With reference to Act I scene I and Act III scene I of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo And Juliet’

Which of these do you prefer and why?

In this essay I will suggest how each of the directors use music, camera shots, language, mood, clothing, special effects and location settings to demonstrate the build up of tension between the house of Montague and the house of Capulet, with correlation to Act I scene I and Act III scene I. I will compare the films and in conclusion voice my opinion on each.

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In the very first part of act I scene I the first people we are introduce to are Benvolio, Sampson and Gregory. We follow them as they drive their car through the streets of fair Verona being boisterous but entertaining so we are immediately on their side as the mood becomes more serious as the Montagues arrive. In both films, each director uses a public place for Act I scene i. Franco Zeffirelli uses a market place where as Baz Lurhman uses a petrol station. This tells us that both the Montagues and the Capulets will quarrel regardless of the surrounding people. Towards the end of the scene each director shows us the rioting in the streets surrounding the area of the feud. Franco Zeffirelli uses one continuous shot of the riots. Baz Lurhman uses a number of different shots and camera angles. Franco Zeffirelli’s film is harder to understand as Benvolio, Sampson, and Gregory are Montagues and Tybalt, Abram, and Balthasar are the Capulets whereas in the Baz Lurhman film they are the other way around.

Both of the directors have opted for their characters to speak the dialect spoken by Shakespeare although the characters speak it in very different ways. In Zeffirelli’s version there is more emphasis on the words so it’s harder to understand what is being said, due to the fact that actions speak louder than words so to speak. The characters also speak quite fast which doesn’t make it any easier. This lessons the impact that the speech was meant to have, therefore does not create the desired affect and lacks a sense of tension between the houses i.e. there is no indication of serious quarrelling between the houses. In Lurhman’s version the focus is more on the drama which is a lot easier to comprehend as the facial expressions are over exaggerated and the characters gesticulate non-stop so it is easier to tell when the mood changes.

In Zeffirelli’s version background music is scarce excepting the introduction where jovial majestic music is played as a narrator dictates over it. It has a very light hearted, upper class feel to it. Baz Lurhman decided to play classical choir music behind the narrator of the prologue and faint but effective sound effects i.e. cars shouting, club scenes etc. this has a very serious feel to it. In Act I scene i, the first people who we are introduced to are the Capulet males, Benvolio, Sampson and Gregory. They are standing up in the car whilst driving fast as ‘gang music’ is played as a show of gang rivalry between the houses, though the mood is relaxed. The Montagues arrive at the garage, the music turns to country and western as Tybalt exits the car.

Now I will comment on each directors choice of clothing. I will begin with Franco Zeffirelli who uses vivid clothing on the Montagues while he dresses the Capulets in the same fashion only darker shades which lead you to believe that the atmosphere is relaxed and the feud is less serious than intended. Baz Lurhman uses different styles for each family. The clothing of the Capulets is more of a casual, bright, loose fitting style i.e. Hawaiian floral shirts with blue denim jeans. However in contrast to the Capulets, the Montagues are wearing tight fitted trousers and sleeveless jackets. Tybalt is wearing similar attire to a cowboy, and all three Montagues are showing their bare arms and chests. This may be a metaphor for cowboys and Indian who are questionably the most memorable adversaries in history, which may be trying to say that the Montagues and Capulets are following in their footsteps.

I will now discuss how each director uses S.F.X (special effects) and how each director chooses to position his camera. Zeffirelli uses mainly wide screen shots of large groups of people. At the beginning of Act III Scene I he shoots Romeo and Mercutio talking in a court yard and even though its only the two of them in the shot, Zeffirelli still opts for a wider picture as if there was a huge crowd. As Zeffirelli’s film was created quite a few years before Baz Lurhman’s, there is obviously not going to be as many special effects although, he does use some mild stunts like sword fights and Mercutio falling down a flight of stairs as he dies. Baz Lurhman juxtaposes the sense of overwrought with slapstick humour. Lurhman uses a wider variation of special effects and he is definitely more creative with his camera shots. He uses a range of close ups (shots of a largish part of someone’s body e.g: face, legs, arms) and extreme close ups (shots of a small part of someone’s body e.g: eyes, mouth, feet, hands). In act I scene I the camera shoots backwards and forwards from Tybalt’s eyes to Benvolio’s eyes.

It shows you all the emotions involved with the scene, you can see a deep hatred in Tybalt’s eyes and you can see Benvolio is a little nervous but that he returns the hatred. When the houses start to fire at each other, Tybalt dives for cover behind a car as he shoots. To show his poise and courage, the clip is shown in slow motion. Special effects are used whilst the houses are shooting at each other and at the end of act I scene I when the petrol station the houses are duelling in is set on fire. When the houses are fighting sound effects are used to make the sounds of and old fashioned western sounding gun. Bullets are shot and they hit a sign, the sign spins as if in a wild west tavern, it reads : ” Add more fuel to your fire”. We take this to mean that because the houses hate each other so much and that they’re always fighting that it makes Romeo and Juliet’s fate worse than it may have been.

Zeffirelli decided that in his act III scene I he was going to keep the mood light-hearted, even as Tybalt and Mercutio begin to battle. At first it seems as if they are playing with each other but then Tybalt brings his sword to Mercutio’s throat. It appears serious as mercutio is nervous and doesn’t know what to do but then the mood returns to being light hearted as he crosses his arms and pretends to sleep. A crowd is gathered around the fight and Mercutio plays to them. Romeo intervenes to stop the argument. He doesn’t want his best friend and he brother in law to fight. As he does this Tybalt reaches under his arm and stabs Mercutio. As he realises he has been stabbed he curses both houses. Benvolio asks him if he’s alright and he still keeps the mood jovial as he tells Benvolio, “ay, ’tis only a scratch” and laughs. He climbs the steps behind him, and the crowd cheers . as he reaches the top he realises that his wound is deep. He calls, “a plague a’ both your houses” and plummets down the stairs. The crowd cheer as they still think that Mercutio is playing the fool.

It is only when he reaches the bottom of the stairs and does not move do they begin to believe that something could be wrong. Romeo turns him over and sees his wound. Tybalt flees as the crowd gasp. This does not really capture the moment as it should it feels like more of a comedy than romantic/action. Baz Lurhman goes with a more serious way of going about killing Mercutio. Tybalt arrives to battle Romeo, but he is nowhere to be found. Mercutio decides he will fight on behalf of Romeo but then Romeo arrives. He refuses to fight Tybalt. Tybalt will not let him get out of it. Romeo is kicked to the floor and hit by Tybalt until he pulls out his gun on Tybalt, although he doesn’t pull the trigger. Mercutio hits Tybalt so they duel. Romeo intervenes as in Zeffirelli’s film, and Mercutio is stabbed. He goes to the top of a stage and shouts “a plague on both your houses”. This shows he blames both houses for his death. Even though Mercutio isn’t a Capulet Tybalt killed him because he is associated with the Capulets.

In conclusion, my opinion is that Baz Lurhman’s version of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is more successful in proving to us how tense the feud between the houses actually is. I believe this because the actors are more emotional whilst they are speaking and they are more enthusiastic in each mood type for example act I scene I, at the garage, Benvolio and Tybalt sound as if they are capable of killing each other with speech. I believe the reason for my opinion is that Franco Zeffirreli’s film was made so long ago that the acting which may have seemed very serious in it’s time now seems almost pathetic as the tension takes a long time to be shown.

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