Sunday, February 9, 2014


Students all around the country read Romeo and Juliet their Freshman year of high school. One of the factors that has made this such a classic and enduring story is the strength of Shakespeare's plot. This month I'm using The Secret Language of Stories (SLOS) to analyze this timeless tale.

As always, you may find a full description of SLOS on my blog.

The Ordinary World – In the streets of Verona, a fight breaks out between servants of the Capulets and Montagues establishing the long time feud between the two families. Prince Escalus decrees death for anyone who disturbs the peace. Meanwhile, Romeo Montague is despondent because Rosaline does not love him, and at the Capulet estate, Paris asks Capulet for permission to marry his daughter Juliet.

Call and Response- Capulet sends a servant out to invite guests to a feast, but the servant cannot read the guest list and asks Romeo for assistance. When Romeo sees Rosaline's name, he decides to crash the party. His friend Benvolio hopes Romeo will realize there are other beautiful women in Verona, but Romeo only agrees to go because he wants to see Rosaline. All of that changes when he meets Juliet. He dances with her and they kiss before he realizes she is the daughter of his father’s enemy. The “Call to Adventure” is represented by the inner stirrings of love felt by both Romeo and Juliet. They face their reluctance to get involved during the famous balcony scene where Juliet debates the meaning of a name, "Deny thy father and refuse thy name;/ Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,/And I'll no longer be a Capulet" (II.ii.38-40).

Crossing- Romeo climbs an orchard wall to arrive at Juliet’s balcony where they both profess their love. When Juliet expresses her concern for Romeo's safety, he replies, “I am no pilot, yet, wert though as far/ As that vast shore washed with the farthest sea,/ I would adventure for such merchandise” (II.ii.88-99). These lines show how the outward expression of crossing over into the New World may look like a simple gesture (i.e. climbing a wall) while inwardly it represents a great journey.

Mentors, Guides, and Gifts- Juliet’s nurse offers advice and guidance to Juliet throughout the play and helps to procure a ladder after the wedding so Romeo can gain access to Juliet's bedroom. Friar Laurence counsels Romeo, performs the forbidden wedding ceremony, and helps Juliet devise the plan at the end of the story that unintentionally results in the death of the two lovers.

New World- Although Romeo and Juliet both remain in Verona for the first half of the story, their situations are irrevocably altered and their perceptions changed because of forbidden love.

Problem, Prize, and Plan-  The problem these two lovers face is that they want to be together, but their families are sworn enemies. They plan to get married with the aid of Friar Laurence and Juliet's nurse.

Midpoint Attempt- Romeo marries Juliet in secret and it appears that he has won his prize. He plans to come to Juliet that night and they part, but soon after, Tybalt sees Romeo and challenges him to a duel. Tybalt is still angry about Romeo crashing the Capulet's party. Romeo refuses to fight because Tybalt is now his kinsman. Mercutio doesn’t understand Romeo's reluctance and he fights Tybalt himself. Tybalt kills Mercutio. Romeo then flies into a rage and kills Tybalt. The Prince responds by banishing Romeo from Verona forever.

Downtime- Romeo spends the night with Juliet and they consummate their marriage.

Chase and Escape: The next morning Romeo flees the city. Juliet’s father, upset by the death of Tybalt, has arranged for her to marry Paris in three days. Juliet then seeks out Friar Laurence in pursuit of an escape. He concocts a plan for her to take a potion that will make her appear dead. She will then be free to join Romeo. Friar Laurence sends Friar John to find Romeo with a message outlining the plan, but John gets detained and Romeo never receives the letter.

Death and Transformation- Juliet arrives at home and discovers the wedding has been moved up. She takes the potion and her nurse finds her body the next morning. Juliet is then placed in the family crypt.

Climax- When Romeo hears that Juliet has died, he buys poison from an apothecary. He then races back to Verona. When he sees Paris scattering flowers outside of Juliet's tomb, they fight and Romeo kills Paris. Romeo then enters the tomb, takes the poison, and dies at Juliet's side. When Juliet awakens and realizes that Romeo has perished, she kisses his poisoned lips. When this fails to kill her, she stabs herself in the heart with his dagger.

Reward- Although this story is a tragedy, there is still a reward of sorts. The Capulets and Montagues arrive at the graveyard. Monague's wife has died of grief over the banishment of Romeo. When the two men see their dead children’s bodies, they agree to stop their feud and raise gold statues of the two lovers in Verona as a memorial of their love.

NOTE: If you are using this play with your students, you may want to have them create a modern parody by replacing each section of the plot with experiences from contemporary life. For example, teens could explore situations that pit groups against each other such as rivalries between gangs, schools, and sports teams. The story could even take place at the Olympic Games with team members from two rivaling countries falling in love. Although taking poison seems like a melodramatic (and unrealistic) way to fake one's death, there might be other examples from modern experience such as taking part in the witness protection program or pretending to die in a car crash or fire. Students don't have to write a story. Just brainstorming the possibilities helps them to connect the story to their own experiences.

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