Photo Credit: Original work by John Massey Wright. Posted on Wikipedia.

Romeo and Juliet For 9th Graders (and anyone else looking for a guide to the bard’s most famous play)

Why have so many people raved about Romeo and Juliet for 420 years? If you’re ready to find out, grab a hanky.

Step One: Before you begin reading, download an unabridged audio version of Romeo and Juliet so you can listen along as you read the play. You will find a free audio version here. Students in my class will be using the version narrated by Michael Sheen; this has been purchased for use in our class, but if you’d like to own a copy, you’ll find it available for purchase here.

Next, checkout a copy of our text, the 2006 Cambridge Edition of Romeo and Juliet, and bookmark the PBS website, Shakespeare Uncovered. This website has excellent information about many of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. We will watch the full episode of Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes.

Here is a Google doc you can copy and use to keep track of key points in the in the PBS introduction to Romeo and Juliet. This is a great place to begin.

Step Two: Begin exploring some of the world’s finest poetry with a look at Shakespeare’s sonnet form and and his use of iambic pentameter. You will encounter both of these classic Shakespearean devices in our play’s prologue.

Watch the short videos linked below. If you are a student in my class, you will also find these links in a work completion folder on our Schoology page.

Step Three: Perform your own version of the prologue to Romeo and Juliet and post your work on YouTube for Shakespeare lovers around the world to enjoy. (And for English teachers to find and use as examples in their classes.) Here is a copy of the assignment and grading standards.

Photo Credit: The Balcony Scene by Artist Ford Maddox Brown. Wikipedia

Step Four: Before you begin reading Act I, become familiar with the central themes of the play. The website, Schmoop, is an excellent resource for discovering themes, famous quotes, character descriptions, plot summaries, and much more. Bookmark this site so you can return to it.

We will be focusing on three central themes in Romeo and Juliet: love, fate, and culpability. As you read, be careful to notice passages that relate to these three themes and mark them. Here is a detailed description of the prompt questions you may be asked to address relating to each of these themes.

Step Five: Begin reading, but do so with all the support you can get. Your experience will be much richer than for many readers because you will listen to professional actors performing the lines as you read. After you finish each scene, you will also listen to commentary about the text’s poetry, historical context, and literary devices. Mr. Bruff’s analysis, free on YouTube, is an excellent resource. Mrs. Sperry’s summaries of each scene’s action will leave you no doubt about what actually happens in each scene. YouTube also has many film versions of key scenes in the play. Students in my class will have these available in work completion folders through Schoology. If you are NOT in my class, use the search tool to find the scenes you want to see. Comparing the different ways directors and actors have interpreted the characters and moments in this play will add layers of enjoyment to your experience. Here is one example of a scene comparison; this clips shows multiple versions of Act I, scene i.

If you are in my class right now, you will find all the above resources organized for you in folders on our Schoology page. After you finish each scene, don’t forget to participate in the class discussion on our Schoology page. Here are guidelines for our online discussions.

Have fun exploring one of the world’s most famous tragedies! This sounds like a paradox, but people have been laughing about, crying about, and thoroughly enjoying Romeo and Juliet for over four hundred years.

Warning: If the words of this play break your heart, Shakespeare may take up residence in the ruins. You could be a fan forever.