Romeo and Juliet is one of William Shakespeare's best-known plays and a particular benefit of this resource is that it is widely available in schools, as the text is copyright free. Most schools also are already in possession of different media versions of the play such as Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann's film versions.
The play famously deals with how two families take part in a long-standing vendetta, a vendetta which the families can no longer remember the cause. When the two teenagers from the families fall in love, they are helped to marry in secret by an advisor who believes this will help resolve the conflict. The tragedy that ensues comes from a combination of the power of the vendetta and the selfish and violent behaviour of family members. At the end of the play, the families accept their foolishness and prejudice and the need for forgiveness.
As the play is set in the past it is safely distanced from contemporary conflicts but the themes within it are absolutely relevant to modern-day society as it shows how intolerance, extreme attitudes and behaviour leads to tragedy at a simply, human level. It is especially apposite to secondary school as the hero and heroine are teenagers whose parents try to control and direct their lives and who come from different social groups, or 'gangs'. This concept of 'family' and 'social tribes and gangs' (refer to weblinks below) is a particularly relevant way of engaging young people about the conflicts and issues that are relevant to them today.
Teachers can select their appropriate media version of the play or combination of text and image to introduce the study to their students. The whole text does not need to be studied, rather a lesson or series of lessons focusing on identity, prejudice, intolerance, conflict and the nature of extreme violence will be more powerful by focusing on a single character or scene:
Through this resource, teachers will be able to stimulate discussions amongst their class that are constructive and relevant and enable students to consider how they would rewrite scenes within the play, so to avoid such a tragic ending.
- An example of a character would be Tybalt who is obsessed with family pride and reputation and is determined always to fight and never back down.
- An example of a scene would include the opening, which moves from a couple of servants being cheeky to each other to a full scale riot only brought to an end by the intervention of The Prince
- Or, the fight scene between Tybalt and Mercutio and then Romeo and Tybalt, ending in two pointless deaths.