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Archive for the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Category

Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet

Drawing by John Austen for an edition of Hamlet (ART Box A933 no.2), 1890 painting by Ludovic Marchetti of Romeo and Juliet (ART Vol. f220). Folger Shakespeare Library.

Last week, we took a reader poll to ask which Shakespeare plays were being taught this semester. Top of the list (as of this writing): Romeo and Juliet, with more than 25 percent of the vote.

Macbeth took second place with 22 percent, and Hamlet third with 10 percent. Our write-in option was also quite popular, with Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing making multiple appearances.

Good news! We have a wealth of resources for teaching each of these plays. Here are a few highlights:

  • Romeo and Juliet – In December, Folger Education recorded an hour-long master class for teaching Romeo and Juliet. You can watch the archived version online, broken down into video segments on scholarship, performance, and the classroom.
  • Macbeth – Folger educators talk about surefire ways for successfully introducing students to the Scottish play in this podcast, Macbeth: The Teacher’s Edition.
  • Hamlet – Watch the Insider’s Guide to Hamlet. These videos highlight the play’s themes, characters, and plot—perfect for students encountering Hamlet for the first time.

Find more resources by downloading a curriculum guide for each of these popular plays. The guides include a brief synopsis, two lesson plans, famous quotes from the play, prompts for teachers, links to podcasts and videos, and a list of suggested additional resources.

Want even more? Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet are all included in our Shakespeare Set Free books, a series written by Folger Education’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute faculty and participants. (Today’s your last chance to apply for this year’s TSI, by the way!) Each book is packed with practical, specific ideas to use in the classroom.

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On Thursday, we hosted our first Folger “office hours” – a digital opportunity for you to bring your questions about teaching Shakespeare. And we got some good ones! The theme was Romeo and Juliet, but we also had some lively discussion going about more general topics, like iambic pentameter.

If you’re interested in seeing all the tweets from “office hours,” just search for #folgerofficehours on Twitter.

We tried to give what answers we could (in the moment and with the restriction of 140 characters), but we’d like to expand on some those answers here.

“Abridge” can mean changing Shakespeare’s words, or cutting the lines.  If you mean changing the language—using modern language instead of Shakespeare’s text–take a deep breath and don’t change the language.  Lots of material in Shakespeare Set Free gives you and your students the path to and through Shakespeare’s language.  And then your students won’t be deprived of  the opportunity–and the thrill–of experiencing and conquering Shakespeare’s language.

However, if you mean cutting lines to make a speech or a scene shorter–this is something that has been done since the very beginning with his plays, and is done all the time now by directors and actors.  We know, for example, that certain lines from Richard II offended Queen Elizabeth I and were outlawed during her lifetime.  And we know that Hamlet performed uncut would keep you in the theatre for four hours or more.  So judiciously cutting the plays is a part of almost every Shakespeare experience.  You do it too.

Knowing and understanding these plays is not just about reading every single line.  Students who experience the language in meaningful ways are likely to have a better experience and gain greater understanding than students who are made to slog through every line.

Here’s our cheat sheet. It helps if you say what’s quoted and bold out loud. Put the stress on the words in all caps.

a beat = a syllable = “da” in “da DUM” (just like your heartbeat)

foot/feet = the combination of two beats, one strong stress and the other weak = “DA dum” or “da DUM”

iamb = a foot that has an unaccented syllable followed by a accented syllable = da DUM”

pentameter = five iambic feet = “da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM”

————————————————————————————————————

Thanks to everyone who participated!

Keep an eye out for our next Folger Office Hours.

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Folger Master Class Teaching Romeo and JulietLast month, Folger Education streamed a live master class on Teaching Romeo and Juliet.

Hundreds of teachers participated, and afterward we asked for your feedback. The response was so positive!

Many of the teachers surveyed said they appreciated the well-rounded approach embodied by our three video segments on scholarship, performance, and the classroom.

Here’s a sampling of what we heard back:

“I had no clue what to expect, but by ten minutes in I was wishing that the class was more than an hour. There were so many things packed into the time that I could not wait to start studying with my students.”

“Yes – the interviews, clips, and examples of actual classroom work gave a direct, personal-involvement feel. I felt more engaged than I have had with some live professional development! ( not the Folger’s, of course!)”

“I think it was very helpful to learn directly from the experts who are closely tied to the content that we ourselves only re-visit one month out of the year. Even though I’ve taught R+J to at least 14 different classes, I enjoyed the detailed glance into several different perspectives of the play.”

Also, here’s what we’re hearing from you about what you’d like to see in future master classes:

  • more examples of in-classroom techniques and activities
  • more lesson planning ideas, both things that worked and things that did not
  • teaching strategies that could be used across multiple Shakespeare plays

It’s great to get this kind of feedback from you. Teachers are the rockstars in our book, and our job is to help you do what you do best. We’re on it!

And if you didn’t get a chance to participate in the master class live, you can watch a recorded version online. Happy teaching!

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reposted with permission from the Folger Theatre Blog

“Grumble, Grumble.”
“Snort”
“Whine”
“Complaint”
“But it’s soooo eeeearly!”
“This is ungodly.”
“Oh, no…I’m going to need a nap!”
“Is there coffee?”

And so it goes…

It’s a student matinee of our Romeo and Juliet at the Folger Theatre and our call is practically the butt crack of dawn. We have to be at the theatre no later than ELEVEN o’clock. I mean, in the MORNING! What?!

What is this, Prison?

See, a bunch of actors naturally gravitate to later and later bedtimes. We don’t crash at the median of the group, we all push our bedtimes later so that we go to bed towards the time the person who goes to bed last goes to bed. For me, that’s a little before 4am. Which isn’t as crazy as it sounds. We come down at 10:30 at night, amped on that show adrenaline, we calm down, have a drink or two, nosh a bit, catch up on sports news, maybe play some cards and then I go upstairs to my room to get a bit of work done. (I’m currently writing an opera and a play.)

Which all works out swimmingly. My earliest call for most matinees is 1:30.

But not STUDENT matinees.

Don’t you totally feel sorry for us actors?

Now, the upside:

Because, I guess, the theatre understands the eye-blearingly earliness of the hour, they provide bagels, croissants and muffins at these matinees. And coffee. There’s always coffee.

And the kids are fantastic.

No, really. Fantastic!

I have been in shows where we had to dodge skittles, M&M’s, spitballs, and (at worst) pennies flying in from the student audience. I have heard slurping sounds coming from the audience during a kiss. I’ve heard two comments from the same kid before and during a sword fight. The first, “They’re just a bunch of sweet boys in tights…” Which, admittedly, entertained not only the audience around him, but the actors as well. The second, after an early head swipe with a rapier, “Nope, they serious…” I have been surrounded by 1,100 students while doing a production of “The Scottish Play” in the round (at 10:30) and when they decided to converse, we had a tough time hearing each other.

But these groups? These groups are heavenly.

I don’t know if it’s the relatively small size of the theatre, the quality of the production, or the intrinsic good manners of these particular students, but they are a joy to play for. And not just because they aren’t making it hard, but because they make it so easy.

These are groups who laugh out loud when something is funny (sometimes adult audiences have to be convinced it’s all right to laugh – after all, this is a tragedy.) The kids are involved in the drama when it arises. (After all, every play is a comedy, until the play can’t hold it anymore. Maybe more on that in a later blog.) These have been my favorite audiences we’ve played to…just joyful and appreciative and open and, let’s be honest, some of them don’t even know how the play turns out.

I have a friend who was going to see a production of All’s Well That Ends Well and he’d never seen it, so he decided to read it first. He’s an actor who’s done a good number of Shakespeare’s plays so I reacted to this news, “Are you crazy?” After all, here he had one of his final chances to see a play written by Shakespeare as if it were a “new” (at least to him) play. Plays, after all, are written to be performed, not read (or at least not read silently). These audiences get to watch Romeo & Juliet, probably for the first time. Now, of course the vast majority of them know the story…but the language spoken by professionals has got to be a first for that same vast majority.

And they have been wonderful.

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~by Jessica Lander

Students giggle together during a theatre game at the 2013 Folger Secondary School Festival.

Students giggle together during a theatre game at the 2013 Folger Secondary School Festival.

On the grass behind the theater – once a fire station – two teenagers embraced each other and slow-danced.  They wore sheepish grins as they took each other’s hands, swaying and revolving to the music.  Iron & Wine and Graffiti6 and Elliot Smith floated from my portable speakers.  Curious dog walkers with waddling pugs and sweaty joggers threw sidelong glances.

It was week four, opening day, only hours before curtain.  Our Romeo and our Juliet were nervous.  Would their performance be believable?

The three of us met behind the theater to explore the act of falling in love.   The two teenagers began by locking eyes, standing quiet for twenty minutes without once letting their glances dart sideways.  Most students would feel too awkward to dance along the streets of Charlestown.  But these two seventeen-year-old actors were willing to try.

In theater such willingness is called “saying yes.”

Saying yes is the number one rule of improv.  If your improv partner says: “That soup you’re eating looks delicious!” and you respond, “I’m not eating soup,” the skit falls flat.   In our converted black box theater saying yes became the first rule and promise of our ensemble.

Last summer, as a teaching artist for Actors Shakespeare Project, my July crackled with witches and Scottish thanes.  This year we – ten students and four teachers – took up residence in the bloody streets of Verona.   Our students were a demographic chart of the Boston area. Our ensemble came from the suburbs and from the heart of the city; from public schools, from exams schools and from private schools.  Some had previously lived in youth detention centers.  Some had years of acting experience in camps and school plays and some came with no formal theatrical training.  What set them apart from their peers was that these ten teenagers were willing, even eager, to say yes.

Saying yes can be challenging in any setting, particularly in the confines of a traditional school classroom.  Raising your hand, offering up the answer to a math problem, sharing a poem, proposing a hypothesis – they all open you to vulnerability.  I have had 6th graders and college students of mine say no.  I have had students as far as Thailand and Cambodia and as close as Charlestown say no.  School textbooks and tests are lined with “right” and “wrong” answers and school halls are varnished in peer pressure and the shine of social status.

The black box exists outside this norm.

Over the course of four weeks I watched as ten teenagers chose instead to just say yes.

They said yes to playing improv games that required them to squirm like jello and row furiously like Viking warriors.

They said yes to walking and running and crawling through our theater to explore the space.

Two young men said yes to locking hands and attempting to push each other across a room while yelling their lines and furrowing their brows.

One young woman said yes to chortling like an old man with a beer belly and then cooing like a baby girl.

Everyone said yes to playing games of Mafia every day (four weeks straight) during lunch, holding heated debates and flinging accusations, in each subsequent game, about who might be suspect.

One young man said yes to swinging his arms in the air for an entire monologue.  Another young woman said yes to trying not to smile (a real feat for her).

In four weeks our students said yes to dancing in the rain, to singing, to arguing about character backstories, to fake punching each other in the nose, to sharing painful stories, to laughing out loud and crying out loud.

It is not easy saying yes.  You need three things.  You need peers that won’t snicker, you need teachers who won’t seek “correct” answers, and you need a space wide open to allow students to spin and floors strong enough to encourage students to leap.

And if you are lucky enough for such a convergence, then Romeo and Juliet waltz in a park, while dog walkers stare and at least one teacher smiles.

What can you and your students say YES to? Let us know in the comments!

Jessica Lander is a teacher and writer in Cambridge, MA.  She has taught, among other things, Shakespeare and critical thinking to college students in the Cambodian Capital of Phnom Penh and the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Closer to home she has taught math and Shakespeare to 6th graders in the Boston inner city.  She has written for the Boston Globe Magazine and keeps an education blog, Chalk Dust: http://jessicalander.blogspot.com

 

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Opening weekend has come and gone for Julian Fellowes’s new version of Romeo and Juliet in cinemas, and the numbers were not good.

I wouldn’t bring this up again so soon, but for a quote from Fellowes which appeared in an article from BBC News last week:

“When people say we should have filmed the original, I don’t attack them for that point of view, but to see the original in its absolutely unchanged form, you require a kind of Shakespearian scholarship and you need to understand the language and analyse it and so on.

“I can do that because I had a very expensive education, I went to Cambridge. Not everyone did that and there are plenty of perfectly intelligent people out there who have not been trained in Shakespeare’s language choices.”

My mind ground to a halt reading that. I went quite speechless (except for the occasional squeak or screech or indignant huff.) Is he serious? The NY Times tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, preceding this quote thusly: “With tongue presumably in cheek or perhaps just a foot deep in mouth,” but still I reel at this presumption. How grossly can you underestimate your audience?

A richly furnished Cambridge education is not what’s needed to revel in understanding of Shakespeare’s verses. It’s exposure to the language itself: put into action, spoken aloud, seen in performance, played with.

It seems, so far, that at least some reviewers agree that this pandering approach isn’t working:

“why not encourage the tween audience to rise to the language rather than hide the words from them?”
~ The Village Voice

“If this “Romeo & Juliet” were better, fierier or juicier, far less polite and rather more unhinged, it would be easier to ignore Mr. Fellowes’s ideas about the intelligence of his audience.”
~ The NY Times

“The Fellowes defence is that he’s writing for a new generation, who need the play livened up a bit. In the shonky hands of Italian director Carlo Carlei, his dutiful pastiche has quite the opposite effect.”
~The Telegraph

And yet – I still wouldn’t have so much ire towards this if Fellowes had simply owned  his adaptation and felt sufficiently comfortable to put his name in front of the title instead of Shakespeare’s. Sure, Shakespeare’s name sells, but don’t the names Romeo and Juliet have a little selling-power of their own? Why rely on the writer you’ve cut from the project? Shakespeare was an adapter, as I’ve mentioned before. So why hide behind him if you’re only going to push him out of the way because you think people are too stupid to understand his words?

What do you think? Were any of you one of the few who saw this film over its opening weekend? Do you plan to see it before it closes?

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This afternoon we sat in on the design presentations for Folger Theatre‘s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. From a practical point of view, we need to see how the Theatre space will be changed so that we can adjust for our programs which take place onstage; but from the perspective of a fan of Shakespeare, it’s so exciting to see – each time – how this company at this point in time takes on a familiar play to tell a new story.

For example, director Aaron Posner says that his inspiration for this production came out of a conversation with his wife, actress Erin Weaver (who will be playing Juliet, and will also be joining us for our Romeo and Juliet set free workshop), in which they discussed the moment in which Juliet decides not to face the consequences, not to run away, but to end her life, instead. It’s nice to say that it’s the culmination of the story of a whirlwind romance in which two people were never meant for anyone but each other and her decision not to go on without him is romantic as well as sad – but, says Posner, “that’s not a story I can relate to.” Exploring, instead, what kind of world shapes Juliet in this direction and makes her choice not only one borne of love, but also of necessity, tells a different story than we might be used to as an audience.

“It’s a hard play to cut,” Posner added, since the language is so good and everything seems important to the story. The words are so familiar – they’ve been said hundreds of thousands of times – but each inflection and each decision made by Aaron and his cast of actors will tell a different story from each production that came before it. That’s something truly wonderful about Shakespeare in performance, anywhere in performance – In classrooms or theaters, amateurs to professionals – each person brings something new to the table to tell a new story with the same words.

Have you seen this play in performance recently, or read it with your students? What sort of discoveries did you make? Did anything change the way you perceive the play for good?

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Earlier this week we were approached by a performing group who was going to use Romeo and Juliet for the first time with their young audience. They were concerned with how to tell the end of the story without being too disturbing or too blase – getting the lesson across without traumatizing their audience.

We’ve been giving the tragedies to elementary-aged kids for a good long while, but it was still an interesting question to ponder. Lucretia Anderson put in her two cents: “They were desperate teens who did something awful to themselves resulting in a huge tragic loss for both families. This should teach students that coming together and eradicating hate is the way to go. We usually say that they “took their own lives” instead of saying they “committed suicide” or “killed themselves.” Romeo takes poison, Juliet stabs herself with a dagger. The elementary kids can handle it.

Ultimately, each teacher or presenter is familiar enough with their own audience of students that they know what they’ll be able to handle. But is there a line to toe, and where is it?

The research bug got me again, so I looked at a few examples of books for kids that depicted the lovers’ final acts. Read on for these examples, below, but how do you talk about fictional tragedy in your classroom?

Graham Hamilton, Nicole Lowrance, Romeo and Juliet, Folger Theatre, 2005.

Graham Hamilton, Nicole Lowrance, Romeo and Juliet, Folger Theatre, 2005.

~Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb

Here Romeo took his last leave of his lady’s lips, kissing them; and here he shook the burden of his cross stars [sic] from his weary body, swallowing the poison which the apothecary had sold him, whose operation was fatal and real, not like the dissembling potion Juliet had swallowed, the effect of which was now nearly expiring, and she about to awake, to complain that Romeo had not kept his time, or that he had come too soon.

…but when Juliet saw the cup closed in her true love’s hands, she guessed that poison had been the cause of his end, and she would have swallowed the dregs if any had been left, and she kissed his still warm lips to try if any poison yet did hang upon them: they [sic] hearing a nearer noise of people coming, she quickly unsheathed a dagger which she wore, and stabbing herself, died by her true Romeo’s side.

~Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield
He knelt beside her and made his sad farewell.

“Eyes, look your last. Arms, take your last embrace! And lips, O you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss a dateless bargain to engrossing Death.” Then, with a sudden joyfulness he cried, “Here’s to my love!” and drank the apothecary’s poison; and so, in an instant, ended for ever the parting from his love.

Longingly she kissed Romeo’s lips in the hope that some poison still remained on them. There was none; so she took his dagger and pressed it lovingly into her heart.

~Romeo and Juliet for Kids by Lois Burnett
He held her close in a final embrace.
Romeo found the poison and held it high,
“Here’s to my love. Thus with a kiss I die!”

The Friar left her in the tomb below,
And she knelt one last time by her Romeo.
What’s here? A cup, closed in my true love’s hand?
Poison, my lord! This is not what we planned!”
She drank from the bottle, but it was dry,
“One friendly drop to me you deny?

Juliet stabbed herself, and life defied,
Then fell to the ground by Romeo’s side.

~The Random House Book of Shakespeare Stories, [liberally] retold by Andrew Matthews

With a cry, Romeo rushed to her side and covered her face with kisses and tears. “I cannot live without you,” he whispered. “I want your beauty to be the last thing my eyes see. We could not be together in life, my sweet love, but in death nothing shall part us!”

Romeo drew the cork from the poison bottle and raised it to his lips. He felt the vile liquid sting his throat. Then darkness swallowed him.

For a time, there was no sound except the spluttering of the torch. Then Juliet began to breathe. She opened her eyes and saw Romeo dead at her side with the empty poison bottle in his hand. At first, she thought she was dreaming. But when she reached out to touch Romeo’s face and smelled the bitter scent of the poison, she knew the nightmare was real. Friar Laurence’s plan had gone terribly wrong. She cradled Romeo in her arms and rocked him, weeping into his hair. “If you had only waited a little longer!” she whispered. She kissed Romeo again and again, desperately hoping that there was enough poison on his lips to kill her too.

Then she saw the torchlight gleam on the dagger at Romeo’s belt. She drew the weapon and pressed the point to her heart. “Now, dagger, take me to my love!” she said, and pushed with all her strength.

~The Best-Loved Plays of Shakespeare, from Star Bright Books

The death of Romeo
Romeo opens Juliet’s tomb. He gazes lovingly at his bride.

“…Ah, dear Juliet, Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe that unsubstantial death is amorous and that the lean abhorred monster keeps thee here in dark to be his paramour?”

Romeo then prepares himself to die.

“Eyes, look your last! Arms, take your last embrace! And lips, O you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss…”

He drinks the poison and dies.

Juliet Awakes
Just as Juliet wakes up, the Friar arrives. He sees the bodies of Paris and Romeo. He tells Juliet they must fly away at once. When Juliet sees that Romeo is dead, she refuses to leave. She sees that he has taken poison. ‘O, churl! Drink all and left no friendly drop to help me after?’ she says. She kisses his lips. Then she takes up Romeo’s dagger to stab herself.

~Tales from Shakespeare, by Tina Packer

Romeo held the lantern over Juliet’s face. “O my love! My wife! Death hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.” He kissed her cold lips, then lay beside her. “Here will I remain with worms that are thy chambermaids.” Romeo uncorked his poison. “Here’s to my love!” He closed his eyes and drained the bottle. The poison was quick. Romeo kissed Juliet again. “Thus, with a kiss, I die.”

Juliet knelt down. She found Romeo’s bottle and lifted it to her lips. “O, churl,” she said fondly. “Drunk all, and left no friendly drop to help me after? I will kiss thy lips. Perhaps some poison yet doth hang on them.”

The voices outside grew louder.

Juliet drew Romeo’s knife and aimed it at her heart. “Oh happy dagger! This is thy sheath. There rust and let me die.” With a swift motion, she stabbed herself and collapsed beside her husband.

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As you’re probably well aware, there are bazillions of versions of Romeo and Juliet on film. From the silent era through the present day, the pair has inspired countless adaptations from the faithful to the fun-house.  Below I’m listing a few of my favorites, but please share your favorites in the comments!

R&J Animated

When I was growing up, one of my favorite tapes to rent from Video Scene was the BBC Animated Romeo and Juliet featuring several famous voices and gorgeous animation by Christmasfilms. Using an abridgment of Shakespeare’s text, adapter Leon Garfield unfolded the tragic tale in under 30 minutes. It’s available on DVD, now, but preview it on YouTube!

The BBC Television Shakespeare series from the 1970′s might not be the most engaging to watch in its entirety, but if you’ve ever wanted to see a young Alan Rickman in tights as Tybalt, well, this version is a treat! No matter which scene you want to focus on, this full-text version is sure to have it, too. Keeping with the traditionally set, Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film is still held in high regard. It’s authenticity of setting and the leads’ ages, as well as the wonderful performances by the entire cast make it infinitely watchable, even today. (Though, of course, with at least one scene post-wedding edited out for classrooms!)

Romeo+JulietSome modern-setting versions have kept the original text, as well, most famously in Baz Luhrman’s 1996 version set in Verona Beach. Even while it pokes fun (the guns are named “Dagger” and “Longsword,” for example), the story, edited from Shakespeare’s text, moves with an intense urgency. Additionally, the independently conceived and filmed Private Romeo uses Shakespeare’s text with a group of army-school cadets left alone at their campus. While it falters in places, it’s beautiful to see these young men using Shakespeare’s words to express themselves.

Finally, there are some wonderful new stories inspired by Shakespeare’s inspiration to re-tell the timeless cautionary tale of two warring groups whose youthful innocents fall in love with each other. West Side Story is the most familiar along these lines, and is a theatrical hallmark in its own right. Comparing this musical to Shakespeare’s play when I was a kid is what led me to be so interested in adaptation as an art form. Potentially less-inspiring, however, it’s worth noting that both The Lion King II and Gnomeo and Juliet are also inspired by these themes, though with happier endings for their young audience.

Shakespeare in LoveThere’s not much room to mention Shakespeare in Love, but I’m going to have to. It’s a funny and touching imagining of how young Will Shakespeare was inspired to write this famous play from his own romantic experience . It’s totally laughably historically inaccurate, of course, but it does not claim to be so and is, instead, a whimsical love-letter to the Bard.

This could go on and on, of course. There are ballets, operas, TV mini-series, anime series, and so many other milieus into which this play has been re-imagined. Sometimes these adaptations illuminate different facets of Shakespeare’s play for consideration the next time we study it. Do these examples fit the bill? Not always, but at least we can enjoy the ride. What is your favorite example of Romeo and Juliet on the big screen?

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After spending so much time in the original texts of Romeo and Juliet this month to compare them to the Fellowes’s adaptation (billed in ads as “Shakespeare’s,” hence the frustration), I went home to my very large shelf of Shakespearean adaptations to remind myself of some great examples of how that text has been explored in different ways. As I did with Macbeth and Hamlet in the past, I’ll reserve a separate upcoming post for movies based on the star-cross’d lovers, and reserve this post for books.

Shakespeare himself was an adapter, re-writing the timeless legend of the doomed lovers from several sources. In Shakespeare’s Storybook, Patrick Ryan shares many possible inspirations that Shakespeare may have used, including Romeus and Juliet translated from the French by Arthur Brooke and Il Novellino by Salernitano Masuccio, among others. He didn’t claim the story, he re-told it in a way his audience would appreciate in his own words and put his own name on his work. What about Shakespeare’s work makes it so ripe for adaptation, but still somehow overshadows the adapters themselves?

romeo's exIt’s wonderful to read a familiar story from someone else’s point of view. One of my favorite novels about this play is Romeo’s Ex by Lisa Fielder. Creatively, Fielder explores the life of the character who sets much of the action in motion and yet is never seen onstage in Shakespeare’s play. Rosaline, a Capulet herself, is not interested in the love-struck Romeo, and is even less interested in her family’s dangerous quarrels with the Montagues. If your students could write the story from another character’s point of view, who would they pick?

warm bodiesWhen You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle is a young adult novel set in the present day which asks if Romeo and Juliet were really right for each other at all, or if they were always going to lead to their own destruction. What does it mean to be “star-cross’d?” Then there’s the futuristic Warm Bodies which gives the love story a new twist with one side of the warring factions being zombies. What is it about human (or zombie) nature that makes us so prone to hating the “others?”

AfterlivesSeveral other novels like Robin Maxwell’s O, Juliet and Juliet by Ann Fortier take on more contextual Italian history and explore what could have doomed the pair in their own time. Still others, like Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors and The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper approach both Shakespeare’s play and the Juliet legend from the perspectives of teens and consider our desire to change the tragic course of events. There is also a chapter devoted to Romeo and Juliet in the non-fiction  Shakespearean Afterlives by John O’Connor that explores the ongoing cultural perception of the couple, and our immediate instinct to compare any romantic boy or tragic girl to this particular pair.

This is, of course, just a small sampler of the many many books that take on Romeo and Juliet as inspiration. I enjoyed reading them all (some more than others) since each new perspective gave me something new to think about in Shakespeare’s play. Do you have any favorite book adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, or have you read one of these books? Please tell us about it!

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