Veronica L. Watts teaches English at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange, Florida.
Romeo and Juliet
(This lesson can be used with any play that explores the concepts of fate and fortune.)
What's On for Today and Why
In this lesson, students will analyze characters' personalities and relate them to the study of astrology in Shakespeare's time. This activity will increase the students’ understanding of early modern beliefs about astrology and, in doing so, give them a greater understanding of Shakespearean character traits.
This lesson will take two to three class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of Romeo and Juliet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Background Information on Astrology
A briefe and most easie: Aries, Taurus, Gemini
A briefe and most easie: Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Lib
A briefe and most easie: Pisces
A briefe and most easie: Scorpio, Sagittarius, C
A briefe and most easie: Title Page
Romeo and Juliet Zodiac Sign Chart
What To Do
1. Ask students what "fate" is. Discuss the answers as a class. Do they believe in fate?
2. Have students read the "Background Information on Astrology" handout (attached below). As a class, discuss beliefs about fate and fortune in Shakespeare's time.
3. Distribute the "Romeo and Juliet Zodiac Sign Chart" handout (attached below). Ask students to write five adjectives to describe each of the characters. Students may work individually or in groups.
4. Next, hand out the pages from Claude Dariot's A briefe and most easie introduction to the astrologicall iudgement of the starres, published in 1598 (attached below). (For more lesson ideas using this primary source, follow this link. For more primary source lesson ideas concerning astrology, visit the Folger's page on Gervase Dauncy's 1614 almanac, His president for the starres.)
5. Have students compare the adjectives on their charts to those on Dariot's chart. Using Dariot's chart, have students determine which early modern Zodiac sign best suits each character. Have them write the signs on their charts.
6. For each character, have students write two quotations from Shakespeare's text that support their choice of Zodiac sign. Both quotations must support the sign they've chosen, but they should support two different characteristics of that sign. For example, for an Aries, one quotation might show that the character is sickly and another might show that the character is commanding.
7. Have students share their work with the class. They should be prepared to discuss and defend their choices. Are the beliefs of early modern astrology reflected in Shakespeare's characters? Why or why not?
How Did It Go?
Did students gain a greater understanding of the characters and of the beliefs of Shakespeare's time? Did they effectively use text to support their assertions? Did they find connections between Shakespeare's characters and early modern beliefs about astrology?
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.