Analyzing How Shakespeare's Structural Choices Create Mystery and Suspense

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SWBAT analyze how Shakespeare's choices concerning how to structure the play, and order events within it create mystery and suspense, and its impact on themes by using a plot diagram and citing specific textual clues/evidence.

Big Idea

Suspense, Mystery, Love, and Violence...Shakespeare does it all!


10 minutes

Once again I want to remind you  that the goal of this unit is not reading the play chronologically because my students have a sense of the events from last years ELA 9 class.  Instead we looking at this text in a different way.  I want to give my students the opportunity to look deeper into the meaning of the dialogue and analyze how Shakespeare was the master of drama. I want them to understand how literary devices he used created suspense, mystery, and tragedy. In this lesson I do review the plot or sequence of events because some of my students seem to comfortable with saying, "Romeo and Juliet couldn't be together so they committed suicide."  I want them to analyze how the author's choices concerning how to structure this text and order events create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise as required in standard RL.9-10.5.

I project on the screen with a docucamera the full title of the 1599 version of the play:  

The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

I ask students to use the dictionary on their desks to look up the word "Lamentable" and then write a few sentences expressing their opinion of this original title of Romeo and Juliet RL.9-10.4.  Do they think it is an accurate description of the play?  Why?

I facilitate a discussion on the play's title and students' opinions on its accuracy in describing the play.

Building Knowledge

30 minutes

I explain that we will be analyzing the sequence of the events versus simply reviewing or learning them.  For a quick review of the events I first ask them to watch the remainder of the BBC annotated video.  I start where I left off during the previous days lesson, 6:54.

After viewing the video students take out their journals and pair up to discuss and write what events occurred in the beginning of the play or during the initial situation?  I then call on a few students to share their answer with the class.

In this activity I want them to understand the structural choices Shakespeare makes which create such effects as mystery, tension and surprise RL.9-10.5.  Points that need to be made include the opening public brawl, the announcement by the Prince, the conversation with Romeo and Juliet's proposal from Paris. 

Students repeat this process spending a few minutes discussing each of these titles that I have written on my white board:

  • Conflict at Party (Forbidden Love)
  • Isn't Marriage Wonderful?
  • Banished
  • The Plan
  • Faked Death
  • Conclusion

After discussing the Conclusion, I reiterate that the families decide that maybe this whole thing has gone on long enough and decide to be friends.  I then ask if they think this is a happy ending?  If so why or why not?

Student Learning Activity: Analyze Structure

15 minutes

Most students have nearly completed filling in their Plot Diagrams which they started earlier in this unit.  Completing their Plot Diagrams will help students to reflect on the build up to the tragic conclusion.  It will permit them to visually understand the sequence of events and the effects they have of the plays themes, and suspenseful ending.  Students take out their Plot Diagram. I ask them to work with a partner or individually to complete their Plot Diagrams using the information that we just discussed and that they wrote in their journals.  

I circulate among them and check for understanding as well as keep the momentum until they are finished by clarifying the sequence of events being aware of the Mystery and Suspense they create. To check for understanding, as they complete their diagrams, I ask students to highlight any parts of the diagram that show how the structure creates a sense of mystery and then repeat this process for evidence of suspense  RL.9-10.5


Student learning Activity: Finding Evidence to Support Theme

10 minutes

Next I display the themes we discussed in class on a screen and explain that they will choose one theme and find an example illustrating the theme by writing a dialogue and summary in their journals RL.9-10.2.

I model this task by using the theme of  Violence from Passion/Love. I ask students to turn to Act 3, Scene 3, on page 2 and display the quote:

They are free men, but I am banishèd.
And sayst thou yet that exile is not death?
Hadst thou no poison mixed, no sharp-ground knife,
No sudden mean of death, though ne'er so mean,
But “banishèd” to kill me?—“Banishèd”!

I explain that this is an example of the theme of love and violence because it describes Romeo asking for a knife or poison in Friar Lawrence’s cell and threatens to kill himself after he has been told he's banished from Verona and his love, Juliet. 

Students then select a theme and work individually or with a partner to find evidence, RL.9-10.1, that exemplifies their chosen themes.  

Themes students chose included: Violence from Love/Passion and Individual versus Society.  I circulate among the class assisting with locating evidence that supports their chosen theme.  As a scaffold for finding the evidence, I also put pages of scenes on the board that they can go to to find evidence of a particular theme, e.g. For the theme Violence from Love I write (Act 3, Scene 5) and write "conversation with Juliet" on the board for after Capulet decides that Juliet will marry Paris, Juliet says, “If all else fail, myself have power to die.” 

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Report Out

I ask students to share their themes, quotes, and summaries with a partner after which I ask one or two students to share theirs with the class.  As they report out I ask them how the structure of events created mystery and surprise? (SL.9-10.1 and RL.9-10.5)

For example, the first student's answer included the use of foreshadowing.  She said there was suspense in that the reader is meant to think that something terrible might happen when the Friar is speaking of the power of plants because he says that the plant has several powers. Plants can be medicinal, and they can be poisonous.

A second student's gave an example of the tragic ending of two lovers who were not able to express their love in public.