Before You Read the Play

Sound and Sense

Teacher: excerpt 30 lines from the play that are rich in Shakespeare’s language or are descriptive of character. Distribute a line or lines to each student on a slip of paper, not revealing the character that spoke it. Look at your line/s and, as you all walk around the room say it aloud again and again—without addressing or looking at anyone. Continue to walk around the room and deliver your line directly to your classmates, as they do the same.

Regroup in a circle, each reading your line aloud in turn. Sit down in the circle and discuss the lines. What questions do you have about the words? Imagine what this play is about based on some of the words you’ve heard its characters speak. What do you imagine about the character who spoke your line? Did you hear lines that seemed to be spoken by the same character? All ideas are encouraged, and none can be wrong! This is your time to listen to the language and begin to use your imagination to think about the world of the play you’ve just entered. CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R3, R5, SL1

Character Study

Working in pairs, imagine that you are the actor and understudy for one of the parts in Romeo and Juliet. Select a character from the Dramatis Personae to explore through the play. Skim through the text and copy any speeches or lines that seem to well represent your character into an actor’s notebook. Select three to four small segments that seem to best portray your character and prepare to present your findings to the class. This is how Elizabethan actors learned their roles too! They were given only their own lines and the cue lines that immediately preceded theirs, but they were never given an entire script. (At the end of your study of Romeo and Juliet, go back and repeat this exercise with the same character. As a class, discuss the differences in your interpretation now that you’ve read the play.) CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R3, SL1, SL4

Make a Connection

One of the reasons Shakespeare’s plays haven’t disappeared is that his characters experience life as we still do. Before you start reading Romeo and Juliet, it may be helpful to think about your own experiences to help you better understand what the characters experience. Jot down some of your ideas about one of the following

situations. Don’t worry about your writing style. CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS R3, R6, W3, W4

  • Think about a significant time in your life when you acted impulsively without thinking the situation and your options through completely. What was the situation? What about the circumstances launched you into making your decision too quickly? What were the consequences? Looking back with some perspective now, what other way might you have acted if you’d taken more time and thought things through? Where do you imagine that “road not taken” might have taken you?
  • Think about an important event in your own life that happened by accident. What happened, and how did it change things that followed? What’s your understanding—did it happen simply by accident, or was something like fate (or a higher power) involved? What part, if any, did decisions you made have something to do with the course of events? Or did things happen that, regardless of any decision you could make, seemed destined to happen anyway? Looking back, has your point of view changed at all?
  • One of the characters in Romeo and Juliet will call dreams “the children of an idle brain.” But others treat dreams as premonitions of what’s to come. What do you understand dreams to be? Have you ever had a dream that you felt might come true? What were your feelings remembering it? Did it, in fact, come true? Did the dream change your behavior in any way? Do you think we can learn anything from our dreams? Can you recall a dream that helped you understand something?


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