When producing Shakespearean based films, producers are faced with difficult tasks. Baz Lurhmann and Zeffirelli had to deal with such problems, but each was different. Zeffirelli had the burden of converting Shakespeare’s play to film yet he knew his audience would appreciate the film. Luckily he didn’t have to change much of the play. The problem that faced Lurhmann was that he didn’t know whether there would be an audience for Shakespearean films in the modern world.
To overcome this, he incorporated the dramatic elements of a modern film with the language and style of Shakespeare’s original play. However difficult a task, each producer faced, they managed to produce a film that society at that time would expect, with scenes of tension between foes and lovers and scenes involving intimacy between two “star-crossed” lovers.In act 1 Scene 5 of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the servants of the Capulet mansion, are making arrangements for a large party. Shakespeare shows there is a tense atmosphere looming, as one servant says he “cannot be here and there too.” This shows that everyone in the mansion is under some sort of pressure to make the party a memorable occasion. Perhaps under the pressure created by Capulet’s need to redeem himself from the “civil brawls” his family has caused in Verona’s streets and by his desire to upstage his foe, the “Montagues.”Baz Lurhmann’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s play is in almost complete contrast to that of Zeffirelli.
Zeffirelli shows a more traditional interpretation exposing aspects such as an old-style market, traditional dancing and sword fighting. I think he does it like this, because he made the film in 1968, where the audience would have felt more comfortable watching his traditional version rather than watching something that we find more up-to-date. Lurhman’s interpretation suites today’s audience. In contrast to Zeffirelli’s view, Lurhmann shows a more modern view to the historic play. He uses a modern setting for the play, guns instead of swords, young well-known actors and shows a more up to date version of how the party would have taken place, by using vibrant on screen action and references to sex.
Audiences today can relate better to the more modern approach used by Lurhmann. However, Zeffirelli’s version is probably closer in actual proceedings of Shakespeare’s play.Amongst the hype and tension involved with the party, the first main character we come across is Capulet, the head of the Capulet Mansion. We meet him on Line 15 where he is welcoming his guests to the exclusive party. By his first words, “Welcome”, the audiences’ immediate impression is that he is a “gentleman”, who is warmly welcoming his guests to make the most of his party.Zeffirelli stays close to Shakespeare’s script, where at the opening of the party scene, Capulet is welcoming his guests, who seem to be looking forward to the party inside. We can see he is being friendly and is encouraging all his guests to “foot it.” In contrast, Lurhmann opens his scene with a different approach.
We can see that the party has already begun and the first character we see is Romeo, who is feeling the effects of a pill that, he has previously taken. In Shakespeare’s time the guests would have only had wine to drink but in Lurhmann’s version he has to use drugs to draw a modern parallel of the type of fun everyone would have been having if we were back in the 16th Century. Aided by advances in technology, Lurhmann shows close ups of all the main characters involved in the scene. In this version the audience gets a feeling that everyone is enjoying themselves, especially Capulet who is drunk and telling “tales in a fair lady’s ear.
“The next main element in this scene is where Romeo sees Juliet for the first time. Shakespeare tries to create an image of Romeo being completely taken aback by Juliet’s beauty. We know from previous encounters that Romeo is a dreamy, romantic character, so we can imagine him being totally infatuated by her sheer beauty.
Romeo describes her as a “rich jewel” and a “snowy dove trooping with crows.” Here the audience gets a picture that Juliet is incredibly beautiful in comparison to anyone he has ever seen. She even manages to make the “romantic” Romeo doubt his love for Roseline “Did my heart love till now?” “For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.”Once again both Lurhmann and Zeffirelli portray this scene with conflicting opinions. Zeffirelli shows a Romeo who is standing in a crowd of people looking at those who are dancing in the centre of large hall.
He sees Juliet and the camera centres on his face, allowing Romeo to distance himself from the noisy crowd, showing that he is totally engulfed by her beauty. Yet Lurhmann chooses to isolate the two characters from the party by putting them in another room, where Romeo is refreshing himself in a water fountain.The background music, has now completely changed, preempting that something is about to happen. In the room there is a large fish tank in the centre.
The graceful movements of the fish now fascinate Romeo, being the romantic he is. Lurhmann uses the imagery of water in many key scenes throughout the play. It appears that water symbolises purity and clarity of thought. This is shown where Romeo washes his face, clearing his mind of drugs and where he catches sight of Juliet’s eye through the clear fish tank.
They don’t say anything to each other but we can see that they are both aware of the chemistry they share. Lurhmann creates tension by using the tank as a physical barrier keeping the two characters apart. The audience gets a feeling of increasing tension as the two characters get closer to each other, but before they can say anything, Juliet’s nurse enters and takes Juliet away, much to the dismay of Romeo. In spite of Romeo’s apparent isolation from the world, in Shakespeare’s play, the audience becomes aware of the fact that the outside world is constantly intruding. The Nurse interrupts several times and Tybalt, Capulet’s nephew, also manages to intrude on Romeo and Juliet’s little world.When Tybalt sees Romeo at the party, his first words are “this by his voice” showing his is quick to stereotype a Montague to mean, “trouble”.
We find that he also wants to fight Romeo and wouldn’t find it a “sin” to “strike him dead” for showing up at a Capulet party. Immediately Tybalt is shown as a very aggressive and dramatic character. Lurhmann emphasises this well by his choice of Tybalt’s costume in this scene.
He is dressed as a Devil and his kinsmen are dressed as skeletons, thus suiting their characters. Straight away we find uncle and nephew to be contrasting characters with very different first impressions. Capulet would rather “let the boy alone” than cause “a mutiny among” his guests.Both characters have different opinions about Romeo. Tybalt calls him a “villain”, where Capulet addresses him as a “well-governed youth.” Perhaps Capulet chooses his words carefully because he is among his guests and wants to put up a front. In spite of what his uncle has to say, Tybalt being a “saucy boy” wants to confront his “foe” and uphold his family’s “honour”.
However as society was extremely patriarchal in Shakespeare’s time, Capulet’s decision had to be “endured,” much the same as a Mafia boss would reign supreme over his gang. On closer analysis we find that Tybalt uses harsh and aggressive words throughout the scene. He uses words such as “villain” “dead” “scorn” and “bitt’rest gall.” The words spoken by any person let alone, Tybalt, can usually depict their character, Tybalt’s suggest he is a hostile and volatile person.Romeo having been “let alone” has now had the chance to talk to Juliet. Once again, Shakespeare gives the impression that the two characters are isolated from the party. Shakespeare carefully entails one of his famous sonnets if this scene.
He writes it as if both characters are saying it together as one. This gives the impression that both Romeo and Juliet are on the same wavelength, mind reading each other. Shakespeare constantly drops hints of religious matters in the sonnet involving Romeo and Juliet.This constant referral to love and religion might be trying to show the audience that the love that they have for each other is of the highest order, as religion was very important at the time. Romeo tries to tell Juliet that she is heavenly and he is unworthy of touching her. Juliet replies, ” you do wrong your hand too much.” enticing Romeo to follow the passion he feels for her.
Unlike his previous love, Roseline, Romeo in completely taken aback by his new-found love Juliet. The love Romeo had for Roseline was superficial whereas his love for Juliet is very passionate, breaking away from the traditional courtly love.It is apparent in both Lurhmann’s and Zeffirelli’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s play that the sonnet is a very important elements of their film.
This time Zeffirelli chooses to isolate Romeo and Juliet by placing them in another room. This way he can emphasise the intimacy experienced. In his version the two characters seem very childish in the way they speak to each other in comparison to the way Lurhmann presents his opinion. Again, this could be due to the audience involved. Lurhmann chooses not to isolate Romeo and Juliet by placing them in another room, but isolates them by using different camera angles and he also gets the two characters to whisper as they talk to each other.
Whilst they are reciting the sonnet, Lurhmann continually focuses on their lips intensifying the passion experienced between the two characters. Romeo and Juliet seem to be in their own world; they are completely besotted with each other, showing the audience that true love is involved. The way Lurhmann gets the camera to circle around them as they kiss also shows they are in their “own league” when concerned with love.To sum up, I think that each interpretation of the historic love tale involving two “star-crossed lovers” is unique in the way they are conveyed. Where Shakespeare has to create atmospheres involving tension, passion and violence using words, Zeffirelli uses the older, more traditional issues involved with love and Lurhmann uses modern and more sophisticated means to show how his view.
I think that Lurhmann was right to edit and change Shakespeare’s original script for his film, especially as it was aimed at today’s teenagers. If I hadn’t read parts of the original script and tried to picture how the scenes would have taken place, I would have thought that this was how the actual play took place.