Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet – Act I

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Our first Shakespeare Club week was a huge success, so we were all looking forward to this week, assuming it would be equally fab.  Unfortunately it really wasn’t.  I think this was due to many different reasons:

  1. All five children and their mothers (ie me and Lorna) were exhausted from the week before.  Honestly, I think we just must have laughed too much!  Maybe the expectation of doing one play per week was too great.  We managed the first with relative ease, but this second play was much harder.
  2. The subject matter of Romeo and Juliet was a bit more serious and, by contrast to Midsummer, wasn’t as funny.  Nor did it capture our imagination like Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  3. Along the same lines, although it was a tragedy, it was also (as my youngest twin keeps pointing out) a romance.  Which meant the children needed to play at being romantic.  With each other.  Frankly, this went down like a lead balloon, and the ensuing awkwardness did not help in our plight to keep things light and fun.
  4. A major issue was that whilst my mum had kindly offered to have the children for three hours each day of the summer, there were a few days she was unavailable and these all fell on the past week.  This meant that along with five fairly unenthusiastic children, I also had two restless taggers along, who needed much more attention than I was able to give.
  5. Also the week was always going to be a four day week because T13 had a whole morning worth of vocal training with his youth group on Thursday.  This meant we needed to fit five day’s work into four.  To be honest, by Thursday I think we could all do with a break from the rigors of Shakespeare.  I had my three do Thursday’s planned work on Wednesday evening so we could all spend Thursday resting and playing.

We did fairly well catching up on the Friday, but by lunch time I could feel I had lost everyone’s attention and interest.  So we decided to call it quits.  Saturday, Gary had a long journey to take with the children, so they watched Act V of Romeo and Juliet in the car and we called it a completed study.  We still got a fair bit done, but not nearly as much as the week before.

The biggest lesson I learnt from this experience is to choose comedies over tragedies for this age.  I think if we had gone straight to Taming of the Shrew or Much Ado about Nothing, we probably would have had much more fun.  And maybe I was a little too enthusiastic in my planning.  Yes, I know, hard to imagine 🙂

Next time I won’t be so gung ho about it all.  Ah, well.  I live and learn, and hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Anyway, for what it is worth, here is what we did for Act I of Romeo and Juliet.

Pre study

  • The children read Romeo and Juliet from the following books to familiarise themselves with the story:

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Romeo and Juliet Act I, Scenes I-V

Watch a Stage Production of Act I, Scenes I-V (40 mins)

We watched Act I of the Globe theater’s production:

Ribbet collageromeo and juliet

Three children specifically asked for me to get this particular version because they had enjoyed the Globe’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream so much.

Readers’ Theater (30 mins)

simply shakespeare

I hadn’t planned on doing the Readers Theater with Romeo and Juliet, but the children had enjoyed it so much the previous week, I was asked to continue it this week as well.  The Readers’ Theater isn’t written in acts corresponding to the original acts, rather it is written in scenes.  Today the children acted scenes I- V, and had as much fun as the week before:

Fighting between the Capulet’s and the Montague’s:

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And here begins the awkwardness between all five friends.  They do not like being flirtatious with each other, even if it is acting….

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Literary Analysis (30 mins)

  • Puns

We began our literary analysis looking at puns.  We watched this video which does an excellent job explaining what a pun is.  There are many puns in Act I of Romeo and Juliet.  Shakespeare is known for his love of playing around with words and scene 1 opens with a triple pun on the word collier (coal vendor) which sounds like choler (anger) and collar (hangman’s noose):

SAMPSON: Gregory, o’ my word, we’ll not carry coals.

GREGORY: No, for then we should be colliers.

SAMPSON: I mean, an we be in choler, we’ll draw.

GREGORY: Ay, while you live, draw your neck out o’ the collar.

And shortly after the Capulet servants play again with the word maids:

SAMPSON: I will show myself a tyrant. When I have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the maids, and cut off their heads.

GREGORY: The heads of the maids?

SAMPSON: Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads; take it in what sense thou wilt.

And in scene iv Romeo is reluctant to go to the party as he has a broken heart:

Not I, believe me,

You have dancing shoes

With nimble soles.  I have a soul of lead

So stakes me to the ground I cannot move.

To make sure the children fully understood what a pun was, I asked them to make their own funny pun.  They did this with Lorna next door whilst I learnt about cocoa beans and chocolate making with my two littlest and a couple of their friends.  I believe they had great fun but completed the task by using various pun apps.  So really, they cheated!

Break for lunch

Discussion Activity (30 minutes)

  • Love at first sight

Do you believe in love at first sight?  We discussed what love at first sight was and what type of feelings might be attached to it.  T stated emphatically that he didn’t believe in love at first site, that love took time and friendship and therefore could not exist in a single moment.  This was a good prelude to our discussions about the different types of love which were coming later on in the week.  We re-read the Capulet’s dance scene from the time Romeo sees Juliet for the first time until the end of Act 1, and discussed how Shakespeare describes Romeo’s first sight of Juliet.  Because of the excruciating embarrassment everyone seemed to be feeling this week, I asked B13 and Lorna to re-enact the first time Romeo saw Juliet, and the flirting which went on between them.  I felt mother and son wouldn’t feel embarrassed.  I asked the others to keep an eye out for the expressions of ‘love’:

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We then talked our way through the scene, ensuring the children understood what was being said through the flirting.

Flirting Shakespeare Style

We reread the passage where Romeo first meets Juliet face to face, and discussed his methods of wooing her.  I asked them all if this method of courting would work on them in the 21st century.  I thought I’d give them a try out of using some 16-17th century flirting. I gave them a list of pick up lines from ‘The Arts of Wooing and Complementing’ a mid 17th century handbook to aid those who might need a little help.  I asked each of the children to pick five of their favourite and high-light them.  I paired them up and asked them to test these pick up lines themselves on each other.  Taking it in turns, they stood opposite each other reading alternately one of their chosen lines at a time, until them had flirted with their five favourites:

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Ha!  Very funny!!  We discussed whether this would work in today’s culture?  Did they find these declarations of fancy more comic than persuasive?

Comparing Shakespeare’s Language to the Modern Day Translation

I found a modern translation of Act I Scene V  here and we read it together comparing what the lovers said to each other (Shakespeare speak) with what they actually meant (modern speak).  I gave out the part of Romeo twice and of Juliet twice.  One pair (R & J) read out the original version and the second pair read out the modern version:

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This was fun, especially because what Shakespeare said in a paragraph could literally be paraphrased in a couple of words with modern expression.  Maybe we just don’t have that type of time on our hands to be able to talk in such a flowery way anymore?

Improvisation Activity (30 minutes)

This is an improvisation game where one actor has a script and the other does not. The actor without the script may do as he pleases to carry on the scene, while the actor with the script must stay on book.  I gave Juliet the script and Romeo went without, and let them at it with the Capulet’s dance scene.  They were quite excited about this and decided that each person should have a turn, so we paired up into three pairs.  They had access to any props or costumes they thought might help the scene flow smoothly.

First up was K and T.  T read the script whilst K spent all her time telling T that he needed to make much more of an effort and speak in language she could actually understand if he wished to woo her.  She then slapped him!

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Next was B and C.  C loves to sing and picked some extraordinarily well fitting songs to sing at B:

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Last was L and Lorna.  This was the first couple who looked promising when L mentioned meeting behind the bike sheds afterwards!!

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Project Based Learning (60 mins)

The children continued with their project Based Learning.

Continuing with Day Two tomorrow…..

9 comments

  1. I am sure you still managed to do lots. You seem to achieve an astounding amount! I will be interested to see how this week has gone. My daughter love R & J so she will love reading all about it!

  2. I think we can still choose to have the time, but Shakespeare was writing poetry, and love poetry in particular, and that can be ridiculously flowery.
    The Shakespeare group we go see all the time has a “Shakespeare for beginners” they do before each play and they redo the balcony scene in modern English. It always cracks me up.

    I’ve always thought of Romeo and Juliet as a great example of teenage infatuation, it happens quickly, it seems all encompassing, and the end of the world if it’s not going to work out, but it’s not real love, I rather agree with T on that one.

    Are you going to show them the Leonardo Dicaprio R&J? I rather like that one even though it’s set in modern times for how they express the over the top emotions involved. Certainly better than the version I had to watch in high school English, that one was atrocious.

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