Romeo & Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous books. It was written in 1599. It is the tragic story of two lovers, who die as a consequence of the hatred between their two families. The beginning of the play (A1S1) starts off with a blast, when a fight breaks out between the Capulets and Montagues (two households) and the prince must intervene to stop them. Whilst Romeo’s parents are concerned about his strange behaviour, but Romeo explains to his friend Benvolio that he is in love with Rosaline. From here onwards, through out the entire play this fighting and love theme is continued and the whole play is based around these two themes, of love and hatred.
Through out A1S1, Shakespeare has many intentions, the first of these intentions, is to introduce the two households. Shakespeare uses Sampson and Gregory, who are servants from the Capulet household. They are having a conversation about the Montague women. At the same time as their conversation they are having a sword fight, this is to prepare them for the fight with the Montagues. Shakespeare introduces these two servants doing this, to show the audience the seriousness of the feud between the two families, that even the servants are getting involved.
Thereafter Shakespeare introduces Tybalt from the Capulet household. Sampson who is a Montague bites his thumb at Abram,
Abram: “Do you bit your thumb at us, sir”?
Sampson: “I do bite my thumb, sir”?
Abram: “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir”?
Sampson: “No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.”
… And from here the fight starts because biting your thumb at someone in the 16 century was an insult. Shakespeare introduces Tybalt as the fight starts, because through out the play he associated with fights and so he known to the audience as a fiesty and fiery character. Shakespeare uses this fiery character because in a play normally there is villain, a person all the audience dislike, who is a show off, and thinks he is “it”. So the audience from the first minute of the play thinks yeah he is the bad guy and we don’t like him. Shakespeare introduces the two families first because the whole play is based around these two families and their ancient feud.
Furthermore, as A1S1 develops, Shakespeare introduces the Prince, who intervenes and stops the fight between the two families. He says, “If you ever disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace”. Shakespeare here introduces the prince to show the seriousness of the fued between the two families. The extent of the serious fued is shown through the language e.g. he uses a rhetorical questions, this shows the anger of the prince and represents authority, that he is control. Also through out his speech Shakespeare uses a lot of commas, these break up sentences and make the reader pause, which creates emphasise and again shows authority and tension.
In addition, Shakespeare in A1S1 shows Romeo’s physical attraction to Rosaline, he says “O brawling love, O loving hate…” Shakespeare here uses an oxymoron to tell the audience that even though their families are enemies he still loves her. So therefore we are then are set up for true love later on, and to show that Romeo’s love with Rosaline is not true love. Therefore, he shows us this physical type of love, in anticipation of a second later on. He says, “Why, such is love’s transgression. – Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast; Which thou wilt propagate, to have it prest with more of thine…” This shows that he only likes Rosaline’s physical appearance, instead of her qualities.
Another intention of Shakespeare’s is to introduce key character in the shape of, Benvolio (peacemaker) and Tybalt (fiery). Firstly Shakespeare introduces Benvolio and Tybalt here to start the first fight between the two families. He introduces firstly Tybalt of the Capulet family to start this quarrel or fight because he is a fiery character and on the other side he introduces Benvolio, who is the peacemaker is firstly introduces to keep the peace. Another reason why he introduces them in A1S1 is because he wants to tell the audience their characteristics to develop the rest of the play. He shows this contrast because he wants the audience or reader to like Benvolio and dislike Tybalt, (suggesting that Benvolio is a hero and Tybalt is the bady or villain). Also shows this contrast of hero and villain because all successful films have them, because the majority of films are based on these characters, heroes and villains, which there are two gangs that clash.
Baz Luhrmann changes many things in trying to rework Romeo & Juliet for a 90’s audience.
Luhrmann instantly captures Shakespeare’s intentions of showing the hatred between the two families by having a Montague shout “The dog of the house of Capulet moves me”. Whilst Luhrmann has changed the fact that the Montagues say this first we do instantly hear anger through the shouting and the hatred between the families is shown by a close up shot. This close up shot used to show the audience the expression of anger on the Montague servant’s face, this emphasises how much the two families hate each other. Luhrmann also shows the Montague servant says this insult slowly; this is so the audience understand the old English.
They also keep it simple for the audience to understand. Obviously, the music modernises the story as it is modern music and goes well with the modern-day twists. The music really sets the scene. All these elaborate and contrasting portrayals of the Montague’s and Capulet’s are shown through the music, which attract the audience, keep them excited in the action and make it much more appealing and fun. Rap is used here by Luhrmann as part of his reworking act. This is because a modern audience would get bored of to listening to old or classical music.
Also when the Capulets are first introduced western cowboy music is played compared to the Montagues happy and blissful music is played. Luhrmann does this to show that the Capulets are more serious and dangerous compared to the Montagues who are very friendly (this is also shown through Benvolio who is a Montague and he always wants to keep the piece between the two families). This music that is heard in the opening scene of the film is used to represent the two families. The music, however, in any one part of act 1 scene 1 is used to represent or reflect the characteristics or emotions of the persons, whoever it may be. Also Luhrmann uses Benvolio as a piece maker, so when the Capulets ignore him and carry on fighting, so the audience or reader think that, if they don’t want to make piece, why shall we like them. This is how and why Luhrmann wants the audience to dislike the Capulets and like the Montagues.
After the opening scene Luhrmann shows the audience where the film is set and the two families live. Firstly where the play is set. Luhrmann has changed Shakespeare’s idea of setting the play in Verona. Instead Luhrmann sets it in Los Angeles. He does as another part of his reworking it for a 90’s audience, he does this because a LA and the USA is known for its crime and fighting and it is more of a modern scene than Verona. Also in the starting of the film he shows the audience the places the two families live. They both live next to each other in business sites, this in the opening of the film makes the audience think that these are two wealthy and powerful families, therefore higher status. Also one statue is shown to separate them. Luhrmann does this to catch the audience’s attention, by showing these two huge tower blocks right in the middle of the city, so the audience thinks that these two families are enemies.
Further on in the film we see members of the two families quarrelling in a petrol station. Here Luhrmann presents the Capulets wearing black outfits and metal boots and the Montagues wearing multicoloured Hawaiian like shirts. Luhrmann here is being stereotypical, in showing the audience that the Capulets are the “bad Guy” because black is associated with danger and the audience don’t like danger, whereas he shows the Montagues in colourful shirts and these are associated with fun and the audience like fun. Therefore Luhrmann wants the audience to like the Montagues and dislike the Capulets, so when we see Romeo we will like him. Luhrmann here has fulfilled Shakespeare’s intentions of wanting to hate the Capulets and like the Montagues. This is so when Romeo is introduced we like him.
Also in this petrol scene humour is used when one of the Montagues hides behind an old woman’s car door, as he is scared about what is going to happen next. He has pink punk style hair and is wearing a garish t-shirt, to show the fun nature of the Montagues. He looks so ridiculous that anyone would have to have at least a slight giggle at the sight of him. To add to that the lady whose car it is panics and thinks that the Montague is going to hurt her so she begins hitting him with her handbag. This is just comical and when you can actually watch his face and hers you have to laugh. Luhrmann wants the audience to have a slight giggle, so the audience thinks that the Montagues have a sense of humour, compared to the Capulets and that they are more down to earth. Furthermore, these little acts of humour are used to make the scene effective as they break up the tension. Luhrmann uses humour because a modern audience likes humour. Once again the Montagues appearance reflects their personalities and characteristics.
The weapons in this film are guns with the brand name “sword”. It should be noted that the engraving on the guns is “SWORD” therefore when “put up your swords” is spoken it is meant as guns. Luhrmann does this because swords are not associated with modern days therefore he uses guns.
A boy and his mother exit the gas station store and the boy is childishly playing. The boy says “bang, bang” and Tybalt, as an almost reflex reaction turns round to shoot the boy. This is to create an image of the tense atmosphere that the audience can see. Tybalt is normally a very collected character and for a split second in the dramatic climax lets off his guard and is surprised by the boy. Tybalt turns to point his gun at the boy; this is to create high interest for the audience. This is almost a question to the audience; it is as if to say “will he shoot the boy?” Tybalt then speaks saying “bang” to dissipate tension and the audience is allowed to relax again. This also lets the audience know that Tybalt has great self-control. The self-control that Tybalt has is supposed to impress and excite a modern audience. Also here Luhrmann captures Shakespeare’s intentions because like Shakespeare, he wants the audience to hate Tybalt. The audience dislikes Tybalt because he is always looking for fights and never wants to make piece. Also his characteristics are not to the liking of the audience because he has bad qualities like arrogance, e.g. when he is about to shoot one of the Montagues in the car, he has a cigarette in his mouth and he is laughing.
Luhrmann then introduces the prince, who comes and does his speech. Here Luhrmann has edited most of the speech that is used by Shakespeare in the play and only the main part about their lives is said, he does this because a modern audience would get bored. As the prince spoke, after every word he paused, these are used to create tension and to show the audience that he is angry and has authority. Also here close up shots are used to show the expressions on the princes face. The prince talks to the two families in two very different tones of voice, because when he talks to the Capulets he uses angry facial expressions and a deep and angry voice, which the complete opposite to how he speaks to the Montagues. Suggesting that he thinks the Capulets are the trouble causes. The prince is black. Luhrmann has done this as part of his reworking act. A black prince is used by Luhrmann because in this modern ere there is more of multicultural society. Luhrmann here captures Shakespeare’s intentions by showing seriousness of the feud through the speech.
We then see Lord and lady Montague in their car worried about Romeo’s behaviour. Here Luhrmann uses slow and sad music, which reflects their feelings and makes the audience think what’s wrong. We then are introduced to Romeo, As soon as the camera turns to him are introduced to this absolutely beautiful ocean view and behind him the sun setting. At this point the audience thinks that he sad, emotional down, depressed and presumably in love, also we see him smoking which suggests this. Luhrmann does to make the audience see that he is in love. Also Luhrmann shows his lovesick mood through the poetry that Romeo uses. His body language is sloppy, which shows that he lovesick; also Luhrmann uses another very clever technique in using two guys drunk to reflect on Romeo’s body language. Plus everything in that scene is used to show love, e.g. beach, sunset, temple, poetry and the people around him.
I think that Luhrmann has produced a tremendous film. Also I definitely think he was successful in capturing Shakespeare’s intentions because in my point of view he has captured what I thought were Shakespeare’s main intentions, e.g. showing Romeo’s lovesick state through his language etc. Also Luhrmann alters a few things, e.g. using guns instead of swords. He does this to rework it for a 90’s audience, furthermore he does this to make Romeo & Juliet a big hit and therefore to not make a modern audience bored of old fashion stuff.