William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy exploring the themes of love, loyalty and animosity revolving around two main characters Romeo, from the Montague family and Juliet, from the Capulet family. In the play, Shakespeare uses many poetic techniques to present the different stages of all these themes and to widen the audience’s perception of the main characters themselves. There have been many different versions of the play; however this essay will focus particularly on Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film adaptation and compare the characterisation of Romeo with the same character in the original play.
In Act 1 Scene 5 of the play, Romeo attends a masquerade ball held by the Capulet family. He is represented as being ‘love struck’ and a hopeless romantic during his first glimpse of Juliet. The phrase ‘Beauty too rich for use, for Earth too dear:’ demonstrates that he believes she is too good for the Earth itself and ought to be in heaven with the angels. Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter to make the phrase flow together and also a rhyming scheme to show that Romeo is from a well-educated and aristocratic family. The use of the word ‘rich’ shows that Romeo believes she is valuable and compares her to that of a possession which demonstrates the time period in which it was written in as it was Patriarchal society.
Shakespeare uses hyperboles to further emphasise the fact that Romeo is profoundly in love with Juliet and displays that he is idealistic and passionate about her. The use of dramatic irony in the phrase also creates sympathy for Romeo and shows him in a naï¿½ve way as he describes Juliet as if she should be in heaven which from the audience perspective is ironic as they know that both Romeo and Juliet will die together because of their passion and love for each other.
In the film version, Juliet is also seen to have a profound effect on Romeo during their first meeting however Baz Luhrmann has amplified this for the purposes of the film. He shows Romeo as intrigued and open to Juliet, though also indicates his naivety to the audience. Romeo’s first sight of Juliet is through a fish tank as he sees her eye. This has connotations of romance and mystery as he does not know what is on the other side of the tank and it is said that eyes provide entry to the soul. It also demonstrates that Romeo is interested in what he sees as he does not attempt to move away from the fish tank throughout the shot.
No words are exchanged during the two characters in this section to illustrate the immediate connection they have towards each other. Romeo wore a knight’s costume to show to the audience that he is Juliet’s knight in shining armour and will save her. Baz Luhrmann chose to have Romeo see Juliet through a fish tank as it expresses Romeo’s desire for freedom from the restrictions of his family as he sees that the fish are not controlled in the tank, however the tank also expresses the fact that he is naï¿½ve and mistaken as he does not see that the fish are trapped in the dimensions of the tank itself and cannot escape.
The shot is split in half, with a partial view of Romeo in one side and the fish tank in the other. This represents Romeo’s reality side versus his dreams and imagination and demonstrates that he is torn between the two sides. Prior to this, Romeo is seen removing his mask and throwing it in the water, which symbolises that he is taking off his disguise and is getting rid of his identity as a Montague. The water has connotations of cleansing and starting over which relates to Romeo as he wants to start afresh. The significance of this is very important to Romeo’s characterisation as it shows him as rebellious and disobedient towards both his family, as he is wishes not be a Montague any longer, and towards the social aspects of the party as it is a masquerade ball therefore by revealing his identity he is in breach of the social protocols. He is also causing himself danger as being part of the Montague family; he is enemies with the Capulet’s.
Act 2 Scene 2, The Balcony Scene, could be considered as the play’s most iconic and recognisable extract. Shakespeare represents Romeo as heroic, hasty and audacious. This is shown in the quote “But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” The quote demonstrates that Romeo believes Juliet is the ‘light of his life’ and without her, he would not be able to live. Romeo begins in straightforward iambic pentameter, with stresses regularly punctuating every other syllable. He also uses a metaphor to compare Juliet to the sun, showing that she is crucial to life itself as the world revolves around her. Shakespeare uses this quote as an implied stage direction to infer to the actors that for much of the scene, Romeo should be able to see Juliet, and is waiting for her arrival, but she should not be able to see him.
This demonstrates to the audience that he is trespassing and putting himself in danger as both Juliet and her kinsmen are unaware of his presence. Throughout the scene there is no physical contact between the two performers, as Juliet would have been on a raised platform, to emphasise the fact that Romeo’s love is not just skin deep. It also illustrates Romeo’s passionate and romantic side as his soliloquys and sonnets are expressive enough to emit his love to Juliet. The extract ‘The exchange of love’s faithful vow for mine.’ determines the absolute haste with which Romeo is willing to act as he had met Juliet for the first time just a few hours before. The extract is an example of a prose and so stands out to the audience. This shows that Romeo is both eager to marry his love, however is also impatient. It is this impatience and haste that will lead to their ultimate downfalls and their deaths.
Luhrmann shows Romeo in a daring way as he is trespassing to save Juliet, however also at the same time, demonstrating him in a less theatrical approach. Baz Luhrmann significantly transformed the balcony scene as it takes place in the pool courtyard of the Capulet mansion rather than on a raised terrace. The background accompaniment is further subdued than in other scenes, to demonstrate the importance of the words and feelings being expressed to the audience. The placement of the characters in the pool is symbolic as water has connotations of purity, life and youth however it can also be dangerous and unpredictable, which represents Romeo love for Juliet itself.
The editing pace slows considerably in this scene, allowing time for Shakespeare’s poetry to come through. The significance of Romeo climbing up to Juliet has connotations of a fairy-tale as Romeo is putting himself in danger in order to save his ‘damsel in distress’ from her family. This is further enforced by the guard arriving due to the disturbance, this raises the suspense for Romeo and also shows that he has no privacy and is constantly being watched. Romeo is not wearing his armour throughout the scene, which demonstrates that he is now being himself and not putting on a false act, however also shows him to be more vulnerable as he has lost the protection of his disguise. A wide shot is used to show the sheer importance of what Romeo is doing in the scene and also that he in great risk of being caught by the many guards and kinsmen of Juliet.
Finally during Act 5 Scene 3, The Death of Romeo, Shakespeare uses rhetorical questions and vast imagery to demonstrate Romeo’s state of mind and his determination to kill himself in order to be with his love. “Said he not so? Or did I dream it so? Or am I mad, hearing him talk of Juliet, ; to think it so?” demonstrates to the audience Romeo’s mental state as he is confused and constantly questioning himself. Imagery is used to convey to the audience that he mentally unstable; this is shown in the quote “When my betossed soul did not attend him as we rode?”. The use of the phrase “betossed soul” expresses ships and soul searching. It could be seen to represent Romeo himself lost at sea, which meant that he was not able to think straight. The expression “Thou womb of death; gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth” symbolically means that the beast of death has consumed Juliet, which gives the idea that Romeo wants to sacrifice himself in order to save his wife from the hands of death. The phrase “womb of death” is an example of a binary opposite as it shows both the processes of life, birth and demise. The word ‘womb’ gives the audience the impression that Romeo wants to be there, as a womb is a safe and protective haven.
However in the film adaptation, Baz Luhrmann chooses not to include the beginning of Act 5 Scene 3 from the play, when Romeo meets and slays Paris, to make the audience concentrate more on Romeo and his following actions. He is seen as desperate and not thinking straight, this is shown when Romeo enters the church after a chase scene with the police. Luhrmann uses intertextuality from an action and crime scene film in the shot to modernise the play and make it more appealing to viewers. Romeo being part of a chase scene demonstrates that he is determined to get to Juliet and would not let anyone get in his way, however also illustrates that he is not aware of the consequences of his actions towards both himself and others.
The producer uses an aerial shot to film the scene as it gives the audience a full overhead view and also reinforces the intertextuality in the scene. Luhrmann decides to place Juliet’s body in a church surrounded by hundreds of burning candles compared with that of the tomb in Shakespeare’s original play to emphasise the link between religion and the two main characters in the film. A panning shot was used to show Juliet’s body to emphasise the shock of what Romeo witnesses in the church. In this scene Romeo and Juliet are alone which displays that to Romeo, Juliet was the only person that mattered to him.
Overall both William Shakespeare and Baz Luhrmann use specific techniques to represent Romeo through many different emotional stages, however the ways in which they communicate these attitudes differ throughout both the play and adaptation. Baz Luhrmann chooses to use many contemporary techniques via costume, props and filming methods to update the play and make Romeo seem more modernised, whereas William Shakespeare portrays Romeo through language techniques such as soliloquys and sonnets to emphasise his romantic side and show that his love is not just skin deep. Both types of techniques are very effective in the characterisation of Romeo to the audience and are able to communicate the depth of feeling and emotion from his point of view.