Using Shakespeares’ Romeo and Juliet and Baz Lurhmanns’ film version (1997) comment on how Lurhmann offers his audience a very contemporary interpretation of a 16th century play. Use acts one scene one and act three scene one to discuss the dramatic devices used in both versions and how they impact on their audience. How does Shakespeare contribute to the personalities and motivations of his characters? How does Lurhmann reinforce such characterisations? Which version did you prefer? Why?
Shakespeares’ Romeo and Juliet was written between fifteen ninety-four and fifteen ninety-seven, but was first printed in fifteen ninety-nine. Shakespeare wrote his play knowing that his target audience would be nearly all of the Elizabethan society, this was because when Shakespeare was a play writer the theatre was one of the main forms of entertainment. Shakespearean theatres where very basic, they where circular or hexagonal with a size around eighty square feet, they where open top with three tiers of seats around all edges to give the audience many angles to watch the play from. The stage was against one wall and came half way into the theatre. T
here was a door on both sides of the stage for actors to enter and leave the stage. There was a small upper stage that would have been used for legendary scenes such as the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene. Shakespeare wrote his play when men and women weren’t seen as equals so only men where able to act on stage. Baz Lurhmanns’ film version was released in nineteen ninety seven, his target audience was a young audience who are looking for fast action scenes and heart throbbing drama, he would have also aimed it at people who are fans of the play and wanted to see how it compared. Elizabethan audiences would have expected the movie to be enjoyable and interesting where as a contemporary audience would have expected the movie to be full of fast cars, powerful weapons, attractive actors and actresses and dramatic scenes.
The play Romeo and Juliet is based upon young love, the two teenagers meet but are kept apart through their families hate of each other. Throughout the play the two families meet causing death on both sides. Romeo and Juliet get married without any of their family knowing, but when Romeo is linked to a murder he is banished from Verona and goes to Mantua. While Romeo is away Juliet takes a potion to make her appear dead but Romeo isn’t told so when he meets her at the Friars cell he thinks she is really dead so he kills himself, Juliet the wakes, sees Romeo then commits suicide.
Shakespeare opens the play with Sampson and Gregory, two of the Capulet servants talking about how they would assault the Montague maids. Following on from their conversation Abraham, Benvolio and Tybalt who are all in the Montague house hold arrive on the scene, then they all fight. Lurhmanns opening to the film is much more dramatic, is starts with Sampson and Gregory driving along in s fast sports cars with personalised number plates, they are both dressed in very casual clothes, their weapons, car and clothes have there households insignia on. They pull into a modern day petrol station where they meet the Montagues, which are all dressed very smart in suits, shoes and waistcoats, Tyblats waistcoat has a picture of Jesus embroided onto it.
The way which the Montague dress and act shows that they are much more intelligent and confident, where as the Capulets come across as being nervous and only casually dressed. The fight takes place in the petrol station, another vehicle parked in the petrol station was full of nuns, this bus and Tybalts waistcoat identifies a religious side of the play. Throughout the scene the camera zooms onto the characters faces showing that the Montagues are very calm and focused whereas the Capulets where very nervous and on the edge. Baz Lurhmann left out a section of the original text when the Capulets was talking about assaulting the Capulet Maids, he left this section of text out because it would be unacceptable to have that sort of a scene in a movie, it would have been classed as very sexist.
Baz Lurhmann set his film in modern day Miami which helps to give the film a very contemporary feel, he also uses modern weapons such as guns called swords so that when during a fight the word sword is mentioned it relates to the name of the guns, modern clothes such as suits, holsters, shoes and shirts which wouldn’t have been used in the original play and modern transport such as helicopters and fast sports cars.
There are many themes to the movie and one of these is the hate between the Capulets and Montagues, the fight in the first act helped to strongly identify this along with quotes such as “The quarrel is between our masters, and us their men” which is said by Gregory a loyal Capulet servant willing to fight for the Capulet household. Lurhmanns opening appeals to a younger audience because it has a contemporary setting with sporty cars and modern weapons.
Benvolio is clearly identified as being a peace keeper in the first conversation which he has, he says “Part fools, put up your sword, you know not what you do” he is the sort of character which would rather avoid the trouble than get involved, when Tybalt enters the scene Benvolio says “I do but keep the peace” which also identifies him as the peace keeper. Benvolio tried to avoid the brawl in act three scene one when Mercutio was stabbed when he tried to persuade him to leave. Lady Capulets nephew Tybalt is a character which is the complete opposite to Benvolio he is described as “The courageous captain of compliments” and is very loyal to his family, Tybalt is not a man of peace he shows this when he says “What drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell”. Tybalt always dresses in a suit that makes him come across as being very smart, he is an aggressive character that always keeps a relaxed image and this makes him very intimidating. At the start of the play Romeo uses a lot of antithesis and oxymoronic language such as “O loving hate”, “Feather of lead” and “Cold fire” are just a few of these phrases used, the phrases show that Romeo must be very confused as he isn’t thinking straight.
Lurhmann had a much greater advantage when making the movie because he could use special effects such as when Mercutio was stabbed a storm started to brew. He also used camera angles, music, clothes, modern day weapons and vehicles where all used to help present certain characters. Camera angles where used to show emotions on characters faces and surrounding area when a scene was taking place. Music was also used to show emotion and create tension, for example when Mercutio was stabbed a slow classical piece of music was played. The characters dressed in ways that help to identify their personality, for example the Montagues dress smart and therefor appear to be more confident and intelligent. The two households both have their own insignia which is on their clothes, cars and weapons, in the first scene there is freeze frames on each of the insignias which was on the guns. With everything else being contemporary Lurhmann decided to still use Shakespearean language it made the film much more interesting.
Act three opens with Benvolio trying to persuade Mercutio to leave so that they can avoid the Capulets. As the scene progresses the atmosphere becomes very tense between the characters and the language becomes very aggressive, the camera has close ups on all of the characters faces showing the emotion of the crowd. This scene is where one of the main twists in the play happens because Romeo seeks revenge, which he gets leading to banishment which splits him up from Juliet. This scene helps to show the true extent of the feud between the families, it also show that Romeo has a confused state of mind. it also show that Romeo has a confused state of mind.
Lurhmann opens act three on a Miami beach, with wide shots of the market place below and the beach with the calm see in the background. Throughout the scene Lurhmann uses close ups with all of the characters faces, this helps to emphasise the tense situation and emotion of the characters. Lurhmann is very good at creating tense situations through close ups, he also uses music one example of this is when Romeo and Juliet have died a very soft harmonious piece of music is played. With this scene being set on a beach Lurhmann is able to use the weather to his advantage in creating the atmosphere, this becomes apparent when Mercutio is stabbed and the waves become fierce and an immense storm starts brewing. On the edge of the beach there is an old discarded stage, this is where the stabbing takes place and it helps to bring the origins of the play back into perspective. This scene affects the rest of the movie leading to Romeo and Juliets deaths.
Shakespeare wrote his play knowing that his audience would have been most of the Elizabethan society as there was no other public entertainment, he also knew that he would only be using male actors as it was seen as being unacceptable for women to act in theatres. The play was presented on an open-air stage with no music or special effects, also if you made a mistake there were no cuts, as it wasn’t pre-recorded. Lurhmann produced the film to be aimed at young audiences who like special effects and dramatic scenes. Lurhmann had a great advantage when making the film because he could use audio and visual effects to keep the audience interested.
If there was a problem with a scene in the movie it cut have been redone so there wasn’t that pressure on the contemporary actors. The play Romeo and Juliet had two main themes which was the hate between the two families and young love between Romeo and Juliet, these two themes are very relevant to day, it is like nothing has really changed in society since Shakespearean times. I prefer to watch the movie because it was very dramatic and had a lot of visual effects which helped to emphasise certain scenes and the cliffhanging moments which kept me on the edge of my seat.