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After reading Act One Scene One and watching two different versions of Romeo & Juliet, have found the directors different ways of sticking to the original text both interesting and successful. The two different versions were Franco Zeffirelli’s, which was filmed in 1968, and the more modern Buz Luhrman’s version filmed in 1996. Zeffirelli’s version was the more stereotypical 16th century-like version. The prologue uses a voice-over, with the music typical of music in Shakespeare’s day.
When the voice says, “start crossed lovers”, the words “Romeo & Juliet” appear on the screen, this is to show the viewer that Romeo & Juliet’s love can’t be because of their ancestors “ancient grudge” Zeffirelli puts both families in liveries, both families coloured brightly so they stand out. They are both easily recognised and these liveries are Zeffirell’s way of showing how they are “both alike in dignity” Zeffirelli has a lot of extras in the market where Scene One is set.
When the quarrel breaks out, everyone there gets involved and starts to fight. I think this is Zeffirelli’s way of showing that the conflict is not just between the Montagues and the Capulets; it’s an on-going feud that everyone is involved in. Zeffirelli sticks to the text well, although he could be a bit more adventurous. He sets the movie in Verona, just like in Shakespeare’s text. The main notable difference in Scene One is how the biting of the thumb incidence is done.
It focuses in on the Montague’s thumb to draw attention to it – this makes it a lot more noticeable. He has also added in a spit to increase the intensity of the insult and enables the viewer to feel the tension that is being felt by everyone in the market. Luhrman uses a television broadcast for his prologue. There is a box in the top right hand corner over the shoulder of the newsreader. It contains a picture and a caption. The picture is of a broken ring, which represents how Romeo & Juliet’s love has been broken – “Death marked love”.
The caption reads “star crossed lovers” because it tell us that although Romeo & Juliet have fallen in love, their stars (fate) are crossed so their love is not able to be. Luhrman then repeats the prologue. This time the prologue contains large signs of modernisation and the clips explain it all a bit more. It gives the names of the characters and who is playing them. It shows violence – guns firing, helicopters flying and a general sense of destruction.
This is all to make us aware that this is a modern version of Romeo & Juliet and its different to any other. Luhrman too has used a voice over in his prologue and he uses captions in the headlines of newspapers, for example “ancient grudge” and “new mutiny”. He does this to make you think about he words, you HAVE to read them because they are headlines and they look interesting. Darren Cave Page 1 5/2/2007 The line “both alike in dignity” is symbolised by to skyscrapers with a statue of Jesus in the middle.
One of the large buildings says “Capulet” and the other “Montague”, the fact that they are both skyscrapers and stand out show us how the Montagues and the Capulets are wealthy but of equal wealth – “both alike in dignity”. The statue of Jesus is there because like Romeo & Juliet, Jesus died for love. When the voice says “take their life”, those words come up on the screen but the “t” also looks like a cross this again shows how the story of Romeo & Juliet relates to Jesus. When this appears on the screen the music reaches its climax to make the viewer intrigued and eager to continue watching.
When in Luhrman’s prologue he is introducing the characters he gives them the following names – “Fulgencio & Gloria Capulet” and “Ted & Caroline Montague”. These aren’t the names used in the original text and it is notable how the Capulet’s names are Latin and the Montague’s are WASP. I think Luhrman may be suggesting this “ancient grudge” was formed around religion – the Latiners against the WASP’s. The film is set in “Verona Beach” which is one of Luhrman’s many successful attempts at updating the action without ruining the plot by changing the text too much.
The two families collide at a petrol station. Both families have the same “Sword 9mm” gun except he logos on the butt of the guns are slightly different – the Montague ones say “Montague” where the Capulet ones say “Capulet”. The “Sword 9mm” bit is a way of sticking to the original text and means that when Benvolio says “Put up your swords” it still makes sense because the gun is a “Sword 9mm”. If he said “Put up your swords” and then put up a gun it wouldn’t make sense and if he said “put up your gun” then the text would be too different.
The way that the butts of the guns of the families are nearly the same the same and the gun is the same is again to enforce the “Both alike in dignity”. This is backed up by both families having similar flash cars and personalised number plates reading “CAP 005” and “MON 005” showing us how they are very equal families and that as well as religion is a recipe for tension and conflict. A Montague “bits his thumb” at a Capulet. Nowadays most people wouldn’t know what you were doing if you did that too them but it was seen as an insult in Shakespeare’s day.
I think Luhrman recognises this and has added in a hand movement, which makes it more obvious to a modern day viewer that the Montague is trying to provoke and insult the Capulet. In Luhrman’s version, after Sampson (Montague) bits this thumb and insults the Capulet, the Montagues become scared, they start to shout and panic, it’s all very serious. Then when Tybalt enters, all is silent except for a drumming and some western music that create extra tension. Luhrman changes the script slightly here – “Peace….
peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues and thee”. He says peace twice to increase its impact and the actor changes his tone for the second one as if he’s thinking “if this is peace I wouldn’t like to see war” so it really has the same effect and meaning but is slightly different to the original text – just a modernisation in language. Darren Cave Page 2 5/2/2007 When Tybalt says “and thee” he drops a match and there is a close-up of his metal heals on his shoes standing on the match.
There is also a loud scratching noise to make it all more interesting and to increase tension. The fact that he stands on the match when he says “and thee” is relevant because it represents how Tybalt is implying that he is going to stand all over the Montagues. When they are fighting, Captain Prince who is named Prince in the original text splits it up. There are no Princes in America nowadays so Luhrman has just updated the text. He tells them to drop their weapons and they do it immediately so right from the start he is seen as a figure of authority.
He arrives in a helicopter so he has a demanding impact. The action then moves from the violent and noisy outside to the quiet and peaceful office of Captain Prince in the Police Station. Captain Prince enunciates the words “three civil brawls” and as he says it the camera moves form the Capulets, to the Montagues and then back to Prince – this re-enforces the language being used. The end of the scene is like a “cliff-hanger” because Captain Prince is so angry and he hasn’t yet dealt with both parties properly yet.
After studying these two versions of Romeo & Juliet, my personal preference was Buz Luhrman’s version. I think he worked extremely hard at updating the settings, props etcetera and he kept the story line well. Zeffirelli didn’t work as hard as Luhrman. As I said before, I feel that Zeffirelli was not adventurous enough, he kept to the text a bit too much but having said that, I’m sure Luhrman had aimed his version at teenagers like me whereas Zeffirelli was just out to turn Romeo & Juliet into a film. I now appreciate how much effort goes into making a film a lot more.