Romeo and Juliet Activities: Language (KS4)

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Here you can find resources designed around the 2019 Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank production of Romeo and Juliet. Created for young people, students are able to follow along with the production online on the Globe's dedicated Romeo and Juliet microsite.

If students are new to the play, we suggest you start with these introductory Key Stage 3 Lesson Plans. If you would like to teach the play in greater detail, we recommend you use the advanced activities which can be found in the Key Stage 4 or Key Stage 5 areas.

We will be updating this section week by week, so be sure to check back for more activities soon. 

Read the article, 'Love and Hate in Romeo and Juliet', by Chris Nayak. Chris highlights two major speeches in which the title characters express themselves using oxymora. Let's look at these in more detail.

Divide a page in half and create a table with two headings: Romeo and Juliet.

Start with Romeo's speech in Act 1, Scene 1, lines 168-174. List all the oxymora that he uses. At this point in the play, who is Romeo talking about? What is causing Romeo to feel this way?  Add this explanation underneath your list. Annotate the oxymora with all the connotations you can think of linked to each word.

Now look at Juliet's speech in Act 3, Scene 2, lines 73-85. List all the oxymora that she uses.

Who is Juliet talking about here? At this point in the play, what two types of love that Julier feels are in conflict? Given the previous question, why is this significant? What do these oxymora suggest about the intensity of Juliet's feelings? Add this explanation underneath your list. Annotate the oxymora with all the connotations you can think of linked to each word.

Now that you have your lists, explanations and annotations, compare Romeo and Juliet's use of oxymora. Are there any patterns to each of them? (Hint: look at light and darkness, religious images, nature) Whose oxymora are more effective at conveying their conflicted emotions (i.e. which creates a stronger impression on you)? Why?

Return to Chris’ article, and consider: without the hate in the play, would Romeo and Juliet love each other as much? Make references to the structure of the play to support your ideas.

Finally, consider: what is the relationship between the intensity of the desire and not being able to fulfil it?

Find the Week 1 blog by the assistant director of the play Natasha Rickman. In the blog, Natasha mentions the different uses of verse and prose. She references Romeo and Juliet's use of verse when they speak, and Mercutio's use of prose when displaying bravado. However, she also mentions that Mercutio switches between verse and prose depending on the situation. Romeo also switches between verse and prose, and we'll shortly examine this further.

First, in pairs, discuss situations where you change the way you speak in order to 'fit' the situation. Create two thought bubbles with Informal and Formal in the centre. Around each, write down things that influence when you would use that type of speech, for example: particular people, locations, situations.

Now let's look at how Romeo changes his speech, and think about what Shakespeare might be trying to suggest about his character.

Look at:

  • Romeo and Mercutio in Act 2, Scene 4, from ‘Come between us, good Benvolio’ to ‘now art thou Romeo’.
  • Romeo and Juliet in Act 2, Scene 2, from ‘My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself’ to ‘Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love’.

For each, complete the following tasks:

  • Read the exchanges aloud several times each, taking it in turns to be Romeo, and experimenting with saying it in different moods (jolly, sincere, timid, playfully, etc.).
  • What mood seems to best 'fit' the language? Try to pick out words or phrases to support your view.
  • Using Natasha's explanation of verse and prose, identify which is an example of verse and which is prose. Make sure you can explain or justify why you think this (for example, can you underline the stresses in the verse?).
  • Compare the mood you picked, and the form of language used. What do you notice?

Think back to i) Natasha's blog, and what she said about when characters are likely to use verse and prose, and ii) your thought bubbles around your uses of 'formal' and 'informal' language. Why might Romeo have used verse in one situation, and prose in the other? What is Shakespeare telling us about Romeo's character through his selection of prose or verse?

Find the Week 3 blog by the assistant director of the play Natasha Rickman. In her Tuesday blog entry, Natasha outlines how the cast have been working on Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech, in Act 1 Scene 4 of the play.

Find the questions that director Michael poses about this speech within the blog, and show/write them onto the board, explaining that the activities that follow will help to explore these.

Before beginning, remind students what the context for this speech is: Mercutio, Romeo and friends are on their way to the Capulet ball, when Romeo tells his friends his lovesickness means he is not in the mood to dance at the party. Furthermore, he says he has ‘dreamt a dream’ that it wasn’t a good idea to go. The Queen Mab speech is Mercutio’s response to this.

This first activity is focused on supporting students to break down and understand some of the complex imagery that Shakespeare includes. Provide students with the whole speech except the final four lines, and dictionaries/access to the internet to look up unfamiliar words. The whole class should undertake Stages 1 - 3, which involves splitting the speech up into segments. Ask students to:

1) Draw the picture that Mercutio paints of Queen Mab, from ‘She is the fairies’ midwife...’ to ‘...the fairies’ coachmakers’. Annotate this with quotations to help make the link between what you are picturing and the words Shakespeare has used.
2) Next, draw the effect Mab has on each of the people Mercutio mentions, from ‘And in this state...’ to ‘And sleeps again.’ [NB: To scaffold this further, you might want to provide the occupations (and short definitions of any of these as needed): lovers, courtiers (mentioned twice), lawyers, ladies, a parson, a soldier.] Again, you should annotate your drawings with quotations.
3) Draw what two deeds Mab performs, looking at ‘This is that very Mab...’ to ‘much misfortune bodes.’ [NB: When students reach this section, you could support them by having them read ‘bakes’ as ‘hardens’ and ‘elf-locks’ as ‘tangles’.]

Ask students to work in groups to create freeze-frames of each of these images. The group from the drawing in 1 will need to be a larger group due to its complexity, whereas the groups for the drawings in 2 and 3 could comprise between 2 - 4 students each.

Have students share each of their freeze-frames in the same order as the speech. As each group shares, the rest of the students should make notes on the following questions:

- Without looking at the script, which key words from the speech can you identify in the freeze-frame? Why do these stand out?
- How does the image make you feel? Is it more positive or negative than the image before?

After everyone has shared their freeze-frame, ask students to think-pair share on how the speech changes as it progresses. They should use their notes on key words that stood out, plus how each section made them feel, to support their thinking. Draw out that:

i) Mab starts as tiny, fairy-like and is described in detail, but becomes a larger than life presence, mischievous and invisible (i.e. un-describable);
ii) the dreams all have something negative about them - they are all selfish, and the fact they are dreams suggest they cannot come true.

Explain that there is a final image of the speech, and ask students to predict what it might tell us about Queen Mab, i.e. will it be something positive or negative, based on the ‘journey’ of the speech so far? What do they think it might reference?

Explain that these final lines contains a troubling image, that you will explore together as a class. Reveal the final four lines:

‘This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage.
This is she-’

Ask students to reflect individually for 30 seconds on their reaction to this final image. Provide prompts such as: What do you think Mercutio is saying about Queen Mab here? What atmosphere is created by this image? Don’t take feedback at this stage.

Have students read aloud the first two lines, hitting their script on any words that particularly stand out. Repeat this several times, then ask for feedback on which words they were ‘hitting’, and why this might be so. Use this as an opportunity to ask what certain words/phrases mean, e.g.: if they were hitting on ‘presses’, what does this word mean? What connotations does it have? What does it mean if you are ‘pressing someone into doing something’? What is Queen Mab ‘pressing’ maids into doing? Etcetera. Draw attention to the plosive nature of presses, backs and bear if they were hitting on these, making the link to the aggressive nature of what is being described. Now, return to the previous questions, asking students to think-pair-share: What do you think Mercutio is saying about Queen Mab here? What atmosphere is created by this image?

Next, ask students to look at how Romeo and Benvolio react. In pairs, how would they summarise each reaction in a sentence? Have students write these reactions on post-it notes and place them on the board; read out a selection of Benvolios, then a selection of Romeos.

Extend the Romeo reaction by asking: If Mab is responsible for filling people’s heads with unrealistic dreams - but dreams that contain their biggest desires - then what does this say about Romeo’s dream of ‘true love’? Why is it significant that the scene in which ‘Queen Mab hath been with [Romeo]’ is placed directly before the scene in which Romeo meets Juliet?

Finally, ask students to return to Michael’s questions from the blog. Working in groups of four, have students discuss these questions. Take whole class feedback on these, referring back to the points made by Natasha in the blog about how the speech and imagery builds, and how it becomes more sinister.


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