‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a play wherein laid a tragedy, written by Shakespeare featuring two star cross’d lover. Despite the fact that it’s suppose to be a love story, the prologue, written in the form of a sonnet, emits a heavy, sombre atmosphere and foreshadows the rest of the play, focusing on the negative aspects of love and outlining the tragic outcome of such an emotion – rejecting the idea that love overcomes all that the typical love story undertakes. The sonnet contains alternate rhyming couplets and an iambic pentameter which would provide comfort for the Elizabethan audience as they would find familiarity in such a rhythm. It sets forth a scene of dramatic irony for the characters as Romeo and Juliet is oblivious to the consequences of their simple love when the audience themselves had been enlightened. The sonnet began with informing us that the play would be about ‘two households, both alike in dignity’ which meant that they are both similar in terms of their high status and noble birth. Perhaps this would appeal to the Elizabethan audience as humans usually take joy in higher beings’ fall from grace. The phrase ‘ancient grudge’ implies that their adversity of the other were so old that the reason for their hatred had already been forgotten – they’re only now fighting for the sake of it.
This increases the play’s tragedy as the ‘children’s end’, which emphasis on their innocent youth, could’ve been avoided if not for the two households fruitless affray. Act 1, scene 5 is a momentous scene in the play as it’s the scene when Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love at first sight with the other. Yet despite the seemingly beautiful romantic encounter of love, an undercurrent of hate could be detected throughout the scene. At the start of the play, Capulet was depicted as a congenial host; Welcome, gentleman!’. The exclamative shows that Capulet were in a jovial mood and he was full of cheer as he greeted the maskers. He constantly requested ‘more light’ so as to prepare the brilliant moment of meeting of Romeo and Juliet. The interplay of light and dark is a repeated imagery in the play and it’s a metaphor of the binary opposition of love and hate; the contrast is prominent in this scene. Likewise, Baz Luhrman followed this contrast by allowing the opening scene of the party to begin with constant explosions of fireworks, emitting lots of lights and bright colours.
The Capulet’s wealth is obvious as the expensive and luxurious decoration conveyed. Guests dressed in extravagant, excessive costume –though even while the party appeared to be enjoyable, we get shots of the stern looking bodyguard. Perhaps this is so that we can recognise this difference as a metaphor for the direct contrast between love and hate. Rather than having his characters don masks as Shakespeare had in order to conceal Romeo’s true identity, Bas Luhrman had chosen to present the party as a fancy dress party as a way to connect with the modern audience. He took advantage of that and had dressed each of the recognizable characters as such that would reflect their personality. For instanse, Juliet’s attire is that of an angel. The most basic explanation for this is that her costume is a connotation for her naivety, purity and serenity, which were further supported by her face being void of excessive make-up. Though upon further consideration, perhaps her angelic look is a metaphor of how women had been referred to as an ‘angel in the house’ – a domestic figure. Romeo’s soliloquy begins with the exlamative ‘O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!’.
The soft vowel ‘o’ expresses the impact of Juliet’s beauty on Romeo as it’s as if he was lost for words as the gentle sigh suggests. The plosive alliteration ‘burn bright’, again, uses light as a connotation with beauty, perfection and purity by implying that Juliet lights up the room and suggests that she outshines all other women – Shakespeare uses light as a metaphor to symbolise and emphasise Romeo’s awakening and overwhelming reaction to love. ‘It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night’ further reinforces the idea that Romeo’s image of Juliet is that of a star which lights up the night sky. Shakespeare perhaps intended this as a powerful metaphor of the two characters being star-cross’d lovers thus their fate belongs in the stars. He writes, ‘as a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear’. The noun ‘cheek’ presents the audience with an image that suggests physical closeness, indicating that Romeo is already beginning to view Juliet in an intimate and romantic manner. Shakespeare utilises the abstract noun ‘night’ to juxtapose with Juliet’s symbol of lightness and purity to signify that love and hate goes hand in hand with each other. In Elizabethan time, Ethiop would’ve been thought of as fascinating and exotic, and the adjective ‘rich’ also supports the fact that in the short period Romeo had seen her, Juliet is already precious and rare to him.
It could be that this is also to signify that they were destined to be together as Romeo would never find another if not for Juliet. Moreover, the soliloquy were all written in a rhyming couplet structure; we can infer from this structure that Romeo is full of love and well versed in the art of romance. On the other hand, Baz Luhrman had chosen replace Romeo’s soliloquy with a visual imagery instead – a fish tank. The fish tank acts a barrier and, because of their family’s grudge, even though there is only a little distance between the two, it almost seems like they’re ocean apart. The water and the simplistic colours of the fish shows the deep and pureness of the two’s emotions, and mirrors the simplicity of their love being untainted by the party.
The pace at which the scene moves, slows, as if time stood still for our two characters because their love is so paralysing, and the close up shot of Romeo’s soft smile shows the audience his love for Juliet. Immediately, the music changes from the loud, fast pace soundtrack to a slow, romantic love song; juxtaposing the chaotic party scene to the sanctuary they had found in each other. Romeo and Juliet instantly mirrors each other’s movement which demonstrates their bond and their attraction, already so in tune with each other despite no words being said. Romeo’s soliloquy continues as Paris and Juliet dances; other than adding tension in the process, it also illustrates how their place within each other’s heart were already so high that Romeo doesn’t even consider Paris a threat as his and Juliet’s eyes continues to sought each other out. During the entire scene, Paris, dressed in an astronaut costume, were portrayed as an idiot during this scene. Both his costume and action indicates to the audience that he would never be able to attain Juliet’s heart, even though he certainly wishes to as his hand movements mimics the action of catching a star – Romeo refers to Juliet as a star – and an astronaut, though high status, is not a traditional aspirational figure who are seen to be romantic.
In contrast, Romeo’s knight in shining armour outfit characterize him to be a archetypal, chivalry man who would save the damsel in distress – though ironically, Romeo ends up being the reason of Juliet’s death due to his rash actions. Shakespeare showed the binary opposition of love and hate, and how the two goes hand in hand with each other, by juxtaposing Romeo’s undying love soliloquy with Tybalt’s short, sharp language. Shakespeare represents Tybalt as the embodiment of hatred and an antonym of the chivalrous Romeo Afterwards, Tybalt stated ‘I will withdraw’, which instead of bring the Elizabethan audience relief, they’re invaded with a sense of foreboding as it foreshadows that though Tybal decided to avoid Romeo for now, it’s clear that he intends to organise a confrontation later on. This makes the play even more tragic as even before the two star-cross’d lover met, a warning had already been issued. The rhyming couplet ‘shall’ and ‘bitter’ carries with it a sense of finality and doom and were utilised by Shakespeare to create a dramatic effect as ‘bitter gall’ foreshadows Romeo’s death by a vial of poison, emphasising on the irony.
This technique creates a sinister and tense atmosphere where upon the audience, knowing the tragedy that will befall the two characters, sympathise with them. Also, the juxtaposition ‘bitter’ and ‘sweet’ almost served to remind us of the binary opposition of ‘love’ and ‘hate. Alternatively, Baz Luhrman personified evil in Tybalt by a red devil costume flanked by two skeleton, resembling a stereotypical villain. The connotation of the bright red could by symbolism for the blood that Tybalt wishes to shed, and his antagonism. In the first moment of his introduction, he is surround by a puff of smoke. This could be reinforcing his devilish, antagonist role and perhaps also a metaphor for his clouded vision of Romeo due to prejudiced hatred. It’s a profound reminder of how special and significant Romeo and Juliet’s love is as they managed to overcome the automatic reaction of abhorrence when they learnt that the other was a ‘loathed enemy’. It’s clear that Romeo’s mere presence overwhelms Tyablt with anger, leaving him breathless – as opposed to Juliet’s grace overwhelming Romeo – so much so that he is almost spitting out his words in a sharp, raspy tone which emanate violence all in itself. During all this occurrence, a love song could still be heard in the background.
This is known as a contrapuntal sound and it’s a metaphor of how even in the midst of hatred, an undercurrent of love could still be detected. The shared sonnet between Romeo and Juliet is significant as it’s the part they sealed their fate with a kiss and their connection with each other become most apparent as they finish off the structure of the sonnet. The iambic pentameter would be immediately recognized by the Elizabethan audience as it’s associated with romance and love because the rhythm of it mimics that of our heartbeat. Yet, even while the structure is surrounded by the air of romance, it also calls to attention the prologue which was also written in the structure of iambic pentameter.
This would bring to mind the foreboding start the play had began with and remind the Elizabethan audience that their love is doomed from the start, increasing their sympathy for the oblivious characters. Furthermore, Juliet automatically mirrors Romeo’s religious language so perhaps Shakespeare meant for his to be a sign that even while they were born enemies, they have the religious ground in common. For instance, Romeo referred his hand to be ‘unworthiest’ so that in derogating himself, he also complimented Juliet by implying that her beauty alone make her a place of worship, therefore his ‘lips, two blushing pilgrims’ means that by kissing Juliet, he’ll become holy – his name means going on a pilgrim to Rome. These religious inferences would’ve been blasphemous to an Elizabethan audience as religion were regarded as with high respect at that time and for Romeo to be carelessly compare Juliet to ‘dear saint’ would’ve been preposterous.
Baz Luhrman organised the sonnet to occur partly behind Paris’ back so as to increase the tension and show how much the two characters were sacrificing by going against family loyalty. Close up shots of the two sets up an intimate, secretive scene in which no others can intrude; in their eyes, they’re the only ones who matters. Romeo’s smile especially shows how completely in love he was and his amazement at finding her. Bas Luhrman interpreted the kiss as the climax of the scene, accompanied by the music reaching crescendo, and he chooses to have that moment to happen inside of a lift as a metaphor of their love being a path to heaven. However, it can also be implying that their love can only flourish after death in heaven. The high key lighting inside the lift reinforces the idea of heaven and have positive connotation with love. The camera spinning around the pair as they’re kissing give the impression to the audience that they were swept off their feet by the intensity of their kiss. In addition, the lift can be seen as a sanctuary for them, separating them from the rest of the guests.