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Romeo and Juliet
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Romeo and Juliet is often the first Shakespeare play that middle- or high-school students read. It's a tragic, romantic story about two young lovers who get caught in the crossfire of their parents' conflict. Shakespearean language can be challenging to read, especially at first, and newcomers would do best with a well-annotated edition that explains difficult words and constructions. Romeo and Juliet includes little inappropriate sexual content or profanity, but there are a few very violent scenes in which major characters are run through with swords. Director Franco Zeffirelli's beautiful 1968 film version is very true to the play, and well worth seeing. A much more modern and artful, but brutal, film starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio was well received when it came out in 1996. It's also worth checking out the 1961 musical film West Side Story, which was based on this timeless play.
What's the story?
Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet takes place in Verona, Italy, where the houses of Capulet and Montague are in conflict. Each of these older men commands the loyalty of numerous friends and family members, and the factions battle in the city streets. The town is ruled by Prince Escalus, who warns the citizens that he will not tolerate any further bloodshed and mayhem from the opposing factions. Capulet's daughter, Juliet, and Montague's son, Romeo, meet at a feast held by Capulet and fall in love. The two are sweethearts are determined to be together despite the division between their families, and they secretly marry. Romeo is later goaded into fighting with Capulet's cousin Tybalt, who is stabbed and killed. Romeo is then banished from Verona. Meanwhile, Capulet wants Juliet to marry another man, and Juliet knows she can't tell her parents whom she has already married. She conspires with the friar who married them to deceive her family so that she can steal away and be with Romeo. It's not until that plan ends tragically that the two families realize how foolish they have been.
Is it any good?
Not surprisingly, Romeo and Juliet has it all: clever dialogue, passionate romance, violent conflict, and plenty of poetry. Modern readers might have to suspend their disbelief to accept Romeo and Juliet's grand passion, but with a little patience, readers will be transported by the epic beauty of one of the world's best-loved plays.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the love between Romeo and Juliet -- two tenagers who have known each other for only about one day. Is this love at first sight? Is their love heightened by the obstacles they face?
The Capulets and Montagues hate each other, but we don't know why. Does it matter?
Do you think Shakespeare's play glamorizes suicide?
Why do you think this play is considered a classic and is often required reading in school?
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