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"Very tragical mirth:" Romeo and Pyramus, Juliet and Thisbe

Teachers' Rating:
  6 ratings

Ovid. Le metamorphosi. Milan, 1538 (Detail).

September 2003
Jeremy Ehrlich, Folger Shakespeare Library.

Plays/Scenes Covered
Romeo and Juliet 5.3.91-175; A Midsummer Night's Dream 5.1.287-364.
What's On for Today and Why

Shakespeare tells the same story in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet and Pyramus and Thisbe, only one story is tragic and the other comic. This lesson asks students to investigate Shakespeare's use of the different elements of poetry to understand how the same story can create two such different effects on an audience.


This lesson will take one to two class periods.

What You Need

Folger Editions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Attached handout: the death speeches of Romeo, Pyramus, Juliet and Thisbe.

Very Tragical Mirth
What To Do

1. Distribute the attached handout, the death scenes of Romeo, Pyramus, Juliet and Thisbe. Distribute parts and have students read the speeches out loud. Explain the context of the excerpts if students are not familiar with the entire plays.


2. Explain to students that they are going to examine the way Shakespeare uses the four basic elements of poetry -- imagery, diction, meter, and sound -- to create such different effects in two recitings of the same story.


3. Divide students into small groups. Ask half of the students to look at Juliet's death and half at Thisbe's. For this first exercise they will be focusing on imagery. Ask them to examine the imagery Shakespeare creates around the two different deaths and then recreate that image in another format: a silent tableaux, a drawing, or some other silent recreation. Discuss the ways the same image can look quite different.


4. To discuss diction, switch the groups so half look at Romeo's death and half at Pyramus's. Have the students act out the word "die" as used in the different death scenes. Discuss the ways the same word choice can be used to such different effect.


5. To examine Shakespeare's use of meter, ask students to scan the final, dying lines of each of the death scenes and determine how the meter is different in the comic and tragic scenes. Discuss the ways the different rhythms contribute to the different effect of the death scenes.


6. Have students note the consonance of s sounds in Romeo and Juliet 5.3.113-115 and the alliteration of k sounds in A Midsummer Night's Dream 5.1.300-302. You might want to have one student read the lines while the others make the appropriate "s" or "k" sound when they hear it in the speech. Discus the ways in which a similar technique again creates such a different effect.


7. Now that students have examined the speeches closely, have them act out all four speeches again, using their new knowledge. Are they able to make more sense of Shakespeare's tools? Is the effect different?

How Did It Go?
Were students able to identify the different effects of the elements of poetry on the speeches? Did they gain an appreciation for Shakespeare's craft? Were they able to perform the speeches in a more nuanced way after the exercise?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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4 CommentsOldest | Newest

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Sheila October 13, 2014 7:26 PM

So nice to discover someone with genuine thoughts on this issue. m2ts converter
abe April 12, 2014 2:07 AM

...continuing from last post...Students read the play within the play, and I would have shown the film version if I hadnt been short on resources. After completing your lesson, students composed a written response explaining how Shakespeare uses language to create different effects in similar situa
Jessica August 1, 2013 8:54 AM

I modified this lesson as a common core English lesson, and it worked well. For a warm-up, I had students write about what makes good comedy. We discussed elements of comedy in modern society, which was a great segue to Midsummer. We read the entire play within the play (we had already read Ovid
Jessica August 1, 2013 8:53 AM
  Common Core State Standards

There are no standards associated with this Lesson Plan.
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