R&J: Day 9

I already loved the BBC, but I love them even more now because of Shakespeare Unlocked.  I discovered the videos and the Teachers’ Pack while I was preparing to teach, and knew instantly that I would be using both in my classroom.

To buy time for our activity, we watched Zeffirelli‘s 1968 Romeo and Juliet for the Act 2, Scene 2’s famous balcony scene.  Both class reacted exactly the same: “Marriage?  What?!  They just met each other like 20 minutes ago!”  This was the perfect reaction and allowed me to bring them back to our “Characters’ Attitudes Towards Love (and Marriage)” Activity (Day 5).  First we thought back to what Juliet’s attitude on marriage was: “It is an honor I dream not of.”  At the beginning of the play she’s not even thinking about it yet.  But in that same conversation, she is exposed to two different views on love: Lady Capulet’s and the Nurse’s.  Lady Capulet tells her, “Well, think of marriage now.  Younger than you / Here in Verona, ladies of esteem, / Are made already mothers.  By my count / I was your mother much upon these years / That you are now a maid.”  Lady C doesn’t even mention love.  Marriage is on a timeline and her daughter is behind!  Enter the nurse whose dirty jokes have amused me students since she first appeared in the play.  Her contribution to the scene comes with her “No less, nay bigger.  Women grow by men.”  To my students, her jokes communicate the attitude that love/marriage is fun.  After we reviewed these attitudes, we all realized that Juliet isn’t necessarily changing her mind all of a sudden.  True, “love at first sight” is playing a role here, but she has also been influenced by her elders.

After this discussion, I used bits and pieces of the activities provided by Shakespeare Unlocked.  We started with a free-write: “What do we know about Romeo? Brainstorm a list.”  We brainstormed.  We shared.  We argued a bit.  We created new understandings.

Next, I gave students copies of Romeo and Juliet’s soliloquies from Act 2, Scene 2 (2.2 – Two Soliloquies).  We reviewed what a soliloquy was, and I told them that we were going to add to our understanding of Romeo by looking at his soliloquy, and then turn our attention later in the class to Juliet’s.

First, Romeo: We watched the “Romeo’s Soliloquy” video from Shakespeare Unlocked.  These videos are fantastic: actors workshop their way through different scenes, talking about character motivations, thought processes, etc.  They break down scenes awesomely.  You could hear a pin drop in the classroom when they were playing.  Kids recognized that they were getting a wealth of information, that was easy to comprehend, and really did add to their understanding of the scene.

After previewing with the short video, we turned to the soliloquy.  Students divided back into the groups that they worked in yesterday.  The first task I gave them was to look through the soliloquy as a group and make a list of all the ways that Romeo says that Juliet is beautiful.  They worked.  We shared.  Next, I asked them to circle every time he compared Juliet to a source of light.  After they worked in their groups, we listed out every reference.  Third: “Ok, so Romeo compares her to the moon, stars, the sun.  So… what does that say about his love for her?”  Every group came up with a different response, and each one was valid:

  • She’s “out of this world.”
  • Like the stars, moon, and sun, Juliet seems “out of reach” at this moment for him.
  • This love is “bright” for him, vs. his love for Rosaline which was “dark.”  (He even was making an “artificial night” for himself.)
  • He’s comparing her to everything visible to him in the whole universe.  His love for Juliet is HUGE, as massive as the universe.
  • The stars and the sun burn in the sky.  His love for her is a love that “burns.”

Next, we turned our attention to Juliet. We started with another quick-write: “How do people behave in public?  How is it different to how they behave in private?”  After discussing, we talked about how this applies to Juliet.  She’s alone on her balcony, thinking that she’s having this private conversation.  She bears her entire soul to Romeo without even knowing it.  We discussed why Shakespeare chose to make it a soliloquy, instead of having her have a conversation with Romeo.  We discussed how this could possibly speed up the relationship a bit.

Then, we watched the “Juliet’s Soliloquy” from Shakespeare Unlocked.  Afterwards, I had students underline everything that Juliet says that indicates a problem.  They then wrote a sentence summary of what the problem was.  Next, I had them circle everything she says that indicates a solution to the problem.  They then wrote a summary of what the solutions were.  Obviously, the problem is Romeo’s name: he’s a Montague and thus an enemy.  My kids identified two solutions:

  1. “Deny thy father and refuse thy name”/”Doff thy name” — Get rid of your name, Romeo.  But to do that, he has to turn his back on his whole family.  Not the easiest thing to do.
  2. “And I’ll no longer be a Capulet” — If they were married her name would change.  The name wouldn’t necessarily be an issue because she would take his name.  But… does that really solve the problem?

We ended the day with their homework assignment:

  1. Read the “translated” versions of 2.3 and 2.4.
  2. 2.2 – Text Conversation after the Balcony Scene

I felt really good about today.  The combination of video input, textual input, and using groups to think was a fantastic combination, and really worked well for my kids.

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