What is the point/benefit of studying Romeo and Juliet when the language is so difficult and it's a dumb love story where everyone dies at the end?

51 Answers

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Once you get out of elementary school, the higher grades involve study and more study. If you weren't studying Shakespeare you would be studying something else. Studying is learning to understand something you didn't understand before. It is exercising your mind. Not necessarily your memory. Teachers often assign Romeo and Juliet because it is a teenage love story, and they hope it will appeal to teenage boys and girls for that reason.

Romeo and Juliet may not be your last exposure to Shakespeare. If you go on to college you might get more Shakespeare thrown at you--like Hamlet and King Lear and Othello. And if you are an English major you might have to read all of Shakespeare from cover to cover over a couple of semesters. When you graduate from college you will probably get a job that will require you to use your brain--unless you want to spend your life delivering Budweiser beer. School prepares you to use your brain for the rest of your life. 

Young people are like Romeo and Juliet: they want everything, like, right now! They are impatient. They want to buzz through Shakespeare's play in a couple of hours, regurgitate what they can remember, and then forget about Shakespeare forever. But it really isn't all that hard to understand Shakespeare if you are willing to spend a little time. You can take a couple of lines at a time, such as:

O, Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

See how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!

Maybe studying Shakespeare can teach us patience. It can also teach us that we're not as dumb as we think we are. If we just take it slow and use the brain that took us this far in school and in life, we can understand Shakespeare. After all, it isn't Chaucer. And it isn't Latin. It's our own language. 

eNotes offers plenty of assistance with understanding Romeo and Juliet as well as many of Shakespeare's other plays. You can check the study guide for Summary, Themes, Characters, and other things. And there are many hundreds of questions answered by eNotes educators. 

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The point of teaching any literature is to know people.  The characters are people (just ask anyone who was angry for weeks after Snape killed Dumbledore) with motives and reasons for their actions.  From studying these situations--love, hate, envy, joy, gratitude, decision-making, and suffering through the decision-making process become part of who we are as individuals.

Shakespeare, more than any other author, is the universal God of unique characters, situations, and people from all walks of life.  He tells of paupers, kings and queens, and all those in between.  He speaks of love, incest, jealousy, mistaken identity, bad and good luck, ghosts, family relationships, ambition and its cost, pain, success, laughter, life and death.  There is something in every single play for every person if you can turn the students on to it. The way to do that is NOT to read it from the book, but to PLAY it. 

Who says you have to read the entire play in the original language?  Translate certain scenes, use modern translations, have the kids apply it to their own lives.  Then watch the film in the original after you've discussed the whole play.  They will get it.  It's beautiful. It's life.  Not to mention that Shakespeare and the Bible are the two sources most often quoted and referenced in other works...not to be versed in these two print sources is to miss out on so much meaning where they are referenced to make a point elsewhere.

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Michael Foster | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The point of teaching "Romeo and Juliet" itself (as representative of Shakespeare's plays) is that it deals with topics that are central and current to the lives of teenagers:  love, parents, friends.  This is why this play is usually the first one introduced to high school students.

 As for why teaching Shakespeare at all--because no work with the exception of the King James version of the Bible, has so enriched the English language.  I always point out some of the many prhases and words first coined by Shakespeare (the book "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" is really good for this), so they can see that they don't go a single day without quoting the Bard.

Also, no author has shown a keener insight into the human psyche.  Focus on this, rather than the language.  Usually, students pick up the language along about the third act.  Yes, it can be tedious at first, but it comes with practice.

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engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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There is perhaps no better illustration of the concept of conflict than Romeo and Juliet. Between the feuding families, the constant paradox of tragic love, and all of the elements that feed into the central plot of this story, Romeo and Juliet is worth reading.

Furthermore, in order to be an informed citizen of this world, and in order to be someone who has "withitness," one needs to study certain classics to avoid being lost in everyday conversations. Romeo and Juliet definitely fall into the category of "must-know" classic love stories.

It also serves as the model for generations of romances to come. Without the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet, no author would be able to pull upon that story for comparison with their own creations. It sets a certain standard that even modern-day authors attempt to adhere to.

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yaday | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Shakespeare's works exhibit universal themes.  For Romeo and Juliet, the concept of "love at first sight" is introduced; in other words, teenage love, a concept that is not meant to be understood other than by teenagers.  In the world of high school, alliances are formed and broken. And unfortunately, there are tragedies that are produced because of love.   This is something many young people can relate to or have experienced.  

User Comments

devinrose's profile pic

devinrose | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

There is no point nor benefit from reading this story. There is no true love, they are literally 13 and 15. Just watch the movie.

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cjlovespink | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Ok so i think the point of this is to learn about the culture that Shakespeare was living in and how people actually talked and spoke in the way he wrote it. So I guess I think that learning Romeo and Juliet is good for readers to expand there perspective of things that maybe they don't normally think about. Like if we tell someone we love them, like in Romeo and Juliet, would you actually go all the way to kill yourself if they were dead, or look like they are dead? Sometimes we say stuff but don't really mean it and books can help us understand how that if we really don't mean something don't say it because, like in some books, it can totally backfire on us. Plus if someone rewrote Romeo and Juliet today it would be way easier to read because instead of "Romeo, Romeo, were for art thou Romeo?" it could be something like "Romeo? Romeo? Were are you Romeo?". Then it would be easier to read and still have some culture to it. I also think that the reason that Shakespeare had everybody die at the end is so that the two family's could see all the pain that they were causing everyone inside and out side there family. That or maybe he just wanted to get rid of everybody. Ok so probably not that last one but, maybe he didn't want it to be just another love story with a "... and they lived happily ever after. The end" which happens in almost every love stores. So he could switch it up a little he had a lot of the people die. That's why I think that learning Shakespeare is good. -AEC

just to let you know...you said "Romeo, Romeo, where for art thou Romeo?" it could be something like "Romeo? Romeo? Were are you Romeo?."

that line actually means "why must you be Romeo? (in other words, a Montague)

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mspitz-12 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

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  I think that the point of studying Romeo and Juliet, even though we do not understand it, is so that by the end, we DO understand it.  By studying things that we do not understand, we expand in what we do.  Without doing hard things, we learn nothing, acomplish nothing, and there is no point.  What do we do in every class every day?  Math, Science, History, all of it is so that we will gain a better understanding of our past, our future, others, and ourselves.

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writer-94 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) eNoter

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Shakespeare is difficult to understand, but it is fun to read. Romeo and Juliet is a difficult story, but it does focus on problems that face teens today so pretty much anyone can relate to it in one way or another. Also Romeo and Juliet shows you how bad things can go if they get out of hand and how love can actually kill joy and happiness, a thing that sounds ironic and impossible, but is very possible. All in all,  I think that Romeo and Juliet is an amazing piece of literature and, as with all of Shakespeare's work, should be given a chance to show you something before you say it is worthless.

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chefsteven | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

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I honestly don't know. Though it is slightly, partially fun in class to read it even though normally one wouldn't have a clue of what the characters are saying most of the time.But at times you can understand that there trying to be joyful or downright emotional. "Ay,Ay a scratch, a scratch" happens to be one of my favorite lines in the play. I love reading Merrcutios lines because you never know what he's going to say next.So if you study R/J you can fully understand each joke and every insult.

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jenevra | Middle School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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What's the point of studying Romeo and Juliet?

Playing the devil's advocate is something teachers do well, no? :) For sake of argument, here's a question for discussion.

 What is the point and benefit of studying Romeo and Juliet? The language is too difficult to understand, it's just another dumb love story, and everyone dies in the end! Why should I waste my time?

I love your critical thinking. When I was in high school, I didn't understand half of what I was reading in Romeo and Juliet. As I started reading more Shakespearean literature, I started to understand better and better and even began to love it. William Shakespeare coined many words in literature still used today. There is no other author like William Shakespeare out there. Not only is his style of writing uniquely poetic, but his stories are timeless. Shakespeare uses themes that are still relevant in modern day society. Does Romeo and Juliet's relationship not ring any bells? Racism, prejudice, and discrimination still exists in our society and all over the world. Many kids are banned from dating each other due to their differences in cultural, religious or racial backgrounds. It's amazing that Shakespeare wrote such a relevant story in such another time. These are just some thoughts on your question. Feel free to hit me back for more...

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shelbster | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

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I think that there are many reasons to study Romeo and Juliet. One reason is because the vocab used in the story. Although we most likely won't need to use any of those old-fashioned words in our everyday lives, we may need to know those words as well as the style of writing for other literature written around Shakespeares time. Isn't it better to study this classic story with an English teacher than on your own, where you would get so confused and probably give up? I'm glad we are learning about it with Miss VanRossum so that she can explain things to us. Another reason to study this play is to learn about the time period it was written in. They did things a lot differently back then than we do now, and its kind of like a history lesson in English class. Overall I think that studying Romeo and Juliet has a lot of benefits and I think that its good to study it.

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applegirl | Student | eNotes Newbie

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I think Romeo and Juliet is good to study but not necessarily important to study. The story is a classic and reading it will prepare us for having conversations with others as we mature and grow up. Knowing the story, plots, lessons, and dialect will also allow students to better understand more lessons and even simple things like clever quips in daily conversations and possibly even television shows. It is also good to expose our modern generation to a language and life that we would have otherwise not known. Being exposed to the language and such also develops our minds and ways of thinking. Especially the poetry and the beautiful description of certain things such as love shows an older and more intelligent and lovely way of things. And the story shows students a truly beautiful way to think and helps push out the slang that is so often used now a days. I think its good to read and study Romeo and Juliet as well as more of Shakespeare's works.

-tongen 4th hour
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maddie2391 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

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I think that there is a lot to learn from studying Romeo and Juliet. It makes you think when you are reading it. When you come across a word that you do not know it makes you have to stop and look it up. If you do not learn what that word means most likely most of the book will not make sense. So in this way reading the book makes you learn new words that most likely you will at least use them one more time it your life. So then everyone will think that you are smart. So just because you read the book everyone around you will think that you are really smart. Thats why I think that is important to study Romeo and Juliet.

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