Introductory Lecture and Objectives

Romeo and Juliet eNotes Lesson Plan content

One of Shakespeare’s best known tragedies, even to those who have never read his works, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet continues to ignite the imagination and the heart in its exploration of the passionate nexus of love and death and the ironies of fate. Of all the Bard’s plays, none has proved to be so accessible and inspiring to so many different audiences. One famous contemporary adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is West Side Story, both a Broadway hit and a popular film; in this modern version of Shakespeare’s story, the Montagues and the Capulets of Verona are represented by the Jets and the Sharks, rival gangs pitted against each other in New York City. Also, music stars, such as Taylor Swift, have alluded to the play in song. In our vernacular, to be a “Romeo” is to be both a true romantic and a passionate lover. The definition reflects Shakespeare’s very clear message in the drama: Romantic love and passion are essentially intertwined.

Although Romeo and Juliet has become synonymous with tragic romance and “star-crossed” lovers, the play is, in fact, very bawdy; clever and risqué double entendres appear throughout. While modern readers may fix on the chaste “balcony scene” in which the lovers adore each other from a distance, it is to this same window that a rope ladder is affixed, so that Romeo can reach Juliet’s bed chamber and consummate their marriage. Characters such as the nurse and Mercutio, especially the latter, serve to gently lampoon the Petrarchan model of courtly love that held up a saintly and untouchable lady as the idealized object of pure devotion. For Romeo and Juliet, love is not metaphorical; it is spiritual and carnal, passionate and all-consuming.

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, which is based on an Italian novella, around 1593, following a hiatus when the London theaters were closed because of plague. During the time he was not writing for the stage, Shakespeare explored the subject of erotic desire through his poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, each based on work by the Roman poet, Ovid. Shortly after the theaters reopened, he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream and then Romeo and Juliet. Some scholars feel these two plays—a comedy darkened by serious themes and a tragedy marked by flashes of deliberate comic relief—portray two sides of the same coin: the complexities and sometimes disastrous consequences of falling in love.

Set in Verona, Italy, Romeo and Juliet opens with an argument between the servants of two prominent and long-feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Romeo, a Montague, and two friends decide to attend a ball hosted by Lord Capulet. Wearing masks to disguise themselves, Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio attend the ball, where Romeo meets the beautiful Juliet and falls instantly in love. Later that night Romeo goes to Juliet’s window, and they exchange vows of devotion. Romeo enlists the help of Friar Laurence, who agrees to marry the young lovers in hopes of ending the long-standing feud between their two families. Passion abounds in Verona, however, fueling the impetuous desires of the young lovers and spilling blood in the streets; a series of fated events results, culminating in Romeo’s and Juliet’s suicides. As love dies, so too does hatred; the warring families promise to end their hostilities, which have cost them their only children.

As in other Shakespearean plays, the language and the cultural conventions in Romeo and Juliet may seem foreign or dated, but the themes remain as true and as relevant to modern readers as they were to Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audiences. While modern teens might question the hastily arranged wedding between Juliet and Paris, they find believable the pure and passionate love-at first-sight experienced by Juliet and Romeo. Rebellious teens seeking advice and assistance from adults other than their parents, just as Romeo and Juliet turn to Friar Laurence and the nurse, are found in everyday life as frequently as in literature. The teens in this tragedy are not singled out as the only characters making bad decisions; in fact, Romeo and Juliet might be excused from their impulsive actions, considering the overarching power assigned to destiny in the play. When their ill-fated romance ends in the tomb, Romeo and Juliet leave their parents, as well as the prince who dismissed the tragedy inherent in their rancor, to come to terms with the duality found in human existence: light and darkness, violence and desire, and love and death.

By the end of the unit the student will be able to:

1. Identify the primary themes in Romeo and Juliet.

2. Explain the common roots of love and hate and of sex and violence, and discuss how these are developed thematically in the play.

3. Determine and define those elements that make Romeo and Juliet one of the most classic love stories of all time.

4. Explain examples of fate and destiny in the play.

5. Identify examples of the motifs of light and darkness, and discuss their significance.

6. Explain through which characters and in what way comic relief is employed in the tragedy.

7. Discuss the literary devices and language techniques employed by Shakespeare.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.

Student Study Guide

  • The Study Guide is organized for an act-by-act study of the play. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
  • Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in each act and to acquaint them generally with its content.
  • Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
  • Study Guide vocabulary lists include...

(The entire section is 966 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. Romeo and Juliet’s rash decisions and tragic actions are placed in contrast to the decisions of the adults in the play, most of whom are guided by reason, logic, and social conventions. Which adult characters prove to be exceptions? Who among the adults is hypocritical, and in what way?

2. As he dies, Mercutio repeats three times a variation of “a plague o’both your houses.” In what ways are both families to blame for his death? How are Romeo and Tybalt specifically responsible?

3. Friar Laurence generally provides the voice of reason in the drama. In what circumstances and to whom does he give good advice? In what circumstances does he err?


(The entire section is 451 words.)



ancient: archaic long-standing

dignity: archaic social status

mutiny: archaic conflict

piteous: pathetic

star-crossed: cursed by fate

toil: work

Study Questions

1. What form does the Prologue take, and who is the speaker?

It takes the form of a Shakespearian sonnet, spoken by the Chorus.

2. How does the Prologue introduce the play?

We learn that two important families of Verona erupt again in discord stemming from a long-standing grudge between them. Then the deaths of a pair of lovers, children born of each family, end the feud for good,...

(The entire section is 169 words.)

Act One, Scene One


assailing: assaulting, arresting

augmenting: adding to

cankered: archaic rusted

chaste: pure, non-sexual

choler: archaic anger, ire

colliers: archaic coal peddlers

covert: a hideaway

coz: a cousin

foe: an enemy

forfeit: a loss

forsworn: archaic renounced, repudiated

gall: archaic poison

lascivious: sexual, lewd

maidenheads: virginities

moved: archaic angry

portentous: ominous

profaners: those who defame or defile

propagate: to spread

shrift: confession

swashing: archaic...

(The entire section is 749 words.)

Act One, Scene Two


behold: observe

crush a cup: to drink a glass (of wine)

e’en: archaic evening

fennel: an edible plant with herbaceous seeds and feathery fronds

heretics: people with unorthodox beliefs

holp: archaic helped

languish: to pine, to suffer

marred: ruined

plantain: a low-growing green plant used medicinally

reckoning: archaic reputation

sirrah: archaic sir, used to address a social inferior

suit: archaic a request

thither: archaic there

well-appareled: well-dressed, well-appointed

whither: archaic where...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Act One, Scene Three


bade: archaic told, ordered

disposition: inclination

dug: archaic breast

fortnight: archaic two weeks’ time

lineament: a facial feature

margent: archaic a margin

quoth: archaic said

stint: archaic to stop

stone: slang testicle

trudge: to march, to plod

wit: understanding, intelligence

Study Questions

1. Describe the portrayal of the nurse. What role does she play in the scene with Juliet and her mother? Give some examples of the nurse’s behavior.

Compared with the proper and...

(The entire section is 389 words.)

Act One, Scene Four


alderman: councilman

antic: archaic grotesque

begot: made

boist’rous: (boisterous) noisily turbulent

constable: a peace officer

courtiers: noblemen

deformities: disfigurements

dun: brown-gray

fleer: archaic to mock

hither: archaic here

lath: (lathe) a thin strip of wood

marchpane: (marzipan) almond paste

masquers: archaic masked performers

move: to entreat

nimble: graceful

plaits: braids

prick: archaic to wound, to penetrate

prodigious: abnormal; extraordinary

prolixity: verbosity


(The entire section is 1316 words.)

Act Two, Scene One


bescreened: archaic concealed

conjure: to summon, to invoke

counsel: advice

demesnes: estates, possession of land

descry: archaic to discern

entreat: to implore

envious: jealous

fain: archaic willingly

gapes: archaic eagerly awaits

gyves: archaic manacles

impute: to assign, to attribute

livery: clothing

medlar: a small, apple-shaped fruit

nyas: (eyas) a young hawk

orb: a sphere

peril: danger

perjuries: lies

prorogued: archaic postponed

truckle-bed: (trundle bed) a hideaway bed that...

(The entire section is 857 words.)

Act Two, Scene Two


aught: archaic anything

baleful: malignant, deadly

chid’st: (chides) admonishes

couch: archaic to lay

fleckled: dappled

intercession: an entreaty in favor of another

mickle: archaic great

physic: archaic medicine

predominant: chief, major

rancour: ire, hatred

reels: unwinds

sallow: pale

Titan: a reference to Helios, second-generation Titan and Roman god of the sun

vile: evil, morally despicable

Study Questions

1. Discuss the soliloquy given by Friar Laurence as the scene opens. What does he say, and how does it...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Act Two, Scenes Three, Four, and Five


bandy: to toss back and forth

bauble: archaic a staff with ball tip carried by a fool

bawdy: lewd

blazon: to proclaim

cheverel: a soft, elastic leather made of kidskin

cleft: struck in two

clout: a sail

coil: archaic a fuss

conceit: an idea, an understanding

constrains: limits

the counterfeit: archaic the slip

countervail: to counterbalance

exposition: a clarification

feign: to pretend

hay: a penetrating thrust in fencing

louring: archaic darkening

passado: a foreword thrust in fencing

perchance: maybe...

(The entire section is 565 words.)

Act Three, Scene One


addle: to confuse, to mix up

agile: nimble

alla stoccado: a fencing term meaning “at the thrust”

amerce: to punish with a fine (broadly, to punish)

appertaining: relevant

effeminate: a derogatory term for womanish, not manly in appearance or manner

fee-simple: absolute ownership of property in English law

forbear: to stop

minstrel: a musician

peppered: archaic done for

pilcher: a scabbard

quarrel: to argue

retorts: sharp, angry, or witty replies

spleen: ill temper

Study Questions

1. What is the intended effect of opening this scene with...

(The entire section is 483 words.)

Act Three, Scene Two


aqua vitae: a strong distilled liquor

bating: fluttering

bedaubed: archaic smeared with

beguiled: deceived

bier: a frame used for carrying a coffin

cockatrice: archaic basilisk, or a legendary serpent said to kill with a look or a breath

garish: overly bright, glaring

lamentation: sorrow

tedious: slow moving

undone: ruined

weal: well-being; a sound, healthy, or prosperous state of being

Study Questions

1. To what is Juliet alluding when she says, “Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds / Toward Phoebus’ lodging”? What is the topic and content of her monologue...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Act Three, Scenes Three and Four


adversity: misfortune

calamity: misfortune

chamber: a bedroom

denote: to designate

digressing: leaving the main point of discussion

enamoured of: in love with

mangle: to destroy

mewed up: archaic confined

predicament: a perplexing, difficult situation

purgatory: a place where souls are expiated of sin before ascending to heaven

sullen: brooding

usurer: one who loans money for exorbitant interest

Study Questions

1. Is Romeo grateful that the prince has banished him rather than sentencing him to death?

“For exile hath more terror in his look, / Much more...

(The entire section is 489 words.)

Act Three, Scene Five


abhors: detests

affray: archaic to frighten

asunder: into pieces

beseech: to beg

beshrew: archaic to curse

carrion: dead and putrefying flesh

conduit: archaic a fountain

discords: displeasing or harsh sounds

discourses: conversations

dishclout: archaic a dishcloth

dram: a measure

fettle: to prepare

fickle: likely to change one’s mind

herald: an announcer or messenger

hilding: archaic an offensive term for a woman of base character

puling: whining, whimpering

runagate: archaic a fugitive


(The entire section is 527 words.)

Act Four, Scenes One, Two and Three


abate: to stem, to lessen

arbitrating: mediating

behests: commands

charnel-house: a vault where corpses are stored

chide: to reproach

cunning: skilled

inundation: a flood, an overflowing

mandrakes: plants with forked roots thought to resemble human bodies

orisons: prayers

pensive: brooding, contemplative

reeky: stinking

surcease: to desist from action

wayward: disobedient

Study Questions

1. Whom does Juliet encounter when she seeks out the friar, and what is her reaction?

Juliet finds Paris talking to Friar Laurence. She manages to evade his questions about her...

(The entire section is 581 words.)

Act Four, Scene Four


alack: archaic an expression used to express regret

cotquean: archaic a man who meddles in affairs of the house

deflowered: deprived of virginity

dirges: funeral hymns

dump: archaic a melody

logger-head: blockhead

pate: the top of the head

pestilent: virulent; annoying

quinces: pear-shaped fruits that must be cooked before being eaten

whit: an infinitely small amount

whoreson: bastard

Study Questions

1. What is Lord Capulet doing as the scene opens?

Anxious about the wedding, Capulet is hovering over the serving staff, directing the...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

Act Five, Scenes One, Two, and Three


aloof: apart, at an emotional distance

apothecary: one who prepares and dispenses medicines and drugs

caitiff: miserable

churl: a villain

commiseration: sympathy

cordial: a drink taken to strengthen the heart

discern: to distinguish

ducats: gold coins

engrossing: monopolizing

ensign: a banner

haughty: prideful, arrogant

inauspicious: unlucky

inexorable: unstoppable

jointure: money contributed to a marriage by the groom’s family

liege: a lord

mattock: a pickax

maw: the mouth and throat

obsequies: archaic funeral rites

paramour: an illicit lover


(The entire section is 987 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. Who opens the play with a summary of the events to come, told in sonnet form?

A. Prince Escalus

B. Sampson

C. Old Montague

D. the Chorus

E. the nurse

2. Whom does Prince Escalus call “rebellious subjects, enemies to peace”?

A. the members of the feuding houses

B. Sampson and Gregory

C. Romeo and Tybalt

D. Mercutio and Tybalt

E. the friar and the nurse

3. Which of the following is true?

A. Mercutio is the only character who uses punning.

B. The nurse is...

(The entire section is 1372 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. Explain how the theme of fate is developed in Romeo and Juliet as it tells the story of “a pair of star-crossed lovers.” What events can be ascribed to fate or chance? Support your discussion with specific examples.

It is in the sixth line of Romeo and Juliet, during a sonnet spoken by the Chorus to introduce the play, that the idea of fate is introduced; Romeo and Juliet are described as “star-crossed lovers” suggesting that their lives have been determined and tragedy awaits them. Throughout the play, the stars and the heavens are used symbolically to denote fate at work in guiding the events in their lives. Beyond the control of Romeo and Juliet, they are born into families that despise each...

(The entire section is 3195 words.)