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Concentrating on act 3 scene 1 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, how effective do you think the Zeffirelli and Luhrmann film versions are in relation to your own interpretation of the play?

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Introduction

Concentrating on act 3 scene 1 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, how effective do you think the Zeffirelli and Luhrmann film versions are in relation to your own interpretation of the play? Shakespeare's tragic tale of "two star-cross'd lovers" has survived centuries of political and social upheaval to become one of the most popular and well-known plays of all time. Both Zeffirelli and Luhrmann have seized this opportunity to put their stamp on a literary landmark. It is important to recognise the original context before examining the film versions. Shakespeare set the play in the 16th century, in the Mediterranean city of Verona. Zeffirelli adapted his 1968 version to the 13th century, in the dry, dusty streets of pseudo-Italia. Luhrmann took an entirely different approach with his 1997 film, with a mixture of futurism and kitsch that leads us to doubt the exact era, whilst incorporating the Italian setting into a place of his own devising, Verona Beach. In this way Luhrmann could manipulate the text to suit the setting, while gaining the empathy of both his demanding "generation-x" audience, and the more critical students of the original play. This scene is pivotal to the rest of the play, as without it there would be no tragedy. ...read more.

Middle

Zeffirelli places heavy emphasis on the heat of the day, directing Mercutio to mop his face with a handkerchief. The humidity of the scene is pivotal because it causes Mercutio to climb into a fountain to cool off, thereby providing an opportunity for Tybalt to splash him, and start the fight that results in both their deaths. Zeffirelli is aided in setting his scene by Benvolio's line "for now these hot days, is the mad blood stirring". The Shakespearean connotations of madness are very different to present-day, and "madness" (any unusual or socially unacceptable behaviour) was attributed to everything from diet to climate. Therefore it would have been perfectly reasonable at the time to conjecture that Tybalt is "mad" because of the heat. Luhrmann interprets the role of fate as religious destiny, with the continuous appearance of icons of Christ and the Madonna at pivotal moments in the film. There is also the heavy irony that is typical of Luhrmann's other films, in that these images appear on the most unlikely objects (i.e. guns). The film also implies that Romeo's fate is synonymous with Christ's. At the end of act three scene one Romeo cries, "I am fortune's fool". ...read more.

Conclusion

Zeffirelli remains true to the play in this respect, making Mercutio's death scene a very moving moment. The Zeffirelli film lingers on the irony of Mercutio's words, "Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man," where, although the audience understand the gravity of the situation, Mercutio's companions believe him to be acting, until he is actually dead. The Zeffirelli version is very true to the Shakespearian text, both in and portrayal and characterisation. The youth and innocence of the characters draws the sympathy of the audience, making the tragedy all the more poignant. However, it fails to challenge any preconceptions about the play, adhering to the usual interpretation of the themes and characters. Luhrmann injects a controversial aspect to his characters, seizing on the ambiguity of many events that occur within the original stage version to make his mark on the play. The flamboyance of his Mercutio made his death all the more ironic, in that the character had a degree of invincibility about him. My interpretation of the play ties in closely with the Zeffirelli version. However, saying that, I believe the Luhrmann version was a far more entertaining screen adaptation, being accessible to everyone, regardless of whether they had read the play or not. Mass appeal is, ultimately, what films are about, and Luhrmann has incorporated all the aspects of a blockbuster with the timeless appeal of Shakespeare. ...read more.

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