The Importance of Allowing Students to Study and Analyze the Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in the 21st Century
The classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, is a play about two families in the city of Verona whose feud disrupts the innocent love of their children, Romeo and Juliet. The “star-crossed” lovers are forced to hide their love from their families, which ultimately leads to their deaths. Only then do the Montagues and Capulets decide, belatedly, to put their feud behind them. Studying and analyzing this play is important in today’s 21st century, as students can gain a deeper understanding of the text by making connections to their own lifestyles, other plays or movies based on Romeo and Juliet, and recent news.
Students who read and analyze Romeo and Juliet can make connections to the relationships and emotions displayed by the characters in the play, and possibly even relate to their desires. Teens can understand the dynamics between certain characters. For example, Capulet shows no respect for Juliet’s opinion and insists that she marry Paris: “Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds, but fettle your fine joints ‘gainst Thursday next, to go with Paris to Saint Peter’s church” (III.v.52-55). This scenario is relatable for teens who often experience disagreements with their parents or have decisions made on their behalf (for instance, being told to stay home for a family dinner instead of going to a party). Teens can also relate to the quickly changing emotions of the characters, such as Romeo’s switch from melancholy over Rosaline’s unrequited love to compassionate towards Paris’s misunderstanding of Romeo’s love for Juliet.
How it works
Adolescents, being likely to experience fluctuating emotions, can sympathize with Romeo’s emotional journey throughout the play. They can also relate to the characters’ desires. For instance, Benvolio wants Romeo to accompany him to Capulet’s party: “At this same ancient feast of Capulet’s sups the fair Rosaline whom thou so loves…go thither, and with unattainted eye compare her face with some that I will show” (I.iii.84-85,87-88). This interaction mirrors a common situation among adolescents where one attempts to persuade a friend to attend a social gathering.
Studying the play allows students to make connections between different movies and books that are based on the original play, Romeo and Juliet. Multiple types of endings can be compared to the original. Towards the end of the original play, Friar Lawrence states, “A greater power than we can contradict hath thwarted our intents. Come, come away” (5,iii,153-154). Friar Lawrence is leaving Juliet in this scene so that he doesn’t get himself in trouble by the watch. However, this part is not shown in the movie that features Leonardo DiCaprio. Students are able to make connections and compare both the original and the movie ending. Teens are also able to evaluate how certain situations could have been prevented. An example is when Benvolio tells Romeo that Juliet has died. In the 1968 version, Romeo rides by the messenger on his horse as he rides to see his love; however, in the original play, Friar John was unable to get the letter to Romeo. “I could not send it – here it is again – nor get a messenger to bring it thee, so fearful were they of infection” (5,iii,14-16), he states, referring to him not being able to send the letter because of the deadly plague. This is a significant part of the play, because it is one of many reasons for the deaths of both Romeo and Juliet. These two versions are excellent mediums for students to compare and analyze. Furthermore, students can study similarities between the original Romeo and Juliet and other adaptations based on it. The 1968 movie is a great example of how the dialogue was almost accurate to the original play. Both films used the exact script written by William Shakespeare, aside from minor modifications here and there. Using this script in the 1968 version is fitting because it is perfect for that time period (prologue.i,3-4).
Studying Romeo and Juliet gives students the opportunity to make connections between different elements of other books and films based on the original play. The movie Romeo and Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, can be compared to the original play. Teens are able to compare the characters, as well as the plot, to the play that is read in class.