The universal themes of Romeo and Juliet make it a timeless classroom text. Students can explore issues of prejudice, centuries-old hatred, forbidden love, and the futility of fighting. In order to make Romeo and Juliet relevant to diverse student populations, educators must find ways to make the text malleable and accessible to all students. The use of moving images, film, and student-produced content extends the text beyond the written word. As students view multiple interpretations of Romeo and Juliet and create their own, the play takes on a whole new meaning–one that is relevant to students’ own lives and cultures. They can access and discover personal meanings through manipulations of gender, race, age, and ethnicity. Not only do students strengthen their comprehension of Shakespeare, but they also gain a better understanding of the world they live in–how it functions, thrives, and falters.
Before students jump into a lesson on any Shakespearean play, they must first be acquainted with context. Here is a 10 minute video that introduces the playwright, the Elizabethan era, and his most memorable works:
Before students plan and outline their own production of Romeo and Juliet scenes, have them watch this video of the fight scene leading up to Mercutio’s death (Baz Lurhmann film). Tell students to pay close attention to creative/directorial decisions, the way gender and race is portrayed, costume choice, setting, line delivery, etc. Ask them to jot down any interesting observations.
Below is the theatrical trailer to Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film. Have students observe the way images, words, and music come together to deliver a message or create meaning. Showing this video is a great introduction to students’ own trailer creations.
Here is the trailer to the 2009 production of Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe theater. The actor that plays Romeo is black. This video can be used to preface classroom conversations of race relations or how race is represented in Shakespearean plays.
Below is the death scene from the end of Zefferelli’s 1968 film. This clip can be used in contrast to Luhrmann’s “modern” adaptation.
Here is a Romeo and Juliet rap produced by Poetry n’ Motion: