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In this essay, I will be comparing the way the 400 years old William Shakespeare’s film Romeo and Juliet was transformed by Baz luharmann for the understanding of the modern audience. Romeo and Juliet was written by William Shakespeare 400 years ago. In the past plays were acted in the theatre. The plays were totally different from the way they are now. The theatre had a stage where the play was to be acted; this had an entrance and an exit. There was no lighting and no scenery; there was also a balcony on the first floor where some scenes were acted. Below the stage was where the audience stood to watch the play.
There were also two galleries. At the top of the building there was a flag to show there was a play in progress. This is a sign for the illiterate population, who couldn’t read notices. A Prologue is a piece of useful information before a play or story is acted. It tells us what we are supposed to expect. In Shakespeare’s time the narrator would have come out before the play started to deliver the prologue to the audience. This is very important as there is no form of scenery or lighting to describe the location or what is happening. Hence, the audience have to be attentive and listen to everything that is said in the play.
This can be illustrated in this quotation ‘In fair Verona, where we lay our scene’. This is a typical statement a narrator will say when delivering the Prologue to inform the audience where the play is taking place. Baz Luhrmann’s film has a totally different way of presenting the prologue. In this present day we have newscasters who give us information about what is happening internally and externally. This is the device Baz Luhrmann’s uses. The film starts with a television set and a newscaster reading the news. This is the way the prologue is first presented.
She talks about the setting ‘in fair Verona, where we lay our scene’, she talks about the main story and characters in this quotation ‘two households both alike in dignity’ and she also says short statements which are a brief summary of the play. At the top right corner of the screen there is a picture of a broken ring and below it are these words; ‘star crossed lovers’. This illustrates that there is love and a broken relationship between two lovers in the film. Also the broken ring suggests that the lovers’ relationship will be but a short one as it is destined to end in tragedy.
Also there is dramatic operatic music at the background; it suggests the film will most likely be a tragedy as is often seen in grand operas. The Prologue is delivered again. This is very different from the first time; it contains flashes of scenes in the film/ informative clips. This prologue has a voiceover of Friar. He is the perfect person for this job because he knows the story from the start to the end. The clips are very informative. The two towers with the names MONTAGUE AND CAPULET suggest wealth and probably business rivalry, which a modern audience would understand.
It also shows they are both well-to-do families. We can also say they are of the same status: It also has shots of the statues of Jesus and Mary this shows a church is involved and it reflects the Catholic religion practised in Verona. There are also flashes of murder, city in flames, police aircraft. People in these flashes have worried and troubled looks on their faces. There is also this newspaper article with a caption’ ANCIENT GRUDGE’. This explains that the two families have had this grudge for years and generations.
This is because a modern audience is literate; the film director can use text on the screen, whereas Shakespeare’s original audience could not read. The line’ civil blood makes civil hands unclean’ is illustrated using the flashes of fire in the streets, bloodshed, and violence. Another major difference between the films is the names and appearance. In Shakespeare’s original play the heads of the families were just called Lady and Lord Capulet or Montague and to differentiate the families they would have probably used red clothes for a family and blue for another family.
This is totally different in Baz Luhrmann’s film. He gives the characters names. The Capulets are Fulgencio and Gloria. This suggests they originated from Italy. Caroline and Ted Montague are of north European origin. The audience are now aware that the families are both business rivals and from different communities. Their appearances also differ: the Montagues are blond and blue eyed and the Capulets have a Mediterranean appearance. Act 1 Scene 1 then begins and the music changes. The music that follows the film is a classic and tragic kind of music.
It is giving the audience clues about immerse drama and tragedy of what they are to witness. It is a hi-life, hip-pop music followed by the arrival of the Montague boys. They arrive in a yellow car with the music turned on loudly. They wear bright-coloured beach shirts. Their car plate number even has Mi?? n, their family name on it. This entry is very common to the modern audience. It is the usual show-off of young boys from a rich background, who like to party and are carefree. The scene is well lit and shows a cool happy atmosphere. The music changes at the arrival of the Capulets.
It is now a menacing kind of music. It sends a dangerous, serious, down-to-earth kind of music. The Capulets arrive in a stylish fashion with cowboy boots that have steel plates on them; they come in black official suits with bullet belts. They have a purposeful serious look. They portray the real bad-boys attitude, ready to fight. All this takes place in a gas station the equivalent of ” the public haunt of men’. The Montague boys sight their enemy. They both start taunting each other. Abra Capulet starts it; it all seems like a comic.
Then Tybalt who is Juliet’s cousin comes out, and takes a step further. The Montagues despite all their loud behaviour seen reluctant to fight, but Tybalt, who is a trouble- maker, brings out his gun and starts shooting. The Montagues start defending themselves, leading it to a real fight. It gets to a climax when Tybalt drops his cigar and the place goes up in flames drawing the attention of the police. The mayhem which follows is very familiar to the audience who see action movies. The Prince of Verona is updated to be the chief of police. He is the peace maker and makes a stand.
He calls both head of the families and tells them if any fight reoccurs disturbing the peace of the streets they will pay for it with their lives. In conclusion, I think Baz Lurhmann has done a very good job. The music interprets and indicates the stage of the scenes. Instead of swords, they use guns which are a normal sight to a modern audience as they are used to watching action films. The dressing also speaks a lot of the characters, so does the body language, especially that of Tybalt: his looks, his pose and the way he carries himself suggest trouble.
The violent scene shows irresponsibility and senselessness of the feud. It is this pointless violence that destroys the lives of the innocent lovers ‘ROMEO AND JULIET’ whom the play is named after and whom we meet later in the play. Finally, I think the opening is very effective as everyone can understand through the clips and well delivered Prologue. The costume and setting of the scene are also important as ‘it speaks to the Audience’ even if they do not understand the Shakespearean language.