Romeo and Juliet’ is a play written by Sir William Shakespeare at the end of the sixteenth century. He wrote this in the Elizabethan period when Queen Elizabeth I ruled England but the exact date is unknown. At this time plays and puns (word play) were common as they were the only form of entertainment. Like all other plays at this time Shakespeare’s had no female actors. It was seen to be inappropriate for a lady to act, therefore male actors were used instead and had to play the parts of women as well as men.
Shakespeare was influenced by other writers; for his ‘Romeo and Juliet’ play he used an old Italian tale called ‘The Tragicall History of Roemeus and Juliet’, written by Arthur Brooke. In this play Juliet was sixteen but Shakespeare decided to reduce her age to thirteen although it was unusual for a girl of this age to get married. In ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Juliet is forced to have an arranged marriage but she has already fallen in love with Romeo. At the time ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was written, arranged marriages were common between families of the same social status. To refuse to get married would be an insult and an embarrassment on your family.
Baz Luhrmann tries to modernise Shakespeare’s play a lot. He does this so his new audience can relate to certain things in the play as being believable. For example in Luhrmann’s film he uses a more appropriate age for Juliet. If he were to keep Juliet at thirteen the audience of today would think it was strange and the play just wouldn’t work. He also uses modern props like cars and guns. In the original, Shakespeare written play, swords are used as weapons. So that the audience of today can relate to this Baz Luhrmann uses guns with the word ‘Sword’ written on them. This allows him to use roughly the same script. For example, at the beginning of the film one character says ‘Give me my long sword’ meaning ‘give me my gun’.
The story of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is set in an Italian city called Verona where two chief families, the Montagues and the Capulets, are sworn enemies. However one day two teenagers, each from opposing families, accidentally meet and immediately fall in love. Their names are Romeo and Juliet. A Capulet called Tybalt later kills Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio. Romeo chases after him and kills him in revenge. Romeo is then banished from Verona and the only way for them to keep seeing each other is to run away together. To do this Juliet decided to fake her death. She sent a letter to Romeo telling him she was still alive and to come and get her but Romeo never got it. Juliet’s supposed death was too much for Romeo. He went to Juliet’s body and poisoned himself leaving Juliet to wake up and find him dead. Juliet couldn’t live without him either. Distraught and confused she too killed herself. The death of these two lovers ended the Montague and Capulet’s rivalry and proved that true love could not be changed.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ starts with a prologue. A prologue introduces a play, poem or novel before the main piece begins. In the Elizabethan period, when ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was written, the prologue was read out to calm the audience down and make them ready to watch the play. The prologue of this play is written in the form of a sonnet. Sonnets are a rhyming piece that has fourteen lines and follows a unique rhythm (a b a b c d c d e f e f g g). Its metre is called ‘Iambic Pentameter’. Just like the one in the prologue, sonnets are usually poems about love. The sonnet in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ tells the audience what is going to happen in the end. The purpose of this is not to give away the story but to make the audience want to watch on. In Baz Luhrmann’s film version he uses a TV report to show what’s going to happen.
I am going to explore how Shakespeare uses language to convey the relationship between Romeo and Juliet in his play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and how Baz Luhrmann represents this in his film version. I am also going to look at how Shakespeare uses different techniques to display this.
At the end of Act 1 Scene 4 Romeo is talking to Mercutio. He talks about how he can sense something bad is going to happen and mentions his future death. He says ‘Some consequence yet hanging in the stars’; He is talking about astrology and how the stars are showing him his fate. Astrology was very popular at the time this play was written and Shakespeare uses the idea a lot in his plays. By Romeo saying ‘ By some vile forfeit of untimely death’ shows that he can tell his death will come. The next thing he says is ‘But He that hath the steerage of my course direct my sail!’ we know that he is referring to God because Shakespeare uses a capital H. He is saying that God controls what is going to happen to him and when he says ‘Direct my sail!’ he is asking God to direct him to his fate. Religion was an important part of life in the Elizabethan period. Shakespeare uses religious phrases and ideas throughout ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
Romeo and Juliet first meet at the Capulet’s party in Act 1 Scene 5 of the play. Romeo doesn’t know that Juliet is a Capulet. They immediately start a sonnet in which Shakespeare uses the idea of courtly love for the first time. Courtly love is a love in which a young man of the court (knight) would be in love with a woman who was usually older and married to the knight’s lord. He would do great deeds for her but she may not necessarily be in love with him. Romeo calls himself a pilgrim and refers to her hands as the holy shrine when he says ‘This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this, My lips, two blushing Pilgrims, ready stand.’ Juliet is then referred to as a saint. This is a use of courtly love because he is calling her a saint, which is higher up (more special) than him. By using these words Shakespeare uses the conventions of both courtly love and religion to explore the relationship between Romeo and Juliet. Juliet’s nurse interrupts their sonnet and Romeo then finds out that Juliet is a Capulet.
Juliet and the nurse are then alone after the party and Juliet says
‘Go ask his name. – If he be married, My grave is like to be my wedding bed’ She is referring to death being her groom. This is another moment in which Romeo and Juliet talk of death. The nurse then replies,
‘His name is Romeo, and a Montague, The only son of your great enemy.’ This is when Juliet finds out that Romeo is her most sworn enemy’s (the head of the Montague family’s) son.
As well as the dialogue, Baz Luhrmann uses courtly love and other techniques through his choices of colours, props and music. In his film version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Baz Luhrmann expresses courtly love through the costumes that Romeo and Juliet wear during the party scene. Romeo is wearing a knight’s armour and Juliet wears an angel costume. Courtly love is shown because Romeo is dressed as a knight just like in the story of courtly love. It is also shown through Juliet’s costume, this is because as an angel she is then seen to be higher up and more powerful. In courtly love she would be like the lord’s wife who is more important than the night that serves and loves her. Juliet’s angel costume also brings back the religious theme that Shakespeare uses throughout the play.
Props and colours play a big part in the way a movie makes the audience feel. Romeo and Juliet see each other for the first time through a fish tank. This is one of the main props used Baz Luhrmann’s film. Soft and romantic music is played as Romeo and Juliet look at each other through the fish tank and start to fall in love. The water in the tank is blue to create a relaxing and romantic feel but the fish tank itself could be seen as a barrier between Romeo and Juliet and why they can’t be together. All these techniques are used to make the audience feel a certain way toward Romeo and Juliet’s relationship.
In Act 2 Scene 2 Romeo is outside Juliet’s balcony and the party has ended. He sees Juliet through her window, talks to her though she cannot hear him. He refers to Juliet being the sun and says ‘Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon’, this technique is called personification. It is used when someone describes something that isn’t human as having human emotion. In this case it is the moon that is envious. The moon was seen as Diana, Goddess of virginity and by Romeo telling her to kill the moon he is telling her to have sex. Romeo continues to use personification by saying ‘The brightness of her cheek would shame those of the stars’. By saying that the stars would be in shame, he is using personification. Romeo then says ‘ Her vestal livery is but sick and green’. When he says ‘is but sick and green’ he is talking about her being ill with virginity. He then says that he no longer wants her to be a virgin by saying ‘ And none but fools do wear it; cast it off’. When Romeo says ‘Cast it off’ he is, again, telling her to get rid of her virginity.
At this point Juliet appears from the window but doesn’t see Romeo who continues to describe his love to her. She then says ‘ Ay me!’. Romeo then says ‘ She speaks. O speak again, bright angel’. This is another time that Shakespeare refers to religion in his play. It is then that Juliet too starts declaring her love. She says, unaware of Romeo’s present, ‘ O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’. By saying this she is not asking where Romeo is but why he is called Romeo. She continues to ask why a Montague would have a name like Romeo. Romeo then reveals himself to Juliet by saying ‘ I take thee at thy word: call me but, and I’ll be new baptised; Henceforth I never will be Romeo.’ Juliet, shocked at his presents, says ‘ What man art thou that thus bescreened in night so stumblest on my counsel?’. When she says this she is asking what sort of man he is to hide himself in the dark and listen to her private thoughts. Romeo and Juliet exchange vows and decide that they should get married. Romeo then leaves when the nurse calls Juliet inside.
Baz Luhrmann however, interprets this scene very differently in his film. Juliet comes down the balcony and walks alongside her swimming pool. This prop is used in the same way as the fish tank. Its relaxing colour and soft waves make the moment more romantic. When Romeo appears from the darkness Juliet screams and the two of them fall in the pool. Luhrmann then introduces all new parts and props into the play. A security guard is shown, watching Juliet on the CCTV. The guard hears her scream and comes out to check on her. At this moment Romeo hides beneath the water until the guard has gone. This is another way that Luhrmann uses new props to modernise the play.
In Act 3 Scene 5 Romeo and Juliet are on the balcony. Romeo talks of how he must go but Juliet tries to persuade him to stay. She eventually wins the persuasion but Romeo is forced to leave when Juliet’s nurse enters the room. Juliet says to Romeo ‘Some say the lark and loathed toad changed eyes; O now I would they had changed voices too’. There was a myth that the toad and lark had exchanged eyes but Juliet is saying to Romeo that they should have changed voices instead because the horrible crouch of a toad is more suited to the lark that separates them. At this point the nurse enters and Romeo is forced to leave in a hurry.
Baz Luhrmann uses props and colours to make the moment feel more romantic. His choice of prop in this scene is a white bed sheet, which is wrapped around Romeo and Juliet. The white sheet is put over their heads so it is like no one is there but them. The sheet blocks out the rest of the world and makes the moment more emotional. Baz Luhrmann decided to cut part of the script out to make it shorter. With the use of the white sheet less speech is needed. Luhrmann does this a lot in his film. He replaces dialog with props and colours.
Act 5 Scene 3 is the scene in which Romeo and Juliet kill themselves in confusion. When Romeo finds out Juliet is dead, he decides to poison himself, as he cannot live without her. Before doing so he says ‘Will I set up my everlasting rest’. By saying this he is asking whether it will be is full and final commitment. He conducts a long speech in which he speaks his final words. Before drinking down the poison he say ‘ Here’s to my love!’ which means he is doing this for her. Juliet then wakes to find Romeo’s body. Devastated she says a small speech in which she says ‘Haply some poison yet doth hang on, to make me die with a restorative. Thy lips are warm’. She is saying that maybe they have been poisoned. By saying that she will die in restorative she is saying that her kiss will cure her life and restore her to Romeo. Romeo’s speech is much longer than Juliet’s because he has had more time to grieve and has planned his death whereas Juliet killed herself in panic without thinking before she did so.
At the beginning of this scene Romeo kills Paris. This is cut out from Baz Luhrmann’s film so the storyline, of how Romeo and Juliet killed themselves, can be concentrated on. Luhrmann also uses props like candles and a giant church hall. This could not have been done in Shakespeare’s time.
Shakespeare uses a wide range of techniques to convey the relationship between Romeo and Juliet. Metaphors, similes and personifications are all used to show a particular emotion or feeling. Courtly love and religious phrases are also used to express the relationship between Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare used these techniques to their full potential. Baz Luhrmann also used his own techniques that worked well to produce a wider range of emotions through choices of props and colour.