William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is an excellent introduction to
Shakespearean drama; teenagers can relate to its plot, characters, and
themes. The play's action is easily understood, the character's motives
are clear, and many of the themes are as current today as they were in
Shakespeare's time. Therefore, it can be read on a variety of levels,
allowing all students to enjoy it.
Less able readers can experience the swash-buckling action and investigate
the themes of parent-child conflict, sexuality, friendship, and suicide.
Because of the play's accessibility to teenagers, able readers can view
the play from a more literary perspective, examining the themes of hostility
ad its effect on the innocent, the use of deception and its consequences,
and the effects of faulty decision making. They can study how the characters
function within the drama and how Shakespeare uses language to develop
plot, characters, and themes. The most able students can develop skills
involved in literary criticism by delving into the play's comic and tragic
elements and its classically tragic themes: the role of fate and fortune,
the inevitable nature of tragedy, and the isolation of the tragic hero.
This teacher's guide will be divided into several parts: (1) a brief
literary overview, including a synopsis and commentary on the play; (2)
suggestions for teaching the play, including activities, discussion questions,
and essay topics to be used before, during, and after reading of the play;
(3) ideas to extend the students' learning beyond the play, including
ways to address its themes, ideas for teaching literary analysis, techniques
for using the play as a bridge to other works, and ways to use the play
as part of an interdisciplinary study; (4) suggestions for avoiding censorship;
and (5) bibliographies, including additional pedagogical sources, other
works of literature addressing similar themes, and interdisciplinary sources.
Throughout this study guide attention will be given to the ability level
of the students, and specific activities, discussion questions, and topics
will be labeled as to difficulty.
*Appropriate for all students.
+Most appropriate for nonacademic students.
#Most appropriate for above average students.
~Most appropriate for academic students.
The play takes place in Verona, Italy, in the late 15th century.
At the opening of the play, Romeo, son of the House of Montague, believes
he is desperately in love with Rosaline, a young beauty who spurns his
attentions. To rid him of his infatuation, his friend Benvolio suggests
he turn to other women (I,i.). Romeo learns through an announcement carried
by an illiterate servant of the House of Capulet, a family engaged in
a feud with the Montagues, that a ball will be given that night by the
Capulets at which Rosaline will be a guest (I, ii.). Romeo, hoping to
see her, and Benvolio, hoping Romeo will find another, decide to attend
the ball even though they haven't been invited. At the ball, Romeo, who
wears a mask, sees and falls deeply in love with Juliet, who he later
discovers is the daughter of the Capulets. Tybalt, Juliet's hot-tempered
cousin, recognizes Romeo, but is deterred from doing any harm by the elder
Capulet, who will not have his party ruined by a fight. Nevertheless,
Tybalt bides his time and vows revenge (I,v.).
Later that night, while Juliet's parents are arranging her marriage to
the aristocratic Count Paris, a love-struck Romeo steals into the Capulet's
garden hoping to glimpse Juliet. He overhears Juliet's secret declaration
of love for him and makes himself known to her. They exchange pledges
of love and determine to marry secretly the next day (II,ii.). With the
help of Friar Laurence, a holy man who hopes to heal the breach between
the Capulets and Montagues, and Juliet's vulgar but well-meaning nurse,
who wants nothing more than to see Juliet married, the two are wedded
in the Friar's cell, unknown to the parents of either house (II,iii.).
Soon after his marriage, Romeo discovers his friends Benvolio and Mercutio
in a fight with Tybalt, who has been looking for Romeo to call him to
account for his intrusion on the Capulet bell. Because he has married
Juliet and looks upon Tybalt as a relative, Romeo resists his advances.
Mercutio, angered by Tybalt's insults and attacks on Romeo, draws his
sword. In an attempt to prevent the fight Romeo holds Mercutio back as
Tybalt draws his sword and slays Mercutio. Romeo has no choice but to
avenge the death of his friend. They fight, and Tybalt is slain (III,i.).
Romeo flees to Friar Laurence's cell. Romeo's fate is sealed when the
Prince of Verona banishes him from the city for his deed. The despairing
Romeo spends his first and final night with Juliet before he flees to
Mantua at dawn. Not knowing that Juliet grieves for Romeo and assuming
her tears are for her slain cousin Tybalt, the elder Capulet prepares
for Juliet to marry the "Country Paris" later that same week (III,v.).
Juliet pleads with her parents to postpone the wedding, and, when they
refuse, seeks the Friar's advice. He tells her to agree to the marriage,
but to take a sleeping potion made from herbs he has gathered. The potion
will mimic the appearance of death and she can be brought to the Capulet
burial vault, while the Friar has Romeo brought back from Mantua (V,i.).
She takes the potion and is found, apparently dead, the morning of her
planned wedding. She is "buried" in the same tomb as Tybalt (IV,iii.-IV,v.).
Fate and accident prevent Friar Laurence's letter form reaching Romeo
who hears of Juliet's death from his servant. Romeo decides to kill himself
and seeks poison from an apothecary (V,i.). He slips back into Verona,
finds Paris mourning Juliet at the tomb, kills him, enters the tomb, and
finding the "dead" Juliet, takes the poison (V,iii.). The Friar arrives
just as Juliet awakens, but he is unable to persuade her to leave Romeo.
And, after the Friar leaves, Juliet takes her own life with Romeo's dagger
(V,iii.). The Capulets and the elder Montague, whose wife has died that
night of a broken heart over Romeo's banishment, arrive at the tomb to
discover the entire younger generation dead. They agree to end their feud
The play initially appears to be a typical Elizabethan comedy. The characters,
though noble, are not of historical importance as in tragedies of the
day. The early acts are filled with plays on words, the bawdy talk of
Juliet's nurse, the revelry of a ball, "mooning" lovers, unlikely love
scenes, and, in spite of the feud, a general air of humor and happiness.
And, like in all Elizabethan comedy, there is the feeling that all is
a game that will be won by the most clever player. We see the contrived
strategies of Benvolio and Romeo as they mask themselves to attend the
ball. We are privy to the countermove of Mercutio, who appears to be a
major player in the game, as he talks Romeo out of love. Things happen
quickly and good fortune seems to smile on Romeo as he not only finds
the lady Juliet at her window, but hears her declaration of love for him.
But, Shakespeare begins to plant the seeds of tragedy. Romeo fears his
dreams and speaks of a sense of foreboding,
...my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels and expire the term
Of a despised life, closed in my breast,
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
We meet the fiery tempered Tybalt who clearly states his intent to seek
revenge against Romeo. And, the deception begins. Romeo and Juliet are
secretly married by the good Friar whose perception is faulty when he
imagines that the marriage will end the feud.
At the beginning of Act III the comedy turns to tragedy. Even the weather
has become hot and "the mad blood stirring" (III,i,4). First, Mercutio
is slain by Tybalt, and, then Tybalt by Romeo. Ironically, Mercutio, who
seemed to be a pivotal player in the comedy, becomes not only the first
to die, but his death makes all those that follow inevitable. "Inevitability"
is the force which governs the world of tragedy. From the time of Mercutio's
death the characters seem to have no control over the events as they speed
by. A sense of doom is dominant; events occur before they can be stopped;
perceptions are marred; errors in judgment are rampant; everyone is inflexible;
everything is absolute, inevitable. The stage has been set for the tragedy.
Shakespeare's plays were written to be performed and enjoyed by his audience,
in fact most were not published until seven years after his death. When
Romeo and Juliet first appeared on the stage in approximately 1594, most
of the audience was familiar with the story. It was a popular tale in
Elizabethan times; many versions were available, the most widely known
was Arthur Brooke's long narrative poem The Tragicall Historye of Romeus
and Juliet. So, in spite of the fact that Shakespeare's play might appear
to the uninitiated to be a comedy, especially when Sampson and Gregory
open the first act with their swash-buckling, most of his audience knew,
without even hearing the prologue, that the lovers were "star-crossed"
and that in "two hours' tragic of our stage" they would "take their life"
and "bury their parents' strife" (Prologue, 6-12). It's only fair that
we give our students the same advantage.
There are numerous ways to acquaint students with the play:
1. Tell the story to the class. If you are a good storyteller you can
use your technique to bring Romeo and Juliet to life. If storytelling
is not your forte, you can relate the plot by recounting parts and asking
questions that involve the students in the process. For example: "Have
you ever met a boy or girl who you thought was really neat, who you admired
from afar, but when you tried to speak to him or her you were ignored?
That's how our play begins, with Romeo rebuffed by Rosaline with whom
he thinks he's in love. Now, suppose you knew that this boy or girl you
liked was going to be at a party that you were not invited to, and a friend
suggested you crash it. Would you? Well, our hero Romeo does." You can
continue relating each act in this manner prior to reading it.
2. Several movie versions of the play are available, the most popular
and most accessible is S. Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968),
now available on video tape. Since Zeffirelli changed much of the script
when he wrote the screenplay, the changes can make for interesting discussion
when the play is read.
3. Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare's most performed play. You may be
able to take your students to see it prior to reading it in class.
4. Many modern versions of the Romeo and Juliet tale have been written
and produced. The best known 20th century adaptation is West Side Story
(Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim). This musical
adaptation is set in New York City in the 1950's. The feud is not between
two families, but between ethnic gangs. Students can be introduced to
this through film, reading the script, and listening to the soundtrack.
Again, the differences between West Side Story and Shakespeare's play
can lead to interesting discussion.
5. Students are frequently intrigued by the idea of a feud lasting several
generations. In some parts of the country students may be able to discuss
family feuds that are still a part of their lives. Since the introduction
you have given to the play makes the feud between the Montagues and Capulets
evident, an investigation of other famous feuds is likely to spark student
interest in the play. You might begin by telling them about feuds with
which you are familiar: the Shepherdson-Grangerford feud in Twain's Huck
Finn, the historic feud between the Scottish clans of Campbell and MacDonald,
or the Appalachian feud of the Hatfields and McCoys. Once you have discussed
one or more feuds with the students, send them to the library to investigate
others and report their findings to the class.
6. After students have been introduced to the story of Romeo and Juliet
some of the these can be discussed. First, examine themes that relate
directly to their lives: suicide, sexuality, child/parent relationships
and friendship.* Next, discuss literary themes: hostility and its effect
on the innocent, the use of deception and its consequences, and the effects
of faulty decision making.#~ Finally, examine the themes of classical
tragedy: the role of fate and fortune, the inevitable nature of tragedy,
and the isolation of the tragic hero.
Since Romeo and Juliet is frequently the student's first introduction
to Shakespeare, it is especially important that students be taught how
to read and enjoy his plays.
1. As discussed in the commentary, Romeo and Juliet combines techniques
of Elizabethan tragedy and comedy. Assign students to one of two groups
to investigate these techniques. The results of their investigation can
be placed on chart paper and discussed.
2. Most students are unaware of the organization and dramatic techniques
of Shakespearean drama. Discuss with the students: five acts divided into
scenes, rising action, climax at beginning of third act, falling action,
chorus,prologue, soliloquy, asides, blank verse...
3. Understanding the characters and their relationships is frequently
a stumbling block for first time readers of Shakespeare. Introduce the
characters to the students.*
House of Capulet
Juliet: daughter to Capulet, takes the lead in the romance, lyrical use
of language, has premonitions but does not act on them, isolated, only
one in the play to guess the outcome
Tybalt: Juliet's cousin, foil to Romeo, passionate, prideful, easily
provoked, high-spirited, hot-blooded, fiery nature, inflexible, single
set of absolutes
Nurse: Juliet's nurse, stereotypical, arrogant, garrulous, ignorant,
bawdy, uncultivated, old and infirm, fickle, wants the "best for Juliet"
(translated: wants Juliet married to anyone), looks at love as "animal
Capulet: Juliet's father, impatient, loves Juliet but is misguided in
his love, querulous, inflexible, old, looks at love as a good match
House of Montague
Romeo: son of Montague, isolated, passionate, idealistic, naive, has
premonitions but does not act on them, helpless
Mercutio: kinsman to Prince and friend of Romeo, witty, honorable, intelligent,
loves word play, amiable, could be voice of reason but underestimates
Romeo's passion, foil to Romeo, his death makes the tragedy inevitable
Benvolio: Montague nephew, friend of Romeo, peacemaker
Other important characters
Paris: a count, betrothed to Juliet, foil to Romeo
Friar Laurence: Romeo's counselor, loved and respected, attempts to do
what is "right", marred reasoning, misplaced virtue
Divide a sheet of chart paper in half lengthwise, place the House of
Capulet on one side, the House of Montague on the other. You can use this
later to chart the relationship of the characters.*
4. Shakespeare used language to tell his story and to develop his characters.
After the students are familiar with the story, show them places where
Mercutio. Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.
Romeo. 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.
Mercutio. You are a lover. Borrow Cupid's wings
And soar with them above a common bound.
Romeo. I am too sore enpierchd with his shaft
To soar with his light feathers; and so bound
I cannot bound a pitch above dull woe.
Under love's heavy burden do I sink.
Mercutio. And, to sink in it, should you burden love--
Too great oppression for a tender thing.
Romeo. Is love a tender thing? It is too rough.
Too rude, too boist'rous, and it pricks like thorn.
Mercutio. If love be rough with you, be rough with love;
Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.
An old hare hoar,
And an old hare hoar,
Is very good meat in Lent;
But a hare that is hoar
is too much for a score
When it hoars ere it be spent.
O God, I have an ill-divining soul!
Methinks I see thee, now thou art so low,
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.
Or if you do not, make the bridal bed
In that dim monument where Tybalt lies.
It is the East, and Juliet is the Sun!
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
Alas, poor Romeo, he is already dead:
stabbed with a white wench's black eye; run through
the ear with a love song; the very pin of his heart
cleft with the blind bow-boy's butt-shaft...
Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phoebus' lodging! Such a wagoner
As Phakton would whip you to the west
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face. O, be some other name
Belonging to a man.
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
As if that name,
Shot from the deadly level of a gun,
Did murder her; as that name's curshd hand
Murdered her kinsman. O, tell me, friar, tell me,
In what vile part of this anatomy
Doth my name lodge? Tell me, that I may sack
The hateful mansion.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark...
It was the lark, the herald of the morn;
(Juliet, III,v,2; Romeo, 6-7)
Language to reveal social class and develop character:
(Nurse's peasant speech and attempt to imitate her betters)
Yes, madam. Yet I cannot choose but laugh
To think it should leave crying and say, "Ay."
And yet, I warrant, it had upon it brow
A bump as big as a young cock'rel's stone;
A perilous knock; and it cried bitterly.
"Yea," quoth my husband, "fall'st upon thy face/
Thou wilt fall backward when thou comest to age,
Wilt thou not, Jule?" It stinted and said, "Ay."
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,
And vice sometime by action dignified.
(Juliet's lyrical imagery)
O, bid me leap, rather than marry Paris,
From off the battlements of any tower,
Or walk in thievish ways, or bid me lurk
Where serpents are; chain me with roaring bears,
Or hide me nightly in a charnel house,
O'ercovered quite with dead men's rattling bones,
With reeky shanks and yellow chapless skulls;
Or bid me go into a new-made grave
And hide me with a dead man in his shroud--
Things that, to hear them told, have made me tremble--
And I will do it without fear or doubt,
To live an unstained wife to my sweet love.
(Illiterate banter of servants) Find them out whose names are written
It is written that the shoemaker should meddle with
his yard and tailor with his last, the fisher with
his pencil and the painter with his nets; but I am
sent to find those persons whose names are here
writ, and can never find what names the writing
person hath here writ. I must to the learned. In good time!
(Gentrified tale of Capulet and Prince Aeschylus)
And too soon marred are those so early made.
Earth has swallowhd all my hopes but she;
She is the hopeful lady of my earth.
And for that offense
Immediately we do exile him hence.
I have an interest in your hate's proceeding,
My blood for your rude brawls doth lie a-bleeding;
But I'll amerce you with so strong a fine
That you shall all repent the loss of mine.
I will be deaf to pleading and excuses;
Nor tears nor prayers shall purchase out abuses.
Therefore use none. Let Romeo hence in haste,
Else, when he is found, that hour is his last.
Bear hence this body and attend our will.
Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill.
(Intellectual command of Mercutio)
Romeo! Humors! Madman! Passion! Lover!
Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh;
Speak but one rhyme, and I am satisfied!
Cry but "Ay me!" pronounce but "love" and "dove";
Speak to my gossip Venus one fair work,
One nickname for her purblind son and heir
Young Abraham Cupid, he that shot so true
When King Cophetua loved the beggar maid!
(Insolent, fiery talk of Tybalt)
What! Dares the slave
Come hither, covered with an antic face,
To fleer and scorn at our solemnity?
Now, by the stock and honor of my kin,
To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.
(Figurative language of Romeo)
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid, since she is envious.
Her vestal livery is but sick and green,
And none but fools do wear it. Cast it off.
4. Discuss how Shakespeare's use of language reveals attributes of each
Since Shakespeare wrote for the stage, the more you can make his stagecraft
part of your reading, the more your students will enjoy the play.
1. Try some informal classroom drama techniques: Choral Reading*-Prior
to reading a scene with each character represented by a chorus of students.
Present the scene chorally with every member of the class involved. Readers'
Theater#~-Assign a scene to a small group of students; each group should
have one student per character; the scenes are rehearsed by the groups;
each scene is read in order with the entire class participating. Story
Theater#~-Students are assigned to groups to rehearse scenes; two students
are assigned each part. One reads the part, while the other acts it.
2. Read major scenes orally to the class. Ask students who read aloud
well to do the same.*
3. Intersperse the oral reading with recordings of professional actors
portraying the roles.
Writing and discussion activities can reinforce the students' understanding
of the play. Have students participate in one or more of these activities.
1. Keep a journal to record the chronological sequence of events. Each
day add to a class timeline of events.+*
2. Keep a diary of one of the major characters in the play, recording
in diary form what s/he is doing and how s/he is feeling.+* Ask different
students to read their entries at the beginning of each class.
3. Select a major character and keep a journal of his/her development,
noting: scenes that illustrate character traits, how Shakespeare's use
of language develops the character, how the character interacts with other
characters, how the character relates to the themes of the play~ (#6,
p. 6). Use the character relationship chart to plot and discuss each character's
development (#3, pp. 6-7).
4. Select one of the themes of the play (#6, p. 6): current theme important
to teenagers+#, literary theme#~, or theme of classical tragedy~. As you
read, write about how Shakespeare addresses the theme. Keep track of how
the characters and plot relate to the theme. Discuss this in small groups
and with the class.
5. Keep a list of unfamiliar vocabulary.* Discuss the meaning and use
of words each day. Begin a class list, including definitions and sentences.
7. Select one of the ways Shakespeare uses language.* As you read the
play write down the act, scene, and lines. Discuss with the class.
1. Using the diary you created for a character (#2, p. 12), write an essay
about how the character changed throughout the play.+# Or, write an essay
about what techniques Shakespeare used to reveal the character's traits.~
Discuss your essay with other students who worked on the same character,
make a chart to show what you have discovered, post your chart, and discuss
the character with the class.
2. Write an essay about the theme you select* (#6, p. 6). Discuss why
this theme is important today.+ Discuss how Shakespeare developed the
theme.# Discuss how the theme relates to the tragedy of the play.~
3. Develop one + or more #~ scenes into a classroom drama, building on
some of the informal techniques used earlier. You can read the parts as
you act them +# or you can memorize the lines~. Divide into small groups
with each group practicing the same scene+, two groups practicing each
scene#, or each group practicing a different scene~. Discuss with your
group: who will portray each character, how the character will act in
the scene, how the character will deliver the lines, where the character
will stand, how the character will move.* You also might want to discuss:
how the character interacts with the other characters, how this scene
leads to the next.~ Present the scenes to the class, video tape them,
view them, and critique them.* In your critique you might want to discuss
how faithful your staging of the scene was to Shakespeare's characterization,
plot, theme and staging.#~
4. View a film or stage version of the play. Compare the version seen
to the one read.* What are the differences?* Why did the director make
these changes?* Were the changes faithful to Shakespeare's intent?#~
One of the major advantages of studying the classics is the potential
they offer for extending students' learning far beyond the original work.
Here are some literary extensions that can be used before, during, or
after reading Romeo and Juliet.
1. Become a Shakespearean critic.~ Read one of the "Commentaries" at
the end of the Signet Classic. Discuss it with a small group of students.
Pick a topic discussed in the commentary of interest to the group. Go
to the library to see what other views you can find on the same topic.
Write a group paper exploring the differences in the critics' views.
2. Compare Romeo and Juliet to West Side Story.* What differences do
you see in character, plot, and theme? Why do these differences exist?
3. Search for feuds in other literary works.#~ What are the effects of
the feuds? Discuss with the class and develop an annotated bibliography.
4. Examine Romeo and Juliet for literary or mythological allusions.~
Go to the library and see what you can find out about one or more of these
allusions. Present the results of your study to the class.
5. Do some research on Shakespeare: the man and the playwright.* Present
your findings to the class.
6. Do some research on Elizabethan theater.* Present your findings to
7. See if you can locate Arthur Brooke's The Tragicall Historye of Romeus
and Juliet. Compare it to Shakespeare's play.~ What changes did Shakespeare
8. Read another Shakespearean comedy or tragedy.~ How does it differ
from Romeo and Juliet? Which is more typical of the classical elements
of comedy or tragedy? (#1, p. 6).
9. Watch another Shakespearean play on film or video tape.* Compare it
to Romeo and Juliet in terms of: elements of comedy and tragedy~, use
of language*, development of plot*, characterization*, theme*.
10. Do some research on one of the modern themes of the play*: suicide,
teenage sexuality, or parent/child relationships. How have attitudes changed
since Shakespeare's time? Write about your findings and discuss with the
11. Do some research on one of the literary themes of the play#~: family
hostility and its effect on the innocent, the use of deception and its
consequences, or the effects of faulty decision making. See if you can
locate a modern example of this literary theme. Write about your findings
and discuss with the class.
12. Do some research on a theme of classical tragedy~: the role of fate
and fortune, the inevitable nature of tragedy, or the isolation of the
tragic hero. Find an example of the exploration of this theme in a modern
short story, novel, or play. Compare in writing the modern author's treatment
of the theme to Shakespeare's treatment. Share your essay with the class.
13. Search your literature anthology for works that explore similar themes.*
Develop a bibliography for each theme. Select one theme and read one or
more works related to that theme. Discuss with the class.
A Note About Avoiding Censorship
It is often assumed by English teachers that "classics," particularly
Shakespeare, are immune to censorship. However, glancing through any list
of frequently censored books proves that assumption false; Romeo and Juliet
frequently appears on those lists.
Why is this play, regarded by the entire world as one of the great works
of literature, frequently the target of censors? There are many answers.
The timeliness of the themes of the play and the age of the characters
make it a frequent target. The "sex scenes" between the young lovers are
often attacked as inappropriate for teenage readers. Finally, most often
targeted by the censors' arrows are the bawdy language and double-entendres,
particularly in the first half of the play. We can argue that students
rarely recognize these unless they are pointed, that the themes are important
to consider if today's young people are to avoid the fate of the "star-crossed
lovers," that teenagers are exposed to far more lurid sex scenes on television,
and that the play is one of the greatest works of literature and therefore
should be read in the English classroom.
All of these are excessent arguments; however, after the issue of the
"inappropriateness" of the play has been raised by censors these arguments
sound shrill and defensive. The best way to deal with censorship is to
avoid it. How can it be avoided:
1. Develop a department or school selection policy in which you clearly
indicate criteria for selecting literature to be read, as well as a procedure
for dealing with complaints should they occur.
2. Once the policy has been established, involve as many people in the
selection process as possible. Include teachers, administrators, students
and parents on your selection committee.
3. Write a brief rationale for using the play in the classroom. Emphasize
the literary, historical and social importance of the play. Include comments
by literary critics and educators. File this rationale with your department
chairperson and/or school administrator.
4. Several weeks prior to requiring the students to read the play, send
home a brief description to parents. Be sure to include parts of your
rationale the fact that some of the language in the play might be offensive
to some people. Invite parents to borrow a classroom copy of the play
and read it prior to giving their children permission to read it. Be sure
to indicate alternative selections for students who are not permitted
to read the play (some other Shakespearean plays might be appropriate
or other books on similar themes).
5. A week prior to reading the play in class send home permission slips
for the parents to complete. Phrase the slips in such a way that signing
and returning them indicates that permission has not been granted. Ask
parents to suggest a preferred book or play of equal literary value.
6. Be sure to make adequate provisions, avoiding stigmatization, for
students who are not permitted to read the play. This may mean having
to work individually with one student, grouping the class to allow for
the reading of two or more works, and/or placing the student(s) in another
class during the reading of the play.
Should a censorship issue arise in spite of your precautions, be sure
to do the following:
1. Follow all school/department policies.
2. Suggest an option for the child or children involved. Try not to be
defensive or angry; keep reminding yourself that every parent has the
right to object to what his/her child is reading.
3. Ask the individual(s) objecting to the work to complete a "Citizen's
Request For Reconsideration of a Work" (available from the National Council
of Teachers of English). On this form the individual states his/her objection
and suggests a work of equal value that is not objectionable.
4. Report the complaint to your department chairperson and/or school
administrator. Confirm your next steps with him/her. The next steps should
be clear in your school/department policy.
5. Other than allowing the student or students involved to read another
book, do not do anything until the "Citizen's Request Form" is returned.
In most cases the forms are not returned.
6. If the form is returned, and the censor demands that the book be removed
from the classroom, do not proceed alone. If you have followed the recommendations
for avoiding censorship, you will have a large support group, and once
the censor is made aware of how the work was selected and who was involved
in the selection process, usually the issue is dropped.
7. If the issues is pursued, you and your school should continue to follow
the policy, seeking professional help, usually through professional organizations.
The final section of the bibliography includes specific references to
help in avoiding censorship.
The Signet Classic edition of Romeo and Juliet has several excellent
annotated bibliographies related to Shakespeare, his times, his theater
and the play. Therefore, no additional references on these topics will
be included here.
Bailey, Paul. An Approach to Shakespeare through Drama. Use of English.
v 36 n 2, Spring 1985, pp. 47-56.
Davis, Ken. Rehearsing the Audience: Ways to Develop Student Perceptions
of Theatre. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1988.
Dow, Marguerite R. The Shakespearean Play as a Theatrical Event in the
classroom. English Quarterly. v 17 n 4, Winter 1984, pp. 16-22.
Evans, Bertrand. Teaching Shakespeare in the High School. New York: Macmillan,
Mallick, David. Shakespeare and Performance. Use of English. v 38 n 2,
Spring 1987, pp. 33-37.
Mallick, David. What Could Be on the Left Hand Page? English in Australia,
n 64, June 1983, pp. 59-68.
Wheelock, C. Webster. "Not Life but Love in Death": Oxymoron at the Thematic
Heart of "Romeo and Juliet." English Journal. v 74 n 2, Feb. 1985, pp.
Other Literature Dealing with Themes of Romeo and Juliet
1. Hostility and Its Effects on the Innocent
Houston, Jeanne W. and James Houston. Farewell to Manzanar. Boston: Houghton
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Harper and Row, 1961.
Lingard, J. Across the Barricades. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1973.
Speare, Elizabeth. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
Sebestyen, Ouida. Words by Heart. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979.
2. Teenage Suicide
Anonymous. Go Ask Alice. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
Guest, Judith. Ordinary People. New York: Viking, 1976.
Peck, Richard. Remembering the Good Times. New York: Delacorte, 1985.
Pfeffer, Susan Beth. About David. New York: Delacorte, 1980.
3. Decision Making
Hinton, S.E. The Outsiders. New York: Viking, 1967.
Lipsyte, Robert. The Contender. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.
4. The Generation Gap
Bridgers, Sue Ellen. Home Before Dark. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1976.
Frank, Anne. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Doubleday,
Kerr, M.E.. Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! New York: Harper and Row, 1972.
5. The Role of Friendship and Peer Pressure
Brooks, Bruce. The Moves Make the Man. New York: Harper and Row, 1984.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Putnam, 1954.
Guy, Rosa. The Friends. New York: Holt, 1973.
6. The Use of Deception and Its Consequences
Cormier, Robert. I Am the Cheese. New York: Pantheon, 1977.
Duncan, Lois. Killing Mr. Griffin. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978.
Kerr, M.E. Gentlehands. New York: Harper and Row, 1978.
Shreve, Susan. The Masquerade. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.
7. Teenage Love
Greene, Bette. Summer of My German Soldier. New York: Dial, 1973.
Guy, Rosa. My Love, My Love, or, the Peasant Girl. New York: Holt, 1985.
Lee, Mildred. The People Therein. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.
Lyle, Katie Letcher. Fair Day, and Another Step Begun. New York: Lippincott,
Mazer, Norma Fox. When We First Met. New York: Macmillan, 1982.
8. Isolation of the Tragic Hero
Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. New York: Pantheon, 1974.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Bantam, 1951.
1. Family Dynamics
Bane, Mary Jo. Here to Stay: American Families in the Twentieth Century.
Basic Books, 1976. (Good background for teachers; good reference for students.)
Gambino, Richard. Blood of My Blood: The Dilemma of the Italian-Americans.
New York: Doubleday, 1974. (Useful background on Italian family systems.)
Ginnott, Haim. Between Parent and Teenager. New York: Macmillan, 1969.
(Good reference book for teachers.)
Howard, Jane. Families. New York: Simon And Schuster, 1978. (Useful resource
for teachers and students.)
Weston, Jean. The Corning Parent Revolution. Rand, 1981. (Good reference
book for teachers.)
2. Adolescent Experience
Coleman, J.S. The Adolescent Society. Free Press, 1961. (Good resource
Eagan, Andrea B. Why Am I So Miserable If These Are the Best Years of
My Life? New York: Lippincott, 1986.
Erickson, Erik. Identity: Youth and Crisis. Norton, 1968.
Fine, Louis L. "After All We've Done for Them:"Understanding Adolescent
Behavior. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1979. (Reference for teachers.)
Kaplan, Louise J. Adolescence: The Farewell to Childhood. New York: Simon
and Schuster, 1984.
Showalter, John E. and Walter R. Anyan. The Family Handbook of Adolescence.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981.
3. Sexuality and Romantic Love
Buscaglia, Leo R. Loving Each Other; Living, Loving and Learning; and
Love. New York. Holt.
Hamilton, Eleanor. Sex with Love: A Guide for Young People. Beacon Press,
Pomeroy, Wardell B. Boys and Sex (Revised ed.). New York: Delacorte, 1981.
Pomeroy, Wardell G. Girls and Sex (Revised ed.). New York: Delacorte,
Jacobs, J. Adolescent Suicide. Wiley Press, 1971.
Mack, John and Holly Hickler. Vivienne: The Life and Suicide of an Adolescent
Girl. New York: New American Library, 1982.
American Library Association. Intellectual Freedom and the Rights of
Youth--Information Packet. ALA, 1979.
Burress, Lee and Edward B. Jenkinson (Eds.). The Students' Right to Know.
National Council of Teachers of English, 1982.
Committee on Bias and Censorship. Censorship: Don't Let It Become an Issue
in Your School. National Council of Teachers of English. 1982.
Davis, James E. Dealing with Censorship. National Council of Teachers
of English. 1979.
Shugert, Diane P. (Ed.). Rationales for Commonly Challenged Limiting What
Students Shall Read: Books and Other Learning Materials in Our Public
Schools--How They Are Selected and How They Are Removed. Association of
American Publishers, American Library Association, and Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1981.
National Council of Teachers of English. The Students' Right to Read.
NCTE, 1982. Office of Intellectual Freedom. Intellectual Freedom Manual
(2nd ed.). American Library Association, 1983.
About the Guide Author
Currently Associate Professor of Education at the University of North
Carolina at Asheville, Arthea (Charlie) J. S. Reed has taught for 20 years
on both the high school and college level. She received her A.B. (Bethany
College) and her M.S. (Southern Connecticut State University) in English
and her Ph.D. (Florida State University) in Teacher Education. In addition
to teaching, Charlie has been The ALAN Review (NCTE) editor since 1984
and served as Co-Director of the Mountain Area Writing Project (a part
of the National Writing Project) from 1982 to 1988. She is also the author
of Reaching Adolescents: Young Adult Books and the School (Holt, 1985)
and Comics to Classics: A Parents' Guide to Books for Teens and Preteens