Plot synopsis for Romeo and Juliet
This story takes place in Verona, Italy, where two families are fighting. The families are named the Montagues and Capulets and they have hated one another for a long time. At the beginning of the play, the Prince of Verona warns both families that anyone caught fighting in the streets of Verona will be sentenced to death.
Romeo tells his cousin Benvolio and his friend Mercutio that he is sick with love for a girl who won’t love him back. Benvolio and Mercutio encourage him to forget about her and go with them to a costume party at the house of Capulet. There Romeo meets Juliet. Lady Capulet is hoping Juliet will agree to marry Count Paris and is excited for them to spend time together at the party. When Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, discovers there are Montagues at the party, he is outraged. Romeo falls instantly in love with Juliet and is sad to hear that she is the daughter of his family’s enemy. Romeo decides to sneak to Juliet’s bedroom window to speak with her. While he watches and listens to Juliet, Romeo learns that she is in love with him, too. They speak at the window and make plans to secretly get married even though their families are enemies.
The next day Romeo and Juliet go to Friar Laurence who agrees to marry them. Friar Laurence hopes their marriage will help to bring peace to the families. On the way home, Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel in the street. Romeo refuses to fight him. Mercutio agrees to fight Tybalt instead. Romeo tries to stop the fight and accidentally stabs Mercutio and he dies. Romeo is so angry and sad that Mercutio is dead that he fights Tybal,t killing him. Benvolio begs Romeo to run away from Verona so that the Prince of Verona can’t sentence him to death.
Juliet is sad to hear of her cousin’s death, but she is even more sad to hear that her husband Romeo
must leave Verona. She goes to Friar Laurence for advice. Friar Laurence gives Juliet a special type of poison. The poison will make her fall into a very deep sleep, but everyone will think her dead. Friar Laurence plans to send a message to Romeo so that he can come back to Verona and meet Juliet when she wakes up in her family’s tomb and then they can leave Verona and be together.
Juliet follows her part of the plan, but something goes very wrong. Friar Luwrence’s message never
makes it to Romeo. Instead, Romeo hears that Juliet is dead and returns to Verona with a very
strong poison. He goes to Juliet in the tomb, drinks the poison, and dies. When Juliet wakes up, she
finds Romeo lying next to her. She is so sad that she takes his dagger and takes her own life.
Romeo and Juliet: Pre-Show Activities
Understanding Shakespeare: Body Language
(TH:Cr.1.1.5, TH:Cr3.1.6, 3.I.Q.1)
Play the game: Gibberish!
Students must try to communicate using made-up words, known as gibberish. Set a timer and instruct students to tell each other about their days. After they attempt to communicate have them share how much they were able to understand. Lead a discussion on how we use body language and inflection to communicate.
Understanding Shakespeare: The Words
(L.4.4, L.6.4, L.7.4, 6.C.CV.1, RL.7.4)
Create Your Own Shakespearean Dictionary!
Choose from the words below and create a dictionary before the performance of Romeo and Juliet. Research the definitions and find synonyms to aid in your understanding.
ABHOR JUDICIOUS VILE
ASSAIL KNAVE VINDICTIVE
BALK MEND WANT
CANKER PITEOUS WHEREFORE
CONSORT RETIRE WOO
DOTH THEE YARE
Society in the Time of Romeo and Juliet
When Romeo and Juliet fall in love, their individual desire for each other—which flies in the face of their families’ “ancient grudge” and thus the social order of Verona, a city run by noble families like the Montagues and Capulets—places them in direct opposition with the society of which they’re both a part. As Romeo and Juliet fall deeper and deeper in love, they come up against their friends, their families, and the political and religious authorities which govern the city of Verona. Throughout the play, Shakespeare uses the tragedy which befalls Romeo and Juliet—both teenagers and effectively children—in order to argue that the sociopolitical constraints and demands of many societies ignore or actively agitate their most vulnerable members.
Shakespeare’s England—and the Europe of his day more largely—was a place of rampant and profound social inequity. Romeo and Juliet takes place in Italy during the High Middle Ages, during which time the nation was made up of several warring city-states in which a handful of noble families enjoyed luxury and refinement while the peasant class—the majority of the population—struggled and suffered in obscurity. In light of this historical context, many contemporary scholars look at Romeo and Juliet’s relatively trivial struggle—two pampered teenagers lamenting their wealthy parents’ petty feud, threatening suicide should anything stand in the way of their love, and ultimately winding up dead as a result of narrowly-missed communications—as being a difficult story to empathize with or relate to. However, when Romeo and Juliet are viewed as stand-ins for the members of society whose cries, shouts, threats, and pains are repeatedly ignored because of the squabbling and in-fighting of its wealthiest tier, the play takes on a new significance which examines the plight of put-upon individuals struggling to survive in a society which discounts their needs. Romeo and his friends—all young men of noble standing—have been taught that it is their duty to defend the honor of their house against their enemies, the Capulets, even as the monarch of Verona, Prince Escalus, threatens both clans with execution every time their brawls spill into the streets. Juliet has been told that she must marry well in order to bring honor to her family—but the feelings of love and desire she develops independently are discounted and ignored as her parents push a union with the haughty, older Paris onto her. Thus, both Romeo and Juliet are, throughout the play, constant pulled between serving their individual desires and preserving the peace and status quo within the larger society of which they are a part.
A gentler, more compassionate reading of the play, then, allows for the possibility that Shakespeare did want his audiences to take Romeo and Juliet’s story—and the allegory it represents—rather seriously. Their individual needs are steamrolled by pressure from their families, their governing bodies, and their society more largely. In order to keep up appearances and uphold a false idea of “peace,” they must sublimate their desires, seek secret answers to their problems, and thusly involve others in their problems, often to the endangerment of those from whom they beg help. Friar Laurence, Romeo’s servant Balthasar, Juliet’s nurse, Tybalt, Mercutio, and countless serving men and citizens of Verona all find themselves swept up in the chaos Romeo and Juliet’s ill-fated romance creates—all because Romeo and Juliet are operating within a society more concerned with projecting civility and upholding outdated social codes than making concessions for its individual members.
Romeo and Juliet live in a society in which gentility, manners, and privacy are stringently enforced in the name of maintaining peace and calm for the larger collective. However, the illusion of Verona’s genteel, peaceful exterior only serves to cover up the chaos within—chaos created by a collection of unhappy individuals who long to change the status quo. In showing how societies at every level—governmental, religious, cultural, and interpersonal—seek to ignore the needs of the few to sate the demands of the many, Shakespeare suggests that individual success and happiness in such a society is impossible unless that society begins reckoning with the needs of its individual members.
Romeo and Juliet Post Show Activities
The English language is always evolving with new words and phrases added every year. When Shakespeare was creating his works in the late 1500s – early 1600s, Elizabethan English was used and included many terms we no longer frequently use. Shakespeare was known for his use of language that was common for the everyday people of society as well as incorporating lots of humor that catered to everyday citizens.
Grab a copy of Romeo and Juliet and divide students into groups of three or four. Assign each group a scene from Romeo and Juliet and have them rewrite the scene in today’s English. How would the scene play out in 2021? Would the conversation happen via text or social media? Encourage students to update the language using modern slang and phrases while maintaining the key themes and action of the scene. After each group is finished translating their scene, have them perform their scene for the class.
RL.9-10.1 RL.9-10.4 TH:Cr3.1.I.a TH:Pr4.1.I.b
Music and lyricism are integral components of any Shakespearean play. Have students choose a character from Romeo and Juliet and curate a playlist of 5-10 songs to represent that character and their journey throughout the course of the play. Students should be able to provide reasoning for their song selections. For added fun, have students treat the playlist as if it’s the character’s own album. Students can design an album cover for their chosen character and give it a title. Allow students to share their song choices and see if the class can guess who the playlist is for.
TH:Cr1.1.I.c MU:Re8.1.E.I MU:Re7.1.E.I MU:CN11.0.T.I
From Page to Stage to Screen
William Shakespeare is one of the most well-known and celebrated playwrights in history with over 35 plays to his name. His works are studied in classrooms and by theatre historians and performed in theatres across the world. The themes and plotlines of his plays are so relevant to modern society that there are multiple film and stage adaptations and variations today. Below are a few film examples that you and your students may be familiar with:
Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare in Love; West Side Story
Hamlet: The Lion King
The Taming of the Shrew: 10 Things I Hate About You
Twelfth Night: She’s the Man
Now that your students have watched Lexington Children’s Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet, watch another theatre’s production or a film adaptation and hold a discussion with the class comparing and contrasting what they’ve seen. Which characters correlate to each other? How does the language differ? Which production do your students resonate with more? How does having multiple variations of this one story say about the legacy created by Shakespeare?
TH:Re8.1.II.c TH:Re9.1.I.c TH:Cn11.2.I.a
The Capulets and Montagues were strong families that allowed their pride to get in the way of seeing reason, costing them the lives of their beloved children. Ask students to research the two sides of their own families and have them design a family crest for each side. What are the names of each house? Where are their families from? What items are important to each side? What colors, animals, or symbols would they associate with their family’s history? Use the crest below for your students’ family house designs.
Reading list for Romeo and Juliet
Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub
In fair Verona, enemies still walk the streets. Two new hearts. Same two families. The fight to the altar is about to happen. All. Over. Again.
Juliet: A Novel by Anne Fortier
Twenty-five-year-old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her beloved aunt Rose. But the shock goes even deeper when she learns that the woman who has been like a mother to her has left her entire estate to Julie’s twin sister. The only thing Julie receives is a key—one carried by her mother on the day she herself died—to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy.
Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet: A Graphic Novel by William Shakespeare (Author), Sonia Leong (Illustrator)
This adaptation, set in modern-day Tokyo, does a competent job of combining manga-style art and abridged dialogue to immerse the reader in the world of the play.
Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors
Mimi Wallingford, Great Granddaughter of Adelaide Wallingford, has the life that most girls dream about, playing Juliet opposite teen heartthrob Troy Summer on Broadway in Shakespeare’s famous play. Unfortunately, she has no desire to be an actress, a fact her mother can’t seem to grasp. But when she and Troy are magically thrust into Shakespeare’s Verona, they experience the feud between the Capulets and Montagues firsthand.
American Panda by Gloria Chao
Mei, a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a pre-approved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer. But she can’t bring herself to tell her parents the truth—that she doesn’t want to be a doctor and she has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.