Romeo and Juliet in the Adolescent Classroom

So we’ve all read Romeo and Juliet in middle or high school. Thinking back would you do without it? Did you love it? How did it affect you? During one of my recent fieldwork observations I encounted these questions, and it reminded me how important this work of Shakespeare is. I was a freshman in high school when I read it, and it completely overturned my perspective on reading literature (a class I got an A+ in). After having read the book my 9th grade ELA teacher showed the class the 1997 film version of Romeo and Juliet and I think that’s what did it, boom, mind exploded. It made it more visual, relevant, fun and exciting. The teacher I am presently observing did the same, and I believe it had the same affect. And I have officially vowed to do the same. I am curious about what others think.

MM

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2 thoughts on “Romeo and Juliet in the Adolescent Classroom

  1. MM,
    The first time I read Romeo and Juliet was in 6th grade and I couldn’t get beyond Shakespeare’s complex language. It was my introduction to Shakespeare and I didn’t love him because I thought he was difficult. But my teacher Mr. Conti was passionate about this play and my parents had all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems in their library, so Romeo and Juliet was not easily forgotten. I went to three different high schools and we read Romeo and Juliet at each one! Then at Hunter College we read Romeo and Juliet in my Intro to Theatre class and again in my Freshman English class. By the time I was a Junior in college I was an English major and chose a Shakespeare survey class as an elective because I had been exposed to Shakespeare enough times that I began to love him and see the magic of his words. We read Romeo and Juliet in that class as well. Now I love Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorites. It is also one of the most accessible Shakespeare plays and one that teenagers can relate to more easily than King Henry III or Titus Andronicus. There are also many Romeo and Juliet graphic novels available now. If I were to teach Shakespeare in a middle school classroom, I would seriously consider going the graphic novel route. Check out the one illustrated by Gareth Hinds. He employs a multiracial cast, his artwork is influenced by European comic books and the action scenes are done in manga-style. The NYC DOE has a common core aligned guide here.

    ~ Naptharoe

  2. MM,
    As an English teacher I see the value of teaching Shakespeare. I feel that his plays encompass so many important literary structures that can be taught in the classroom. These are especially helpful to students preparing for the English Regents. I have helped students formulate essays based on literary elements that are present in all of Shakespeare’s plays, in order to prepare for the exam. But not for the sake of test prep alone, considering the importance of Shakespeare’s contribution to the English language, I see the necessity in exposing students to his work. When talking about “Romeo and Juliet” in particular, I think that having students read the play in the 9th grade will not only help their comprehension through the clear plot structure and literary elements and devices, but through the story itself. It is a story that has something for everyone. Love, passion, fighting, rivalry, fate, youth, and coming of age: all topics of interest for adolescent readers. The language can be daunting for some students, but careful planning, and scaffolding can enable students to truly enjoy the story. I have heard many teachers say that they would rather steer clear of Shakespeare, since they find that they are always met with negative responses from students when they are informed they will be reading the works of the author, but I think this to be the wrong approach. I truly do see the value and importance of not excluding these plays from our curriculum. I completely agree that having a visual interpretation of the story helps immensely since most of our students nowadays receive so much of their information from watching movies, videos, and seeing images online. Most of Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted to film, and many in modern films, placing the story in modern day. There is an excellent film version of “Romeo and Juliet” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The language is that of the original play, but the characters are placed in modern day society, using guns and driving cars. I thought this was such a clever way or marrying the original to the present day, and allowing students to visualize the situations in ways that they can understand and enjoy.

    AH

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