In this lesson, our instructor Rebekah Hendershot teaches the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet. Youll learn the complete background of the play, the setting, and the characters. Rebekah goes over each character in detail, including Romeo, Juliet, their Capulet and Montague families, and everyone in between. Youll learn each element of the plot from the first brawl to the final tomb. Themes, major passages, and essay topic jumping-off points are also discussed. The lesson concludes with a few secrets to make understanding Shakespeare a lot easier.
This lesson will teach you how to read and understand a play by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
Written 1591 – 1595
Based on an Italian romance, which Shakespeare expanded by adding supporting characters (Mercutio, Paris)
First published in 1597
One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays throughout his lifetime
Verona and Mantua
Powerful Renaissance princes and wealthy families
Romeo—Young lover, member of the house of Montague
Montague—Romeo’s father and the leader of the family
Benvolio—Romeo’s cousin and friend
Prince Escalus—Prince of Verona
Count Paris—a kinsman of Prince Escalus
Mercutio—Kinsman of Escalus, friend of Romeo
Juliet—Young lover and only daughter of the Capulets
Capulet—Juliet’s father and the head of the house of Capulet
Rosaline—Lord Capulet’s niece, beloved of Romeo (at the beginning of the story)
Nurse—Juliet’s attendant and confidante
Friar Laurence—A Franciscan friar, would-be peacemaker, and Romeo’s confidante
Montagues vs. Capulets
The Prince’s ruling: peace or death
Paris asks to wed Juliet
Romeo, Rosaline, Benvolio, and Mercutio
Tybalt spots Romeo
Romeo and Juliet meet
The balcony scene
Lots and lots of fighting
Tybalt kills Mercutio
Romeo kills Tybalt
Escalus exiles Romeo
Lots and lots of angst
Juliet is conflicted
Romeo tries to stab himself
Romeo flees to Mantua
Capulet arranges a wedding
Friar Laurence’s plan
Juliet drinks the potion
Friar John goes astray
Romeo kills Paris
Romeo poisons himself
Juliet stabs herself
Everyone arrives too late
Reconciliation also comes too late
Love—good, bad, and crazy
Fate and chance
Light and dark
“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun …”
-Act II, Scene 1, 44-64
“O Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo? …”
-Act II, Scene 1, 74-78
“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life, Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife …”
“O, I am fortune’s fool! …”
“Then I defy you, stars.…”
-P 5-8; II.1.131; V.1.124
How does Shakespeare play with the idea of love within this play? Is it a good thing? A bad thing?
How does Shakespeare explore the idea of fate? Are Romeo and Juliet truly fated to die?
How does Shakespeare assign blame for the deaths in the play?
How does the metaphor of light and darkness play out over the course of the play?
Is Romeo and Juliet a tragedy or a dark comedy? How does it follow the usual rules of tragedy? How does it mock traditional romances?
Why does Shakespeare never explain the source of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets?
How does the story of Romeo and Juliet translate to other contexts? (See West Side Story, Romeo + Juliet, High School Musical, Shakespeare in Love, Romeo X Juliet) What changes? What stays the same?
The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare
Watch it performed (or on film if you can’t get to a theatrical production). All of Shakespeare makes more sense when it’s spoken by actors who have lived his words and know, bone-deep, what he’s talking about. Never underestimate the power of performance. Remember that this is how Shakespeare meant his work to be seen …
Romeo and Juliet
Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.
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