To what extent is Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet a successful film at the expense of suppressing important elements of Shakespeare’s play? If Baz Luhrmann had kept every single part of Shakespeare’s original play, the film would be extremely long and it would be easy for the audience to lose interest. Therefore, Luhrmann suppressed many important parts of the play relying on visual images to put across to a modern film audience, the same message that Shakespeare used Language and little acting to put across to a theatre audience of the Victorian times.
In my opinion this makes Baz Luhrmanns film and Shakespeares play more successful and more appealing to all generations. Although much of the dialogue is edited out, Luhrmann keeps the language used by Shakespeare because of course originally, Romeo and Juliet was a William Shakespeare play, not a Baz Luhrmann film. In the film when Luhrmann loses some dialogue he interprets the words of Shakespeare into modern drama so that the audience get the same, if not a better, effect and reaction by watching the film as they would hearing or reading the play.
For example in shakespeares play, in the balcony scene, Juliet is on the balcony and Romeo below her and here they express their love for each other. This way Shakespeares audience would see an obvious barrier between the two people. The obvious barrier is created firstly by the fact that Romeo is a Montague, Juliet is a Capulet, and the Montagues and Capulets despise each other. However Juliet realises that ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy’ and that ‘Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, Retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title…
‘ This puts hope in the characters and Shakespeares audience that maybe it is possible for the two to be together. But then to Shakespeares theatre audience the difficulty and separation of Romeo and Juliet is reinforced because Shakespeare stands Juliet on a balcony and Romeo beneath her, hence the two are not together, they are out of reach from each other. In Luhrmanns film this idea is conveyed in a different way. There is no visual barrier between Romeo and Juliet only that created by their names.
When Juliet clarifies that ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy’ and that ‘Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, Retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title… ‘ this again puts hope in the audience and the actors that it may be possible for the two to be together. In opposition to the way Shakespeare reinforces their love and separation by words, Luhrmann can edit text and use visual effects to reinforce their love for each other by having them close to each other, accidentally and purposely touching each other so that the film audience can see the extent of their love.
The only way the words about them being separated are backed up is by visually showing how important it is to Juliet not to be seen with Romeo, a Montague, in the Capulets mansion, i. e she pushes him under water when there comes a chance that they might be seen together. It is left to the film audience to then decide whether she did this for the safety of her lover, Romeo, or for the safety of herself. However Shakespeares theatre audience did not have such visual effects to put this question in their mind, they knew that to Romeo the Capulet mansion was ‘…
the place death, considering who thou art’ ‘With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls, for stony limits cannot hold love out’, shows that Romeos love for Juliet is boundless. During the balcony scene, Romeo often refers to Juliet as the sun, bright and beautiful, hence, ‘Arise fair sun,’ and, “O speak again, bright angel, for thou art, As glorious to this night… ” The theatre audience of Shakespeares time have most likely discovered that Romeo is very much ‘over the top’ and elaborative in the way he speaks.
For example when he speaks to Benvolio about Rosaline, ‘Why, such is love’s transgression: Griefs of mine own lie heavily on my breast… ‘ and, ‘Bid a sick man in sadness make his will – A word ill urged to one that is so ill: In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman’. Therefore in the balcony scene a Shakespearean audience would see that Romeo is metaphorically embellishing his admiration for Juliet. On the other hand, many people in a modern film audience may think that because Romeo uses this elaborate way of speaking, his emotions are ‘artificial’, and do not come from the heart.
Luhrmann leads them to believe this because by omitting important text, he uses Romeo’s speech, ‘… bright angel… ‘, as inspiration for his costume ideas, at the Capulets ball Juliet is dressed as an angel. Therefore, he undermines Romeo, making him seem less besotted with Juliet and less embellishing and imaginative with his words. In the death scene, as well as losing some of the dialogue, Luhrmann also changes the story. In the original play, Shakespeare shows the Capulets, the nurse, Paris, and the friar realising that Juliet is dead.
The Shakespearean audience therefore Romeo thinks that Juliet is dead; he talks, drinks the poison, and dies. It is Romeo’s farewell speech to Juliet that provides a beautiful conclusion to the love affair. In contrast to this, in Luhrmann’s film, a lot of Romeos farewell speech is cut out, after editing, the farewell speech ends up in the film as, ROMEO “O my love, my wife, Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath, Hath no power yet upon my beauty: Thou art not conquered, beauty’s ensign yet Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks,And deaths pale flag is not advanced there.
Ah dear Juliet, Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe That unsubstantial Death is amorous, And that keeps Thee here in the dark to be his paramour? For fear of that, I still will stay with thee. Here, O here will I set up my everlasting rest, And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look at your last! Arms, take your last embrace! And, lips, O you The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss A dateless bargain to engrossing death…………..
Thus with a kiss I die. ” When Romeo has drunk the poison, Juliet wakes up, giving them chance to exchange few words on their last meeting on earth. Then when Romeo dies, Juliet kills herself believing that she will die together with her lover. I would say that the film appeals more to a modern audience because nowadays people like a happy ending to a love story. Although both characters die, making it tragic and depressing, at least the two lovers died together and therefore hoping that they will meet again in heaven soon.
Romeo poisoned himself because he could not live without Juliet, and Juliet shot herself because she could not live without Romeo. In the play, we know Juliet wakes up after Romeo has died, hence, JULIET “… Where is my lord? I do remember well where I should be; And there I am. Where is my Romeo? ” Therefore, some might say that because they do not die together like in the film, there is more of a separation between the two deaths. For these reasons, I also think that the film portrays a more romantic death scene, whereas Shakespeare creates a slightly more depressing death scene.
I imagine that it would be easier to make Romeo and Juliet more successful on film than it would be to make it successful on stage at a theatre. Consequently, I sense that there is so much more you can do to the film than a theatre. In a film, you can have close-ups and long shots to show facial expression or to establish the scene, and bring the picture to life. On stage, it would be difficult to see facial expressions therefore the play relies on words to come to life and put the message across.
Also in film, crosscutting means that you can switch from storyline or scene A to storyline or scene B and then back to A and then to B and so on, without the film audience getting confused. However, to keep switching storylines on stage would be difficult because as well as it being confusing for the audience, it might also be time-consuming getting actors on and off the stage. In the same way, I think that modern film audiences can react differently to a theatre audience, modern or Shakespearean. A film audience can become involved in the film because of the use of different camera angles or shots.
Whereas, although a theatre audience might think that they can relate to the feelings of a character, they may not be able to relate too close because they are trying to connect with the words of a character, without seeing the look on their face. In addition, it is not just about the film and the theatre, but it is also to do with the audiences expectations. Somebody going to see the film would expect more than somebody going to the theatre would. The person going to the film would expect to see different locations, atmospheres, day and night; it would be more like reality to them.
On the other hand, the person going to the theatre might be expecting good, strong voices/ dialogue, good language, and good acting. So here, before even watching or hearing the play, Romeo and Juliet, we already have two very different predictions/ideas of what each person expects from the play but portrayed differently. In the film and the play, especially in the death scene, dramatic irony is played upon a lot. For example, Romeo talks to Juliet, whom he thinks is dead, he kisses her and wonders why she is not pale, and why her cheeks and lips are still warm, thus
ROMEO “Thou art not conquered, beauty’s ensign yet Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks, And deaths pale flag is not advanced there. ” The audience know that she is still alive and they want Romeo to see this. When Romeo questions Juliets warm and colourful cheeks and lips, the audience are relieved, however Romeo still believes that she is dead and therefore the audience tense up again. In the film, Romeo then turns away from Juliets face and puts his ring on her finger. It is now that the audience notice Juliet shows signs of life; she moves her head slightly.
Romeo then looks at her face again and talks, now the audience see that Juliet moves her fingers. Finally, Romeo looks towards God, to heaven, and it is at this point that Juliet opens her eyes. Romeo holds the poison to his lips, the audience see that Juliet is awake and Romeo thinks she is dead and therefore is about to kill himself. Yet because Juliet is so happy to see Romeo, she just smiles silently and lifts her hand towards Romeo. At this point, the audience are on the edge of their seat wanting Juliet to do something to alert Romeo before he kills himself.
This happens, however it happens to late, no sooner has Romeo taken his life and drunk the poison, Juliet touches his cheek and Romeo realise what the audience know, that Juliet was never dead. The whole thing is then turned around and Juliet talks to Romeo, knowing he is dead. Then she kisses him hoping that she might catch some poison and die with her lover, as she cannot live without him. However, this does not happen so when Romeo dies, Juliet kills herself so that they can soon be together again in heaven. The audience probably wish things had turned out differently but are glad that the two are together now.
Dramatic irony is also used in the balcony scene, mainly in the film adaptation, although not to the same extent as in the death scene. In the balcony scene it is more exiting, the fact that the two lovers are supposed to be a secret yet they are messing about in a romantically lit pool. The audience know that the security guard is coming to find who is in the pool therefore the audience are anxious to find out if Romeo will be caught in the Capulet pool with the Capulet’s daughter. Differences in social and cultural context of modern times and Shakespeare’s day also affect the way the text has been portrayed.
This is how Luhrmann has modernised the play. For instance, the original text of Shakespeare’s play suggests that in the balcony scene Juliet is on a balcony expressing her love to Romeo who is below expressing his love up to Juliet. Because there seems to be little action in this particular part of the play, it is definitely possible, apart from having a balcony, to act it out on stage whether in Shakespeare’s day or today. However, although it would have been easy to put this into a film and make no change to the action, it would not make good viewing for a film audience of today.
This is because a modern film audience already have high expectations, so a scene with exiting passionate words would seem pointless without visible signs of excitement and passion. Hence, to make the scene work for the modern film audience, Luhrmann brought in a beautiful setting, which included a bright, sparkling pool, with romantic fairy lights, which looked like stars in a night sky, all around. This then ties in with what Romeo says in the play, in this particular scene, ROMEO “Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, Having business, do entreat her eyes To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
” As well as the pool adding to the atmosphere in the film, it also brought action in to the scene. It was used to bring the two lovers closer. We see underwater shots of tangled bodies, touching one another, and Romeo and Juliet kissing. This then reaches the expectations of a film audience. This is different in the play because Shakespeare originally wrote the play for a stage, so he could not even think about romantic lights or swimming pools appearing in the play and therefore an audience in Shakespeare’s time would not have the chance to see passion and excitement interpreted this particular way.
This ties in with the death scene. In Luhrmann’s film, Juliet looks even more beautiful, like a princess because silk cushions and candles surround her. Again, because Shakespeare wrote for theatre he could not use many candles because he did not have the time and maybe there were safety precautions to take. In the written play, we can only imagine how prosperous and wealthy the Montague’s and Capulet’s were. Similarly, we can only imagine the rivalry between the two. In Luhrmann’s film, however, we do not have to imagine because it all fits into place. In the first scene, an establishing shot of Verona is shown.
It is a huge city and two main buildings catch the audiences’ eye. They are the two biggest skyscrapers in Verona and above each is a name; one says ‘Montague’, and the other ‘Capulet. ‘ This straight away puts the idea out that the Montague’s and Capulet’s are competing as for who is the bigger and better. Shortly after this, we see the Montague boys fighting the Capulet boys. It seems not to be like play fighting but it seems serious gang warfare with guns causing hurt to each other. There is not much difference between the characters in the film and the original play. However, there are a few.
For example, in the play Romeo feels a lot more hate towards Paris and Paris is included a lot in the play. However, Baz Luhrmann has not focussed on Paris nearly as much as Shakespeare did, therefore because a lot of his part is edited out; there is no reason for Romeo to dislike him as much. The parents are also underplayed in the film adaptation for example when Juliets mother is dressing as Cleopatra for the masked ball, Luhrmann spends little time on this as he knows the audience will get bored, as a film audience would be waiting for something big to happen. I would say that Luhrmann does an excellent job of making this film successful.
Though I would not say that it is entirely due to him editing/suppressing important elements of the text. Baz Luhrmann has taken liberties while making the film ‘William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. ‘ For instance in the death scene Juliet wakes up just as Romeo has taken the potion, making it very dramatic for the audience. On the other hand, Shakespeare waits until Romeo has actually died before Juliet wakes up. In addition, to make the film appeal to the modern film audience Luhrmann tends to speed up the narrative so as not to make it long-winded and boring.
Because in Shakespeare’s time a theatre audience would hear the play, people expected long dialogue. Relating to this, most people nowadays know the story of Romeo and Juliet and therefore Luhrmann can edit text/dialogue. Luhrmann is ‘dumbing down’ the play, making it something to see, consequently, he relies on music, action, and visual effects to keep the audiences attention. In contrast with this, in Shakespeare’s day, there was no scenery, few props and therefore when people went to hear Shakespeare plays, it was more about the language, and something they could go home and think about.
Following on from this, some of the language in Luhrmann’s film, is not well spoken, the audience cannot hear it. However, this does not matter a lot because the audience can more-or-less follow the story without speech. On the other hand, when people went to hear the play, the language, speech, and diction had to be good because dialogue was the only way of telling the play, as there was nothing visual. A good example of when Luhrmann uses music, sound, and visual effects, is when Romeo has the ecstasy pill on his finger.
At this time in the play, it would be silent and all about Romeo. However, Luhrmann has fireworks exploding behind Romeo, therefore creating a more spectacular scene, and making it more dramatic for the audience. Because Baz Luhrmann keeps the authentic text but updates the setting, he makes Shakespeare familiar to a whole new generation. I think this is a good thing because maybe if Luhrmann had not made the film, Shakespeare plays would not live on for as long as they will do because people might dislike it because of the difficult language.