Crossing Borders/Breaking Boundaries
The Arts of India, 1556-1658
June 23 - July 1, 2008
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Unit of Study:            Drama

Lesson Title:              From Romeo and Juliet to Layla and Majnun: A Historical Exploration of Forbidden Love

Discipline:                  English

Grade Level:              10th Grade

Author:                      Allie Wilding

County:                      Baltimore City, MD

Time Period:              Three to five 90-minute periods



These lessons are conceived as a mini-bridge unit within a drama unit connecting a study of scenes and monologues to the reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Students will compare the forbidden love stories of Layla and Majnun to Romeo and Juliet in order to understand similar themes in literature throughout history. The study will culminate in a collaborative theatre performance where students will work in groups to write their own scenes based on a common theme of forbidden love. Following their performances, students will compose an ECR on the topic of forbidden love which can be revised at the end of the unit to include examples from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Students will be expected to cite the stories studied in class, as well as their own observations from life.


The students should have been exposed to the story of Romeo and Juliet through watching the film version by Baz Lehrmann.  Students also need familiarity with the broad literary topics of theme, character, conflict, plot, and setting. This lesson should also be conducted within the context of a drama unit that familiarizes students with dramatic text features and writing such as monologues, dialogues, scenes, acts, and stage directions. Students should also have familiarity with theatre games, exercises, and tableaux. Students also need to be familiar with how to write an ECR.


Audio recording of Derek and the Domino’s Layla, lyrics to Layla, abridged story of “Layla and Majnun,” images related to Majnun Layla story, plot charts, plot chart transparency


Lecture: “Hearts Afire: Sufism and Sufi Cultural Expression on the Indian Subcontinent,” Lourdes Alvarez
Layli and Madjnun in Persian literature (
Layla and Majnun (


English: 1.3.5 The student will explain how common and universal experiences serve as the source of literary themes that cross time and cultures.
Assessment limits:
Identifying the experiences, emotions, issues and ideas in a text or across texts that give rise to universal literary themes
Considering the influence, effect, or impact of historical, cultural, or biographical information on a text (will not be dependent on student's prior knowledge)

Drama: 3.1.a The student will demonstrate the ability to apply theatrical knowledge, principles, and practices to collaborative theatre presentations.
Assessment limits:
a. Manipulate dramatic narrative conventions to write and perform monologues or scenes that are based on personal experiences or historical events.


Fine Arts Objectives:

Students will create and perform a collaborative theatre presentation based on themes explored in the texts and film versions of “Romeo and Juliet” and “Layla and Majnun.”

Content Objectives:

Students will compose an effective Extended Constructed Response (ECR) exploring the universal literary theme of forbidden love.

Keywords/ Vocabulary:

theme, forbidden love, scene, dialogue, plot, climax, conflict, character, setting, Layla and Majnun, Sufi

Key Products:

Collaborative theatre performance, ECR exploring themes in texts and personal life.

Day 1:

Warm-Up/ Motivation: 

In small groups, students will listen to “Layla” by Eric Clapton while following along with lyrics. At each table, students will have images from the “Layla and Majnun,” story. On chart paper, each group will respond to the following prompt:

Using the lyrics to the song we just listened to, and the images at your table, create three predictions with your group about the story of “Layla and Majnun.” Be ready to back up your predictions with evidence!

Students will post their chart paper around the room, and one representative from each group will explain the predictions.

Teacher Directed (Mini-Lesson)

The teacher will explain the historical background of the story of “Layla and Majnun,” and have students consider the story of “Romeo and Juliet” while reading the text. The teacher will discuss the role of the Sufis in relation to the story of “Layla and Majnun.” The teacher will review theme and remind students of a theme statement created for “Romeo and Juliet.” The teacher will ask students to attempt to create a theme statement after listening to the story of “Layla and Majnun.”

The teacher will distribute copies of the story, as well as charts for student to track the plot of the story.  The teacher will read the story aloud, make reference to images related to the story, and then model on the overhead how students should complete the plot chart in groups. The plot chart will ask for students to complete the following elements: central conflict, theme, major characters, exposition, rising actions, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Guided Practice

After seeing the process of completing the plot chart modeled by the teacher, students will work in groups to complete the plot chart together. The teacher will then solicit volunteers from each group to fill in the class generated plot chart on the overhead.

Independent Practice

Students will be given their collaborative group performance assignment, and will spend the remainder of the period brainstorming their group performance which will be for students to work in groups to create a scene or scenes that address the theme of the stories of “Romeo and Juliet” and “Layla and Majnun,” that of forbidden or difficult love.  Groups will be given a blank plot chart and asked to complete the chart for their own scene/s.
Students will independently write a response to the following question:

How does the story of “Layla and Majnun” compare to the story of “Romeo and Juliet”? What makes the two stories different?


H.S.A. Style Exit Ticket:

Which of the following statements best identifies the theme of “Layla and Majnun”?

  1. Love is important to survival
  2. Love is often difficult to maintain
  3. Love can drive individuals to madness
  4. Love can never be destroyed

Homework: Write a response explaining how you would react if you were Majnun. Would you handle things similarly or differently? Why?

Extension: Research the role of Sufis within the tradition of Islam, and report back to the class your findings.

Day 2:

Materials: YouTube clip of “Layla and Majnun,” Bollywood film Aaja Nachle, materials for props, paper, markers, computer with digital projector.

Warm-Up/ Motivation: 

Students will watch a film clip of a Bollywood version of “Layla and Majnun” from YouTube, and answer the following question as review:

Think back to yesterday’s class as you watch the following clip from a 1976 Indian version of “Layla and Majnun.” What is the central conflict of the “Layla and Majnun” story?

(If time allows, the class may watch a Bollywood film based on the “Layla and Majnun” story entitled Aaja Nachle).

Teacher Directed (Mini-Lesson)

The teacher will review the idea of a scene and compelling dialogue. The teacher will distribute copies of the collaborative dramatic performance rubric to the class. The teacher will go through the rubric with students, and ask questions to confirm understanding. The teacher will aim to provide students with sample student generated scenes as models. The teacher will also review group roles with volunteers from the class.

Guided Practice

Students will get together with group members to begin drafting their scene/s in an “Actor’s Studio”. Each group member will be given a role within the group: director, prop maker, script writer/typist, actors, etc. Using their plot outline as a guide, students will work together to write their script.
(Depending on progress made as a class, this script writing and rehearsal can be modified or adjusted to include more class periods)

Independent Practice

Each student will independently answer the following question:

What is the theme of your group’s scene? How does that theme relate to the theme of “Layla and Majnun”?

(If time allows, students can also create invitations for a performance of their scenes to be distributed to selected classes)


H.S.A. Style Exit Ticket

Which of the following words is used as a modifier to best describe Majnun?

  1. Jealous
  2. Love
  3. Sorrowful
  4. Passionate

Day 3

Materials: Performance space, ECR prompt, rubric, performance evaluation, group evaluations

Warm-Up/ Motivation:

Students will respond to the following question:

How should an ideal audience act during a performance? List at least five appropriate behaviors for an audience to follow, and five inappropriate behaviors that an audience should avoid.

Teacher Directed (Mini-Lesson)

The teacher will review the performance evaluation for students to complete following each performance. The teacher will model the process for completing the evaluation on the overhead.

Guided Practice

Students will perform their scenes for the class and invited classes on the theme of forbidden love.

Students will evaluate their group members, and other class members on their performances.

Independent Practice

Once all groups have finished with their performance, students will compose an ECR on the following topic as a connection to their dramatic work and the stories read/viewed in class:

In the next play we will read as a class (A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare), one of the main characters says, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Using your knowledge of texts read and viewed in class, as well as your own experiences and observations, write an effective ECR explaining whether or not you agree or disagree with this statement. Be sure that your ECR is logically organized, and include evidence to support your claim.


Collaborative performances, ECR.

Possible Extensions:

Students can revise their ECRs after reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Students can compose image analysis BCRs comparing Majnun’s poetry for Layla to images from the Mughal period illustrating the story

Items yet to be generated or included:

Sample scene
Plot chart outline
Rubric for performance
Group evaluation sheet
Performance evaluation sheet
Reading selection of Layla and Majnun


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Sponsored by
the Center for Renaissance & Baroque Studies
and the Maryland State Department of Education