R&J: Day 12

Today began two days of focusing on Act 3.1.

We began today’s class by watching a YouTube video posted by the Folger Shakespeare Library about rapiers and Elizabethan street fighting.  Afterwards, we discussed what insights we now had regarding the characters in Romeo and Juliet.  Understanding that our characters were of the upper class, and therefore would (a) be armed, (b) know how to fight, and (c) “played for keeps” gave context to the scene that we were about to read.  Knowing that the Italian rapier and Italian sword fighting methods were sources of worry to those in Elizabethan England and were seen as a bad influence on English culture helped to tie the book back to our project.

Armed with Nerf swords, we spent a long time acting out 3.1.  I wanted our actors to think about character motivations, blocking, etc.  To understand the scene, it was important to tie back character actions and dialogue to previous scenes.  It was also important to think about where people were and how the actions would play out.  When we got to Mercutio’s death scene, we played the scene twice.  First we read it.  Then we discussed as a class where Romeo would have to stand and how the fight scene would have to play out to give him the opportunity to stand between Tybalt and Mercutio.  Then we tried out the blocking that they suggested.

What I found was that as we took this focus in the scene, students began to become directors.  One of my students, Raymond, at one point even stood up and physically moved another actor.  Kids would stop and remind other students, “No… you’re supposed to be angry.  Try raising your voice.”

We spent the last bit of class looking at the juxtaposition of 2.6 and 3.1 (2.6-3.1 — Contrasting Scenes).  Here are two scenes that have very different moods.  We have a scene that seems more lighthearted and centered around love immediately followed by one that is chaotic, death-filled, and revolving around hate.  My question for my students, “Why would Shakespeare choose to place these scenes right next to each other?”

Two students stayed after school to work on their response to this question.  I watched them debate and argue about their answers for just under and hour.  Out of all my after school experiences this school year, this was probably my favorite to watch.  I like when kids wrestle with an idea.  They don’t often want to do so.  They want the easy answer, the one that takes just a few minutes to come up with.  To watch two students wrestle with a response for so long was pretty awesome as an educator.  I think they’ll have some great things to say in tomorrow’s discussion.

Tomorrow we’ll be continuing our look at this scene.  We’ll be closely examining the escalation of this fight, using the resources provided by Shakespeare Unlocked.  I’ll also be attending my third and final workshop for the Globe Education Academy this semester.  It will be a busy, Shakespeare-filled day!


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