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Romeo & Juliet Discussion Questions

Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

These discussion questions from William Shakespeare's ''Romeo and Juliet'' are separated by theme. In order to better facilitate meaningful discussions, some of these questions are briefly expanded.

Background

The many themes within Romeo and Juliet invite much discussion. Love, hate, youth, politics, and religion are chief among the topics in the play that not only make for great discussions, but can also lead to some very useful historical research. Let us examine some of these discussion questions and topics.

Time and Place

  • Discuss the setting of Romeo and Juliet. Why Italy and not England? Why Verona and not Rome or Milan?

For this topic, your discussion should include a look at the religious variations in Renaissance era Europe. Shakespeare's use of Catholic tenets and imagery quite possibly made it impossible for him to set the play in Protestant England.

Furthermore, the politics of the time, especially Italy, are also likely to have played a role in his choice. Here, a discussion of Italian politics of the Renaissance era will be useful, in order to better understand the reasons behind feuding families, such as the Capulets and Montagues.

Lastly, discuss the origins of the play itself. Shakespeare's first tragic play, Romeo and Juliet was based on an older poem titled The Tragical Historye of Romeus and Juliet which was based on two real lovers who died for each other. There were said to have lived in Verona in the year 1303.

  • Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, his first tragic love story, around 1595. Discuss how it compares to Antony and Cleopatra, which he wrote a few years later, around 1607. Both plays end in the double suicide of the lovers, but aside from that, how do they compare? Is one a better told story than the other? Does the different time period make a difference in that regard?
  • Discuss the compressed timeline of Romeo and Juliet. Can all the events really take place in just four days in real life? How can one describe this fast pace as symbolic?
  • Discuss the relationship between the teenagers in Romeo and Juliet and the adults. Are the actions of the teenagers driven by rebellion against the adults? Compare and contrast that world to today's teenagers.
  • Discuss the differences between 1961's musical West Side Story and its source, Romeo and Juliet. Do those differences change the nature of the play drastically?

Here, the important, and still relevant, issue of ethnic and race relations plays a major role. Back then, this involved Puerto Ricans and Whites, whereas these days the focus is on black rights and Whites' racist attitudes toward them. Discuss these factors, and decide whether or not anything has changed in that regard.

And while Shakespeare does not give us a reason for the feud between the houses of Capulet and Montague, we know that the Jets and the Sharks are fighting over turf. Is that a necessary addition? What other differences and similarities exist between the two stories? Are they good or bad?

Love and Hate

  • Discuss whether or not Romeo and Juliet are actually in love, or simply giving into their teenage impulses. Would they have stayed together forever if they had not killed themselves and had gotten to know each other better?

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