Romeo And Juliet Prologue Assignment Of Lease

This activity has been around forever; it "was" close reading before "close reading" became a buzzword for the CCSS.  Basically, the students take the R&J Prologue and break it down, word by word.  It can be painstaking, but -- once students get the hang of it -- they realize that it's really not hard.  Working together on this small chunk of text teaches kids that Shakespeare is fairly accessible...if you take your time.

When students came in today, I presented them with this sheet.  I didn't do any real instruction, I just told them that printed on the paper was the Prologue to Act I in Romeo and Juliet.  The definition of "prologue" is at the bottom of the handout that I gave them, but I read it aloud. We talked about the function of a prologue, why an author might want to include one, and if they had seen a prologue before.  Some students likened the prologue to a Forward in a novel, or an Author's Note.  Of course, while those terms can be interchangeable, it depends on the author's purpose (ding! ding! ding!  Author's purpose again.)  

After the brief introduction, we read the Prologue aloud.  I then challenged the students to "decode" Shakespeare's language WHILE retaining the meaning.

When the students had finished and they turned in their work, I explained to them that Shakespeare both sets the stage and spoils the ending in the Prologue, so we talked about why he would do that.

Note:  I collected this assignment and I plan to read them over to evaluate their interpretations and to see who might need more help as we move forward with the Shakespeare unit.  I will come back to it for instructional purposes next week, when we start the play.

Author: Lucretia M. Anderson, Former Elementary School Program Coordinator, Folger Shakespeare Library

Editor: Greta Brasgalla, Folger National Teacher Corps and Curriculum Specialist at El Dorado High School, El Paso, TX, and Corinne Viglietta, Assistant Director of Education at Folger Shakespeare Library

Common Core Anchor Standards: R.1, R.2, SL.1, SL.6, W.9

Text:Romeo and Juliet, prologue

Lesson Overview

Students will perform the prologue to Romeo and Juliet as a pre-reading activity. Through movement and vocal work, students will work in groups to create a brief presentation of the prologue to clarify meaning, get to know the style and language of the text, and make inferences about the play's central questions.

Time: Two to three 45-minute class periods


What To Do

Day One

  1. Have students break up into groups of two or three. Give each group two or three numbered lines from the fifteen minute plot narrative.
  2. Allow students a few minutes to practice how they might say the line with some slight movement or gesture. Each person must say at least part of the line, if not all reciting chorally.
  3. Once the groups have practiced, have students stand in a circle. The leader should read the narrative, calling out each number that corresponds to a line from the play as it appears on the page. When a group's number is called, students should enter the circle and perform their line(s) as they have practiced, stepping back into their place in the circle when finished.
  4. Discuss the possible themes from the play and write them on the board.

Day Two

  1. Distribute copies of the prologue to students. Read it aloud and invite student questions about vocabulary and structure. Help students use context clues to determine the meanings of unfamiliar words.
  2. Have each quatrain (four line chunks) of the prologue typed on cards to distribute to the students in groups. There will be one card with only two lines for the rhyming couplet.
  3. Divide the students into four groups. Have students rehearse a performance of their card's lines that includes reading chorally or individually, physically expressing the words through movement and gestures, and showing the meaning of their lines of text in at least one frozen dramatic pictures (tableau).
  4. After rehearsal, students should perform their part of their prologue in front of the class in sequential order.
  5. Compare and contrast the contemporary plot narrative from the warm up and the prologue from the play. One strategy for this activity is to project both passages side by side on the board. Invite students to point out differences either orally or as a “chalk talk” in which students mark up the board silently before a whole-class discussion. If your students know rhetorical and literary devices, have them identify them and compare the two texts on this basis. Almost always, students reach the conclusion on their own that Shakespeare’s original language is superior in its style and richness. If you choose to take a deep dive into this activity, it alone can take up a whole class period. Afterwards, though, students are poised to close-read and appreciate the real thing, not a paraphrase.


Possible writing prompts:

  • What is the tone of the prologue? What words and phrases make you say this?
  • In your opinion, which line tells us the most about the world we are about to enter? What makes you say this?
  • Write a brief paragraph of the plot of the story in your own words.
  • Summarize the differences between the prologue and its plot narrative paraphrase. Use evidence from both passages to support your claim.

Exit ticket:  Three things I know about the play; two things I can guess will happen; one question I have.

Leave a Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *