Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet": 'You Kiss by the Book'

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet presents "star-cross'd" lovers whose plight has become the subject of many of today's novels, plays, films, and television dramas. Explore with your students the techniques that Shakespeare uses to capture the magic of the couple's first meeting and to make that meeting so memorable. This lesson plan complements the study of plot and characterization in Romeo and Juliet in its focus on lyrical form and convention that heighten the impact of the action on the stage. Students look first at the sonnet in which Romeo and Juliet meet, analyzing the imagery to gain insight into the way Shakespeare's use of love sonnet conventions characterizes the moment and the relationship between the lovers. Then students act the passage to notice Shakespeare's stage managing of this moment and to consider what perspective his making the lovers almost literally "kiss by the book" lends to our perception of their characters. Finally, students enact the scene in which this moment occurs in order to notice how Shakespeare's juxtaposition of poetic forms, ranging from the almost-prose of Capulet and the Nurse to the melodramatic style of Tybalt, further highlights the sonnet of the lovers. To conclude, students work in groups to find and examine similar moments in the play (e.g., the balcony scene or the tomb scene) where Shakespeare spotlights the action through lyric form and at the same time invites us to explore and question the idealization of lyric conventions by having the characters act out these conceits on stage.

Guiding Questions

How does Shakespeare's use of different lyric forms and conventions heighten the action in Romeo and Juliet?

How do these lyric forms and conventions differentiate and strengthen characterization in Romeo and Juliet?

Learning Objectives

Recognize and understand Shakespeare's use of poetic conventions as a principle of dramatic structure in Romeo and Juliet

Recount and explain the first meeting between Romeo and Juliet as an enactment of figurative language in a context of competing poetic styles

Identify and explain the use of poetic forms to impart perspective in later episodes of the play

Examine other Shakespearean plays, using close reading techniques, including analysis of verse structure and imagery