has required me to say good morning to already.
  • I’m not pleased to see you after that fight we had last night.
  • I’m very pleased to see you after our romantic evening together...

Now look at the beginning of 3.5, and imagine different possibilities for the characters’ subtexts. What if Juliet is feeling loving? Bossy? Sleepy? Impatient? Fearful? What if Romeo is loving? Afraid? Irritable? Secretly wishing to go? Are all of these possibilities from the lines in front of us? Practice with them, and see what you discover. CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R1, R6

As You’re Reading Act 4

Blame Game
When Juliet’s friends and family discover her to be dead, there is a lot of weeping and wailing going on—especially by the Nurse, Lady and Lord Capulet, and Paris. Who do you think is responsible for Juliet’s death? Make a list on the board of all the characters that you think are in some way responsible. Placing “Juliet’s death” in a circle in the middle of the board, draw spokes out in all directions from the circle, one for each name you’ve listed. Now, individually choose a character and search through the play for his/her words or actions that lead to Juliet’s death. Discuss and write these words beside each character’s name on a spoke. CONSIDER COMMON COREANCHOR STANDARDS R1, R3, R6, SL4

The “Suitability” of Paris
[Paris] is an eminently suitable wooer for Juliet, rich and nobly born, yet considerate, peace-loving, and deeply fond of Juliet.


At the beginning of Act 4, Juliet gives Paris the brush-off for the last time. In your small groups, debate Paris’s “suitability.” One half of the group should take one position, while the other half assumes the other. Return to the text to either support or refute Bevington’s argument. Now discuss which characters in the play would agree with Bevington. Which would not? CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R1, R6, SL1, SL4

Discovering Motives
List five of the major characters who appear in this play. Write a single sentence for each that begins, “What I most want is...” Take a risk—there’s not just one right answer! Then write a sentence for each character that begins, “What I’m most afraid of is...” Is there ever a situation when what one most wants is also what one most fears? Share your answers with the class and talk about all the different ideas of what the characters’ motives might be. CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R1, R3, SL1, W1

As You’re Reading Act 5

Considering Fate
Read the following quotes about fate in preparation for thinking about fate and the role that it plays in Romeo and Juliet.

The best of men cannot defend their fate: The good die early and the bad die late.


Our hour is marked and no one can claim a moment of life beyond what fate has predestined.”


What fates impose, that men must needs abide;

It boots not to resist both wind and tide.”


How would you define fate? Do you know anyone who believes their lives are ruled by fate? What might be the advantages of feeling this way? What are the disadvantages? Now think about connecting those ideas to Romeo and Juliet—how is fate a part of the play? CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R2, R3, R9, SL1

Character Quarantine
To the teacher: Cut up and distribute, one per student, the lines below including the character’s name. Once you receive a quote, arrange yourselves in groups based on the character who said your quote. As you read the lines aloud and notice the plot clues in them, work with one another to determine the order of your quotes through the arc of the story. Once you have arranged yourselves, come up with a still-frame position you think your character would assume onstage at the moment he/she says that line. When the teacher says “Go!” everyone assumes their position and reads each line in order. Repeat once more, so your classmates have a good idea of the plot points, as well. Then ask them if they think any of the quotes are out of order. Once everyone agrees they are in order, go down the line and explain your still-frame statues to the class. CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHORSTANDARDS R1, R3, SL1

Lord Capulet
My sword, I say! old Montague is come,

And flourishes his blade in spite of me. 1.1.68-69

But woo her, gentle Paris, get her heart 1.2.16

You’ll make a mutiny among my guests! 1.5.79

I tell thee what: get thee to church a’Thursday,

Or never after look me in the face. 3.5.161-2

Death lies on her like an untimely frost 4.5.28

Brother Montague, give me thy hand. 5.3.296

Friar Laurence
Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear,

So soon forsaken? 2.3.66-67

For by your leaves, you shall not stay alone

Till Holy Church incorporate two in one. 2.6.36-37

Thou shalt continue two and forty hours,

And then awake as from a pleasant sleep. 4.1.105-106

Thy husband in thy bosom there lies dead; 5.3.155

But then a noise did scare me from the tomb,

And she too desperate would not go with me 5.3.262-263

It is an honor that I dream not of. 1.3.67

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy; 2.2.38

That villain cousin would have killed my husband. 3.2.101

What if this mixture do not work at all? 4.3.21

This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die. 5.3.169-170

Thou wast the prettiest babe that e’er I nursed. 1.3.61

…my young lady bid me enquire you out; 2.4.134-135

Then hie you hence to Friar Laurence’ cell,

There stays a husband to make you a wife. 2.5.67-68

Romeo that killed him, he is banishèd. 3.2.70

O woeful day, O woeful day! 4.5.54

The Hero Journey
The “hero journey” is described by Joseph Campbell, a scholar of mythology, as one that leads the individual into unknown and risky territory—unknown not only geographically but also psychologically. The hero faces many obstacles and barriers (some physical, some emotional), and through his/her journey, overcomes them. Trace Romeo’s “hero journey”—complete with all the references you can find in Shakespeare’s script to barriers and obstacles in his way. As Romeo, write about your journey, or part of it if you prefer to focus on one part of the story. CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R1, R3, W3, W9



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