A Shakespearean Tea Party

Romeo and Juliet is a tale of two star-crossed lovers that has been studied by high school students for generations. But to prepare for their reading of this timeless Shakespearean tragedy, Class 8 students in Diane Spillios’ English class did something quite out of the ordinary. They threw a tea party!

The goal of the party was for the students to come away with a strong understanding of the play’s main characters. Each was given a nametag and assigned a different character from the play (Romeo, Juliet, Paris, Mercutio, Tybalt, Friar Laurence, and Juliet’s Nurse), which they would portray. They read short write-ups on their characters’ background, personality, and struggle, then jotted down a few key points to aid them throughout the class.

“This is a performance!” Miss Spillios explained, encouraging her students to truly embody their characters. “As you meet the other people at the party, pay attention to things like social class and age, and think about how these would affect how you interact with them.”

Renaissance music filled the room as the party began, and the students immediately jumped into action, assuming the personas of their assigned characters. Miss Spillios acted as the tea party hostess by encouraging various guests to chat and circling the room with a tray of sweet candy treats she referred to as “refreshments.” The students spent time getting to know people, and then returned to their desks to jot down notes before rejoining the group.  

“I run confession at the church, so I know a lot of the Capulets’ and Montagues’ secrets, and I’m concerned about the rivalry between the two families,” the student playing Friar Laurence shared with another party guest. Later on, the Friar came upon Romeo and Juliet and expressed his compassion for their situation saying, “I love both of your families and I hope you are able to be together.”

When Paris, the handsome and wealthy suitor of Juliet, came upon Juliet at the party, he gave her a big smile and a hug, clearly displaying his affections. “I’m in love with you,” he said to her proudly.

Some of the other characters the students met were Tybalt, the hotheaded and defiant trouble maker who is Juliet’s cousin and Romeo’s rival; the nurse, who raised Juliet and acts as her mother-figure; and Mercutio, Romeo’s sarcastic and noble best friend who is close with both the Capulets and the Montagues.

As the party ended, the students returned to their desks and answered several thought-provoking questions about their experiences. They drew symbols that they felt best represented their characters and wrote down any questions they had. They also predicted which characters would be sympathetic to their own characters’ struggles and which would be in conflict with one another. To finish, they drew sociograms, which are charts that visually explain the inter-relationships within a group.

The students left the tea party with a deeper understanding of the personalities of and relationships between the main characters of this Shakespearean classic, setting the stage for a richer experience as they begin to read.