Yes, I make my student memorize Shakespeare’s prologue to Romeo and Juliet.
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend. (I.i.1-14)
To prepare them for the poem, I opened with the 2009 video Darrin Landroché:
We discussed the images and the music choices to communicate a message. Most of the student know that Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy; this was not a “plot spoiler.”
Right now, however, they are baffled by some of the vocabulary contained in the lines of the opening sonnet. (“Mrs. B, What are ‘loins’?”) On the other hand, there are certain phrases they have already committed to memory. I hear them repeat “where civil blood makes civil hands unclean” and “star-cross’d lovers” under their breath when I ask what they remember.
This morning, I gave them a CLOZE exercise, leaving out words for them to fill in: “_____households both alike in dignity”. They could research the missing words by looking at the small copy of the poem I had them glue into their notebooks.
The best idea, however, has come from my fellow teacher (Ms. S-V) who designed an “annotated prologue” project. We are a BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) high school, so digital platforms are used regularly, especially the Google Apps. For this assignment, students illustrate the poem with pictures and links and embed those with the lines of the poem onto a Google Doc.
We did not require a works cited; I would require one if we do this again in the future.
So far, the project is going well. The Google images features are familiarizing students with Verona, Italy. They are also having to find ways to illustrate “piteous overthrows”. Most all of their responses are literal connections. Some of the first efforts are heavy with links to songs or movies. All of the annotated prologues have visual elements; some are exclusively visual. Here one example from a student that looks much better that the formatting on this blog. While I love the “two hours traffic”, it’s the “patient ears” that makes me smile. Good work, Molly!