When speaking about English plays, the majority of the general public immediately starts thinking of William Shakespeare. People who like his works and those who know just a little about him are definitely familiar with the story of Romeo and Juliet, and its famous lines “For never was a story of more woe. Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” (Shakespeare 46). The play was rather popular in the 16th century when it was written but a new wave of attention it received in the 20th century due to the creation of filmed versions. Even though the film directed by Baz Luhrmann is considered to be the best innovative adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet”, it implements lots of differences such as those related to the props, settings, music, and language.
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Just like Shakespeare, Luhrmann, showed his audience the story of two warring families. Their quarrels turn into fights with the weapon and negative consequences. The characters still have the same names, so that they can be easily differentiated and matched with one another. Those scenes and even dialogues that were written by Shakespeare can be found in the film, even those they are somehow changed to meet the requirements of the form (Lehmann 179).
Preminger et al. claim that poetry is to be educative and pleasurable and both versions of “Romeo and Juliet” meet this criterion regardless of the fact that they had to appeal to the audience of a different time (133). Shakespeare implemented the jokes that were close to his contemporaries, mentioned the hierarchy that was present in society, and even added some allusions to real landmark events that took place in the 16th century. Luhrmann, in his turn, tried not to focus on those outdated ideas and resorted to the pop culture, which revealed the interests of the 20th century. As a result, both the original author and the director of the filmed adaptation pleased and entertained their audience. They attracted their attention with beautiful costumes and appealed to their ears with popular music. In addition to that, they spread those morals that were critical to society and educated the representatives of the general public in this way.
The settings of the play and the film seem to be called in a similar way, but they can be found in different countries: Verona, Italy, and Verona Beach. The seaside area described in the adaptation resembles Miami, which means that the events were taken to another country. Of course, both settings reveal the environment that was peculiar to their time. In this way, people would hardly start thinking of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” as they see a city that is full of modern cars, multistoried buildings, and even hot dog stands.
Those costumes that the author and the director wanted to see on their characters differ greatly, as they represent the fashion of two centuries. While in the play, people are in suits and dresses, the adaptation shows them in Hawaiian shirts and even leather clothes. The alterations of the traditional Elizabethan fashion also deal with the hairdo, as some of the Montagues have unnaturally colored hair even though they are boys.
The language of the characters also is not the same. Of course, it was not possible to make the readers hear English or Italian accent of some characters when they were reading “Romeo and Juliet,” but such peculiarities were mentioned and revealed on the stage. Still, the filmed adaptation does not represent them. The thing is that the director believed it to be unnecessary. He considered that American English suited the play adaptation and there was no necessity to implement any changes: “When Shakespeare wrote these plays, they were written for an accent that was much more like an American sound, and when you do Shakespeare with an American accent it makes the language very strong, very alive” (Film Education 15).
Music is one more element that makes the filmed adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” differ from the play and its performances. Luhrmann resorted to hip-hop music mainly. He added some sounds of electric guitar, which did not exist in the 16th century. When describing his decisions, the director claimed that he tried to add all varieties of music so that it could appeal to the diverse audience. In this way, he followed Shakespeare’s intention and gathered the contemporary church, folk, and popular music.
Having a closer look at Act One and the film scene that reveals those events that happen in it, the audience cannot but notice a range of differences. In Scene One, Samson and Gregory argue about their skills of swordplay near the Capulet’s house until Benvolio arrives, and Tybalt triggers the fight. In the film, Benvolio and the Montagues appear first in a car near a gas station where Tybalt and the Capulets arrive soon. In this scene, the fight starts, as one of the boys bites Abraham’s thumb. Here, the audience can see lots of differences in choreography in addition to the appearance of the new props. In the play, the boys are fighting with swords, which was typical for that time, while they have pistols in the film (Luhrmann). What is more, Shakespeare mentions that they are surrounded only by some observers, but Luhrmann makes them use other people’s cars and other extras. It is also interesting that the text of the adaptation does not change, and the characters speak of the weapon they do not actually have.
The scene on the balcony is a well-known part of the play, and the director wanted to be impressive and touching. It reveals the feelings of the main characters and allows the audience to see that Romeo and Juliet’s love is strong enough to deal with all problems so many professionals believe it to be the highlight of the story (Rocklin 56). The director reduced this part so that it became much shorter. He also alters the setting to the swimming pool of the Capulet’s house while originally everything happened in the orchard. The camera focuses on the main characters during their dialogue, which allows the viewers to perceive the importance of their words and feelings.
Thus, it can be concluded that the original play and its filmed adaptation reveal the same story of two young lovers even though they have a lot of differences. The author and the director wanted to make their audience familiar with the lives of Romeo and Juliet, so they did their best to make sure that their works would appeal to their contemporaries. In fact, this seems to be the main reason Luhrmann introduced a range of alterations to the play. His version was rather innovative, and it seemed that the director altered everything except for the love story, but the original play can still be easily recognized in his story.
Film Education. “Teacher’s Notes.” Filmeduction, n.d., Web.
Lehmann, Courtney. Screen Adaptations: Romeo and Juliet. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.
Luhrmann, Buz. “Romeo + Juliet.” YouTube, uploaded by Yi Tsou, 2016, Web.
Preminger, Alex, Frank Warnke, & O.B. Hardison. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Princeton Legacy Library, 2015.
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Rocklin, Edward. Romeo and Juliet. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
Shakespeare, William. “Romeo and Juliet.” Learningstorm, 2016, Web.