English coursework: Explain what you think Shakespeare hoped to achieve with the prologue and first scene of ‘Romeo ; Juliet’. To what extent do you believe that the two film versions fulfil his intentions? This essay will feature how different directors put the original text of ‘Romeo ; Juliet’ into films using their own interpretations. In the prologue Shakespeare has given an insight into the play similar to a blurb on a book or a film trailer. The prologue sets the scene, ” In fair Verona (where we lay our scene),” making the play more believable, as in Shakespeare’s time scenery would have been minimal.
In Elizabethan theatre the prologue would have been there to catch the audience and tell them that the play was about to begin, as well as including general information, ” two hours traffic of our stage,” like how long the play would last. In order to capture the audience’s minds’ the prologue suggests treachery, ” civil blood makes civil hands unclean,” rivalry, ” parent’s strife,” action, ” ancient grudge break to new mutiny,” and love, ” star-crossed lovers,” this would make the audience hungry for more drama.
The main aim of Shakespeare’s prologue was to grab the audience’s attention. In the opening scene Shakespeare uses talk of sex, ” my naked weapon is out,” this is also quite comical and is used in conversation between Sampson and Gregory. Sampson and Gregory are the Capulet’s guards and fit in with the codes and conventions of thugs, “I will show myself a tyrant,” suggests he is often violent and would be if necessary, yet as the conversation progresses the audience is inclined to believe that he can talk the talk but can’t follow this through with actions.
Shakespeare creates the tension by using insults between the Capulet and Montague guards, “I will bite my thumb at them which is a disgrace to them, if they can bear it,” proposes the idea of approaching conflict. It also illustrates how a comical disagreement can develop into something much more serious, in this case a swordfight between Tybalt and Benvolio. Tybalt is portrayed as the villain or bad guy in the play, ” as I hate hell, all Montagues’ and thee,” leads the audience to believe he will enjoy the fight and is particularly bitter.
In contrast Benvolio is the peacekeeper or good guy in the play, ” I do but keep the peace,” shows this and the audience start to emphasise with him. From a small rude gesture, a fight has developed into a mass brawl, involving the whole town. This captured the audience as they suspect there will be more conflict. Mid-way through the brawl the Prince intervenes and shows his authority, “and hear the sentence of your moved Prince,” shows this and suggests that the times of this play being written were still very faithful in the idea of monarchies.
The Prince also threatens the Montagues’ and the Capulets’, “your lifes shall pay the forfeit of the peace,” shows the authority and seriousness of the Prince and the offence made. The Prince allows the audience to feel a sense of anticipation for further conflict and fights. Romeo’s entrance immediately reduces the tension. His opening line, “is the day so young,” shows the audience he is oblivious to what has already happened that day and gives a total contrast from the violence which has just occurred. Romeo shows a different aspect of love; romance, where as loyalty and rivalry had been previously shown.
Romeo’s language in the concept of love is built up if oxymoron’s, for example, “feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,” relates to this and suggests that Romeo is somewhat confused on love and his feelings towards love. Romeo suggests the main theme of love, “I do love a woman” but the loved woman remains unidentified. Shakespeare intended the first scene to assist the prologue by supporting evidence for the themes portrayed in the prologue, like action and love. The action being shown is that of the brawl and the love being illustrated by Romeo.
Shakespeare achieves his intentions by using carefully constructed sentences and picking words that signify different things to his potential audience. Many directors have shown their interpretations of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ through both stage and films. Two well-known performances of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ are by Luhrman and Zeffirelli. Baz Luhrman is one of many directors to show their interpretations of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Luhrman repeats the prologue three times, in this sense he is trying to achieve the same as Shakespeare: to capture the audience.
Luhrman accomplishes this by the variety of ways in which he portrays the prologue. For example the first showing of the prologue is a new reader on a television screen, this inclines the audience to believe important news is coming, it also suggest tragedy. The second time the audience view the prologue is in a selections of straight cut clips, these are out takes from newspapers, as well as pictures of the setting and characters. It is very similar to a short film trailer and the audience can relate to this, also as the shots are quick in concession this catches the viewers’ eyes.
The third viewing of the prologue is fast black and white subtitles (of the prologue) appearing on the screen, this is there to make sure the audience got every part of the prologue and to aid understanding. In general the prologue captures the audience, summarizes the play and sets the scene, fulfilling Shakespeare’s aims. Luhrman establishes the two groups of the households with great definition. The ‘Capulet Boys’ are given a modern American portrayal with their surfer like clothes and shaved heads. Their behaviour us also very informal and somewhat immature.
For example when the Nuns and church girls walk by one of them licks his nipple, this shows they can offend almost anyone and is the only sexual reference Luhrman has included. After studying the text one may be lead to believe that Shakespeare wanted the sexual comedy to intrigue his audience. The ‘Capulet Boys’ appear to the audience as bigheaded and full of themselves, your stereotypical adolescent youths, yet Luhrman has brought this over in a very comical fashion, similar to that of Kevin and Perry. However in contrast the ‘Montague Boys’ appear to have a very Hispanic background.
Their Latin-American portrayal is particularly described in their dress style – black leather and spurs on their boots. The spurs cause a very harsh sound suggesting that the group are callous and quite fierce. They use very formal language and appear quite mature in attitude compared to the hyper Capulets’. Luhrman establishes the two groups very clearly. With the car number plates beginning with MON and CAP, which stand for Montague and Capulet. Their attitudes and appearance contrast vastly, adding to the difference in which the audience see and establish between the two groups.
Luhrman establishes the two groups fantastically through use of aesthetics, behaviour and attitude. The conflict in the opening scene has a very western genre feel to it and is similar to a shoot out, as both groups show their guns, and then aim them at each other until the first shot is made. The western sense is also illustrated with the non-digetic spaghetti western style music that accompanies the violence. In the fighting the Capulets’ are very haphazard in their aiming and may remind the audience of little children playing Indians and Cowboys.
However the Montagues’ are very agile and controlled in their tactics. Tybalt (Montague) is very calm and at ease about the fight, he shows this by they way he starts the violence and his expressionless face throughout it. Yet on the other hand Benvolio (Capulet) is your stereotypical innocent hero as he wants to keep the peace and the violence makes him tense, not as ease and quite scared. Although the fighting is a fairly serious and tense part of the opening, comical factors are brought over in a woman hitting a Capulet servant over the head with a handbag.
The violence also fits in with the codes and conventions of gang warfare, which affects the whole community, this is illustrated by the conflict being at a petrol stations and the traffic jam seen as the fight concludes. To summarize the action it is serious with a comical twist, which is what is believed to be Shakespeare’s intentions. The Prince shows his authority by being in a helicopter looking down on the two gangs, this signifies that he is condescending the two gangs and imposing his authority or importance and power.
The Prince is black, this is Luhrman’s deliberate intention to portray the Price as neutral, and in a sense Luhrman has created a third dimension of groups, allowing the Prince to not show any bias. It is highly important the Prince remains neutral and unbiased as if he was not his threats and authority would not have such power. Luhrman has portrayed Romeo as a type of ‘new romantic’. Romeo is introduced to the audience as a silhouette this signifies the power of the character and his prominent role in future scenes.
The fact he is sitting by himself suggests he is isolated from the violence and maybe the grudges that ignite it too. The non-digetic music that is played while Romeo is in view is very romantic and soft, leading the audience to associate this with Romeo’s character. In appearance Romeo has droopy hair and blue eyes, symbolising innocence. Romeo’s dress style of a black suit and white shirt, yet casually worn shows his sophistication and maturity. He writes in a diary this suggests he is intelligent and not afraid to express his emotions, feelings and secrets.
In general Romeo is portrayed as a sophisticated romantic, however in comparison to the text the viewer could be lead to believe that Shakespeare wished for a more comical side to Romeo. The consideration that Luhrman has put into trying to perform Shakespeare’s aims is clear. Luhrman has also considered how to make this applicable to a modern day audience. Zeffirelli version was said to be the definitive portrayal of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The prologue in Zeffirelli version is very sedate and the voice over is monotone, making it unexciting and it is not attention grabbing.
The mono-tone voice results in the verse not being rhythmic, yet is made clear and easy to understand by the voice, this may also have been illustrated with the mundane pictures, as the audience then focus on the voice. The selection of images used in the prologue do not reflect upon the content of it, yet do give a sense of place and setting. Captions appear during the prologue and these are relevant to the text. The music in the background has a medieval sense about it and a slow tempo, this adds to the tranquil feel of the prologue.
Overall the prologue does not inject the enthusiasm and adrenaline which Shakespeare would have needed to grab his audience and therefore does not fulfil Shakespeare’s aims. Zeffirelli establishes the servants/thugs form both the Capulets’ and Montagues’ by colour separation. The Capulets’ being in red and yellow and the black and blue being the Montagues’. As these are bold colours and they contrast means the servants stand out from the market folk. In the argument before the conflict a very un-violent and serious feel is created, as it is more of an assertive conversation than an aggressive argument that would lead to a brawl.
The assertive conversation also creates an illusion that the servants are cowards, maybe due to the lack of numbers, two from each house. The sexual language and jokes used by Shakespeare are not in this production, yet to introduce the Capulet servants a tilting shot moving up to the cod piece is used to give a sexual reference. The portrayal of the servants is stereotypically Elizabethan, due to their dress style, attitudes and their surroundings, making it similar to the text and creating an authentic feel. Zeffirelli has allowed the stupidity of the fight to come over with the portrayal of the servants and the chaotic rush of the fight.
Benvolio and Tybalt are the two leaders of the houses; during the fight, this is clearly shown by colours and appearance. The conflict drags the whole town in, mainly because it is set in a medieval, crowded market place. This is mainly shown by an extreme high angle and long shot showing the town form a mass brawl. A woman holding a baby and screaming to emphasize that everyone if affected by the conflict. Due to the rush and chaos of the fight it is hard for the audience to establish who is fighting who and who may be winning.
A bell is sounded this suggests the brawl is similar to a boxing match, with rounds, the Prince later confirming that the brawl was similar to the third round. In general the Zeffirelli version has more violence in it, in comparison to the Luhrman version, with people being killed. This is a positive factor, as it will most likely make the audience hungry for more action, completing one of Shakespeare’s aims and how he would portray it. Zeffirelli implies the status and authority of the Prince by having him ride a horse; this immediately suggests power and allows his to look down on the locals, signifying that he is of higher authority.
The Prince wears an incredibly eccentric hat and silk robes, which are in neutral colours; they imply high status and wealth. When the Prince enters, trumpets are blown, adding to the importance of him. He creates fear via his threats and persuasive voice; this is shown as when he speaks the market people are silenced. The audience may be lead to believe that the Prince has a similar appearance and character portrayal as what Shakespeare would have wanted and is clearly defined as being of higher social standing. Romeo is introduced in this production framed by an arch, suggesting romance.
He also is carrying some flowers, implying he has a feminine side. The non-digetic music used is very light and romantic; the audience also associate this with Romeo, due to his elaborate and eccentric speech. Romeo lolls and sighs, suggesting he feels isolated and that no one can understand his present state. The victims of the brawl pass Romeo and he reacts as if he ashamed that members of his family are responsible for this. It is clear that Romeo is in love, but the eccentricity of him allows for some comical elements, accomplishing Shakespeare’s targets.
The majority of people in today’s society would probably find Luhrman version more compelling to watch, as it is energetic, vibrant and interesting from the start. Yet some people may prefer the traditional version created by Zeffirelli. There is more reasons to comply with Luhrman’s productions fulfilling more of Shakespeare’s aims, although these are applied to a modern audience, where as Zeffirelli has tried to complete them in a more authentic Elizabethan style setting and manner.