It Doesn’t Have To Be That Hard! Romeo and Juliet does not have a confusing or complex plot - boy meets girl; boy and girl fall in love; boy and girl are forbidden from this love by their parents; boy and girl marry anyways, eventually killing themselves when they believed the other to be lost. This plot, though extreme, is not dissimilar to what many students may experience during high school (however to a lesser dramatic extent). Often students do fall in love with someone their parents do not approve of. Students understand this dichotomy; what troubles them is the language. Our goal as teachers of English should be to bridge the language gap that keeps so many of our students fumbling in the dark.
STRATEGY #1 Three-Dimensional Shakespeare The text is only an attempt to capture the 3 dimensional event which was performed on Elizabethan stages. Each play contains a large amount of material that is comprehensible. By beginning with what is approachable, we can learn-through performance-to take on the more complex.
So What Does That Look Like? Choose a group scene which is short, and easily understood. This approach generates and puts into use the skills needed to comprehend more difficult scenes. Print in LARGE type and photocopy. Delete any notes, glossary, etc. Select readers rather than ask for volunteers. Don’t automatically go to actor-type students or good readers. Also, break gender. You will be reading the scene several times, and the objective is to find out what the scene is about rather than who can play a particular part well – hopefully breaking down stereotypes as well.
Request that the rest of the class listen rather than read along. Tell readers not to be concerned with pronunciation or ‘acting’ – just read loudly. There are no Elizabethans around to tell us how things should be pronounced, and it really doesn’t matter very much. After they have finished, select the next group. The second reading is not to get a ‘better’ reading, but to encourage familiarity with the text. Ask the rest of the class to listen and note any differences they observe.
After 1 ST Reading In groups, ask students to answer the following questions: 1.Who are these guys? (bunch of workmen, people putting on a play) 2. How do you know? (highlight/underline section of scene) 3. What is going on? What are these guys doing? How do you know? (Any answer is acceptable as long as it is supported from the text. “They’re putting on a play for the duke’s wedding. It says so right here) 4. Do these guys know each other? Are they friends or are they getting together for the first time to put on this play? (Either answer is possible and can be supported by the text. Let the class vote: Old or new friends?) 5. Who’s the boss of this group? How do you know? Who would like to be the boss of this group? How do you know? ( Possible answers: Bottom who wants to play all the parts and gives his audition piece in the middle of the scene / Quince who has picked the play and will pick the cast. Ask the class: How strong or weak should this tension be?) 6. Why are they putting on this play?
After Discussion Reassign parts and read scene again. Ask students to make notes of new information and circle words/phrases they don’t understand.
After 2 ND Reading Begin second set of questions. Examples: Who wrote this play they are going to do? What do Snug, Snout, Starveling, and Flute think of the play? Why are they so quiet during the scene? Do they want to be in the play? Is Bottom a bully? A loudmouth? A leader? Is Snug stupid? Nervous? Slow? Shy? Is there any poetry in the scene? Is it good or bad poetry? What does it remind you of? Help students define words they have circled.
Extensions Depending on the nature of your class, you may want to read the scene again. Include a fast-read through. Form a circle. One student begins to read the first line. As soon as the reader comes to a stop mark (!?. – Commas do not count) the next person in the circle takes over. Put the scene “on its feet”
STRATEGY #2 Silent Conversation Divide students into pairs and give each a sheet of paper. Give students 5 minutes to conduct a silent, written conversation. (You may want to give parameters regarding topics)
Distribute Pronoun/Verb Handout The first person—I, me, my, mine—remains basically the same. “Thou” for “you” (nominative) “Thee” for “you” (objective) “Thy” for “your” (genitive) “Thine” for “yours” (possessive) Verb Inflections 2 nd person familiar adds ending –est -’st or st Example: thou givest, thou sing’st Irregular Verbs Present: youarehavewillcanshalldo Present:Thouarthastwiltcanstshaltdost Past:thouwasthadstwouldstcouldstshouldstdidst Third Person Singular-often substitutes –th for s Example: she giveth for she gives
Write a few sentences on the board containing 2 nd person pronouns and the verbs are, does, and has. (Why do you have a pumpkin in class? Where are you going?) Ask students to rewrite the sentences in Elizabethan English using their handout. After going over correct responses, ask students to rewrite their silent conversations using their handouts. Have a few volunteers read theirs out loud.
STRATEGY #3 Reading Strategies Distribute a block of text. Hamlet’s speech, the Prologue of Romeo and Juliet, etc. Divide into “beats” Have students read the selection several times choosing from among these variations: 1 – Class reads in unison. After, discuss and define unfamiliar words. 2 – Have each student read one word Student 1: “Two” Student 2: “Households” Student 3: “Both”
3 – Repeat #2, going faster. 4 – Each student reads a ‘beat’ 5 – The boys read Beat 1, the girls Beat 2, etc 6 – Divide class into pairs, or larger if necessary. Each reads assigned ‘beat’ 7 – Students take turns reading to end marks – not commas. (This reading clarifies the meaning of the passage)
STRATEGY #4 Insults Ask students: What is a feud? Are there any feuds going on with people you know? Do you know any stories based on feuds? What’s the difference between an argument and a feud? What kinds of insults might be exchanged during a feud? Distribute Shakespearean Insult Handout Tell each student to create and memorize an insult by combining one word from each column
Have students define each part of the insult. Divide into pairs or triads and have them practice delivering insults to each other. Make them stand up for this. Discuss: Who has the better words for insults? Shakespeare or us? Which student had the best insult?
STRATEGY #5 Choral Performance Choose a block of text from only one character. Give students copies. Put students in groups of 6-7. Each group should divide the lines any way they want, as long as everyone participates. Have students decide how they will say their lines. For example, one voice could echo another, several voices speak together to emphasize an important word.
Have students decide movements and gestures to enhance performance. For example, two students become Romeo and Juliet and pantomime reactions to lines) Give students time to rehearse. Tell them their performance will be graded on reading, interpretation and group effort. Circulate among groups and act as a resource. Have students perform for the class