Outline the difference between the traditional medieval play and the contemporary film version of Romeo and Juliet. Comment on the effect on the audience, the effect on the nature of the story. Which version do you prefer and why. Give examples from the play quoting lines and explaining scenes and quoting where appropriate.
In this essay I am going to differentiate between the modern and the original version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The contemporary version is a film which was directed by Baz Luhrmann. I will be considering the scenery and the setting, the characters and the use of props and special effects. I will also justify my reason for may preferences at the end.
The main differences between the traditional and the medieval play is the years of time, between the two plays. But both versions use the original script from William Shakespeare.
They both were produced to entertain people. But times have changed and people want to see more action and lots of special effects And this is the modern film version of Romeo and Juliet from Baz Luhrmann.
In the medieval the prologue was used to give the spectators a summary of the whole story.
Today no one wants to know the end of a film or a story, which is why Luhrmann choose a prologue, as normal News on TV. He also chose New Verona in America and not the original Verona, in Italy, as in the medieval play. I think he used this town because the ordinary people are used to the American environment.
The director cut or added Shakespeare’s original text, to make it easier for us today, to understand the languages from 500 years ago.
Baz Luhrmann changed swords to guns and horses to cars or helicopters, so a modern environment is created which makes it easier to understand the old script with modern pictures. Now the audience can guess the feelings from a person by the pictures and music, from all the expressions Baz Luhrmann put in the film. But in a Shakespeare’s time you couldn’t see the actor well you couldn’t guess the word or the emotion because there was no music. The only way who a spectator could understand the story, was through the script. If the spectator couldn’t understand it probably because the actor didn’t speak loud, or clear, enough so they had no chance to understand the words.
Contemporary the actors read it so slowly and deliberately to give the spectator a better feeling about the story and it builds an exciting and interesting atmosphere.
I think Shakespeare never thought about changing the way the words were presented. He also never thought that his play Romeo and Juliet would survive over hundreds of years. When in the medieval time the play changed people had to add props on the stage. This is shown in the modern version by a black picture with different music or voices. At this time there were no special effects of music or a great performance which had helped you to understand the play. The only way in which you could understand the play was through the word the actors were saying or shouting.
Juliet was played in the original play by a man, because women weren’t allowed to be on the stage. So when Romeo and Juliet kissed each other 500 years ago it seemed more funny than romantic. This wouldn’t have had the same sensitivity and the relationship between Romeo and Juliet was at this time not shown as romantic. In that time Romeo and Juliet seemed more
as a comedy than a romantic story. But in the contemporary version it is represented much more romantically and realistically than it was 500 years ago.
The play is produced as a real Hollywood romance because the modern audience can identify with that type of love stories.
The 500 years which have passed between the 2 different versions is very important. At this time the culture in the world changed extremely, people now have other interests and prefer different things. This is what Baz Luhrmann tried to compensate in his modern version of Romeo and Juliet.
A modern aged audience wants to see fights with guns, cars drama and love stories that are the modern ways of entertainment. To do this the director tried to add to the movie so a modern audience find’s it easier to get connected and to identify with the story of Romeo and Juliet. Baz Luhrmann still wanted to keep the old flair of the dramatic love story by using the old original script, to help a modern audience he cut and changed the old script so only the important bits are presented to the spectators.
A medieval audience would have problems by understanding the script of Romeo and Juliet, too. But that is not because they didn’t know the meaning of the word; it was more because they couldn’t hear the script very well. 500 years ago the theatre had been overcrowded; you weren’t able to understand the actors. You couldn’t see the actors very well because lots of people were maybe standing or sitting in front of you. That’s why the actors had to shout the words, so it was possible for the audience to understand the actor correct, but through this the script lost lots of emotions and feelings.
To show one of the differences I am going to compare the prologue. The prologue in Shakespeare’s time was nearly a summary of the whole play, and that was it was the people were expecting in the medieval time. They wanted to know at the beginning the whole story. But in our time things changed people don’t want to now the end of a movie.
Baz Luhrmann basically added three prologues to his film. The film starts with a Newsreader which is reading Shakespeare’s original prologue as normal News. The prologues tells them where the place is taken place and what the ending will be. Her words are supported by pictures in the back this helps us to understand what she is actually saying. Baz Luhrmann chooses the Newsreader because we are used to news which is presented like this, but for them 500 years ago Romeo and Juliet was something more special.
The second part is a summary in pictures of the movie, in which the director present the characters. This helps the audience to identify with the story. The buildings at the beginning of the film are two big buildings, probably the biggest of the city. Both buildings are on the same level and size. They both have a big sign on one stands in red Capulet and on the other one in blue Montague.The two buildings in the introduction represent the two families both with the same power, because they are one the same high level. You can imagine the small war between the households, because the skyscrapers are directly facing each others. That looks very aggressive. The red sign from the Capulet’s can represents the fire and when the blue sign in top of the Montague’s building represents water, than when these two elements meet than nothing remains. There could be peace between the households. The statue of Jesus between the buildings, which stands in a middle of a long, straight highway, can be the safe, the middle and the right way.
But both families are equally far away. The statue can represent the one judge. It gives the movie a religious touch, and the director chooses this to give a hint to Shakespeare’s religious time when the church had a lot of power.
Now we come to a very important element of the modern film. The element water has a special meaning in this film. Water represents the power which stops other forces as fire from destroying. Water can be clear and pure, but it is also a mystery. Every organism on this world needs water to survive. In the movie it symbolizes the purity of the love between Romeo and Juliet. Both are often seen connected to water, they met the first time by an aquarium and fall in love, and than they kiss in the pool. But when Tybalt dies the purity of this love gets destroyed.
In the original play the only way how the spectators could imagine that the both households were the same power an that they all were on the wrong way, with their war against each other was through the prologue and so only through the script.
In the modern movie it is much easier to understand these points because there is the pictures which gave a much better impression. The families are in the modern version much bigger and more powerful represented, but that is exactly what a modern audience expects.
The third part of the introduction is a printed version of the prologue whish is shown quickly with dramatic music.
“Two star crossed-lovers take their life”
This line tells us that Romeo’s and Juliet’s love is like a miracle. The chance that two star cross their way is very little. The same with Romeo and Juliet love, the chance that they meet
was so small, but it happened. The audience 500 years ago expected to hear the end at the beginning. Shakespeare tells us the ending, “take their life”. Modern audience wouldn’t like to know the ending at the beginning of a film, that would take the hole tension out of the movie. But Baz Luhrmann didn’t change the introduction, because Romeo and Juliet is a common play, anyway and he thought that most of the audience already have heard about the story and the ending.
To help a modern audience to understand the sentence and it’s meaning. The director choose the right music and background images, so the medieval language is not a big problem any more.
Now I am going to compare one scene which is one of the most important ones which should be an example for the whole film. Baz Luhrmann shows the both families in more detail, and the important fight, which starts the explosion. This scene shows us lots of differences between the original version and the contemporary. In Shakespeare’s time the fight was shown in a very polite way, and they didn’t really wanted to start a fight but they both knew the result of it but. This all is nearly shown in these two important sentences:
‘Do you bite your thumb at us sir?’
‘I do bit my thumb sir. (See page 33 lines 17-18)
Sampson is scared of Abram; he doesn’t want to fight against Abram.
In the film by Baz Luhrmann Abram is shown strong, important, fearful and very aggressive. He is dressed in a very manner full and tidy.
Sampson is shown frighten, but he is still ready to fight for his family. He is dressed modern, with a shirt and jeans. That makes the audience simplify with Sampson and the Montague’s.
Baz Luhrmann also swapped characters around, so the audience simplifies more with the Romeo and the Montague’s than with the Capulet’s. Luhrmann wanted to show that the Montague’s are the god guys, and the Capulet’s are bad. He did that because he wanted that Romeo is the main character. The film is build around Romeo and his love with Juliet. That’s because the audience should prefer the Montague’s than the Capulet’s.
In the original play you can not see a background or you can not listen to sound or music so in that time you could only understand the play from the script and so the words which Shakespeare used. In the modern film we see the beginning of the fight a petrol station in New Verona, America. The Montague members arrive by car to get patrol but before they finished fill the car with fuel the Capulet’s arrive. The hall fight is much more dramatically with the big explosion of the petrol station. The petrol station represents the fight, which is all the time dangerous but only when fire, so the fight, is added to it, an explosion will happen. It was all the time dangerous but it was a risk. In the movie this is a bit expanded through a sign on the patrol station which says.
‘Adding fuel to the fire’
The feeling and the emotions are supported by the sound and music the director had chosen.
All over a lot more action and drama is shown. The polite fight as it is shown in Shakespeare medieval play got a bit lost but you can still hear it through the word they say in the modern film.
A different scene that show us the difference between the original play and the film in Act 1 scene 1 where Romeo thinks about Rosaline and whether he is in love with her or not
In a old play the only way the audience could understand that Romeo was confused, and not sure about his feelings with Rosaline was through the words he used, specially through the Oxymoron’s. An Oxymoron is two opposite things put together.
“Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health”
These words tell us that Romeo is confused and can not distinguish the ideas in his mind. He is confused and lost. That was how a medieval audience would have understood his feelings about Rosaline.
In the modern film the words a supported by images. Romeo is wandering through the sand on a beach. He was smoking, and writing his ideas in a diary-
The smoking suggests to as that, Romeo had been stressed and that he smokes a cigarette to relax and to clear his mind.
The scene plays at a early morning when the sun was coming out. That shows us that, he had been up early because he was depressed by the ideas in his mind. He is trying to clear his mind through a walk on the beach.
Romeo and Juliet was 500 years ago, one of many plays in England. At that time Romeo and Juliet was nothing special. First later in time people realised the monumental work of William Shakespeare. The director Baz Luhrmann got interested and decided to film Romeo and Juliet; in a way every person could be able to understand Shakespeare’s well chosen words. His idea was it to keep the original script but to add a modern film to the words.
Baz Luhrmann made a film which can be understand by a modern audience. He placed the old play in a modern environment, an American world with cars and guns. That should help modern audience to recognise and to identify with the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet.
I prefer the original play, because the original script by Romeo and Juliet leaves the reader lots of space for imaginations and the readers own images. I think that Luhrmann’s film runes Shakespeare’s script and doesn’t leave any space for your own ideas and images. I don’t like that Romeo and Juliet are forced into the modern environment, and that Baz Luhrmann edited the script and changed the characters. If the film wouldn’t be related to Romeo and Juliet it would be a great movie. But like that it only spoils Shakespeare masterpiece.