The theatre in Shakespeare’s day was very different from the theatre today, in terms of conditions. The Globe Theatre was the playhouse most associated with Shakespeare’s plays. It was built in 1599, and was the most beautiful theatre up to its time. It was very large, octagonal, and was open to the sky. The lower-class audience would pay less to get in, and they would stand on the ground around the stage. Whereas the higher-class audience, sat in seats above the ground, against the walls of the theatre.
Most theatres were round, and had no roof in the center, and as they used natural sunlight to perform all plays, actors had to perform all the plays in the afternoon, including “Romeo and Juliet”. And if it rained, the higher-class audience were protected by and overhang, whereas the lower-class audience, who were called the Groundlings, weren’t. They had to watch the play, while standing in mud. Because the stage didn’t have any curtains, all plays, had to be written so that all actors could exit at the end of a scene or act.
Also all parts, including women’s, were played by men, as the first actresses did not appear on the English stage until 1660. People, who came to watch a play, would be talking if they didn’t think the play wasn’t worth watching. It was normal for the audience, to throw things on the actors, if they didn’t like the play. Therefore, the opening scene to any play was crucial to get the audiences attention. That’s why in “Romeo and Juliet”; it had a very dramatic opening scene. “Romeo and Juliet”, is about a boy and a girl, from families that hate each other.
The boy and girl fall in love, but things go wrong, and they end up committing suicide, because of a misunderstanding between them. In a fourteen-line sonnet, the Prologue describes two noble households (called “houses”), who are the same in terms of status and respect. They live in the city of Verona. The houses hold an “ancient grudge” against each other, which is the reason for their violent and bloody conflict. The Prologue states that from these two houses, two “star-crossed” lovers will appear. In Shakespearian times, people thought, that stars were to control people’s destinies.
So “star-crossed” lovers, means that their relationship was against the stars, and that’s why they have an ill-fated destiny together. The lovers will bury the grudge between their families, by dying. The story of these two lovers, and of the terrible strife between their families, is the topic of the play. The Prologue doesn’t only tell the audience what the setting to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is, but it literally tells the audience, exactly what’s going to happen in the play. For example, it tells the audience that Romeo and Juliet are going to die before the play even starts.
In the streets of Verona, another brawl breaks out between the servants of the noble families of Capulet and Montague. Benvolio, a Montague, tries to stop the fighting, but Tybalt, who is Juliet’s cousin, arrives on the scene. Prince Escalus, the ruler of Verona, attempts to prevent further conflicts between the families, by giving death to any individual, who disturbs the peace of the streets in the future. Romeo, the son of Lord Montague, runs into his cousin Benvolio, who had earlier seen Romeo moping in a grove of sycamores.
After some prodding by Benvolio, Romeo confides that he is in love with Rosaline, a woman who does not return his affections. Benvolio counsels him to forget this woman and find another, more beautiful one. The opening scene to “Romeo and Juliet”, is dramatic in terms of what is said and how and the movements of the characters on the stage. To get the audiences attention, a brawl starts between the servants of the two families, which gets the audiences full attention. As the Shakespearian audience, liked seeing fights and violence on the stage.
Just like we in the year 2002, like to see action movies, as most of them involve violence, which causes tension and excitement. The brawl starts, when Sampson (a Montague), bites his thumb at Abram (a Capulet). In Elizabethan times, biting your thumb at someone was considered very rude and offensive. ABRAM: “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir? SAMPSON: “I do bite my thumb, sir? ” When that is said, between the servants, Benvolio, tries to make peace by saying to Tybalt, who was known as the ‘Prince of Cats’, as he always was looking for a fight, and because people said he had nine lives, just like a cat.
BENVOLIO: “I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword, Or manage it to part these men with me. Tybalt then replies: – TYBALT: ” What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montague’s, and thee. Have at thee, coward. ” After that, they all start to fight, and everyone else joins in, including civilians. This causes an image of chaos on stage, which worked well with the audience, as it would grab their attention. The Prince, which is a symbol of authority and law, then enters the stage, and stops the brawl.
He tells both Lord Montague and Capulet, that it has gone to far, and that if they “disturb our streets again, Your lives should pay the forfeit of the peace. ” At the beginning of the scene, Sampson and Gregory, talk to each other, and the humour involved, a modern audience wouldn’t be able to understand. For example when Sampson says: – SAMPSON: “‘Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I have fought with the men, I will be civil with the maids; I will cut off their heads. ”
What he means isn’t that he literally is going to cut their heads of, but that he is going to have sex with them, and therefore take away their “heads”, which is their virginity. For a modern audience, something like that would be difficult to understand and relate to. Baz Luhrman’s version of “Romeo and Juliet”, brings everything up to date, and makes it easier for a modern audience to understand the story of the star-crossed lovers. The biggest difference between the two different versions, is where it’s set.
The original play, is on a theatre stage, so no special effect or other technical help is present. But as Luhrman’s version is a picture, everything can be made differently. In the newer version, the characters have modern clothes, and for example instead of swords, guns were used. And instead of horses, they use fast cars as transportation. The only thing he hasn’t changed, is the script, and the language of it. This just proves, that most people understand the form of language Shakespeare used, the old surrounding’s just make it harder to relate to.
The opening scene to Luhrman’s version, is equally dramatic as Shakespeare’s version. To create a deep impact on the modern audience, Luhrman used operatic style music, and aerial camera shots of the two families homes. To show the importance of the families, and to show how big they were in society. When a character is introduced, credits were used, to help the audience to identify who was who. He also change the characters around in the movie, to make it easier for us o understand. The pace of the movie, is very fast.
Things happen and occur very fast, which causes the audience to give their full attention, so they can understand what is happening, and so they don’t miss anything. Also, Luhrman has made it easier, to identify who is a Montague, and who’s a Capulet. By giving each family a ‘theme’. The Montague’s wear beach shirts and shorts, and they all have fair skin, and blond hair. They are known as the beach bums. Whereas the Capulet’s, are more classy, wearing suits, and cowboy boots. Also they are of Latino origin.
They have dark hair, which have a very stylish look, with goatees and other styles of beards. The Capulet’s are presented to us, being the ones who aren’t afraid of anything, and who are the hard ones. Whereas, the Montague’s, are presented being clumsy, and nervous of everything. Symbols are also used a lot, as each family in the film, have a symbol. So all characters in the families, have a sign on their clothes, number plates, buildings and everything else they own. One of the Montague servants even has a tattoo on the back of his head, of the Montague symbol.
Music is also used a lot, when the first brawl occurs, western/hip hop music is used, and the fight is situated in a petrol station, where civilians are present. Again, so it wouldn’t be so different from the brawl in Shakespeare’s version, where civilians are involved in it. The scenes and pace, changes according to the music. Both versions are the same in terms of language, and script. The characters in both of the versions have the same qualities, and characteristics. But the environment, and society which they live in, are different.
Also music is a very important element used in both of the versions, to create tension. Music keeps the audience attention on the stage/scene, and it also causes dramatic impacts. The brawl, which is included in both versions, also causes the opening scene, to be dramatic. As there are a lot things said, and a lot of movement. The effectiveness of these elements, are very good. Especially to the Shakespearian audience, as it was harder to get their attention, than a modern audience. I think the opening scene, is very successfully made, as it fulfils its goal, to get the audiences attention, from the very start.