Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrman offer the cinema audience a very different interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Using Act 3 Scene 1 discuss these two interpretations in terms of whether they have made the original text more accessible. You need to take into consideration the historical context and audience for which all three were intended
Romeo and Juliet is about ” two star-crossed lovers ” whose fortunes do not meet.
These two lovers are from two opposing families that are in civil confrontation. It is an endearing love story in which fate and impetuous actions leads not only to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet but also, the deaths of people around them.
From the start of the play, we are at a disadvantage because the language is contemporary to Shakespearean time. This makes it difficult for a modern day audience to access. Language evolves and we now have a somewhat different vocabulary. For example, the word awful meant full of God but it now has negative connotations as we think of the awful as being terrible. In addition, words like sweet and phat in the 21st century have positive connotations yet sometime ago they would not.
Both directors bring the play to life because it is hard to understand a play flat of a page. From watching the play in a film version we can understand a lot from facial expressions and body language. In addition, plays are supposed to be acted out to an audience. The film has sound, action and lighting which brings the archaic language to life.
In the original play there are few stage directions. There are only a few stage directions because Shakespeare would have directed the play himself. The only stage directions that we see in the text regards the first scene are line 131 (they fight: Tybalt falls) line, 74 (drawn his sword). From just the stage directions, it is very difficult for us to try and to imagine what Shakespeare would have wanted the audience to see.
There is a lot of humour at the start of the scene between Mercuito and Benvolio. However, the humour is hard to understand because of the archaic language. ” Thou! Why, thou wilt quarrel with a man that hath a hair more, or hair less”. This means that Benvolio will fight with any man if he has less or more hair than him or he will fight with anyone for any reason at all. This humour is often lost in the text but when acted out it becomes more accessible and understandable.
In the scene, in Zeffirelli’s version where Mercuito tries to undermine and humiliate Tybalt by acting as a washerwoman the humour comes alive. When we see this scene acted out, we can understand the character’s body language and Mercuito’s change of voice, to make him sound like a woman yet it also makes the humour more understandable. In addition, we see Tybalt’s fate after Mercuito has humiliated him and we can see he is totally enraged and this helps us to understand that what Mercuito is saying is humiliating him and will end in disaster. In the Baz Luhrman version Mercuito acts ‘camp’ towards Tybalt. This is seen through Mercuito’s body language and actions. This would not be seen from the text as all that we are looking at is line 75 (drawing) and line 78 (they fight). So, both films bring the film to life and make it more accessible and understandable.
The costumes in the Zeffirelli and Luhrman version differ from each other. For example in the Zeffirelli version, the Montagues wear dark clothes like black and blue and, the Capulets wear bright colours such as red and yellow, which symbolize hatred and anger. In Baz Luhrman’s version, the Montagues wear casual clothes but the Capulets wear military type clothes and look as if they are aggressors. Baz Luhrman makes the two houses look like two gangs from the city. This creates a gang culture in this version and this makes the play more accessible. As it helps you to see the division of the two families. This emphasizes what Shakespeare would have wanted; this is that the Capulet’s are the aggressive and angrier of the two houses. Shakespeare communicates this in the play when Tybalt is seen as the aggressor in Act 1 Scene 1 “what! Drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues and thee”. Benvolio a Montague is seen as a peacemaker: Act 1 Scene 1 “I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword”.
The settings both the directors have chosen are very different. Franco Zeffirelli decides to stay with a more original setting by locating his version in what appears to be the medieval streets of Verona. This makes the play more understandable because this is what it would have been like. Baz Luhrman uses a modern, futuristic environment by setting the film in Mexico. This setting makes the play more accessible because we are use to seeing these settings as they are modern settings in the 21st century.
The Zeffirelli version does not use high profile actors. Also the actors speak slowly and in the correct accent and use language true to the text. Baz Luhrman also sticks to the original text but Luhrman uses high profile actors to attract more people, as they will think this if this film has well known actors it is bound to be a good film. In addition, Luhrman does this to make the film more accessible because it is a commercial film it would be at the local cinemas so that more people have access to seeing it. Also it would be more widely advertised so it would attract people’s attention as it has high profile actors. In this version, they speak with an American accent and they speak bits of modern day English. With this technique, he makes it more accessible for a 21st century audience.
The way the scene is opened by both directors adds to the understanding of the tension. Originally, the scene is opened by Benvolio saying “For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring”. He is saying that the day is hot and he has a feeling that something is going to happen. Zeffirelli shows this through the bell tolling with the Market Square empty. This creates an ominous feeling because a bell tolling symbolizes death. This version is accessible because the bell tolling shows that something is going to happen. For example the death of someone. In the Luhrman version the tension is shown through a storm, this shows nature rebelling. The sky darkens and the storm knock over stalls this shows there is chaos throughout the city the storm also creates an ominous feeling. The storm can be seen to echo the feuding of the two houses. This is accessible because in modern day horror films just before something is about to happen there is a huge storm. Therefore, when we see the storm brewing we know something terrible is about to occur.
Both directors deal with highlighting the Prince’s power. In Act 1 Scene 1 he promises to make people pay if they disturb the streets of Verona “If ever you disturb our streets again, Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace”. In Zeffirelli’s version his power is shown by everyone crowed around him when he is speaking. In addition, it shown through a vulture on his back this shows his power because people are afraid of vultures as they can kill as it symbolises death. In Luhrman’s version, the Prince is made to look as a 21st Century police officer and he is made to look presidential as he makes all the decisions himself without any advise. Baz Luhrman’s Prince more accessible to me because in the 21st Century Police Officer has a lot of authority. A Vulture Symbolism was only contemporary to Shakespearean time.
Both directors cast very different Romeo. In the text, Shakespeare presents Romeo to us to be gentle and more concerned with finding love than fighting with his family’s enemy. Act 1 Scene 1 Lady Montague says of her son, “O where if Romeo’saw you him today? Right glad I am he was not at his fray”. This means Lady Montague asking were Romeo was and was glad that he was not a part of the fighting but, this also means he was not concerned with fighting his family’s enemies. Zeffirelli’s Romeo is always cheerful and always happy he shows this when he has to tell Tybalt he loves him like a brother and cannot fight him. When he say he loves him he says it and carry’s on walking and says it as if there is no hatred between the two families. Luhrman’s Romeo is made to be more serious and not just concerned about finding love. When he has to Tybalt he loves him to calm him down he says as if he is being forced to say it and has to spit it out. This Romeo is more understandable because if you had to tell your worst enemy you love them you would not just say it straight a way you would have to be forced.
Both directors change the soundtrack according to what is happening in the play. This is done to add tension and make their film more accessible to the audience. In Zeffirelli’s version, after Mercuito and Tybalt have died Romeo says in Act 1 Scene 3 Line 127 “O, I am fortune’s fool”. This meaning that Romeo has sealed his own fate by killing Tybalt. During this the bell tolls in the background the tolling symbolises death. In addition, when Mercuito dies when the camera shot reveals his wound sombre music is played in the background this adds tension and echo’s the language. During the fight scene between Romeo and Tybalt the clashing of steel of their swords also adds tension to his version. In the Luhrman version, the music changes to church music when Mercuito dies. Also the music changes to an upbeat track when Tybalt is Beating Romeo up and also Mercuito’s voice is echoed which makes the scene more dramatic when he dies. Both soundtracks make the film more understandable because you know when the music changes in both films something is going to happen but you don’t what this adds tension to the film.
At the beginning of both films and the original text, the chorus tells us that Romeo and Juliet are “a pair of star-cross’s lovers”. We know from the start that the feud between the two families will not end until, “Their death bury their parent’s strife. The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love, and the continuance of their parents’ rage, which, but their childrend’s end, nought could remove”. At the start, the chorus warns us that neither house would be free of violence until both families had suffered. This is echoed when Both Mercuito and Tybalt die and Romeo responsible for both. Mercuito died because Romeo got in the way while he was fighting and indirectly caused his death with Tybalt and Romeo killed Tybalt himself. Mercuito put a curse on both families because their conflict and constant fighting lead to his death although he was not even a member of either family. In the Zeffirelli version, only Romeo is present when the curse is put on both families. Luhrman goes further with is interpretation by having Romeo and Tybalt present when he puts the curse on both families. By doing this, he makes the whole theme of fate more apparent.