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Teacher's Guide to Romeo and Juliet

From Shakespeare study programs; the tragedies by Charlotte Endymion Porter.


Topic. The Family Feud: the Prince's Decree; the Meeting of the Lovers.
Hints: Observe that the foundation for the tragedy is laid in the "ancient quarrel" of the Capulets and Montagues. Show how it is exhibited in the opening scene as no dead issue. The action is arranged to bring it out as a social fact having all the depth of a rooted antipathy and all the inflammableness shown in the fresh brawl. The heads of the rival houses are instantly ready to be drawn into a street squabble flaring up between mere servants on no pretext at all. The fact that this quarrelsomeness is of old date, and that three such "civil broyles" have recently disturbed the peace of Verona, is an important factor in the dramatic action. Show how this comes out in the decree of the Prince.

Under what circumstances is Romeo introduced? Is it significant that he, as his Mother first makes clear, was not at this fray, and on his first appearance shows his dislike of it? What does Shakespeare accomplish by introducing his hero as in love with Rosaline? Consider this question, first, in its effect upon the dramatic action (e. g. it causes him to go to the Banquet where he meets Juliet): and, second, in its effect upon the presentation of his character.

Show how in Scenes ii. and iii. another match for the heroine is sketched as impending, so that Juliet as well as Romeo seems to be separated not alone by the family feud but also by the desire or prospect of other connections. Observe that the Banquet, which next takes place in the story, is meant by Capulet and Paris to further their plans for Juliet, and by Romeo himself to be an occasion for meeting Rosaline. Is all this well calculated or not to enhance the final event of Act I: the meeting of the lovers? What tokens of the fatality of the lovers' meeting are brought out? Are all the principal characters introduced in the course of this one Act? How far are their personal peculiarities made clear?

Queries for Discussion: 1. Which is the most potential event in Act I? The brawl and the family hatred it shows? The decree of the Prince? The courtship of Count Paris? The meeting of the Lovers? Why?
2. How are all the other events linked to that one, so as to give it dominance? 3. Why has the Poet made the lovers' hand-clasp so significant? Is true love, love at first sight?


Topic. The Marriage.
Hints: Indicate the main events of Act II as they occur in each Scene; showing how they flow out of the foregoing Act, also which events bring fresh forces and new matter into the dramatic action. What new light is thrown on each of the characters already introduced? Do any entirely new characters appear? What importance to such is promised? Do you like Romeo better in this Act than in Act I? Why? How is it that Juliet's traits show so clearly from the first? Is she less influenced than Romeo is by the developing power of the emotion seizing them? How are the other characters, Benvolio, Mercutio, the Friar, the Nurse and Tybalt linked to the central characters and the absorbing event of the Act their marriage? Is Mercutio's talk dramatically useless? Is that of the Nurse, or the Friar? Notice that the second main event of this Act for the plot unfolding by means of it Tybalt's challenge, is not made prominent, and that its dramatic importance, which develops in the Act following, is not clear? Is this a mistake? Or is it judicious? and if so, why should it loom up menacingly but vaguely? And why should the marriage so entirely absorb this Act?


Queries for Discussion: 1. Is it natural for Romeo to talk so lightly and briskly with Mercutio just after so intense a love scene? Does it discredit his earnestness as a lover, or is his quick-wit a sign of his tension and an outlet for his excitement?
2. Are the Nurse and the Friar to blame equally, for yielding to the wishes of the lovers so readily?
3. Is the Friar's talk on his first appearance (II. iii. 1-32) irrelevant and his moralizing soliloquy a needless delaying of the action, or has it a symbolic bearing upon the essence of the play?


Topic. Tybalt's death and Romeo's Banishment.
Hints: The ancient feud and Tybalt's challenge which is its instrument, are in this Act brought into violent clash with the lovers. By whose intervention is this affected? Discuss this arrangement by Shakespeare. It makes Romeo almost as guiltless as he possibly could be made of quarrelsomeness or any unmindfulness of the claim upon him of his newly made Bride's kindred; yet it puts him in a position where truth to the time and to the high spirit of the character demands of Romeo the sudden action he regrets too late. See the Sources in the First Folio Edition, p. 125, for the incident of Mercutio's "cold hand," and discuss the suggestiveness of this for the act, as the only prototype of this peculiar arrangement, by which Romeo refuses to fight with Tybalt and is only drawn into it by Mercutio's intervention and death. Is Romeo's banishment just? Did Benvolio bear witness well? Capulet's wife plays at this point a vindictive part. What is its use toward the plot? Is it in character for a woman? Does it suit with what is hitherto shown of her? Does it lead you to expect some hard and unlovely traits to come? Compare with the few words given to Lady Montague.

Queries for Discussion: 1. Does Juliet yield too easily? 2. How far should individual desire and welfare insist upon fulfillment when it clashes with social or family desire and welfare? 3. Suppose Romeo had been less sincere; would Juliet be any the less right, although unhappier, in her sincerity? 4. Is Romeo right in refusing Tybalt's challenge and leaving Mercutio to die for him?

Topic. Love and the Friar versus the Father and the Feud.
Hints: The postponed courtship of Paris now confronts Juliet. Since it now only is put in action, and only at this point appears in the original story (see Sources, First Folio Edition, p. 127) was it superfluous to give room to it earlier? Although the marriage is a new and sudden project for Juliet, it is by this means shown to be an old idea for her father. Juliet's deception of her mother by her pretended grief for Tybalt has some influence. Show how all this assists in setting the family at cross purposes with the daughter, and drives them further and further apart. The desertion of Juliet by the Nurse, the absolute loneliness of the young Bride, and the influence of this upon her action are the next steps in the plot to be traced; also how this leads to the Friar's plan of retrieval.

Queries for Discussion: 1. Are Juliet's parents hard and unnatural? Are they merely, from their point of view, acting for the good of an incomprehensible daughter? 2. Is Juliet's deception of them and of Paris necessary? Is the Friar's? Why did he think it necessary? 3. Does the grief of the Father and Mother sound real? Does the Nurse's grief seem to parody theirs? and if so, was this intentional, do you think? Was it Shakespeare's drift, perchance, to show their essential lack of sympathy with their own child? 4. What was the dramatic or stage object of the episode of Peter and the musicians? (IV. v. 105-146).


Topic. Love Frustrated yet Powerful.
Hints: Notice that at the close of Act IV there is a close also in the progression of the plot. There is no special reason to doubt the Friar or his beneficent scheme to unite the lovers and heal the family feud by their union. Suspense holds sway. Is that in itself suspicious? Aside from the Prologue, are there any slightest indications that a hitch in the Friar's plan is coming? In what then does the story of Act V consist? i. e. What are its new events? And what fresh trains of action are set up by them? The hitch in the Friar's plan is made clearly ominous in Scene ii. But observe that in Scene i. something even more potential for tragedy is represented. From whose mood and act does this spring? Discuss Romeo's presentiment of welfare (V. i. 1-12), and its dramatic effectiveness at this halt in the movement of events. Notice that it is right and true to all appearances, and in fact, inwardly, too, yet seems mockingly wrong when the news from Verona comes. It is then made wrong by Romeo's action when he denies the auspicious stars that seemed to favor him. The irony is presented of a good influence, bound to prevail in the end, in a spiritual sense, that seems to trick him completely, and yet only suffers the petty crossing of an accident the miscarriage of the Friar's letter, until Romeo doubts and denies the favorable influence. Why does Shakespeare introduce the fight between Romeo and Paris? How does it bring Peter into the events leading to the solution of the plot? What does it make him do?

Does it accomplish anything else? What does Romeo mean by addressing the dead body of Paris as "Death lie thou there, by a dead man interr'd." (V. iii. 90.) At what point in his last speech does Shakespeare designate that Romeo drank the poison? (Note that the stage-direction "Drinks" was inserted by Theobald, and that the modernized text follows the fourth Quarto in the omission of ll. 111-114, against the authority of the Folio and the best early Quarto, i. e. the second. See the First Folio Edition of the play for the facts, as it gives the original Folio text, all later interpolations between brackets, and at the foot of each page the main changes in of the modernized text and their authority, and discusses this scene in the Introduction, pp. xv-xix).

What difference in rashness does the action of the lovers in slaying themselves show? Is the end true to human nature in that the fathers with touched hearts, forgive when it is too late, what they would unrelentingly have opposed earlier; and what better principle of action may be drawn than that which they followed?

Queries for Discussion: 1. Discuss Brooke's moral (as expressed in the Preface to his Poem quoted in First Folio Edition, p. 121) in comparison with the inference Shakespeare leads you to draw of the spiritual might of love over hatred. How do you know that Shakespeare agrees or disagrees with Brooke? 2. If Romeo had been more patient would this tragedy have turned into a play with a happy ending? Would it have been in character? Would you like him better? 3. Was the death of the faithful lovers required to appease the family feud, but not requisite to test or perfect the lovers themselves?


1. Topic. Juliet's Mother and her Nurse.
Hints: Discuss the class types presented in these guardians of the young girl. What is shown of Lady Capulet from her relation to her husband? Was she Juliet's own mother? Was she much younger than her husband? Is the Nurse more truly Juliet's mother than her mother is? Does Juliet's confidence in her Nurse show that she was a better guardian for her? Is helpfulness possible to anyone in times of crucial personal decision, or is loneliness and self-help the condition of spiritual ripening?

2. Topic. The Fathers and the Feud.
Hints: Show the historical truth of the quarrelsome brawling background of mis love story to mediaeval conditions in Italy. Compare the pictures of the time similarly given in D'Annunzio's "Francesca" and Browning's "Sordello." Illustrate how completely Shakespeare has made his fathers typical embodiments of this militant condition of the noble families of the Middle Ages; and also in what various ways he has individualized his types, so that Capulet and Montague also stand out as persons. Has he characterized either one more than the other, and if so, why? Would it serve the effectiveness of his whole picture to do so? Have we in modern times among men only a similar spirit of rivalry, and a militancy with other weapons than sword and dagger? Is such a spirit as inimitable to ideal fatherhood and family sympathy now as then? The relation of their dependents to the feudal chiefs: does loyalty under such conditions tend to develop good qualities in servants and allies?

3. Topic. The Lovers.
Hints: How do Romeo and Juliet offset and supplement each other in nature? What ties of similarity are added to their differences? Do you like one better than the other? If so, why? How do the lovers develop each the other's higher nature? Is it good or bad to take a passion so intensely, and to make a fate of love? Was it good for them? Is this tragedy more satisfying to the spirit than a happy ending could have been?


Topic. The Lyric and the Dramatic Elements.
Hints: Is character portrayal the strongest element in this drama or is plot more noticeable, powerful, and absorbing? Compare with other plays of the earlier or current periods of Shakespeare's authorship in these respects, and state your conclusions, or take a single play, where love is also the main interest, such as "Love's Labour's Lost" or "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and make any comparisons the matter seems to you to yield. Compare with either of these as to lyric elements, and contrast with a much later play, e. g. "The Tempest." Bring out the rhyme-scheme and strict metrical form of such passage as the lovers' meeting (I. v. 102-123), noticing that the dialogue composes into a little Sonnet on a Kiss. The love scene of Act III, similarly begins with a prologue by Juliet (III. ii. 2-32) called by early Italian poets a "Serena" or Evening Song. It is rounded out with an "Alba," or Morning Song (III. v. 18-37). Contrast with the singing and symmetrical quality of such passages the lively flavor of acenality breaking in with the entrance of the Nurse and her stealthy warning 11. 39-42, and later still the change of tone on the part of the lyric lovers themselves (5066). There are other such contrasts of lyric and colloquially dramatic dialogue in this play. Observe them, and notice what the nature of their effect is. Do they make "Romeo and Juliet" seem a little artificial in comparison with such vivid actualities as that of the Nurse's speech and the character it sets before you? (I. iii. 16-55) Have they in this particular piece a peculiar fitness and piquancy that is part of its Charm? Do they betray Shakespeare's own youthfulness, or his wise age, in an artistic sense, that he has so blended his poetic and dramatic gifts?

How to cite this article:
Porter, Charlotte Endymion. Shakespeare study programs; the tragedies. Boston: R.G. Badger, 1914. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. < >.

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Shakespeare's Puns

microsoft images A pun is a play upon words that makes us laugh because the word or phrase used references another word of identical pronunciation but with a much different meaning. Shakespeare loved puns, as is evident in Mercutio's dialogue throughout the play. However, some of the puns are confusing to modern readers because we are generally unfamiliar with the Warwickshire dialect and terms common in Shakespeare's day. Mercutio says, "Thy wit is a very bitter sweeting; it is a most sharp sauce" (2.4), but to appreciate the pun we have to know that a bitter sweeting was a variety of sour apple in Shakespeare's England. Shakespeare seems to have enjoyed shocking the audience with bawdy puns and there are many in Romeo and Juliet. For more please see 1.4.19-29; 2.1.29-31; 2.4.101-102, etc.


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 Themes and Motifs in Romeo and Juliet
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 Costume Design for a Production of Romeo and Juliet
 Shakespeare's Treatment of Love

 Shakespeare on Fate
 Sources for Romeo and Juliet
 The Five Stages of Plot Development in Romeo and Juliet
 Annotated Balcony Scene, Act 2
 Blank Verse and Rhyme in Romeo and Juliet

 How to Pronounce the Names in Romeo and Juliet
 Introduction to Juliet
 Introduction to Romeo
 Introduction to Mercutio
 Introduction to The Nurse

 Introduction to The Montagues and the Capulets
 Famous Quotations from Romeo and Juliet
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 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Boss: The Master of Revels
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 Seneca's Tragedies and the Elizabethan Drama
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