I teach ninth grade English, and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is in the English I curriculum. I honestly love teaching this play. Most of the time, before it’s all over, my ninth graders don’t hate it too much either.
I’ve taught this play several times now, and every time I do, I think about all the many things that people in today’s world can still learn from it. I’m convinced one of the main reasons we are still reading certain older texts is because people are still dealing with the same issues today. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, so let’s learn from them what not to do to avoid tragedy in our own lives.
Don’t act rash.
Character flaws lead tragic heroes to their downfalls, and acting too hastily is Romeo’s big time flaw. Romeo meets Juliet, marries her the following afternoon, kills her cousin three hours after the ceremony, visits Juliet that night, flees to a nearby town the next day, receives word that Juliet is dead, and promptly takes his own life that night. What Romeo does not know is that Juliet is merely feigning death. He acts just minutes before that message is delivered. See how this whole play could have had several different outcomes had Romeo just taken a minute to think about his decisions? Take a cue from Romeo’s impulsive nature and take time in making your decisions, whether big or little. Now that you’ve had a quick reminder of the play, let’s move right along.
Pay attention to your instincts (and those red flags waving around).
At the beginning of the play, Romeo and his friends decide to crash the Capulet’s party, but before arriving, Romeo mentions that he has a premonition of his own death. Yes, Romeo’s feeling is extreme, but Juliet has a very similar one later in Act III. (Shakespeare’s foreshadowing at it’s best.) Their instincts were sending them a message, but they chose not to listen. We all have little pulls one way or the other that warn us against danger. Our conscience works in our favor! If you have an unsettled feeling or a sense that something just isn’t quite right, pay attention to your instincts. They’re there for a reason.
Stop being disobedient, so to speak.
The family who is throwing this shindig hates Romeo’s family (and that feeling is mutual), but, it’s a masquerade so Romeo is covered – literally. But should he be? Romeo’s not supposed to be anywhere near this party, per his parents, the hosts, and basically everyone, as the feud is public knowledge. This is only the start of his disobedience. He and Juliet ramp this up several notches when they decide to marry secretly less than 2 hours after meeting each other. Juliet even plans to run away with Romeo after faking her own death. Can you imagine?! Are they doing any of this out of spite? Of course not. But are they considering anyone else? Nope. Regardless of the reason for the feud (in case you’re wondering, it’s never specified), Romeo and Juliet blatantly disregard everyone else’s feelings. But why? They fail to consider that their friends and family (and even servants) love them and only want good for them. Similarly, remember that the people who love you always have your best interest at heart. They want what’s best for you.
Don’t hide things.
Romeo and Juliet don’t tell their parents nor their friends of their love because they fear that their parents will, of course, forbid their marriage. You may not be hiding your entire relationship because you’re afraid of forbiddance, but you may be hiding pieces of your life from your friends and family because you know they’ll disapprove. Or perhaps you aren’t seeking advice because you’re embarrassed about whatever you want to ask about – but that’s telling in and of itself. If you’re hiding things, this alone is a red flag. (See above.) Assuming your advice-giver is of sound mind, if you think the response you might get is going to be one of warning or disapproval, you likely already know the advice they’ll give.
Have no fear, this doesn’t end here. We’ve got half the play (and half the lessons) left to discuss. So, in the words of DJ Casper, stick around for part II.