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Unit 1: Shakespeare Speaks
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Session 18

Is Robert Harley really going to put a ring on Janet Bassett's finger? Or is Janet living in a fool's paradise? We'll explore the meaning of the phrase a fool's paradise - and bring you some great expressions for talking about reality and fantasy.

Session 18 score

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    Activity 1
  • 0 / 4
    Activity 2
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    Activity 3

Activity 1

A fool's paradise

Romeo and Juliet, the star-cross'd lovers
William Shakespeare's tale of the star-crossed lovers continues to have a powerful effect on audiences and the main story of forbidden love is still relevant today. Young people all over the world can relate to parents becoming involved in their love lives - not normally with such dramatic results fortunately!

To do

Actor Robert Harley is playing the role of Romeo in this episode - but is life imitating art?

As you watch, find the similarities between Robert Harley’s situation and Romeo’s. The answer's under the video.

Watch the video and complete the activity

Show transcript Hide transcript

It was a sunny August morning. William Shakespeare is at the market.

Get your cherries, lovely ripe cherries! Come over here and get your cherries…

Ahhh… sweet, ripe cherries! Two pounds, please, Mary.

Here you are Mr Will.

And how's the family Mary? All well?

Growing up fast, you know how it is… my Janet's a worry though. That Robert Harley says he wants to marry her, but I don't trust him: I think he just wants to have his way with her and what will we do Mr Will if she ends up just 14 years old with a baby and no husband?!

Now Mary, I'm sure young Robert will do right by Janet. Look at me, didn't I marry my Anne when she was in trouble? And here we are now, still together with three children…

You're not too happy though, are you Mr Will?

Marriage isn't easy Mary, you know that.

Oh, Mr Will. Last week he was in love with that Rosie from the village and this week it's my Janet's turn. He's promised her clothes, money, ribbons for her hair, and she's so in love with him she believes all of it! I tell you, she's living in a fool's paradise!

A fool's paradise… hmmm… That might sound good in my play! Romeo and Juliet, the star-cross'd lovers. Romeo says he'll marry Juliet but Juliet's nurse doesn't trust him. She warns him not to make false promises just to get Juliet into bed. Listen Mary, it'll go like this: …let me tell ye, if ye should lead her…

let me tell ye, if ye should lead her into
a fool's paradise, as they say, it were a very gross
kind of behaviour,

That's really good Mr Will.

Thank you, Mary. You can use it if you like…

We'll leave them there for now. In Shakespeare's day, it was legal for girls to marry at the age of 14, although people usually got married when they were older. It was not uncommon for women to already be pregnant when they got married – as was the case with William Shakespeare's own marriage. These days, the phrase a fool's paradise describes any situation that somebody thinks is good, without realising that it won't last – or that it's actually bad. Take this 2015 BBC News headline, written when the value of the single European currency fell to record lows – making it cheap to buy for investors, but not particularly safe:

Clip 1
The euro: Good bet or a fool's paradise?

Clip 2
Jack's work is terrible. He's living in a fool's paradise if he thinks he's getting a pay rise.

Just wait till I catch up with that Mr Robert. If you see him Mr Will, you be sure to tell me.

Hmmm… to tell, or not to tell: that is the question.

Robert Harley is in a very similar situation to Romeo. Robert wants to marry Janet, but Janet's mother thinks that Robert can't be trusted. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo wants to marry Juliet, but Juliet's nurse thinks that Romeo can't be trusted.

But the story of Romeo and Juliet didn't end well - they both died! Let's hope that Robert and Janet have a happier ending.

To do

Now let's look more closely at the video. There are some tricky phrases in this episode, so have a go at this quiz to find out how well you understood. Watch the episode again first to help you.

Who loves who?

4 Questions

Fill the gaps to check your understanding of this episode.

Congratulations you completed the Quiz
Excellent! Great job! Bad luck! You scored:
x / y

How did you do?
3-4 correct - congratulations, there's no fooling you!
0-2 correct - oh dear, why not look at the transcript and try again?


On the next pages we'll explore the meaning and form of the phrase a fool's paradise, and we'll introduce you to some more great expressions for talking about people who have unrealistic plans and ideas.

Session Vocabulary

  • For more great Shakespeare content visit our partner,The OU


    A fool's paradise

    These days, the phrase a fool's paradise describes any situation that somebody thinks is good, without realising that it won't last – or that it's actually bad.

    Example sentence
    Jack's work is terrible. He's living in a fool's paradise if he thinks he's getting a pay rise.


    Extra vocabulary

    star-crossed lovers
    very unlucky lovers

    a fool
    a silly person

    fool someone
    trick or deceive someone 

    have your way with someone
    have sex with someone

    do right by someone
    treat someone well and fairly

    come back to earth (with a bump)
    to accept reality again after a pleasant experience or a hopeful dream 

    to have your head in the clouds
    to be unaware of what is happening around you in the real world

    a wishful thinker
    a person who has hopes and plans that are unlikely to happen in reality

    living in a dream world
    having ideas or hopes which are not practical and are not likely to be successful

    a pipe dream
    a hope which is impossible to achieve or not realistic

    sensible and realistic

    someone who has the ability to think clearly and realistically and makes good decisions

    to have your feet on the ground
    to be sensible, practical and realistic


    About Shakespeare Speaks

    Shakespeare Speaks is a co-production between:

    BBC Learning English

    The Open University


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