Just my thoughts
by Aditya Hingne

Stage or Screen?

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is probably one of his most famous works. It emphasizes a universal theme; love. Shakespeare also cleverly shows how love can change one's rational thought. This relatable setup capture the audience's attention, resulting in its astounding popularity, even after centuries. Franco Zeffirelli's film adaptation was also popular for its use of young actors because that's what Romeo and Juliet is about. This tragic young love story is beautiful in both versions but like with many adaptations, there are bound to be some similarities and differences. When adapting literature to the silver screen it is often essential to strengthen and trim certain parts for a more profound thematic experience.

The characters' personalities should stay true to the original work as much as popular to express why the author brought these characteristics to life. Zeffirelli casted young actors because they would connect to the characters. These actors did well to add more subtle movements to their characters to make them seem more real, which is why some scene lingered on for a while to carry their expressions, especially in scenes where they were just kissing. Since they are children after all, long monologues were shortened to keep the modern audiences attention. This may not have so impacting in Shakespeare time. The actors may have been older to ensure a more mature portrayal of the feuding families. Women were not allowed to a part of acting in this time, which may have taken away from Juliet's innocence. Two characters in particular were made to keep the audience engaged, those being Mercutio and the Nurse. They make sexual innuendos which makes the characters more likeable to the audience. The dramatization of the scenes with Mercutio and Juliet's nurse are even more exaggerated because the many people tend to enjoy the tropes of the hilarious sidekick. It helps the audience appreciate the characters and this culminates into a more meaningful climax.

A film adaptation offers more creative liberty to the direction of the the story may lead, giving the audience a chance to fill in the blanks. Friars were depicted as wise men, so Shakespeare probably used this stereotype so make the character vomit exposition to the audience. This is understandable because of the limitations of acting on stage. There was no other way to explain why Romeo was in the dark about Friar Lawrence's plan. In the film we see Friar John on his way to Romeo with the letter, however it's too late as Balthasar has told him of Juliet burial, which the audience now also took part in. The fact that Friar John, Romeo, and Balthasar crossed paths provided dramatic irony, which made the audience both dread and highly anticipate the climax. Even though it was already evident in past scenes, Friar Lawrence once again had to explain what happened during the last scene when he being testified in front of the prince. Zeffirelli's made the smart decisions to leave these things out entirely and let the visuals purely do the work for him. The audience isn't being spoon fed information and they can now feel part of the story.

It's crucial to make the climax fit the work as whole to truly tie the narrative together. Romeo's and Juliet's suicides, Shakespeare was able to successfully wrap up the story with little falling action afterwards, keeping the death of these young lovers imprinted in the minds of the audience. Ironically, it is in the climax where Zeffirelli makes the most changes. In the original version Paris is killed by Romeo's hand before meeting Juliet, because love can make one do irrational things. In the film this was omitted entirely. There are many possible reasons for this. One is simply that it was not necessary to the plot, Romeo gets to see Juliet one last time and he kills himself. There was no need for one more obstacle. Another reason is to make Romeo a better protagonist. In that time period Englishmen did not like Italians and thus it was fun for Shakespeare's audience to see these Italians do such strange things. The murder of Paris would make Romeo very violent, and detract from the importance of his suicide. The third reason is that it might have made Paris seem better than Romeo. We already know Paris is a well-respected gentleman and he is related to the Prince. If he mourns Juliet's death, it would mean that he actually cared for her and would make a better candidate for marriage. It would take away from this innocent love story. In that sense the film did a better job in handling the climax. However the ending did more to detract from the thematic message of Romeo and Juliet. We see Montague and Capulet give speeches of how they will honor their children, but this is completely omitted from the film. While we do see members of both houses side by side, with no more hostility it takes away from the point of the story. Romeo and Juliet was a tragedy because of the feuding families. It was critical for that to be the conclusion, but the depiction for that resolution was not given the utmost attention.

It's extremely difficult to decide which one story is better because both are practically the same, and both are a different type of art. With the limitations of a live performance on stage, Shakespeare was able to to beautifully create a deeply affecting love story. In order to make the story more realistic certain scenes had to be stretched out, and to make the movie under two hours some scenes had to be trimmed. This affects the themes of the story in different ways. Overall it helped the provide provide a satisfying climax and made as memorable as the original play.

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