Jeremy Ehrlich, Folger Shakespeare Library.
Romeo and Juliet 2.2, 2.5, 3.1, 3.3, and 3.5
What's On for Today and Why
Having students perform in class doesn't need to take a lot of class time. These short scripts give students a chance to get on their feet quickly and act out cut scenes to illuminate issues of time, status and genre in Romeo and Juliet. This lesson works as a pre-reading activity or as a starting point for a discussion of these issues after students have read the scenes.
This lesson will take one class period.
What You Need
Folger edition of Romeo and Juliet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Performing Genre (extension)
What To Do
1. You may wish to begin working on the issue of "time" by having two students improvise scenes in which one character is moving quickly and another is moving slowly—perhaps a student trying to get out of a house before her parent finds out where she is going. After running the improvisation once, run it again, asking the student to act as if she is trying to complete the scene in ten seconds and the parent to act as if she is trying to stretch it out to a whole minute.
2. Give the two students the cut script from 3.3 of Romeo and the Friar and ask them to perform it. (Or, you may wish to ask a new pair of students to do this.) On a second reading, give them the same task: Romeo will try to complete the scene quickly, while the Friar will try to stretch it out as long as possible. Complete the activity with a discussion: how do the two perceive time differently? Where else in the play do we see differences in the perception of time? (Juliet asking to delay the marriage to Paris is a good example.)
3. To begin the "status" activity, start with a discussion of social status. What are some ways for an actor to present a high status character? A low status character? You may wish to use another improvisation to demonstrate these techniques. Choose two students to perform a scene in which a student is trying to get permission to go to a party at a friend's house, while the parent does not approve of the friend in question. Have them perform this scene twice, once giving the parent the higher status and the upper hand in the conversation, the second time giving the student the higher status. Discuss the ways in which the characters in the scenes appear different because of the difference in status.
4. Give these (or new) students the cut script from 2.5 of Juliet and her Nurse; note that the status relationship between the two is complicated. While the nurse is a mother figure, she is also employed by Juliet's parents. Have the students perform the scene twice, once giving the Nurse higher status and a second time giving it to Juliet. (A third performance could give them equal status.) Again, conclude with a discussion: how does making this choice change the effect of the scene? How would it change elements of the entire play?
5. To look at issues of genre in the play, give one or two pairs of students the cut scenes from 2.2 and 3.5 of Romeo leaving Juliet's balcony. Ask them to perform the two scenes immediately following each other. Ask the audience how the two scenes are different. You may wish to ask them to perform the scenes a second time, emphasizing the lighter, comic elements in the first scene and the darker, more tragic elements in the second. Again, conclude with a discussion: how would these scenes and the play feel different if both scenes had the same tone?
6. As an optional extension of the genre activity, give students the cut scene from 3.1, the lead-in to the brawl. This brawl marks the point where the tone of the play makes a shift from a lighter tone indistinguishable from a comedy to the tragedy it will become. Try having students act the scene out in two different ways: as a more playful, light-hearted encounter or as a mean-spirited, more difficult one. Which reading do students feel best fits the text? Why?
How Did It Go?
Were students able to understand and perform the different choices available to them in issues of status and genre? Were they able to understand the effect that time, status and genre have in the play? Were they able to apply these ideas to other scenes in the play?
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.