Evaluating Romeo's Love Poetry in Act 1, Scene 1

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SWBAT demonstrate an understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings by analyzing Act 1, scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet.

Big Idea

O brawling love, o loving hate! Poor Romeo just needs a date!

Getting Started

10 minutes

We will start class today by reviewing yesterday. We started Act 1, scene i, but only got so far as the Prince's speech. I have copied the speech for them, so they can take notes on the page. First, they will write a summary and any details that they can remember from yesterday's class (RL.9-10.2). Here is one student's work. Then we will deepen our understanding of the speech and the opening of the play. I will ask students:


Why is this the first significant (as in lengthy) speech of the play? We haven't met Romeo or Juliet yet, but the Prince is scolding their families for an ongoing feud. And he hasn't even mentioned why they are fighting. What does this tell us about the state of affairs in Verona? What can we expect from the prince?


All of the aforementioned questions will not come in a consecutive stream, as it is written. Instead, I will pose one question and then provide wait time, while students write. Then I will pose a related question that might strengthen their answer. And then another. Once all students have had a chance to write, we will informally discuss their ideas and reasoning (SL.9-10.1). 


I think these kinds of questions are really important to ask. It's easy to fall into the happen of just reading the text scene by scene, without stepping back to contemplate the bigger picture. And there isn't even anything wrong with that! The story itself is strong enough to support such a reading, but these types of activities encourage students to be more active readers, who think broadly and make connections. Moreover, these conversations prepare them for a deeper understanding of the play. 


5 minutes

Before we begin reading, students will copy the term "oxymoron" and its definition into the literary terms section in their notebook (L.9-10.5a). The definition will be written on the board. 


We meet Romeo in our reading today. In the first scene, he is lovesick and depressed, describing love as both wonderful and awful. I am hoping that students will see the oxymorons-- "serious vanity," "cold fire"-- in his speech because they have written the term in their notebooks. When we read this section, we will discuss why a oxymoron is a good way to illustrate Romeo's emotion. And if one oxymoron is good, does that mean ten are? What's the effect a series of oxymorons?


These secondary questions are most important. So often students can pinpoint a literary term, but they have no idea why the author chose to use it. When prompted, their first response is usually something like, "to create an effect" or "mental image." A conversation wherein we connect the qualities of an oxymoron to these specific oxymorons and Romeo's mental state will lead to a more meaning answer. 

Meeting Romeo

35 minutes

We will finish Act I, scene i today and we will meet Romeo for the first time. I will ask for four volunteers to read: we need a Montague, Lady Montague, Benvolio, and Romeo. They will read the lines for each character, but we will stop often to review lines and work through the language. This technique can either be tedious or really fun. Here are a couple of tips to make it really fun:


  • The teacher should repeat key lines with proper inflection. Just hearing the lines in an appropriate tone and a sense of proper punctuation can make all the difference for kids. For instance, Prince Escalus tells Montague and Capulet, "Three civil brawls bred of an airy word,/ By thee, old Capulet, and Montague, / Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets." Upon first reading, these lines seem impossible. By when I repeat them, pointing at the readers for Montague and Capulet, showing three fingers to illustrate the meaning of "thrice," and pausing, not at the end of a line, but at punctuation marks, they understand. 
  • Translate in a funny and relevant way. This first scene lends itself easily to this idea: Romeo is nothing but a sulky teen! When his cousin says good morning, he responds, "Is the day so young?" When said in the voice of a dramatic and sulky teen, students immediately understand the meaning of this line and even from his first line, begin to understand his character. 


Our text is great because all footnotes and helpful hints are written on the left half and Shakespeare's are written on the right half. While reading, we will also make use of the left side of the page for more difficult lines, especially those that allude to gods and goddesses (RL.9-10.9). This scene alludes to both Aurora and Dian; I don't expect that students know these references, but they can decipher meaning from the clues provided.

Love Poetry

5 minutes

Throughout this scene, Romeo is lovesick over Rosaline, but he never says her name. At the end of the reading, I tell students her name because it helps to know this information in the love run. For instance, in the next scene, Benvolio will convince Romeo to go to the Capulet party because he sees Rosaline's name on the invitation; I tell students her name so that they understand what is happening in that moment. 


It also helps to refer to Rosaline by name when having a conversation about Romeo's state of mind in this scene (it just easier to use a name). We will analyze his language and try to label the "love poetry." Immediately students realize that Romeo rhymes when he talks about love in this scene; he does, in fact, speak in a series of rhyming couplets. I simply ask, "What group of people are usually associated with rhyming poetry?" Kids, clearly. Then I will ask, "Do you think this is true love?" The simple answer is "no because he's going to love Juliet," but some students will make the connection between childlike language and childlike emotions: this is plot point and a structural choice that Shakespeare makes that will ultimately illustrate the difference between a crush and true love (RL.9-10.5). 


Moreover, Romeo's language about love is metaphoric (L.9-10.5a). At one time, love is like a battlefield, a financial transaction, and a sickness. Dramatic, much? We will discuss these ideas and what they reveal about Romeo. 

Wrapping Up

5 minutes

In the last few minutes of class, I will ask students to write 5 adjectives to describe Romeo in this scene (RL.9-10.3). Here is a selection of their responses ("thirsty" apparently means "thirsty for Rosaline"... I can't explain it..).

For homework, students will continue reading their choice book