Fighting Words in Romeo and Juliet
Part I of 2-Part Anti-Bullying Lesson
PREREQUISITES: Read Romeo and Juliet
LESSON OBJECTIVES: a) Closely read Shakespeare’s text in the scenes under investigation and explore the male characters’ motivations for violence; b) Examine the relationship between stereotyping and bullying in the play; c) Foster empathy
MATERIALS: Internet access, word processor (or pen and notebook), copy of Romeo and Juliet
TASK: 1) List passages in which one character insults another and explore why the young male characters are so easily offended by words. 2) Apply Juliet’s famous observation – “That which we call a rose/By any other name, would smell as sweet” – to five contemporary situations that involve people (not in your school). Be specific and explain how the line applies.
VOCABULARY: : gibes, jests, consort, discords, strife, scurvy, knave, foe, disparagement, appertaining
COMMON CORE STANDARDS MET WITH THIS LESSON:
Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
Image Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library
Anti-Bullying and Anti-Stereotyping Lesson – Part I
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But names can never hurt me.
Calling someone names (ugly, stupid, weak, worthless, etc.) is a double-edged sword that wounds both the victim and, believe it or not, the perpetrator (the person doing the name-calling).
Name-calling plants negative self-images in the victim’s mind, which, when repeated, can grow and dominate the victim’s personality. This leads to self-hatred that can last a lifetime. Australian mass-murderer Brenton Harrison Tarrant was persecuted by his peers in school. According to the New York Times (March 16, 2019), Tarrant’s classmates “described him as a teenager who was bullied, even by friends.” Ten years after graduating, the negativity planted inside of him exploded, and Tarrant murdered fifty innocent people peacefully practicing their religion, wounding 40 more.
Name-calling is a way of poisoning someone’s self-image. Judgmental looks, stares and glances can be just as toxic, especially when repeated over and over by one or more people.
How does bullying hurt the bully? First, it diminishes his or her humanity. A human being has the capacity to feel for others (to empathize). If you persistently bully others, you erode your ability to empathize, to be humane and therefore to be fully human.
Secondly, bullying is a tactic used by the bully (perhaps unconsciously) to divert negativity from himself or herself by directing it at someone else. Making another person feel inadequate transfers negative attention from the bully to the victim. People who have healthy self-esteem don’t need to prove themselves by putting other people down. The bully is an ego on a teeter-totter. To raise himself up, the bully needs to put someone else on the low end of the teeter-totter – otherwise he falls to the bottom. The bully acts tough on the outside because s/he’s weak inside – a mentally and emotionally insecure person. To become truly strong, the bully needs to learn to like himself or herself. Only then will he or she stop feeling the need to harass others.
People act big
because they feel small,
if they felt equal,
they wouldn’t act at all.*
People who have healthy self-esteem don’t need to put on airs – to act big. They enjoy life simply by being themselves.
For more information see: https://www.verywellfamily.com/consequences-of-name-calling-460613.
PART A – FIGHTING WORDS IN THE TRAGEDY – 20 Points, two points for each question
- What words trigger fights in Act I, Scene 1 & Act III, Scene 1? List them with their line numbers. How harmful do you consider these words? What are some words in modern English that might trigger fights? [Avoid swearing in your answer.] Why do words – which after all are only groups of sounds that have been joined together and had meanings attached to them – have such power to offend?
- What part of the mind do you think is susceptible to being wounded by words? Can that part of the brain be strengthened so that words cannot hurt it? If so, how?
- Notice that when the two Capulet servants are alone together before the brawl in Act I Scene 1, they compete and put each other down.
SAMPSON: I strike quickly, being moved.
GREGORY: But thou art not quickly moved to strike.
How can Gregory’s remark be viewed as a put-down?
- Explain the wordplay in the next exchange between Gregory and Sampson. How has Gregory insulted Sampson in his response?
SAMPSON: A dog of the house of Montague moves me.
GREGORY: To move is to stir, and to be valiant is to stand. Therefore, if thou art moved, thou runn’st away.
- This competitiveness in the Capulet servants’ natures becomes much more intense when it’s directed at their enemies. Compare and contrast the Sampson-Gregory competition to their rivalry with the Montague servants. Is there a psychological connection between the two forms of competition? If so, what is it?
- ALTERNATIVE REACTION: What could anyone of these feuding young men have said to cool hot tempers and reduce the competitiveness between the rival factions?
- Why are the young guys in the play so easily offended?
- Are the women as sensitive to verbal abuse as the men?
- Do any of the females in the play use words as weapons? Do the women’s words provoke fights?
- Are Lady Montague and Lady Capulet more or less prone to violence than their husbands? Support your answer with quotes from the play.
(PROVIDE THE ACT, SCENE AND LINE NUMBERS).
Building Borders and Walls or Breaching Them
With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls;
For stony limits cannot hold love out,
And what love can do, that dares love attempt. – Romeo
PART B (10 Points, 5 for each question)
“THAT WHICH WE CALL A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME WOULD SMELL AS SWEET.” – Juliet
When Juliet first discovers that Romeo is a Montague she says:
My only love, sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
Prodigious birth of love it is to me
That I must love a loathèd enemy.
AT THIS POINT Juliet stands at the border of the two families’ hatred for each other. She’s reluctant to go against her family and cross the dividing line, but after recovering from her shock (expressed in the above quote), love strengthens her, and she is able to boldly accept, embrace and love her family’s enemy. Juliet knocks down the wall between the feuding Capulets and Montagues and thinks deeply, perhaps for the first time, about the nature of the two families’ hatred, rather than simply accepting it and thoughtlessly participating in it. But she is still naturally torn between the way she was brought up to think and her new understanding. (NOTE: There is a strong political dimension to the Capulet-Montague feud which is investigated in “Italian Family Feuds,” Romeo and Juliet and the Renaissance, NEXUS.)
- WRITE OUT OR COPY THE JULIET PASSAGE BELOW FROM YOUR TEXT, THEN HIGHLIGHT IN GREEN THE WORDS THAT SHOW JULIET’S NEW WAY OF THINKING AND HIGHLIGHT IN RED THE WORDS THAT REFLECT HER OLD WAY OF THINKING AND FEELING. AFTER HIGHLIGHTING THE PASSAGE, REWRITE IT IN MODERN ENGLISH. USE YOUR OWN WORDS WITHOUT REFERRING TO ONLINE MODERN ENGLISH VERSIONS (5 points for this section).
O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is not hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
WHAT’S IN A NAME? Juliet asks.
WHAT’S IN NAME CALLING? we ask.
BULLYING STAGE 1 – THE LOOK
Gregory: I will frown as we pass by, and let them take it as they list.
LOOK → LABELING → BULLYING
IS A JUDGMENTAL LOOK ALREADY A TYPE OF BULLYING? – The look that says “You’re not one of us”; the look that says “you’re an outsider,” “an inferior,” “a loser,” “a geek” or “a freak.” This we-don’t-want-you look is typically driven by jealousy, envy, and/or insecurity. As stated above, some people need to put other people down to raise themselves up. That’s their weakness. The victim’s weakness is to allow words and labels to diminish her or him. Sampson, a Capulet servant, calls the Montagues dogs:
SAMPSON: A dog of the house of Montague moves me.
For Tybalt the name Montague is a sufficiently detestable label:
TYBALT: I hate the word [peace]/As I hate hell, and all Montagues, and thee.
Have at thee, coward!
JULIET SHOWS US HOW EASY IT IS TO LOOK BEHIND A LABEL TO SEE THE REAL PERSON THE LABEL HIDES OR DISGUISES.
She peers behind the hated name Montague and discovers the real Romeo: “What’s Montague? It is not hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man.”
IT IS EQUALLY IMPORTANT FOR ALL OF US TO LOOK PAST ANY LABELS SOMEONE PLACES ON US. WE DECIDE WHO WE ARE. NO ONE ELSE CAN – UNLESS WE LET THEM.
- APPLY JULIET’S FAMOUS OBSERVATION – “That which we call a rose/By any other name, would smell as sweet” – TO FIVE CONTEMPORARY SITUATIONS INVOLVING REAL PEOPLE (but not classmates). BE SPECIFIC AND DETAILED, AND EXPLAIN HOW JULIET’S INSIGHT APPLIES (5 points)
*Quatrain by Jesse Bryant Wilder and Allen Bryant