Complex Character Analysis: Role of Families in Romeo and Juliet

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SWBAT analyze how complex characters develop over the course of the play, interact with other characters, and advance the play's theme through discussion and journal writing.

Big Idea

Is Romeo and Juliet just another story about organized crime? How I help students dive into the characters and theme of Love and Violence.


10 minutes

Deciding on what to focus on when teaching Romeo and Juliet takes some reflection.  Re-Teaching can be a challenge as well as an enormous benefit for your students.  Because my students are repeating this course and many have read this play before, I am essentially re-teaching the unit and am assuming  most students only skimmed the surface of the play.  This lesson's focus is on character development and theme, which affords me the opportunity to look closely not at plot recall, but at more complex CCSS skills.

I hand out a 1 Word Summary and ask students to write the word Antagonist for the topic word because we will be analyzing the relationship between Tybalt and Romeo and the theme of Violence and Love (L.9-10.4).  They can work together or individually to come up with a summary word and explanation.  To check for understanding I use the Cold Call Ball-Toss calling on students to read their summary word and explanation for Antagonist.  As required in standard RL.9-10.3, I then ask who they think is the antagonist in Romeo and Juliet and why? 

Building Knowledge: Character Analysis

15 minutes

The Character Map which I handed out on the first day of this unit is a constellation of the relationships  between the major and minor characters in Romeo and Juliet. Many of my students know the basic plot line but do not remember characters names and how their behavior impacts the themes in the play.  I ask students to take out their character maps and with a learning partner to first fill in the character's names that we have not yelled filled out.  As a group I ask students to identify each character and explain their role in the play. I then project a completed Character Map on the screen for students to use as a model for their answers RL.9-10.3.

Next I project this quote from the Prologue on the screen and ask students to read it and interpret its meaning:

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. 

We then discuss the meaning as I explain that in the Prologue, the Chorus tells us that Romeo and Juliet is a play about domestic conflict. I then ask, "What does 'domestic' mean in this context?" I then re-read these lines out loud with an explanation,"Two households" (that would be the Montagues and the Capulets), "both alike in dignity" (of the same social standing) are going to be involved in a rather messy, nasty family feud." 

Building Knowledge: Theme Analysis

15 minutes

Next, to bring relevance to our discussion I ask for some names of street gangs in Springfield.  I then explain that family in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was similar to a "street gang" or "mafia movie." I next ask how many students are familiar with the novel or mafia movie, The Godfather? (which most are) a family loyal to the point of  "immoral morality."  

To make a relevant analogy, I explain that In Romeo and Juliet, family means a lot more than a husband, wife, and 2.5 kids as we previously defined as part of the "American Dream" when reading A Raisin in the Sun.  I explain that in this play "family" means everyone from the head of the household down to the lowly servants—anyone who could possibly owe any of the Capulets or Montagues loyalty.

I tell my students that when Romeo and Juliet's had their love affair that it isn't just going to get them grounded; it was a huge deal and it's a betrayal of absolutely everything—like dating someone from a rival gang. I ask them when they think of "family" do they think security or danger?  I then explain that in Romeo and Juliet, family is more often a source of danger and battle.  Next I show the trailer from Francis Coppola's The God father 1.



While watching the 3 minute trailer I instruct students to use the The Godfather Video Guide guide to write down images of betrayal, violence, love, and hatred.  I pause the video at certain points and ask, "What is this portraying?"

We end this activity with a review of what students identified as examples of images of betrayal, violence, love, and hatred followed by a discussion of how these images can also be themes in the play Romeo and Juliet RL.9-10.2.


Student Learning Activity

25 minutes

Love and Violence

I ask students write this quote down in their journals:  

JULIET:  O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
              Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
              Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
              And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

We then watch a BBC adapted animation video of Romeo and Juliet which is only 10 min in full length.  I pause the video at 5:52 just before the balcony scene.  We discuss the scenes that depict the conflicts between the two feuding families.  I then show the balcony scene and stop the video at 6:54.

I then ask what does Juliet mean when she says the famous words, "wherefore art thou Romeo?"  After getting a few responses I explain that when Juliet asks "wherefore art thou Romeo," she's not wondering about Romeo's physical location "where are you standing Romeo?" I explain that "wherefore" means "why" so, Juliet is basically asking why the love of her life has to belong to the feuding family, the Montague, and be the son of her family's enemy?

Writing in their journals students are instructed to analyze and explain the meaning of the quote as it pertains to Juliet's feelings toward being a Capulet and in love with Romeo (RL.9-10.1 and W.9-10.10).

I circulate among the students checking for understanding and keeping them focused on the assignment.

After 5 minutes I select a few students to share their answers with the class using evidence from the text to support their answers SL.9-10.1a.  I want them to understand that Juliet struggles with the conflict between her feelings for Romeo and her knowledge that he is an enemy of her family. She tries to separate Romeo from his identity as a Montague, and contemplates deserting her family for him. For good reason Juliet does not imagine that their love and their families' opposition can be reconciled.

I then ask them to write this next quote in their journals:

Juliet: How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
          The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
          And the place death, considering who thou art,
          any of my kinsmen find thee here.  

I again ask students to analyze and explain the meaning of this quote as it pertains to the possible danger Juliet feels when she sees Romeo.  After 5 minutes I select a few students to share their answers with the class.

I want them to understand that when Juliet learns that Romeo has climbed the orchard walls to see her, she worries that her "kinsmen" or family will beat Romeo and possibly kill him for sneaking onto the property.

I then ask, "If Romeo is a protagonist in the play, who is the antagonist and how do you know?"  After listening to a few student responses I remind them of how the pugnacious Tybalt, cousin of Juliet, has already threatened to beat up Romeo for showing up at the Capulet ball.

I then ask why they may think Juliet's father, Lord Capulet, would be as angry as Juliet seems to think as required in standard RL.9-10.3.   After a group discussion I point out that earlier, when Tybalt wanted to fight Romeo during the party, Lord Capulet stopped him and pointed out that Romeo is a pretty nice young man. I then write these words on the white board:  "Verona brags of him. To be a virtuous and well-governed youth"  and ask what do they mean and who said these words?

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Let's Analyze What We Covered

As a wrap up activity students pair up with a learning partner, discuss and summarize from what we read and heard during today's lesson how complex characters develop over the course of the play interact with other characters, and develop the theme of Romeo and Juliet as required in standard RL.9-10.3.