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Romeo and Juliet - Understanding the Text

This GCSE English Literature quiz will challenge you on understanding the text in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet was written over four hundred years ago. Although it is written in what is known as ‘Early Modern’ English, the language can seem unfamiliar and can sometimes cause trouble for students. This play will not be the easiest text you ever read. Nevertheless, it is famous for the beauty of its language and will reward any effort you give to understanding it. Reading slowly, reading sections more than once and reading aloud will certainly help with comprehension.

At its most basic, this play is a story of thwarted and tragic love, the type of story well known in Shakespeare’s day and in ours.

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As with any other text, pay close attention to the methods and techniques which all authors use to convey meaning. Spend time analysing character, setting, plot, theme and dialogue. Comprehension of a text works on several levels simultaneously. Ask yourself how context and setting relate to the events in the play. Consider the sequence of events, especially paying attention to shifts of scene, as well as to the differing lengths of scenes, some of which linger in one place for a while in this text.

Create a timeline of events in order to be able to picture the structure of the play. Although events occur chronologically in Romeo and Juliet, consider the impact of the swift pace of events, remembering that these take place in the space of only a few days. Creating act and scene summaries is useful in helping you remember and better understand the text.

Think about the words and actions of each character and what these reveal about their motivations. Do any clues in the text explain their behaviour? Do we believe them to speak truthfully, or do they conceal the truth with their words? Do characters’ words and actions correspond to one another? Try to answer why or why not, justifying your views by referring in detail to the text.

Analysing beginnings and endings will greatly benefit your understanding of the play. Why does the play begin where it does? What do we learn in the first scene? How do you know about previous events? What do we know about the characters and how do we learn it? Can you think of any future events which are foreshadowed? How is this accomplished? Use this same method to analyse individual acts and scenes. Undertaking detailed analysis of this sort will boost your knowledge and understanding of the text!

Read the questions below on Romeo and Juliet and test your knowledge and understanding of the text.

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  1. Which of the following misfortunes contributes to Romeo's suicide?
    A series of misfortunes results in Romeo believing Juliet to be dead
  2. Which of the following is NOT a significant event in Act I, Scene 1?
    The first act of the play sets up the events to follow: we learn that Capulets and Montagues can descend into bloody violence at slight provocation, that Romeo is predisposed to love and that death awaits any member of the feuding families who becomes swept up in violence. Juliet and Romeo meet at the end of the first act
  3. Who draws his sword first in the fight which leads to Mercutio's and Tybalt's deaths and Romeo's banishment?
    Mercutio's eagerness to fight makes darkly ironic his repeated remark: "A plague o' both your houses"
  4. What does Juliet promise her mother she will do at the feast held at the Capulet home?
    Paris has asked to marry Juliet and Capulet responds that he will give consent if Juliet agrees. His wife asks Juliet to consider his request during the feast
  5. Why is Romeo banished from Verona?
    Because Tybalt had just killed Mercutio, Romeo is banished rather than being sentenced to death as the Prince had earlier promised
  6. What is the Nurse's role in Romeo and Juliet's secret marriage?
    The Nurse also provides the ladder which Romeo will use to climb to Juliet's room
  7. What does Juliet's mother mean when she tells her daughter, "By my count / I was your mother much upon these years / That you are now a maid"?
    Juliet's mother encourages her daughter, who is not quite fourteen, to marry, reminding her that many girls of her age are already married with children
  8. What does Juliet mean when she asks, "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo"?
    "Wherefore" means "why", so Juliet asks rhetorically, "Why are you Romeo". She bewails her misfortune at falling in love with a member of the Montague family
  9. Who are buried together at the end of the play?
    The play, filled with violence throughout, ends with further waste of life as Romeo and Paris battle over Juliet's tomb. Romeo lays Paris to rest in the tomb, recognising him both as a new kinsman and as one who also loves Juliet. The three young dead are sealed together in the tomb at the end of the play
  10. What is Friar Laurence's motivation for agreeing to help Romeo?
    The Friar is familiar with Romeo's tendency to fall in love and warns against hastiness. He agrees to help the young couple nonetheless because their marriage might prevent further tragedy in Verona

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