Teaching Romeo and Juliet can be frustrating. These tips should help to engage your students and reveal the reasons why Romeo and Juliet is worthy of their attention.
Are you kidding me? It's William Shakespeare. Of course it has literary merit. Here are some topics worthy of discussion while teaching Romeo and Juliet:
Love vs. Lust: Romeo and Juliet are obsessed, infatuated, out of control, and irrational. Sounds like lust to me.
Prejudice: The feuding families create tension and conflict, not unlike feuding cultures in today's society.
The Role of Fate: Shakespeare calls the two lovers "star-crossed." Does fate, however, play a greater role than the numerous stupid choices made by Romeo and Juliet?
Book Smarts vs. Street Smarts: Friar Lawrence knew a lot. Most of it was useless. After all, he had no real world experience. He just walked around all day collecting herbs.
Suicide: It's the gigantic green elephant in the room. You might as well talk about it.
The Role of Women: Verona society did not hold much for women, which makes Juliet's strength stand out even more.
The Role of a Husband: Romeo's weakness dooms the relationship from the start.
Friendship: Romeo's friend, Mercutio, causes his banishment. His other friend, Friar Lawrence, causes his death. Juliet's friend, the Nurse, abandons her in her time of need.
Communication: Juliet and her father need to sit down and have a nice long talk.
Romeo and Juliet Literary Analysis
Teaching Romeo and Juliet involves teaching the following literary devices:
Figurative Language: Shakespeare is the master of puns, metaphor, simile, personification, synechdoche, meiosis, and hyperbole.
Elements of Tragedy: Teaching Romeo and Juliet involves teaching tragedy.
Verbal Irony: I'm a big fan of puns. So is William Shakespeare. He's better at them than I.
Situational Irony: Every negative coincidence imaginable happens.
Dramatic Irony: Every time I read the play, I scream to Romeo that Juliet is faking her death. Romeo never listens (The teacher next door, who always seems to be doing timed-writing as I scream, does).
Foreshadowing: Shakespeare mentions the lovers' death in the Prologue.
Conflict: External and internal conflicts move the story forward.
Suspense: Shakespeare uses foreshadowing, dangerous action, and pacing to create suspense.
Read parts aloud: Only do this with advanced classes unless you want Shakespeare himself to awake from the dead and weep.
Read creatively: (1) Read one word at a time; (2) Read until the next punctuation mark; (3) Read one line at a time; (4) Read with heavy English accents if you're American; (5) Read with heavy American accents if you're English.