“Romeo and Juliet” tells the tragic tale of two star-crossed teenage lovers who secretly fall for each other and marry. Their families, the Montagues and Capulets, have been fierce enemies for decades, and, even as Romeo and Juliet say their wedding vows, new violence breaks out between the families. In the end, their love is doomed. When Romeo mistakenly believes Juliet is dead, he poisons himself. And, when Juliet discovers that he is dead, she too commits suicide.
In this essay I am going to discuss William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and how directors have produced the play. Most importantly I will decide how three of the more important characters, not just in the scene but also in the play as a whole, should and do behave in this scene. The three characters I wish to use as my examples are:
=> The first, Tybalt, destructive cousin to Juliet, no doubt the most brutal character in the play. Tybalt moves the story along swiftly and represents the more violent aspects of the play.
=> Second, Lord Capulet, host of the party, Uncle to Tybalt, Head of one of the two rival houses, father of Juliet. One of the few adults with in the play.
=> And last, but definatly not least, Juliet, representing the romance with in the play. Juliet, as the title suggests, is a major role, she is daughter to Capulet, cousin to Tybalt and lover to Romeo.
The scene I have chosen to direct takes place early in the play. However, much happens in the four scenes leading up to it. The play begins with a fight between the Montagues and Capulets, establishing the seriousness of their dispute. In this scene it quickly becomes apparent that the two families despise one another, their hatred spreading so far that even their servants dislike one another enough to cause mayhem in Verona’s city centre.
Franco Zefferelli’s film “Romeo and Juliet” is a straightforward classical interpretation of Shakespeare’s original version, keeping costumes and text very much as they would have been in Shakespeare’s time. The Montagues wear black and blue and the Capulets wear orange and red. This provides a sharp contrast between the two families and also helps the audience to quickly identify who’s who. This allowed Zefferelli to cut out text for the original play that dealt mainly with character introduction. By doing this Zefferelli was able to show that Romeo and Juliet, indeed any play, is more than text or dialogue.
Caught up though we may be in the romance of the story, we are never allowed to forget that Romeo and Juliet are, in fact, just kids. Moreover, they are kids who didn’t deserve to have such heavy burdens placed on their backs by such a hateful society.
In 1996, director Baz Luhrmann attempted Romeo and Juliet, entitled William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. Luhrmann’s film keeps the classical text as Zeffirelli did (like Zeffirelli, Luhrmann cuts a great deal), and also follows the 1968 film’s lead in casting fresh-faced teenaged actors as the two leads, thus emphasizing the innocences of the main characters. Luhrmann has not made a musical here, opting rather for a more immediate, realistic update of Shakespeare.
If Luhrmann was hoping to make a Romeo and Juliet accessible to young audiences, he certainly succeeded; the visual makes it clear to most teenagers who the characters are in relation to each other. By incorporating lively, modern imagery with a throbbing soundtrack and hip actors, he has taken aim at an audience that would normally regard Shakespeare as a chore to be endured in school, not a passionate drama to ignite the screen. I think this Luhrmann helps to prove that Shakespeare is universal, if interpreted correctly. Luhrmann allows audiences to enjoy and understand work that they would otherwise disregard.
Romeo and Juliet’s camera is restless, always moving, I think this is to stress that in today’s society, almost nothing stands still. There are times when the rapid cuts and raging soundtrack might cause understandable confusion.
The movie settles down when Romeo and Juliet first come face-to-face, gazing at each other through the transparent panes of an aquarium while a love ballad plays in the background. The way that an aquarium, filled with water and fish, stand between them represents that between them stand things that cannot be broken, without causing much damage and possibly even losing some life, showing the immense conflict between their families.
A more radical reinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet appeared seven years before Zeffirelli; it was the Broadway musical West Side Story (WSS)
WSS essentially retells Shakespeare’s tragic tale in a totally different context. It transports Romeo and Juliet into a modern-day gangland atmosphere, much like Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation. and because of this highlights important contemporary sociological issues. One of the clearest differences between Shakespeare’s seventeenth century play and this 1960’s musical is that the two rival families become two warring parties or gangs of youths, opposed on grounds of race and origin. WSS essentially highlights problems of social class, immigration and juvenile delinquency in 60’s New York.
Although parts of WSS are totally unrelated to ‘Romeo and Juliet’, clear similarities are easy to find- most obviously in that characters in each of the plays can be paired:
Tony & Maria = Romeo & Juliet.
Sharks & Jets = Montagues & Capulets
The adults in West Side Story are even less visible than in Shakespeare. Lt. Schrank trying to keep order ends up simply reinforcing prejudicial attitudes by insulting the dark-skinned Sharks while making nice with the light-skinned Jets.
One dialogue exchange essentially sums up this plays message: When the sympathetic Doc the drug store owner and a modern variation on Friar Laurence, tells the Jets that they “make this world lousy,” one of them replies: “We didn’t make it, Doc.”
Pimlico School recently planned, rehearsed and performed WSS in which I helped with set design and helped cast learn lines. This experience helped me greatly in understanding Shakespeare’s ideas and meanings through making parallels and linking central themes within the two plays.
Tybalt is the most violent man in the play, and bears a strong resemblance to Macbeth, another of Shakespeare’s characters. A disgusting image is used in Macbeth to demonstrate his savage streak, which I think could also be used perfectly to illustrate Tybalt- A hero-worshipper describes Macbeths’s actions after battle-“he unseamed him from the nave to th’chaps, And fixed his head upon our battlements.” This is a foul picture and by fixing the head upon the battlement proves that he was proud of, and enjoyed the killing.
Tybalt is undoubtedly violent and he confirms this numerous times. Tybalt first speaks in act 1 scene 5 when he notices Romeo, an intruder. His first two lines prepare the audience for aggression and violence- “Fetch me my rapier, boy”. His first thoughts after finding a Montague are to his weapon, not to the security of those around him. Unlike Capulet, Tybalt regards Romeo as a threat and gets incredibly angry by his presence. Shakespeare has used poetry to emphasize his point here and there comes a quatrain, concluding with “To strike him dead I hold not a sin”. At this point my actor would be literally spiting with rage and disgust. Tybalt then goes on to have a fierce argument with Capulet, Capulet attempts to calm Tybalt down “Content thee gentle coz, let him alone”, but when this fails Capulet gets angry and insults Tybalt by calling him such things as ” a saucy boy” and “a princox.” Once Capulet is angry Tybalt is forced to calm down and accept, or ignore, Romeo.
Before this scene Tybalt has been seen only once. He appears in the very first scene, the fight. There he says, “Talk of peace? I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee” As Tybalt speaks this line I can imagine an actor laughing, mockingly and patronisingly as he says “Talk of peace?” Then in contrast, being serious and severe as he finishes his sentence, emphasising the change from rhetorical question to statement.
The last we see of Tybalt is once Capulet has fully left to entertain his guests Tybalt gets angry once again and, under his breath, “I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall, Now seeming sweet, convert to bitt’rest gall”. Once again his sentences rhyme and his lines become a quatrain.
Where Romeo and Juliet’s lines rhyme because they are in love, Tybalt’s rhyme when he is angry, I think that it here becomes clear that Tybalt lives for anger, hatred and violence, much like Macbeth.
Capulet, Juliet’s father, is the first of my chosen characters to speak and begins by welcoming his guests and acting the perfect host “Welcome, gentlemen”. He cracks bad jokes and is jolly, but then changes suddenly and becomes sad, reminiscing back and remembering his age until he becomes quite depressed. He finishes his speech by instructing the musicians to begin “Come, musicians, play”. He then orders his guests to dance, his servants to turn up the lights and for the fire to be suppressed. I think this tells me that he likes to be in control but has grown old and has mood swings.
I picture a large, fat, Henry VIII type character shouting at as many people as possible. Capulet is next seen with Tybalt trying to calm his fiery nephew down and seems quite untroubled by Romeo’s presence “young Romeo is it?” is all that he asks when informed of the intrusion. In an attempt to dissuade Tybalt from attacking Romeo “to say the truth, Verona brags of him” I think he means that Romeo is greatly liked, and admired by many and that to hurt him, certainly at such a public gathering would cause far more problems than it was worth. With Tybalt as stubborn as he is, Capulet has to get angry before Tybalt pays any attention and when guests start to notice Capulet’s anger he tries to cover it up and has two conversations at once, one to Tybalt in a hushed, infuriated tone and then another over his shoulder with his guests in a louder, jolly voice. “I’ll make you quiet, what! – Cheerly, my hearts” the interruption in the middle is where the change in tone, volume and audience occurs. Capulet is not merely an actor trying to please an audience but a highly influential head of house.
We see Capulet just once more in this play and that is when the Montagues begin to leave he meets them and encourages them to stay “Nay, gentlemen, prepare not be gone” I think this is to put Tybalt in his place and perhaps proves to the audience, and Tybalt, that Capulet does as he likes and everything must be on his terms.
Capulet helps provoke the family dispute, whether he started the rivalry or whether it had been in place before his birth never becomes apparent. The adult characters in Shakespeare’s text consistently reveal themselves as either sympathetic but powerless – like Friar Laurence and the Nurse – or wealthy but flawed. Capulet is certainly not sympathetic or powerless. Capulet proves himself able to restrain Tybalt, a difficult task, from creating mayhem by killing Romeo in this scene. I think this could be seen as a wise act of nobility or as a simple selfish performance carried out to protect his reputation, house, and guests.
Juliet is very young and both Zeffirelli and Luhrmann chose very young actresses to play the part. Zeffirelli accentuated her youth by choosing a white costume that made her appear to be a young girl playing dress up in her mother’s clothing. His screenplay focuses on lines that refer to her youth and also to lines of love and passion.
Water, representing innocence is used to great effect by Luhrmann- in the meeting of Romeo and Juliet through an aquarium and also in two other scenes. Initially, and most powerfully in my opinion, when we first meet Juliet, her face is seen through water as she looks directly at the camera with her head in a bath or sink. I think this single image makes Juliet seem, if not a little strange, tranquil. And again in the balcony scene a swimming pool a substituted for the balcony. Luhmann thus implies that not only Juliet but also the love that Romeo and Juliet have for one another is pure and sinless.
Shakespeare doesn’t specify stage directions for Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting with in this scene but both Zeffirelli and Luhrmann provide distractions to take the attention of other guests away. Zeffirelli offers a singer, singing a beautiful classical love song so that Romeo and Juliet can slip to the back of the crowd, while Luhrmann provides toilet stops for both of them and with so many things going on around them no one pays them much attention. I think once again this is Luhrmann’s way of pointing out what a busy, uncaring society we live in while Zeferilli is merely providing a plausible distraction and amazingly romantic music.
This scene contains a single dialogue exchange between Romeo and Juliet and without even seeing the text performed their love for each another jumps out of the page. They have never met before, yet they speak in perfect harmony, finish one another’s sentences and speak only in rhyme, Juliet-“…use in prayer”, Romeo- “…turn to despair”. Everything that is said to one another is metaphorical. Juliet becomes flirtatious and coy. “You kiss by th’book” suggesting she had kissed before. The nurse who had been sent to find Juliet and send her to her mother at once interrupts them. The meeting is short but dominates the scene. Its only after meeting that Romeo and Juliet question the nurse about each other and discover that they are from rival families and their courting would never be permitted. This introduces dramatic irony to the play. When Juliet discovers this she is distraught and says “My only love springs from my only hate” Meaning possibly that the only family that she is supposed to hate contains the one person that she has ever loved.
Act 1, Scene 5 carries huge significance within the play because it shows the intensity of Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting and the incredible love they feel for one another at first sight, in contrast to the violence and hate around them. Tybalt’s fierce attempted attack on Romeo suggests the violence of the play’s ending and reminds us that the play is a tragedy and that the play is riddled with tragic heroes. A feud that has been going on possibly for generations can only be resolved when many have died, many of the dead were young, with their lives ahead of them, I think his is Shakespeare’s way of telling us that life is important and too short to waste. This scene alone contains a vast variety of emotions portrayed in the play:- humour, violence and romance. They are all the important aspects of the play and are what makes the play so universal. At some point, everyone will encounter at least one of these emotions. Shakespeare and each of the directors try only to emphasise these emotions to make the audience wider.