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    The Various Adaptations of Romeo and Juliet

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    Media is contemporary communication, it is featured everywhere and influences, even controls our lives by moulding our fashion, views, ideas and tastes. Media is television, radio, newspapers, magazines, telephone and any kind of advertising. Media often forms from speech. Moving image is our specific topic of media, focusing on Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. It was first written during a period when Shakespeare had found the strength of his writing. He would have been about twenty six years of age when he wrote it. It stands as a great play in its own right and many say the best play ever written.

    There have been many adaptations of this 1595 text and performance including that of, a moving image version by the Franco Zeffirelli production through which the text has been written rather freely. More recently both the BBC and ITV have screened their own versions. There is also a cartoon, ‘The Animated Tales of Romeo and Juliet’. One of the better variations on the theme is the 1961 moving image, ‘West Side Story’ which explores ethnic tensions in the poorer part of New York, based on the successful Broadway musical of 1957 with songs including ‘Tonight’ and ‘Maria’. Hector Berlioz gave his first performance of the Romeo and Juliet symphony in 1839- a work for solo voice, choir and orchestra-at the Paris Conservatoire. Peter Tchaikovsky used the play for his 1870 Fantasy Overture. The story has been used for three operas including ‘Capuletti ei Montecchi’ (vincenzo Bellini, 1830); ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (Charles Gounod, 1867), and ‘A village Romeo and Juliet’ (by Frederic Delius, 1907). The best known of the Ballet interpretations is that of Sergei Prokofiev, first danced in Moscow in 1935.

    Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s moving image and text ‘Romeo and Juliet’ of 1997 is an aggressively modern, trendy and very energetic representation of William Shakespeare’s original themes and ideas. Baz Luhrmann has done something truly audacious. He has left Shakespeare’s rich poetry intact, (however, in fact, by flashing some of the lines onscreen, he has elevated the words) but delivered them in an ingenious and resourceful manner. One of Luhrmann’s most refreshing conceits is in translating Shakespeare’s characters into modern archetypes easy to recognise. The flamboyant Mercutio becomes RuPaul, the clean-cut “Dave” Paris is a ringer for JFK Jr., Lady Capulet is a dithering Blanche DuBois, the herb-loving Father Laurence is a take on Timothy Leary. But they all stay 100% true to the original characters of Shakespeare.

    The text, with its genre of a romantic tragedy is fundamentally about a pair of star-crossed lovers. Two teenagers pursue their forbidden love for each other. Their families have been at odds with each other for decades, each day becoming greater in hatred. The original story combines sword fighting, and themes of disguise, misunderstanding, tragedy, humour and some of the most romantic language found in literature all in the name of true love. In the moving image version includes themes of violence, vengeance, passion, forgiveness, despair, hope, love and death, these themes are in fact used within the Shakespearean performance but were never moulded to the extremes in which Baz Luhrmann has represented them in his very personal and individual adaptation. The sheer millions of pounds spent to form his final solution has enabled him to choose the perfect actors and actresses and to have the best possible setting and the alluring effects. It has enabled Luhrmann to capture every word, movement and costume through the most intricate of detail, creating a precise but superlative atmosphere to give a young American style dramatic action, romantic tragedy which is so captivating the audience cant concentrate and focus on the moving image to any more extent.

    It is bold, and modern elements are merged and blended almost seamlessly into the original script so the present day audience can related, and therefore enjoy the moving image. These elements include the replacement; of “The City of Verona” has become Verona beach in Luhrmann’s production. Also, the taking of hallucinogenic drugs and the drag act appear convincingly with the original dialogue as they were always supposed to be there. The guns are inscribed with the names sword or dagger, so when asked to “draw thy sword” they stay cleverly true to the Shakespearean dialogue. Baz Luhrmann’s clever ideas are continued through out. Even the high-glass production design uses Shakespearean puns. Storefronts on Verona Beach advertise “Rosencrantzky’s” or “A pound of flesh”. Meanwhile, Luhrmann throws of such-off-the-wall touches as the boys choir rendition of prince’s “when Doves Cry” and the real trick of having the rivals wearing different designer labels– Dolce & Gabbana for the Capulet boys and Prada for Romeo.

    He ideas of visual imagery and symbolism in relation to the film include that of the whole religious detailed effects and topics. Each member of the cast wear a crucifix, most, a rosary around their necks but some as a tattoo or hair styled to reveal a cross. It symbolises their Christian faith, which enables the film to portray a strong comparison between the sins in which the story carries through it, and the good, pursued by the bible. This idea of what the characters are doing compared to its opposite of which their faith would disagree with, is shown at the beginning in the opening views of their city. The two families of exact stature and equality shown by two precise replica’s of a tower block, illustrating the exact same wealth, even with the same font and size lettering on top- but two family names at hates end with each other.

    Perfectly in the centre of these two buildings is the statue of Jesus looking out on to the city, also showing that their religious beliefs are a fundamental part of their everyday life and look up to it as a sign of honour. The Virgin Mary is also another symbol of importance; a minor reason of her presence is because she represents fair Juliet, due to their pure and innocent qualities along with their virginity. Her portrait is featured on their guns, along side Jesus on a few of their bullet proof under garments symbolising they believe that they are protected by their religion. A heart belted with flowers, with sun raise descending from it and protruding fire symbolises burning love and passion. This is featured a number of times including when it is worn by the priest with little colour, just that of white and gold showing his commitment to his faith and his love to it. But with bright colours, like the one worn by Romeo on his shirt, it gives the impression of the young passion held Romeo and Juliet. The colourful and bright symbol worn by Romeo represents his passionate love for Juliet, but the white and gold symbol worn by the priest shows his long-term commitment for his religion. This idea of white and gold being colours for loving commitment is backed up by the example of white and gold being traditional for weddings.

    Another time this strong symbol is used, is when it is zoomed into a frame during the choir rendition along with silhouettes of two doves flying in a clear sky all symbolising love and their hidden feelings making them stronger for each other, during the scene of the priests soliloquy of his dreams of peace between the Capulets and Montagues. Showing his hopes that the marriage of the Romeo and Juliet would end the conflict. The main reason religious symbols, themes and ideas are used during Luhrmanns production, is because he has wanted to state that life, love and death are controlled by their religion and God, so the priest is so important because he has the power of God and can influence life when they are born by prayer for the new born and baptism influences the baby’s life by protection, The priest can influence love by marrying people and can influence death by the right to take life or pray for it, and funerals are influenced by death.

    More symbols include water and fire, which are used frequently throughout. Water traditionally means love and passion; it features in the fish tank scene where Romeo and Juliet first meet. It is also featured after the party when they have a passionate interlude in the in the swimming pool and declare their love. Water (love) and fire (hate) are exact opposites. So while the water is used in the scenes of Romeo and Juliet, the fire is used in the brawls of the Montagues and Capulets as in the petrol station Scene.

    Baz Luhrmann’s prologue neatly sketches the plot, of the two star-crossed lovers born of feuding families and their surroundings whose deaths ‘bury their parents strife’, which sets the scene for the viewer. This prologue is ingeniously on a news report, with a television anchorwoman replacing the narrator on a television screen, which forms and enlarges from a black background. The idea of the viewer having to concentrate to see what the small image is at first so therefore causes them to listen with content so that the plot can be understood from then on. It implies a form of media within media so immediately states that it is set in the present day. This is another example in which Baz Luhrmann has made a smooth transition from the Shakespearean form of re-sighting at the front of a stage to a contemporary everyday act as if it was always meant to be so.

    The prologue has a formal verse structure and takes the form of a sonnet, a characteristic form of love poetry. The image of the separated ring symbolises that it is about two star-crossed lovers and with the sonnet’s words the knowledge of their death ad pathos to our view of events. Baz Luhrmann has then chosen to make a fast and furious journey through the centre of the television screen which becomes a frame, down a street with built up houses and sky scrapers proving another contemporary aspect. Storming with aggression (because another brawl is in the first scene, which contains hatred so an idea of vengeance leading up to it is adequate) into place, of a view of the city, the words ‘In Fair Verona’ are stamped many different times on to the screen, While various signs in the background indicate that it is actually Verona Beach in America. This foretells us that Verona Beach is the modern day version of Fair Verona where Shakespeare set his scene. It also rules out any confusion, followed in the text compared to the moving image.

    The views of the city lead to a frame of a statue of Jesus causing us to presume a sin-free, quiet, religious city. The active and energetic camera angle reverses out to include to identical business tower blocks and the city around them. One reads Montague and the other reading Capulet in identical letters symbolising wealth, equality and dignity. As shown by the taxicab driving by the modern day Fair Verona is Verona Beach as previously stated. It is shown discreetly without altering the text. The opening sonnet is repeated by the voice of the Priest to clarify the plot but this time with a voice of anger and hatred with fire between newspaper cuttings and clips of the city during a brawl to show the long amount of time it has been happening. This is also another form of Media within media, which tells us the feud affects the people of the city. The hatred between the two families is shown with emphasis during bold, war music to add the atmosphere of their rivalry, this is also done by the speeding up of flashes of what the film entails. This idea causes us to be more captivated by what is coming up and we want to find out more so therefor have to watch more to find out. Many of the characters are introduced during the prologue and are portrayed to be rivals, so backs up the feeling of hatred between the two characters, and creates interest and more understanding.

    The Montague servants roam Verona looking for trouble. They wear colourful patterned shirts with tattoos, (of the Montague symbol, which shows that they are devoted to their family, like a soldier is to his country and soldiers have tattoos of their army symbol. So they both fight for what they are devoted to) they also have piercings and spiked up coloured hair or shaved off but unwell. Their dress and bright yellow convertible car, symbolises that they clown around, that they do it for the bad boy image, that they are immature and juvenile and are not serious about the fighting, this is also shown by not wearing a bullet proof under garment.

    Baz Luhrmann has chosen a bad boy street rap song to illustrate their bad and adolescent behaviour and having a boyish laugh when they pull into the petrol station. Luhrmann chose this setting because it is a public place and a potential fire hazard, and it is a hot day with no water in sight so no love is around and it is perfect conditions for a fire, which is significant as their rivals pull up in their dark, tinted windowed, covered car. The nunnery van, which allowed the Capulets into the space, carried the nuns that the Montague boys had just rudely gestured. This symbolises that they showed disrespect to religious people, again showing how they don’t give a dam about any one except the Montague name and the Capulet name. During this scene each of the boys are introduced.

    The Capulets are introduced, and it becomes apparent that they differ greatly as in the way stated by Shakespeare. The Capulets were established as enjoying a fight and are organised and serious as shown by their polished guns and bullet proof under garments. They are sinister and are clean cut, which is portrayed by Baz Luhrmann well, having the Capulets in their black co-ordinating suits, un-scared and postured to mean business and with authority. Where as the Montagues are reckless in their actions, Overall the appearances of the two families cant be more to extreme opposites. However, the same size cars and the number at the end of their number-plates again show equality. After guns have been drawn a sign in the petrol station reads “add more fuel to your fire” which as the families have an age old dispute, Baz Luhrmann is cleverly showing that this added brawl metaphorically adds more fuel to their raging fire and keeps the conflict burning between them. The running battle between the families establishes the notion of the family feud.

    Luhrmann has shown Tybalt Capulet wearing bulletproof armour under coat with Jesus on it, as if he is protected by God also showing that he is ready for a fight. Another shrewd element of Baz Luhrmann is that as the original Shakespearean text included sword fighting, to bring it up to date and still remain true to the text, has inscribed the word sword or dagger on everyone’s guns. Benvolio Montague tries to stop the fight but Tybalt laughs in his face and violently stamps out his match while saying “…. As I hate all Montagues” proving he cant even say the name without becoming exasperated and hungry for vengeance. Tybalt is portrayed as being pure evil by hi reckless attitude and irate, bitter tone. When the gun shooting takes place it is apparent that the Capulets have a more organised way of fighting and are more accurate with their shots, where as the Montagues are scatty also proved in their aiming for the Capulets.

    Baz Luhrmann has added the detail as the shooting commences Western music is sounded proving this is a show down and battle with guns. The coarseness of the language of the young men contrasts sharply with the purity and innocence of the language used during the scenes of Romeo and Juliet’s love affair. The grand finally of the scene becomes into motion when the petrol has been spilt around the station and with an evil laugh drops his cigarette on to the petrol. This is filmed by seeing the cigarette in slow motion, as well as captivating the audience, there is also time to show the faces of Tybalt and Benvolio and their reactions. Tybalt has a sinister grin of the enjoyment that he is getting from destroying a part of the innocent society around them. However, Benvolio can see what Tybalt is about to do and how it would effect the society around them so has a worried look and is uncomfortable about what is to happen. A frame of the cigarette hitting the ground captures irony. The symbol of a crucifix is used again because the cigarette hits the petrol within a cross on the ground, showing how the feud is killing out all means of their religion by sinful actions. As the fire spreads it is shown that they will burn out religion and this will lead to burning out the society.

    The petrol station goes up into flames and due to the fire symbolising hate it is relevant to the text. The camera then zooms into the fire and smoke, this gradually clears causing anticipation to build up, focusing on the shot of the two business blocks and the city below with Jesus in between, then the police helicopter flies over, which backs up the modern theme and already tells us that the houses are in tremendous trouble without the speech followed. The television and the news-reporting narrator with the headline 3rd Civil Brawl, telling us that this sort of thing is not uncommon. The scene ends with the police helicopter containing Prince Escalus (ruler of Verona) warning the families of the consequence of a 4th brawl being death, being one of the final lines in the scene tells the audience that this line is important for what is to later be summoned.

    Romeo’s fit of depression brought on by his unrequited love would have been perfectly understandable to Shakespeare’s audience because love was supposed to be a painful matter, but people treat it more casually so Luhrmann has played it down and not enabled to show as much love sickness as it would have been out of place for the modern day Romeo. So his suffering of ‘pertarchan love’ for Rosoline is spoken of in a more ‘cool’ tone and a disdainful attitude. Benvolio’s advice to look at other girls is naturally rejected y Romeo, though ironically, it is exactly what the audience knows is going to happen at the fancy dress party which is the modern day version of a masked ball.

    First impressions of Romeo made by Baz Luhrmann are of a well-regarded hero, the sensitive gentleman. Luhrmann has portrayed this by having him in the sun light, showing he is perfect and has no darkness or evil like gods child and cannot do any wrong. He shows the true qualities of Romeo, such as being handsome and clean-cut but impetuous and wholehearted, however intense and single-minded. While Romeo wants to meet Rosaline at the party, Juliet is to meet the most eligible bachelor of the year, ‘Dave’ Paris. Juliet is innocent and not quite fourteen is at the ‘pretty age’ which means she’s right for marriage. Claire Danes is obviously not thirteen, but it is un-heard of tin modern Day to get married at such a young age so has been chosen because she looks young but not too young. She captures Shakespeare’s Juliet of a pure, wide-eyed untouched virgin. She is sensitive, vulnerable, resourceful and courageous but cautious.

    For the Masked Ball Luhrmann has subtly changed it to a Fancy Dress and everyone’s costumes have been carefully chosen to suit their personality. Juliet symbolically is dressed as a white angle. Luhrmann has used this to represent her purity and innocence without stating it. Romeo is dressed as a masked Knight in shining armour to represent his heroism and his romantic, lover not fighter single mentality. Juliet’s father is dressed as Julius Caesar, which portrays him as a ruler of his kingdom, but not a brilliant ruler at that but is a good warrior and well respected because of this. Juliet’s mother is dressed as Cleopatra to represent her controlling loudness, bossy personality and in charge especially when it comes to wanting Juliet to be married to Dave Paris. Paris is dressed as an astronaut, which shows he wants to be the first in the taking of his moon, Juliet.

    Also because he is loved by the Public and his represented as a hero. Juliet’s cousin Tybalt is dressed as a Devil to show his evil actions and his sick, sinister mind. Abra is a skeleton because he is Tybalt’s back up man an is there to scare people and fight if needed, but is not as evil as Tybalt. The Montague boys are dressed as Vikings as they are barbaric and mad but fight in an unorganised manor. Mercutio is dressed as a women singer in a sparkling white wig and cape, which sums up his humour, and his lively, daring and gregarious personality. The party is colourful and bold. It is energetic with dancing and glitter is plentiful with Mercutio starting the party with get up and dance rhythm filled contemporary music. Everyone is shown having a good time and the camera shows this by angles that capture everyone dancing and having a good time with an active movement of the camera.

    When the bathroom scene is revealed the lively music is cut to romantic, slow and love filled music, showing that a love scene is about to take place. Romeo drops his mask into the water, symbolising there will be a drama of love because the water symbolises the love and the mask symbolises the performance and the drama of the love. As Romeo looks around, the colour is muted into grey colours which also creates a romantic atmosphere, before he catches a glimpse of Juliet through the fish tank which also symbolises the their love through the water. They instantly fall in love and are smitten by each other, but dramatic irony is caused by this because neither of them know that the other belongs to their families enemy, but the audience know this therefor creating tension and suspense, even more so in this version than the Shakespearean performances to day because the modern people can relate more to these modern day characters.

    After finding out this, “my only love, sprang from my only hate,” they pledge their love on the balcony after the party and have a passionate interlude in the soft lighted swimming pool after falling into it in the shape of a cross symbolising another religious aspect with shares their commitment with their love, so again is a romantic scene in water, the symbol for love under the stars and agree to wed. Which not only makes the audience jealous of this romantic, dream setting the pool has a contemporary feel to again back up the modern theme.

    All of the young men treat their guns as toys, they play with them and show off with the moves, not treating them like a killer weapon. All fights begin with the firing of a gun- like drawing a sword so symbolises another comparison between the modern and old weapons. Mercutio shoots at the water of the sea, so symbolically is shooting at the love between him and the Capulets. The nurse dresses in red when she goes as Juliet’s love messenger to Romeo which is the colour of love and she wears this colour as it is symbolic, as she is to make the love between Romeo and Juliet stronger. When Romeo marries Juliet he looks more like a Capulet as he is Dressed in a dark suit and is tidy and clean cut, instead of a coloured shirt and pink or green hair like the Montagues, which is symbolic because they are mixing the names of these to feuding families.

    The society is represented towards the Beach as a rough and fairly poor one, as shown by the prostitutes and the poor living conditions of all those below the feuding families. There is rubbish and people are dressed in rugged clothes. This gives another contrast of the equal wealth of the Capulets and Montagues, but compares it to the suffering society around them. At the beginning of the beach brawl, the weather is sunny and bright, when Montagues first arrive, but as they start to speak of a fight with the Capulets the weather begins to change subtly to a windy state and something bad is later to follow The base music fades out like the beats of a heart is going to fade out aswell. As the Capulets arrive the weather becomes dramatically worse, which creates a tense and hateful atmosphere This is increased by their sinister attitudes and their black suits like they are at a funeral, which is symbolic as a murder scene is about to happen. Tybalt is first to approach which shows he is the leader and walks over in an aggressive manor telling us that Tybalt knows about them going to his uncles party. Romeo shows his peace-loving character again by begging for their peace but as this is shown to be betrayal to the long lasting feud. Mercutio can’t bear this vile submission any longer and takes over.

    The hatred on their faces performs such clarity of their rivalry to the extent that it is breathtaking. Winds become stronger and more violent, which captivates the audience into the death of Mercutio, which makes the hate, build vigorously between the audience and Tybalt because he stabbed innocent Romeo’s best friend. Sorrow is built as Romeo and Mercutio say their last words. As Romeo tries to help him, flooding him in tears, Mercutio utters a cry that forever sums up the fate of the innocent, “a plague o’ both your houses!” a curse that is soon to be carried out. His death later effectively puts an end to the priests plan to reunite simply the warring families. Luhrmann has directed this line to be said by Mercutio as he walks off the back of the derelict stage, showing how his performance has come to an end for ever, so therefor again captivates the viewers in the atmosphere. Mercutio fatal wound causes the darkness to fall and clouds pass over his body which shows he has passed them to heaven. The screen fades to reflect on the death. The winds form into a storm as Romeo declares vengeance on Tybalt. Dramatic Irony is caused because the audience is worried because they know that a fourth brawl, which disturbs the innocent streets, will result in the death of those people.

    The music as Romeo gets into his car to chase Tybalt becomes more strong and the drum beats become louder and faster drones of sound, It is racy and menacing, creating the tension and increasing the suspense and preparing the audience for what is to follow. The drama is progressed with Romeo’s screaming and crying and in an act of shock shoots at Tybalt, which because it is so out of character for Romeo to do this, surprises the viewers The frame of Juliet’s worried face, causes the audience to feel sympathy for her. Romeo shoots him over and over in slowed motion to fulfil the atmosphere of the murder caused by Romeo’s adrenaline, which is again proved by Romeo’s guilt afterwards. He kills Tybalt on the steps of the church, so has sinned on gods door step and is viewed by God which is more harsh and meaningful than any other Capulet or Montague watching.

    Following the death of Tybalt, Luhrmann has captured the moment of realisation by the inertia, until the loud crash of his gun to the floor as the sound of a bullet, which bares the symbol of Virgin Mary on the stem. This symbolises that it was the gun that killed Tybalt but its actions will lead to the death of Romeo himself (after he is banished by the Prince of Verona), again leading to equality. Tybalt dies near a statue of Jesus which has no left side, so no heart which symbolises that there is no love in this murder scene. He falls back into a pool of water, which symbolises that his blood de-purifies the symbol of love. Tybalt has a tattoo of a heart on his chest, so killing Tybalt has caused the death of the love between Romeo and Juliet as followed. After his exile he hides until he can meet Juliet, in a passionate consummation of their marriage in a more compelling way than any other previous adaptation.

    The white sheets symbolise again their purity and a new life together and their commitment.

    Miscellaneous category symbols include that of the “L’amour” sign in the street which Romeo leans on, it means love so shows that love will come to him if he waits. A derelict stage is used a few times, which symbols that life is like stage and there performances are like us acting on the stage of life, using the stage also reminds people of the original Romeo And Juliet which pays a sort of tribute to William Shakespeare. Doves are used in the priest’s soliloquy because they symbolise that he hopes peace will one day be released in the society. Another important symbol is that of the pill/L.S.D with a heart on it before the party scene. This symbolises that love will affect him like a drug and will soon be addicted to the love of Juliet. It also represents the modern aspect and the effect of dizziness in the party fits in with Shakespeare’s description of how he felt when he went in.

    Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet appeals to the younger generation because fundamentally it is set in a modern day and fashion with contemporary form. Including present day costume, setting and props such as guns instead of swords aswell as contemporary media is put across in many ways and the use of the drug is a modern day occurrence and is now more popular than ever and is by some people regarded as cool. The costume consists of designer suits for the Capulets and surfer style, bright coloured shirts with designer slacks for the Montagues. The setting of the modern Verona includes the contemporary themes of high rise buildings and tower blocks surrounded in roads with cars, buses and helicopters used by the police. However this is all made interesting by the original, old-fashioned text, which already added meaning and strength to the scenes, but was made more captivating by Luhrmann’s additions. Young people were purposely targeted by 20th Century Fox as shown by the fact that it caters for both genders.

    The males are lured by the drama of the violence with the hate and rivalry including the guns and the themes of death and vengeance examples being the Petrol Station scene and the killing of Mercutio and Tybalt. Females are captured through the themes the romance and the love between Romeo and Juliet. Aswell as the fairytale aspects and the beauty of Juliet, the fact that Romeo is played by a world-wide heartthrob causes the females to be interested even before they know about the film that he stars in. The Hollywood actors play a large part as they would have been seen in other films so therefor would be recognisable and the fact that they are attractive to both sexes helps the reviews and publications. The soundtrack is modern so is recognisable to young people whom are the main punters of pop music, but it also fits in with the classic form. The story is well ended leaving a good impression of the moving image, which is then passed on to friend and relatives. The moral or denovement is tragic, hopeful, vengeant but still fulfilled by love so never gets boring and allures the viewer through to the end.

    Overall, Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, represents Shakespeare’s original themes and ideas with great success as determined firstly by the fact that Luhrmann has used all of the Shakespearean text and brought it up to date also he has used the drama to its full potential by special effects and expensive scenery and props due to the films large budget. But aswell as this he has targeted at the teenager to young adult audience, which was clever, because they know the story due to studying it in school so this enables them to understand the words. And they have the most money and time as a rule (compared to parents, young children and the elderly), so they are able to spend money on the cinema or buy the film.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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