The aims of this essay are firstly to illustrate my own ideas and concepts as to how a selection of extracts from scenes in Romeo and Juliet should be produced, as well as proceeding to critically compare my own vision of the scenes production against that of Baz Luhrmann, the director of a modern take on Shakespeare’s classic love story.
Before I can do that effectively however, a brief overview of Romeo and Juliet must be given. The prologue of the play is essentially an introduction, and that will therefore be my source:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star cross’d lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove
The first of the extracts I will discuss is to be found in Scene I.i, line 46-47:
Sampson: No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.
This extract is taken from the first act of the first scene, which is set in a public place, the middle of Verona, the city in which the story is based. This particular scene finds servants from the houses of Capulet and Montague quarrelling in the street, not a rare occurrence, as hinted in the prologue.
I perceive an immediate sense of irony through Shakespeare’s choice of name for this man, a servant from the house of Montague, Sampson. Biblically Sampson was one of the strongest men ever to have lived, yet in this scene, the attitude and personality of the man sharing his great name comes across as terribly weak and incredibly irresolute. We know this from lines 43-44, where Sampson asks his kinsman, Gregory for advice as to how the law perceives a situation such as his (the biting of his thumb, and any consequences this may have) when it is his responsibility alone. He goes on to then fabricate the pitiable excuse above in a desperate attempt to save himself from a fight that he, by all accounts, started
I see no need for any special backdrop for this scene, for I do not believe the location, other than the fact it is in a public place, is particularly relevant. Any backdrop available, whether it be white, black or illustrated with houses will be suitable. However, as this is the opening scene, and it is designed to introduce the audience to the state of ill affairs between the two houses of Montague and Capulet, I believe that it was Shakespeare’s intention to accentuate as much as possible the fact that they are in a public place and to give the audience an immediate insight into the attitudes shared by the two houses – indifference to any adverse effects on the public caused by their feuding. I shall therefore attempt to replicate this in my production of the scene and to gain more of a feel for a public place in the 1500’s, I believe that various stalls should be set up, with bales of hay and other props (carts full of goods etc) giving it a vibrant feel full of happy people.
In the middle of the stage the Montague servants will be sat, casually on a wall or some other form of prop raucously mocking the house of Capulet. Their tone, whilst harsh, should come across as very exaggerated, making it seem to the audience that there is no doubt they are merely picking fun. The spotlights should be bright and the general atmosphere one of day to day activity. Once the servants from the house of Capulet arrive however, that mood will change very severely and very quickly, with the spotlights dimming and the crowd generally dispersing, but with some remaining in hiding positions behind carts etc. This will give an atmosphere of expectancy, as if the public know what is to happen next, installing the idea in the audiences minds that this is not a unique occurrence.
The servants from the house of Montague will already be present from the beginning of the scene, so no entrance is required, however the way they behave on stage is crucial to my scene. They will sit right in the middle of the market, in everybody’s way, but refuse to move when prompted and casually push away those who try to shift them. They should take items from the stalls, but not pay, and threaten the vendor when he prompts them to pay up. The way in which the servants from the house of Capulet enter will be also very significant, particularly in this early stage of the play, to introduce to the audience what they are about. Whilst at first they should remain ignorant to what is being said about their house as they walk by, their walk should still be strong and powerful. They should walk in a line, barging past members of the public until they reach the Montague’s, where they should stand over them menacingly, hands on swords, ready to draw.
I believe that the costume for both sets of servants should be extravagant to the last degree, thus making it impossible for the audience to recognize that these are mere servants without paying attention to the script; for this will sum up the attitudes of the two houses entirely, each trying desperately to impress, each trying to be one up on the other. It should be evident that this is so much the case that the two houses will even go to the lengths of dressing up their servants, who would at this time in history normally wear rags, to impress and moreover to show up the other house.
I believe that both sets of servants should wear near identical sets of clothing, for this will further increase the sense of irony in the situation, both sets of servants are dressed the same, both have the same arrogance (Montague’s shown by the way they are not moving for the stall holders, thinking they are above them then stealing and refusing to acknowledge the vendor, and the Capulet’s through their entrance, knocking people over) and both are adamant that their houses are better than the other (Montague’s attitude apparent through constant mockery of the house of Capulet, and the opinion of the Capulet servants through their reaction to that mockery). The irony will lay with the fact these houses are fighting at all, so similar are their ways. I believe that this was Shakespeare’s intention, and also that this is the sub plot around which the whole tale is based; it takes the death of the two members of the opposing houses who realise how similar they are for this stupidity to cease, tragically however it is too late.
For the actual extract itself, I believe that Sampson should speak in a very cool, laid back manner, giving a sense that what he is saying is both an incredibly witty thing to say, but also an incredibly brave one; to mock members of the opposing house to their faces, to openly deceive them and deny them the grounds to fight back is something he believes an unbelievable feat. His facial expression whilst speaking it should be almost non existent, save a tiny smirk as he speaks the words, and a raising of the eyebrows after he has uttered the words, challenging the Montages to retort, or to fight. The expressions on the rest of the Montague’s faces should be one of disbelief as he says the words, changing to one of amused defiance, again daring the Capulet’s to challenge them, whilst also retaining their air of disbelief over Sampson’s fortitude.
The tone with which Sampson will speak his words will again be one of defiance, with particular emphasis on the first ‘No’, it should be spoken clearly and louder than the rest of the sentence, making it sound genuine, and also placing particular emphasis on the words ‘do not’ and ‘you’. The words ‘do not’ will be spoken with a hint of laughter, along with an exhaled breath and a hand reaching up to his heart, again to gesture toward the genuine nature of what he is saying. The word ‘you’ will be spoken with a sense of sarcastic appraisal, giving a sense that he would not dare say such a thing to him, but the sense of sarcasm will fail to cover up his true meaning. The second half of the sentence ‘but I bite my thumb’ will be spoken slightly quicker, only to further accentuate the contempt in his voice when he speaks the final word: ‘sir’. It should be spoken with maximum contempt, and with Sampson taking a further threatening step toward the Capulet’s. The confident tone with which he speaks his words, and the assurance that he has when he steps toward the Capulet’s will disappear when they take a step in retaliation too, and he in his panic falls backwards. Laughing, the Capulet’s address the next Montague, Abraham.
The means I choose to produce this scene are in stark contrast to the way in which Baz Luhrmann produced this scene in his modern take on Romeo and Juliet. His was set in a Garage, with the two families alone, save the attendant in the shop, a couple of people in cars and the general traffic rolling past outside. I do not like this particular aspect of the scene, and whilst the aspect of confrontation is retained, I do not feel any sense that it is really affecting the public with this layout, at least not in the earlier stages of the scene. What I do like is the symbolism incorporated in the location; an explosive situation taking place in a location that could, and does literally explode.
Another aspect that differs greatly to my own adaptation is the costume. The Montague’s wear casual, immature flowered shirts, whilst the Capulet’s are dressed in all black, and possess a very Hispanic feel. I love the way that Baz Luhrmann has the Capulet’s dressed as part of his modern adaptation. The Hispanic appearances give a feel reminiscent of Latino gangs, a particularly poignant concept in the US, where this film was mainly marketed, because of all the recent trouble they have had with such organisations. However, whilst I feel the contrast between the two houses is effective in his film and certainly an adaptation that was worth including considering his audience, Americans, it was certainly not something that I wished to accomplish through my own production.
The sense of immaturity about the Montague’s is increased massively whenever Sampson does or says anything. The biting of his thumb is done in a childish manner, and when he speaks the extract chosen, it is with no resolution, and no belief. He sounds terrified when he speaks the words, and is half running away as he speaks. This again is a very different image of the two families compared to what I wished to create. Through my own production of this scene I wanted to pick out the many similarities between the two families, whereas in this production the director has gone for a completely different approach and highlighted the differences. I fail to see the real relevance that this has to the story of Romeo and Juliet, as when Shakespeare himself refers to the houses in the prologue he states that they are ‘both alike in dignity’, though I fail to see how what Luhrmann has done ties in with what Shakespeare said, and obviously therefore intended to put across through his plays. Whilst I have to admit I liked what Luhrmann created from a naï¿½ve audience perspective, or at least an American audience that has little or no knowledge of Shakespeare. However I do not feel what Luhrmann did with the characters was in fitting with the rest of the play and, whilst effective, was not in keeping with Shakespeare’s intentions.
The second extract I have chosen to evaluate/create production notes on is found in scene II.ii, lines 75-77.
Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye
Than twenty of their swords: look thou but sweet,
And I am proof against their enmity
This scene, the balcony scene, is perhaps the most famous, and most romantic scene of all time. It is where the two protagonists in this play, Romeo and Juliet, confess their undying love for one another. I believe Shakespeare’s intentions for this particular scene could not be clearer, and I also believe that Baz Luhrmann totally and utterly destroyed this scene and all Shakespeare’s intentions in his film adaptation. From the very start of the scene he breaks outside the boundaries of regularity, when instead of Juliet at the window it is the maid. This aspect of humour is not, in my view appropriate for such a scene and there was no advantage gained from being so obscure. It all added up to mean that it was not a romantic balcony scene any longer, but a lustful scene in a swimming pool. I have no problem with adaptation of a scene, least of all if it brings it into a more understandable context, but I do not believe this was accomplished here.
Baz Luhrmann failed, in my view to make this scene anything like the romantic chain of events that it was intended to be, and as a result of almost entirely removing any aspect of romance, created a huge gap in the story – the two protagonists kill themselves for the sake of love, and in making the scene where this romance is introduced resoundingly lustful, he has removed the logic from that aspect of the story, why would two people kill themselves for a lustful fling? The answer is of course that they would not, and through removing the romance, he has removed Shakespeare’s message, and he has killed all meaning in the play.
Even the extract chosen for my analysis has been turned into a show of Romeo’s masculinity in Lurhmann’s adaptation of the scene: rather than portraying Romeo’s words as reassuring and comforting to a troubled Juliet, Luhrmann has Romeo yell the words, daring twenty guards to challenge him, only to be silenced by a giggling Juliet, warning him flirtatiously that it was not prudent. Through doing this he removes any meaning from Romeo’s words, and they therefore splash meaninglessly over the audience, instead of being taken in accompanied by adoring sighs and tears.
Whilst this lustful approach takes so much away from the scene, it does also serve to highlight the ridiculousness of the whole relationship, and the speed at which it is materialising out of seemingly nothing. The fact that Luhrmann accelerates the process, goes straight past romance and into desire does highlight this, but it makes the scene a huge disappointment to watch nonetheless. It also serves to highlight the age at which the protagonists are which is of course early teens. For a modern adaptation it maybe makes sense to have a teenage relationship portrayed as nothing more than a typical teenage relationship, for example when he chose to set the scene predominantly in a pool, with the timeless characters of Romeo and Juliet rarely detached from one another, the setting may have been thought to have more modern contextual (particularly socially) significance with twenty first century American teenagers, but then of course we must remember that this is not a normal relationship, this is Romeo and Juliet, the ultimate story of compassion and love. Or at least it was.
My own scene would be produced far, far from that which Baz Luhrmann created. I would keep the setting elegantly simple, with the only prop being a balcony (or at least a raised plinth if the former was unavailable). This would serve to help the audience forget that these two came from families traditionally regarded as mortal enemies, and allow them to concentrate upon what was actually important in this scene: Romeo, Juliet and their love.
My stage lighting would be dim all around, save a brighter patch on Juliet’s face, to symbolically tie in with what Romeo says at the beginning of the scene on lines 3-4 about Juliet being ‘the Sun’. I would have both wearing very simple garments, so as to remove any focus away from what is being said between the two; Juliet would don a plain white gown/nightshirt, and Romeo, having removed his costume from the fancy dress party, would be wearing plain under clothes, like long johns and a traditional white shirt. In addition to keeping focus on the two lovers, the costumes will also serve to symbolically show how the two reject their families normal customs: whilst even the servants were draped in hugely elaborate clothes in the earlier scene, here are these two, members of the families themselves wearing nothing but the plainest of attire.
I would position the balcony in the rear corner of the stage, facing the audience slightly at around a thirty degree angle, so as to ensure that both protagonists faces are visible, so the audience can see the changes in expression as the words are received and the genuine nature of that which is said through the gestures used by both. This will add another dimension to the scene, so the audience can see and hear their reactions and responses.
So far as facial expressions are concerned with the extract in question, I would have Romeo almost grimace at the start of the speech ‘Alack…eye’, as if he is trying his utmost to convince Juliet that no harm will come to him, as a result of their relationship and that all that matters is their love. I would have him gradually relax his face, and change to a more imploring expression, with a hand outstretched toward the last words, begging her to accept how he perceives things to be true. I would have Juliet’s facial expression far more resolute, as if she knows what she wants, and she is more doubtful of what Romeo is saying. This resolution will suffer a momentary lapse however, when a wistful look comes across Juliet’s face momentarily, giving the audience an idea that, though she is making a good attempt at reasoning with the love struck Romeo, she does not really believe what she is saying.
The way in which Romeo speaks these words can alter their meaning quite dramatically, as illustrated through Luhrmann’s production. For my own adaptation of this famous scene I would have Romeo speak the words in an almost desperate voice to start with, as if he is beseeching Juliet to accept his words. I would have some words accentuated, for example the word ‘proof’ should be spoken with more resolve, as should the word ‘twenty’. The reason that these words should be uttered with more conviction is that these are the words that make up the reassurance in this sentence. Exaggerating the words such as ‘peril’ and ‘swords’ would not make sense as Romeo is trying to encourage Juliet, not dissuade her by installing dire images in her head.
Juliet will be positioned on the balcony for much of the scene, and an element of distracted pacing will be the only form of real movement. This will serve to show how restless she is, how much she loves Romeo, but also that she is being prudent and trying to slow things down by distracting her mind she will look up to the heavens, both at times when Romeo says something particularly strong or romantic ‘look thou…enmity’, and also when she has to try particularly hard to resist, and think of more questions to counter his resounding argument for love. Romeo on the other hand will stay rooted to the spot from the moment he reveals himself to Juliet, staring into her eyes as if transfixed, not even breaking gaze to speak. This will show his compassion towards her, and also that he wants to spend the rest of his days with Juliet.
I believe the skills Shakespeare possessed in stagecraft come to the light very strongly through this scene in particular. The fact that Juliet is up high, and Romeo at her feet begging her to admit she loves him is symbolic of the scene as a whole; with Juliet refusing to give too much away she is in control, up high, and with Romeo blindly wishing and desperately stringing together reasons they should love in the lower position. This is another aspect of the play which I believe is lost when, like Baz Luhrmann you adapt such key scenes into your own visions; you lose the vision of the greatest playwright there ever was.