Romeo and Juliet Teen Suicide Activity

This is a lesson plan I’ve made that is designed to help students recognize the signs of teen suicide within the context of Romeo and Juliet. I realize this is a very heavy topic, but , much like my post about “Merchant Of Venice,” Shakespeare is my area of expertise, and since he is taught in most English speaking schools, I believe studying his plays is a safe way to address the topic of suicide. If you choose to do this activity in your class, or to adapt it, please let me know in the comments.

Summary:

There are several warning signs to suicidal behavior, and Romeo exhibits all of them, especially in Act V, Scene i.

It could be an eye opening experience for students to look through the scene and write down analytical paragraphs examining Romeo’s lines for warning signs of suicide such as:

  1. Sudden, abrupt changes in personality
  2. Increased irritability and aggressiveness
  3. Withdrawal from family, friends and relationships
  4. Giving away prized or favorite possessions (like gold)
  5. Putting their affairs in order
  6. Saying good-bye to family and friends

Other project ideas

  1. We could have the students annotate this scene for signs of suicide, then have Balthazar write a letter to Romeo’s father about his behavior, warning him about this being a preciptating event.
  2. I also found this presentation that we could show: https://prezi.com/8zhsnxylf9ic/romeo-and-juliet-suicide-prevention/ 
  3. Finally, there’s a webquest activity you could adapt for class: https://flippedtips.com/plegal/tips/t5prod/mccandlishwq2.html 

Implementation

Learning Context: 

In Act V of Rome and Juliet, once Romeo hears of Juliet’s supposed death, his personality and demanor changes as he becomes systematically and purposefully committed to suicide. According to The Jason Project, there are several warning signs that people often exhibit when threatening suicide, warning signs that could be used to prevent the suicide. If you were Romeo’s servant Balthazar, watching him give away his gold, become increasingly angry and aloof, and withdraw form the people who love him, how could you prevent him from committing suicide?

Procedure

  1. Anticipatory Set

Students will read Act V Scene 1 in modern language. We can warn them that this class will be about a very painful topic, so if they need a break or need to go to the counselor, they can signal one of us over GoGuardian.

  1. Direct Instruction
    1. I will play some or all of the Prezi on Suicide Prevention and Romeo and Juliet: https://prezi.com/8zhsnxylf9ic/romeo-and-juliet-suicide-prevention/ \
      1. I will probably skip the bullying section and the Warmup.
  2. Guided Practice
    1. We’ll annotate the script below with signs of suicide. I’ll ask questions while we go over the script to make sure the students are making connections with Romeo’s behavior and suicide.
  1. Independent Practice– The students will write a paragraph about suicide prevention, imagining they were Balthazaar and Romeo was a friend of theirs.
  2. Closing Even though this play is 400 years old, a lot of Shakespeare’s plays touch on issues effecting us now. I hope that this activity might make you better prepared for a situation that I hope you don’t need to encounter.

Materials & Resources

  1. Instructional Materials:
    1. Romeo and Suicide Prevention Prezi: https://prezi.com/8zhsnxylf9ic/romeo-and-juliet-suicide-prevention/ 
    2. The Jason Project: https://jasonfoundation.com/youth-suicide/warning-signs/  
    3. Make The Connection.org: Warning Signs for Suicide: https://www.maketheconnection.net/whats-new/the-warning-signs-for-suicide/

Assessment

Students could be assessed by their ability to recognize at least 3 signs of suicidal behavior in the play.

Annotation Activity: Warning Signs for Suicide

Directions: Annotate the speech below for warning signs of suicide such as: 

  1. Sudden, abrupt changes in personality
  2. Increased irritability and aggressiveness
  3. Withdrawal from family, friends and relationships
  4. Giving away prized or favorite possessions (like gold)
  5. Putting their affairs in order
  6. Saying good-bye to family and friends

The Text: Act V, Scene i.

Balthasar. Then she is well, and nothing can be ill:

Her body sleeps in Capel’s monument,

And her immortal part with angels lives.2825

I saw her laid low in her kindred’s vault,

And presently took post to tell it you:

O, pardon me for bringing these ill news,

Since you did leave it for my office, sir.

Romeo. Is it even so? then I defy you, stars!

Thou know’st my lodging: get me ink and paper,

And hire post-horses; I will hence to-night.

Balthasar. I do beseech you, sir, have patience:

Your looks are pale and wild, and do import

Some misadventure.

Romeo. Tush, thou art deceived:

Leave me, and do the thing I bid thee do.

Hast thou no letters to me from the friar?

Balthasar. No, my good lord.

Romeo. No matter: get thee gone,

And hire those horses; I’ll be with thee straight.

[Exit BALTHASAR]

Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee to-night.

Let’s see for means: O mischief, thou art swift

To enter in the thoughts of desperate men!

I do remember an apothecary,—

And hereabouts he dwells,—which late I noted

In tatter’d weeds, with overwhelming brows,

Culling of simples; meagre were his looks,

Sharp misery had worn him to the bones:2850

And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,

An alligator stuff’d, and other skins

Of ill-shaped fishes; and about his shelves

A beggarly account of empty boxes,

Green earthen pots, bladders and musty seeds,2855

Remnants of packthread and old cakes of roses,

Were thinly scatter’d, to make up a show.

Noting this penury, to myself I said

‘An if a man did need a poison now,

Whose sale is present death in Mantua,2860

Here lives a caitiff wretch would sell it him.’

O, this same thought did but forerun my need;

And this same needy man must sell it me.

As I remember, this should be the house.

Being holiday, the beggar’s shop is shut.

What, ho! apothecary!

[Enter Apothecary]

Apothecary. Who calls so loud?

Romeo. Come hither, man. I see that thou art poor:

Hold, there is forty ducats: let me have

A dram of poison, such soon-speeding gear

As will disperse itself through all the veins

That the life-weary taker may fall dead

And that the trunk may be discharged of breath

As violently as hasty powder fired

Doth hurry from the fatal cannon’s womb.

Apothecary. Such mortal drugs I have; but Mantua’s law

Is death to any he that utters them.

Romeo. Art thou so bare and full of wretchedness,

And fear’st to die? famine is in thy cheeks,2880

Need and oppression starveth in thine eyes,

Contempt and beggary hangs upon thy back;

The world is not thy friend nor the world’s law;

The world affords no law to make thee rich;

Then be not poor, but break it, and take this.2885

Apothecary. My poverty, but not my will, consents.

Romeo. I pay thy poverty, and not thy will.

Apothecary. Put this in any liquid thing you will,

And drink it off; and, if you had the strength

Of twenty men, it would dispatch you straight.2890

Romeo. There is thy gold, worse poison to men’s souls,

Doing more murders in this loathsome world,

Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell.

I sell thee poison; thou hast sold me none.

Farewell: buy food, and get thyself in flesh.

Come, cordial and not poison, go with me

To Juliet’s grave; for there must I use thee.

Writing Prompt:

What should Balthezar do? If Romeo and he lived in modern times, how could he help prevent his friend’s suicide? What resources are avialible to people with suicidal thoughts or behaviors? Do some research using the following resources:

  1. The Jason Project: https://jasonfoundation.com/youth-suicide/warning-signs/  
  2. Make The Connection.org: Warning Signs for Suicide: https://www.maketheconnection.net/whats-new/the-warning-signs-for-suicide/

 Write a paragraph on how you would help Romeo if you were Balthazaar, using the resources above.

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