Comparing a Play and a Film

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1 A Rose by Any Other Name INTRODUCTION Attention-getter What s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet. (Romeo and Juliet II ) Introduction of film, play, and creators Thesis statement Can Franco Zeffirelli s Romeo and Juliet smell quite as sweet as Shakespeare s original play? The 1968 film adaptation of the 400-year-old play, also entitled Romeo and Juliet, remains largely faithful to the original. The unfolding of the tragic love theme in both the play and the film is dramatic and moving. Zeffirelli emphasizes throughout his film the energy and haste of teenagers especially Romeo and Juliet caught up in a small-town feud between two families. As a result, Zeffirelli uses narrative and film techniques to reduce the final scene to its emotional essence the two young lovers and their tragic, star-crossed fate (Prologue, line 6). Summary of the play s scene The final scene of the play when Romeo and Juliet die serves as a good example of the choices Zeffirelli makes to get to the play s emotional essence and to concentrate on the pair. 1

2 In the play, the final scene serves to resolve the conflict and to wrap up all the loose ends of the plot. One loose end of the plot involves Paris, the man that Juliet s father was forcing her to marry, even though Juliet was already secretly married to Romeo. In the final scene Paris arrives at Juliet s gravesite to mourn his fiancée. The distraught Romeo, hurrying himself to mourn his bride, surprises Paris. The two fight, and Romeo, who does not recognize Paris until after he has killed him, is duly remorseful for his act. At the end of the play s last scene, the entire cast comes onstage, and the Friar explains the background and the events leading up to the tragedy (V ). The Prince, who represents justice and order in the play, speaks directly to the parents of the unfortunate teens to pass judgment upon their feud and his involvement: And I, for winking at your discords too, / Have lost a brace of kinsmen (V ). In response to the Prince s judgment, the two fathers make valuable settlements with each other property and gold 2

3 statues of Juliet and Romeo to which the Prince replies: Go hence, to more talk of these sad things; Some shall be pardoned, and some punishèd For never was story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo. (V ). Comparison of narrative techniques The Prince s last speech focuses attention on the consequences of these tragic events for the families, not really on the lovers themselves. For the film, Zeffirelli changes the narrative elements in the last scene by cutting out plot events, by inserting plot events into to the film that are not in the play, by moving the final setting to a different location, and by cutting out dialogue. Zeffirelli first makes adjustments to the play s plot by cutting out the scene at the tomb where Paris arrives, fights with Romeo, and is killed. In the film, Paris has only appeared once, at the very beginning. Even when Juliet s father orders her to marry Paris, the viewer sees only Juliet s hysteria not Paris. By cutting the duel, the audience can focus on the tragic 3

4 events between Juliet and Romeo only that are about to unfold. Setting Dialogue However, Zeffirelli also inserts plot events into his film. Romeo picks up a stone and hurls it against the iron doors of Juliet s family tomb. When he enters, he sees members of Juliet s family all covered by a thin gauze-like material in various states of decomposition. He sees Juliet, but he also sees Tybalt, Juliet s cousin that Romeo has killed in revenge for Tybalt s killing Romeo s friend Mercutio. After Romeo has told Juliet how much he loves her, and kisses her, he turns to speak to Tybalt. What he says to Tybalt is Zeffirelli s addition, but it fits into the film s theme and shows again how sorry that Romeo is that he has been caught up in the feud between the families, as fortune s fool (III.1.138). Zeffirelli also changes the very end of the play to suit his narrative techniques. Zeffirelli moves the final gathering of all the families to another place and time the steps of the church on the following morning. He cuts the Friar s speech of explanation entirely. The Friar, in fact, has hurried out of the 4

5 tomb the night before, as if he might be accused of guilt in what has happened to Romeo and Juliet. Zeffirelli also cuts the last fifteen lines of the play, which includes the two fathers description of the peace offering and gold monuments, and the Prince s final couplet, mentioning the tale of woe about Juliet and Romeo (V ). Despite these cuts, the final words in the film are those of the Prince, who bitterly tells the Capulets and Montagues that all are punished (V.3.295). Whereas the very end of Shakespeare s play reveals the Prince s disgust at the recent occurrences, in Zeffirelli s film the Prince s speech leaves the viewers to consider how the story would have ended if the Capulets and Montagues were not enemies. It also clearly leaves the blame upon the families and does not allow them to find favor with the viewer by making peace or building gold statues to true love. The film s message is that the families are guilty for what happened to Romeo and Juliet. Discussion of film techniques Zeffirelli also uses a variety of film techniques to create 5

6 an emotional response beyond that created by the language of the play. For most of this last scene in Shakespeare s play, with the exception of Romeo s soliloquy and the Friar s long speech, the dialogue is quick. The dialogue imitates through the pace and rhythm of the characters speeches the quick, hasty, and ill-timed actions of the last series of events and the Camera shots heightened emotions. In the film, different camera shots, instead of the language, allow the viewer to understand the emotions portrayed in the last scene when Romeo and Juliet die. In his adaptation, Zeffirelli uses the movie camera s ability to direct the viewer s attention to very specific things. In comparison, the audience for a play sits a fixed distance away from the action onstage, and each member of the audience may be looking at a variety of different things. However, a film s camera shows the viewer exactly where to look for meaning in the story of the lovers and every viewer sees exactly the same thing. For example, in the film a long shot from the side provides an overview of the part of the scene inside the tomb. 6

7 Viewers see Juliet s still form and Romeo s anguished face as he speaks to her. Then, the camera moves to a close-up of Romeo s face as he sobs and drinks the poison. Viewers can experience Romeo s sadness and desperation as they watch him in this shot. Next, viewers see the extreme close-up of Juliet s left hand the same one Romeo kissed as he died and as the hand stirs with life. Viewers feel hope and anguish at the same time, because even though Juliet is alive, she will soon find that her true love is not. The camera moves back to show Juliet s discovery of Romeo dead by her side. She then stabs herself and rests her head on Romeo s chest. The final close-up shot of the two lovers faces illustrates the irony of the situation. In life the two could not be together, but in death they can. Sound and lighting Both the play and the film use music and lighting. Most of the time for the presentation of the drama, the music lies in the iambic pentameter lines and the striking images of Shakespeare s language. Likewise, the speech of the characters 7

8 announces the lighting in Shakespeare s play: that is, whether it is day or night. For example, Paris enters and calls for a torch to light his way at night to Juliet s gravesite. Later in the scene, the Prince declares, A glooming peace this morning with it brings. / The sun for sorrow will not show its head (V. iii ). Modern productions of Shakespeare s play may use stage lighting to show us the night or morning that the characters mention, or create an emotional mood with the lighting. In the film, music and lighting play a different role in bringing out the emotional aspects of the scene. As Romeo enters this scene, he s on horseback approaching the tomb at night, as ominous, sad music plays. Emphasizing the quiet of the nighttime graveyard, the music fades and only the sound of chirping crickets remains. When Romeo enters the tomb, he sees Juliet in the blue-tinted darkness. A soft white light shines on her alone, giving a false sense of peace. As Romeo kisses her, the music swells in the full orchestral version of their love theme. Music also plays softly in the background as Juliet s 8

9 hand feels the edge of the stone bier and then her dress. Trumpets interrupt the soft music when Juliet sees Romeo dead. In the rest of the scene a beautiful golden light focuses on the two lovers alone, illustrating the purity of their love. CONCLUSION Restatement of thesis Concluding thought By concentrating on the deaths of Juliet and Romeo, Zeffirelli creates an emotionally wrenching and powerful scene that expresses the heart of Shakespeare s famous tragedy. Zeffirelli s treatment of this ancient tale of love allows the viewer to experience fully the tragedy of these star-crossed lovers (Prologue, line 6). 9

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