Romeo & Juliet: Themes KS4/5

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In these lessons, students will engage with the themes and ideas at the heart of the text, including family, secrecy and time. Tasks include: a close analysis of time in Juliet's 'Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds' soliloquy; an exploration of foreshadowing in the play; and a list of practice exam questions with an emphasis on themes and motifs.

In order to benefit fully from these lesson plans, we recommend you use them in the following order:

If you would like to teach the play in greater detail, use these advanced KS4/5 Lesson Plans. If students are new to the play, we suggest you start with the introductory KS3 Lesson Plans

These lesson plans are available in the Downloads section at the bottom of this page. To download resources, you must be logged in. Sign up for free to access this and other exclusive featuresActivities mentioned in these resources are available in a separate downloadable 'Student Booklet', also at the bottom of this page. The 'Teachers' Guide' download explains how best to use Teach Shakespeare and also contains a bibliography and appendices referencing the resources used throughout.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I identify why the themes of truth and secrecy in Romeo and Juliet are important and pick out examples from throughout the text?

Key words: clandestine, concealment, hot-seating, mindmap, questions, secrecy, theme, truth


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Students should come up with three examples of when someone or something in the play is disguised, hidden, done in secret, kept a secret, etc. You could take feedback and build a mindmap on the board that students could copy into their Student Booklet. An additional/homework task could be to add textual references.


Prologue: Opening Discussion

1) Hot-seating

Suggest to students that in contrast to the themes of secrecy and concealment, Romeo and Juliet is also a play in which the main characters speak ‘truthfully’ to each other from the outset, risking everything to be ‘true’ to their word. Prepare questions for Romeo and Juliet in groups, and then ask two students to ‘take the hotseat’ and answer the questions that are put to them. Lines of questioning could include:

  • who they trust and why
  • where, when and with whom they can’t be entirely truthful, and why
  • how they can be sure of their feelings after such a short time


2) Keeping track of themes

Students should use the mindmap from the ‘Prologue’ activity to help them track the themes of truth and secrecy in the play. Students could be divided into five groups, each taking one act from the play that they should read through carefully, looking for evidence before reporting back. Students could also prepare a sheet of evidence that can be made accessible to all their classmates as a revision aid. Students should aim to keep quotations short (under 10 words), and write a brief commentary about how their quotation links to the overall theme. They should repeat this exercise for the play’s other themes on the appropriate pages of the Student Booklet.



3) Interpreting and staging key scenes

Assign to groups the task of staging Act 4 Scene 5. Make notes around the scene in the Student Booklet that reflect the importance of these themes in the scene. Try to make links to other parts of the play by cross-referencing.


Exeunt: Closing Discussion

Why are truth and secrecy important themes in the play?

How would I describe the development of these themes throughout the play?

How do these themes link to the other major themes in Romeo and Juliet that I have studied?


Suggested plenary activity…

Everyone in the class picks out three key moments that they think are particularly important to bear in mind when thinking about the themes of truth and secrecy. Compare findings.


Aside: Further Resource

  • Courts wanted to make sure that all marriages were legal, so they punished priests who performed weddings under irregular circumstances. Other people, including the parents, could challenge a marriage that they did not think was lawful, and have it declared void. All three could be forced to pay a fine or serve public penance for their actions.


Epilogue: Teacher’s Note

Further materials relating to this theme in Romeo and Juliet can be found in the Key Stage 3 materials under Characters, Themes and Language, and in the Key Stage 4 materials under Text in Performance.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I identify why the theme of family is important and pick out examples from throughout the text?

Can I explain the importance of these examples by placing them in the context of the play as a whole?

Can I track the overall development of this theme?

Key words: dowry, family, gender, hierarchy, honour, relationship, status, theme


Prologue: Opening Discussion

This drama game is taken from Jessica Swale’s book. One student is the wolf, one the sheep and the rest of the class hold hands and create a protective ‘fold’, who must move as one to protect the sheep in their care. Students could take it in turns to be ‘wolf’ and ‘sheep’, and then discuss who in the play acts like a wolf, like a sheep, or as part of a protective ‘fold’.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Family portraits

This activity can be done in two ways: as a quickfire snapshot activity, or by photographing and framing pictures that students take in class of their tableaux. They could even make use of props, clothing and backdrops. Students need to sculpt and position themselves and each other to produce portraits of the two families/households. How would the portraits change as the play moves on?


2) Exploring key scenes

Students should choose or be allocated one of the following scenes:

  • Act 1 Scene 2 lines 1-43
  • Act 1 Scene 3
  • Act 3 Scene 5 lines 64-204
  • Act 4 Scene 2 & Act 4 Scene 3

Students should prepare a reading of this scene for the rest of the class. As they rehearse the scene, they should discuss what it shows us about the relationship between Juliet and her parents, recording their ideas about these relationships in the Student Booklet.



3) Close analysis

Students could closely examine Act 3, Scene 4, lines 1-21, and make annotations in the Student Booklet.

Enter old Capulet, his wife and Paris.

CAPULET:     Things have fallen out, sir, so unluckily,
That we have had no time to move our daughter.
Look you, she loved her kinsman Tybalt dearly,
And so did I.  Well, we were born to die.
‘Tis very late; she’ll not come down tonight.
I promise you, but for your company
I would have been abed an hour ago.

PARIS:            These times of woe afford no time to woo.
Madam, good night; commend me to your daughter.

I will, and know her mind early tomorrow.
Tonight she’s mewed up to her heaviness.
Paris offers to go in and Capulet calls him again.

CAPULET:       Sir Paris, I will make a desperate tender
Of my child’s love. I think she will be ruled
In all respects by me; nay, more, I doubt it not.
Wife, go you to her ere you go to bed,
Acquaint her here of my son Paris’ love,
And bid her, mark you me, on Wednesday next –
But soft, what day is this?

PARIS:              Monday, my lord.

CAPULET:       Monday! Ha, ha. Wednesday is too soon.
A’ Thursday let it be, a’Thursday, tell her,
She shall be married to this noble earl.


  • Capulet’s attitude towards his daughter
  • Capulet’s attitude towards his daughter’s suitor
  • what this suggests to us about attitudes to women and how marriages were arranged at this time (family pride and honour, dowries, etc.)


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

Why is family an important theme in the play?

How does the theme of the family connect to some of the other major themes in Romeo and Juliet?

How do the scenes between Lord and Lady Capulet and Juliet help us to understand their relationship?


Suggested plenary activity…

The class could discuss the following questions:

  • How important is the ‘generation gap’ in this play?
  • How does Shakespeare establish a contrast between the attitudes and emotions of the older and younger characters?
  • How have any productions or adaptations you have seen made use of the idea of inter-generational conflict?


Asides: Further Resources

  • Students could compare the relationship between Juliet and her father with other plays by Shakespeare that explore this relationship. Examples of a controlling father and a spirited and determined daughter include the relationships in The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venice.


  • In Shakespeare’s time, women typically married at age 24-26. Men usually waited until age 27-29. Many men had to finish an apprenticeship and save money to set up a home. Because people were encouraged to marry someone from the same social class, children of wealthy people had fewer suitable choices. A woman’s father would negotiate a marriage contract for her saying how much he would give as a dowry (money or property given to her husband on the wedding day).



Epilogue: Teacher’s Note

Further resources about Juliet and her family can be found in the Key Stage 3 materials under Characters.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I identify why the themes of age and time are important in the play and pick out examples from throughout the text?

Key words: age, chronology, haste, soliloquy, structure, theme, time, timeline, tragedy, urgency, youth


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Ask students to open the play text at a random page and to scour the dialogue on that page for a reference to time, however brief. Share findings as a class.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) A Romeo and Juliet timeline

The events in the play take place over a period of days rather than months (as per Shakespeare’s source material). Create a timeline of events, including quotations and pictures for the Student Booklet. How do problems with timing and the sequence of events lead to the play’s tragic outcome?


2)  Exploring key scenes

Students should choose or be allocated one of the following scenes:

  • Act 2 Scene 6
  • Act 3 Scene 5
  • Act 4 Scene 1
  • Act 5 Scene 2

Students should prepare a reading of their scene for the rest of the class. As they rehearse the scene, they should notice references to the importance of time and how this might be reflected in their performance, e.g. are the characters in a hurry, agitated, lazy, relaxed, anxious? They should add stage directions for the actors and any other ideas they have about creating a particular mood in relation to time. For example, how might music be used to create a mood of haste or urgency?



3) Close analysis

Students could closely examine Juliet’s soliloquy from the beginning of Act 3 Scene 2, and make annotations in the Student Booklet. Before reading, students should recap what has happened directly before this scene and add this to their notes.

Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phoebus’ lodging. Such a wagoner
As Phaeton would whip you to the west
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
Spread thy close-curtain, love-performing night,}
That runaways’ eyes may wink, and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalked of and unseen.
Lovers can see to do their amorous rite
By their own beauties; or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night. Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.
Hood my unmanned blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle, till strange love grow blood,
Think true love acted simple modesty.
Come, night, come, Romeo, come, thou day in night,
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow upon a raven’s back.
Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-browed night,
Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
O, I have bought the mansion of a love
But not possessed it, and though I am sold,
Not yet enjoyed. So tedious is this day
As is the night before some festival
To an impatient child that hath new robes
And may not wear them.

Ask students what happens next in this scene and to add this information to their annotations. Discuss the idea of dramatic irony in relation to this scene and to a particular staging of it.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

Why is time an important theme in the play?

How does the theme of time connect to some of the other major themes in Romeo and Juliet?

What is the dramatic effect of events following on so closely from one another?


Suggested plenary activity…

The Montagues and Capulets had a long history of feuding, however, a ‘glooming peace’ is reached between them following the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Read the very end of the play again, i.e. Act 5, Scene 3, line 291 onwards. What is said about the future?


Aside: Further Resource

  • Shakespeare reduces Juliet’s age from sixteen in Brooke’s version to only thirteen in the play, and she is due to be fourteen in just over a fortnight. Students could think about the symbolism of these numbers – the unlucky connotations of thirteen and the association of the number fourteen with the sonnet form, used so much in this play. Students could also place these ages in their historical and social context. What is Lord Capulet’s view of her age in relation to getting married? When did Juliet’s mother marry and become a mother?


Epilogue: Teacher’s Note

Students could compare the endings of several Shakespeare plays, e.g. A Winter’s Tale, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet. How are the past events of the play summarised in the closing lines? What is said about the future? 

Key Questions for Students:

Can I identify why the themes of fate and death are important, and pick out examples from throughout the text?

Can I reflect on what makes Romeo and Juliet a tragedy, and who or what is to blame for the protagonists’ untimely deaths?

Key words: comedy, death, fate, foreshadowing, genre, outcome, responsibility, theme, tragedy


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Ask students what they understand by the terms ‘comedy’ and ‘tragedy’. Now read the following extract of criticism by John Wain:

"Characteristically, those comedies concern themselves with the inborn, unargued stupidity of older people and the life-affirming gaiety and resourcefulness of young ones. The lovers thread their way through obstacles set up by middle aged vanity and impercipience. Parents are stupid and do not know what it best for their children or themselves . . . [Romeo and Juliet] begins with the materials for a comedy - the stupid parental generation, the instant attraction of the young lovers, the quick surface life of street fights, masked balls and comic servants.”

You could lead a discussion as to whether Romeo and Juliet should be viewed as a tragedy or not. Students should consider:

  • the play’s plot and structure
  • Shakespeare’s characterisation of the two lovers
  • the role of fate or destiny

How much does the play have in common with Shakespearean comedies?


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Foreshadowing

As a class, look for places in the text where a tragic outcome is foreshadowed, e.g.:

  • The Prologue: ‘A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life’
  • Romeo’s dream and his misgivings in Act 1 Scene 4: ‘Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars,/Shall bitterly begin his fearful date/With this night’s revels’
  • Juliet’s comment ‘If he be married/My grave is like to be my wedding bed’ in Act 1 Scene 5

Students should mark such moments in their own play text. Ask students to consider the following questions:

  • What kinds of words and motifs recur in the play to give these tragic hints?
  • What do these references tell us about the characters’ belief in fate or destiny?


2) Police investigation

Students are to imagine that the police chief of Verona is conducting an investigation into what caused the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Students need to write the police chief’s report using textual evidence to support each point. The purpose of the report is to establish to what extent Romeo and Juliet are responsible for their own deaths.

  • Paragraph 1 would provide evidence to prove that Romeo and Juliet are responsible for their own deaths
  • Paragraph 2 would provide evidence of other important factors that led to their deaths
  • Paragraph 3 would give the police chief’s verdict on who or what is responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.



3) Essay task in exam conditions

This writing task is designed to be undertaken in exam conditions. Before they begin, students should be encouraged to:

  • identify the key words in the question
  • think of suitable examples and find evidence from the passage and from the play as a whole
  • write a plan of their ideas and how they will structure their answer

Exam style question:

  • To what extent do you agree with the critic John Wain that Romeo and Juliet is “essentially a comedy that turns out tragically”?



Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

Why is death an important theme in the play?

How would I describe the development of this theme throughout the play?

How does this theme link to the other major themes in Romeo and Juliet that I have studied?


Suggested plenary activity…

Everyone in the class picks out three key moments that they think are particularly important to bear in mind when thinking about fate and death. Compare findings.


Asides: Further Resources

  • Students could stage a series of interviews as part of the police investigation.


  • Ask students to consider how many characters die in Romeo and Juliet, at which point in the play, and whether the deaths occur on or off stage. Students will find a gruesome top five of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays in the blog post ‘Shakespearean tragedies by body count’ at


  • The critic A. C. Bradley did not consider Romeo and Juliet to be the equal of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies and leaves the play out of his book Shakespearean Tragedies entirely. Another critic Frank Kermode gives a different view when he says that in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare ‘called for new thinking about tragic experience, now less remote from ordinary life’.


Epilogue: Teacher’s Note

The creative writing task could be dual-assessed for reading and writing.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I write about the themes of the play in a connected and coherent way?

Can I demonstrate confidence in my handling of abstract ideas, but continue to show that my analysis is firmly grounded in the text?

Key words: abstract, analysis, coherent, issues, mood, symbolism, themes


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Students could be given an item and have a minute to prepare an explanation of how it relates to the play. The items can be chosen at random (e.g. a ball, pencil, a coat), as the idea of this activity is that it is a fun-thinking, skills warm up to the activity that follows.


1) Museum cabinet

Ask the class to imagine they have been asked to create a display about Romeo and Juliet for a new Shakespeare museum. They can only have five items for their display. Students should choose five items that they think convey the essence of the play, i.e. not just the plot, but the play’s overall mood and the ideas which the play makes audiences think about. Students could be given a list to choose from, e.g. dagger, vial of poison, mask, letter, sword, invitation, bed, herbs/drugs, tomb, wall, heart. They are welcome to add their own ideas as well. Their items do not even need to be mentioned in the play; students simply need to be able to justify their reasons convincingly. As an extension task, students could write captions for the museum with a word limit of 100 words per item.


2) Analysing themes in a passage

You could choose any passage from the play (a very short scene or passage of under a hundred lines from a scene) and model:

  • rereading and refamiliarising
  • identifying the key ideas and themes that arise from close analysis of the passage
  • making connections between these ideas and themes, e.g. between Romeo’s line ‘O I am fortune’s fool!’ in Act 3 Scene 1 and references to fate and fortune from elsewhere in the play, including the prologue and the final scene



Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What are the play’s key ideas, symbols and themes? Why?

How are these ideas connected in the text?


Suggested plenary activity…

As a revision exercise, students could open their play text at random and, after a few moments’ preparation, they should:

  • comment on what the scene is about
  • place it in context
  • draw out some of the themes and ideas that arise from it.

Listen to a few examples.


Aside: Further Resource

  • Students could use the card game mentioned in the Key Stage 3 materials, which generates different aspects of the text in a random way. Students can challenge themselves to make creative connections between them!


Epilogue: Teacher’s Note

The following learning sequence also supports students in making connections across a substantial text - the skill of cross-referencing.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I make cross-references, moving backwards and forwards within the text in order to demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the whole play?

Can I put this reading skill into practice in my own essay planning and drafting?

Key words: cross-references, essay, plan, success criteria, theme


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Encourage students to play a simple game that involves moving speedily around the text. Ask students (in pairs) to find, e.g.

  • the fifteenth word of Act 1 Scene 4, or
  • Juliet’s first line in Act 2 Scene 2 , or
  • the number of references to ‘love’ in the second Chorus
  • a rhyming couplet from Act 1 Scene 2

Give students a fixed amount of time (e.g. 3 minutes) to come up with as many search terms and to carry out as many successful searches as they can!


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Making connections

You should now develop the activity from the starter into one about making connections across the text. Show students on the whiteboard a brief extract from Act 3 Scene 1 lines 55-66 (also available in the Student Booklet). Then model:

  • finding within this text a short quotation which shows Tybalt’s angry and violent feelings towards Romeo
  • finding a quotation from another part of the play which shows Tybalt’s angry and violent feelings towards Romeo
  • a clear way to demonstrate the link between the two references within the play

Now give students more references to find from different places in the text, e.g.:

  • two or more places in the text where Mercutio is witty
  • two or more places where Romeo or Juliet speaks about loving their enemy
  • two or more places where a character is mourning another’s death


2) Task bank: themes and ideas

The following tasks can be used in the modelling of planning and drafting of written tasks, as well as for students’ more independently produced work for assessment:

  • Write about the importance of conflict and death in Romeo and Juliet.
  • To what extent are Romeo and Juliet in control of their destinies? What do you think Shakespeare is saying in Romeo and Juliet about fate and free will?
  • Romeo and Juliet is above all a play about youthful rebellion’. How far would you agree with this statement about the play?



Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

How do I annotate my text to show cross-references between different parts of the text? 

Why is this an important skill when writing about a substantial text?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students could prepare a plan in timed conditions for one of the tasks in ‘Task bank: themes and ideas’.


Aside: Further Resource

  • The tasks in the question banks can be used as the basis for devising further tasks to suit the needs of your own class, curriculum and syllabus.


Epilogue: Teacher’s Note

As homework/revision, students could attempt one or more of the writing tasks from the task bank.


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