Modern Adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: A Comparative Analysis
Introduction: Baz Luhrmann’s Take on “Romeo and Juliet”
“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”Romeo and Juliet as stated by the Prince in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. While this final line is said by the Prince in Shakespeare’s play, the line is given to the anchorwoman in Baz Luhrmann’s film rendition of the said play (Romeo + Juliet), in which she acts as the “Chorus” of Shakespeare’s play. Although the film and play have overlapping similarities, Luhrmann takes Shakespeare’s play and changes it to better suit the modern adaptation of the film.
Similarities between Luhrmann’s Film and Shakespeare’s Original Play
Comparing Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet to Shakespeare’s play was a difficult task, as I found a lot more differences than similarities. Given that Luhrmann intended to make a fresh and modern take on Romeo and Juliet, unlike its predecessors, this was forgiven. Before going deep into the contrasting factors of the play and film, I would like to address the similarities. Looking back on the runtime of Luhrmann’s film, the film runtime is slightly over two hours, which is likely a subtle reference to the line from the Prologue in which the play “is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage”. However, this depends on whether the credits and the long clip for 20th Century Fox count as apart of the runtime, for the play only accounts for the time in which the Prologue starts, to the end of the Prince’s dialogue regarding the deaths of the two main characters.
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This is a topic best left open for personal interpretation. As for addressing the elephant in the room, one of the most obvious similarities is that the film retains the same dialogue from the play, mostly word for word, with the exception of a few lines added for effect. Iambic Pentameter also included. It did feel a bit odd, as the film was set in the most stereotypical gang war setting possible, while the dialogue was strictly Shakespearean. What I noticed was that one of the most important parts of the play that could not be changed for the film was Friar Laurence’s disastrous plan to reunite Romeo and Juliet together.
This likely was because the result of his plan was what caused the depressing ending. Balthasar telling Romeo about Juliet’s death and Romeo’s reaction were two of the few consistent scenes carried over to the film, mainly because they contained the same dialogue for clarity. The only thing that did change was that the play never addressed how Balthasar found out about her death. However, the film shows that Balthasar briefly attended Juliet’s funeral, which is how he found out about her death.
Modern Elements in Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet”
Looking at the overview of the film, it’s clear that Luhrmann’s modernized adaptation of Shakespeare’s play was forced to change elements of the play in order to suit the tone of the film. One of the biggest changes was the modern setting of the film compared to the play. In order to fulfill this, certain scenes and bits of dialogue were completely cut from the film. Among the scenes cut from the film was the discovery. Luhrmann’s film takes place in Verona Beach, while the play is set in Verona, Italy. This was likely changed because Luhrmann wanted to dissociate the film from the play as much as possible while still retaining the same plot. Another one of the most notable changes is the use of guns.
Conclusion: Adapting Shakespeare for Modern Audiences
The usage of guns made this version of Romeo and Juliet one of the first contemporary adaptations of the play. Ironically enough, the names of the guns used in the film are kinds of swords, purposely named to avoid changing the dialogue as much as possible. Regarding the party at the Capulet mansion, props to Luhrmann for making this one of the cheesiest (and personally terrifying) scenes from the film.
In my opinion, it scarred me for life because of the sudden flashes of light worthy enough to give one a photosensitive epileptic seizure and the odd growling noises coming from Fulgencio Capulet and Tybalt during Romeo’s dizzy spell. Luhrmann completely lifted the intended formality written into the play and turned it into a Las Vegas-esque party. The way Romeo meets Juliet at the party is also changed. Rather than meeting during the dance first, Romeo sees Juliet on the other side of the aquarium tank in the restroom.
- Luhrmann, Baz, director. William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Twentieth Century Fox, 1 Nov. 1996.
- Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet.