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"O, Wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?": The Art of Wooing in "Romeo and Juliet"

Each year when I start my "Romeo and Juliet" unit with my 8th graders, I prepare myself for the shock and disbelief my students exhibit when they discover "Romeo and Juliet" are teenagers.

"She's thirteen! That's wrong!" exclaims one incredulous boy.

"How could she get married when she's thirteen? That's unbelievable," replies a girl as she twirls her belly button ring.

"Well, I guess it's hard to believe that anyone who is thirteen could fall in love..." I say. And sure enough, each year, there are a few students who challenge me on this.

"That's not true. I've been in love," a heartsick girl says.

This begins a month-long discussion on whether young teenagers can know what love means and whether the love they feel is real, or just a form of lust. There are always a variety of interpretations of the relationship between Romeo and Juliet, and within my own classes I enjoy watching the dynamics between the girls and boys as they try to figure out what is real and what is fantasy. It's an exciting moment when they connect their own new experiences with relationships to the play and start to question their own decisions and motivations.

I find that my students have trouble believing that so long ago, in Elizabethan England, kids experienced the same feelings of frustration and elation with love that they do today.

"That was soooo long ago" they exclaim.

I start off with today's world - I ask them how people fall in love, what does love mean, and how can you tell the difference between love and lust? We discuss ways people express love to each other and how we woo each other. Then I ask them to brainstorm ways that Elizabethan people might have wooed each other.

"How should I know?" one kid always asks.

Which leads me perfectly into introducing "The Mysteries of Love and Eloquence; or the Arts of Wooing and Complementing." This is a book that suggested ways for young Elizabethans to woo each other. Published in London in 1658, this text offers some fascinating Elizabethan pick-up lines.

I hand out copies of pages 20-22 from the book, and we look over the first few compliments together. (See handout 1.) The pages show lines that wooers can use to compliment and describe the beautiful body parts of the beloved. On the overhead, I model how I read and interpret the lines. Make sure to explain to students that in the text the Elizabethans used a letter that looks like an "F" for our letter "S" (which always leads to some laughs when students look at certain'll see what I mean...). It helps to point out any unusual spellings of words (although students usually figure out most of the words on their own fairly quickly). I have students look through the compliments with a partner and translate at least five of them into their own language; then I have students share them together as a class. We discuss why someone would say such things to another person, and what we would say or do today to convey the same ideas.

As a follow-up activity, I ask students get on their feet and practice the art of wooing. The attached handout shows you another wonderful selection from "The Mysteries of Love and Eloquence; or the Arts of Wooing and Complementing": (see Handouts 2, 3, 4 addresses of courtship between a man and a woman. I take this selection and separate the text into a dialogue between a male speaker and a female speaker. Then I cut out the lines and glue them on to cards. (A practical hint-when you are cutting up the lines to prepare for this activity, it is helpful to color code: put the male lines on 5x7 blue cards and the female lines on 5x7 yellow cards. Then when students line up, you can give one line the blue cards and the other line the yellow cards. This will save you a lot of organization agony!)

Line up two rows of students facing each other. Pass out one card to each student (one row for the male cards, the other row for the female cards). Since students have already worked with partners on translating with the previous activity, they should be fairly comfortable with the language at this point. Be sure to stress to students that it is OK if they don't know how to pronounce something or if they are not exactly sure what a word means.

Give students about 30 seconds to read the line and think about how to deliver it. (You can ask a student to model the different ways to deliver a loving line, and another student to model the different way to deliver a line of someone who is resisting the loving line.) Then, going down the line, have each student step forward and say the line to the person opposite. Don't worry about gender. Remind students that boys would have played the parts of girls in Elizabethan times anyway. Depending on the size of your class, you may need to do 2 -3 rounds of this activity.

At the end of this activity you can have an interesting discussion on how the man won the woman over in both courtships. What was the line that won her over in each one? This is a good lead in to discussing Act 2, scene 2 of "Romeo and Juliet." You can ask students to pinpoint the place when Romeo has won Juliet over and compare it to the activity you did in class.

About the Author

Rebecca Rufo teaches eighth grade humanities at the East Side Middle School (MS 114) in New York City, NY.


Handout 1
Handout 2
Handout 3
Handout 4
Teaching Shakespeare with Primary Sources

Professional Development

Quick Tips

Shakespeare "for all time": Using Primary Sources in the Present-Day Classroom
A case study by Julie Kachniasz

"O, Wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?": The Art of Wooing in "Romeo and Juliet"
A case study by Rebecca Rufo

Primary Sources: The Window Into Shakespeare's Plays
A case study by Robert Hiles

Shakespeare and Primary Sources in the Classroom
An in-depth article by Stephen Dickey

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