Love, Conflict, Fate, Stars, Death: Ninth Graders Tackle Romeo and Juliet

As part of the ninth grade English curriculum, the entire grade studies Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the tragic story of the romance between two Italian youths from feuding families.

According to upper school English teacher Lisa Green, the grade 9 English faculty approach the classic play with its challenging text “in a hands-on experiential way,” using collaborative activities such as acting out scenes in class, writing original sonnets, or re-enacting a courtroom scene with Romeo on trial for killing Tybalt.

To help students “appreciate the play’s poetry, to be scholars of the language and to see it as a living breathing text for performance,” the English department engaged the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) to stage a production of “Romeo and Juliet” at Masters for the ninth grade on Friday, April 21. Noted Green, “The HVSF performance was such an exciting demonstration of the continuing relevance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ even as it was traditional in its faithfulness to the play’s language and themes.”

Following the performance, Masters students had the opportunity to talk with the actors and came away with a deeper appreciation for the play and the performers’ interpretations of their roles. In response to one student’s question about his role as Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet, the actor discussed his character’s emotional complexity, explaining that while the character’s harshness towards his daughter was hard to portray, it helped him as an actor to remember that this man is dealing with grief and rage, and while he doesn’t express his feelings in a “healthy way,” there’s still room for empathy towards him as a character.

Lucy Vargas ’26 could tell that the actors “clearly cared about their craft. Watching those talented, deliberate performers gave ‘Romeo and Juliet’ a new context of understanding. As our grade is much less experienced with Shakespeare, reading the text, or even acting it out, we won't easily establish interpersonal connections. The actors that performed clearly thought about every word and action, and they made very purposeful acting choices. The ability to apply those ideas and sentiments onto the text is a very helpful one, especially for the world of Shakespeare.”

“Seeing Romeo and Juliet in person can really change the way that someone understands the play,” said Lio Gary ’26. “It’s not particularly my favorite play. I think I’ve learned the same things everyone has when reading ‘Romeo and Juliet’: ‘Don’t marry a person you just met. Mercutio and Benvolio should have fallen in love. That’s the real tragedy.’”

For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.