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Discuss Baz Luhrmann's depiction of the characters in the opening scene of the 1996 film version of Romeo and Juliet. As a director, how would you have portrayed the same characters on Shakespeare's stage?

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Introduction

English Coursework: Discuss Baz Luhrmann's depiction of the characters in the opening scene of the 1996 film version of Romeo and Juliet. As a director, how would you have portrayed the same characters on Shakespeare's stage? In the opening of the play, we are introduced to various characters of both houses; the Capulets and Montagues. We immediately sense the family feud when we see how the boys from each house are fighting with the boys from the opposite house. Both the Capulet and Montague boys are seen in the first scene to use bawdy humour, and this scene is all about machismo and agression. We sense that the boys of both houses are full of bravado and strutting bravery. There is a lot of sexual innuendo, along with punning and word play. The boys' sense of humour is based on low, simple, crude jokes, which are very unsophisticated. This was possibly due to the low status of the audience who watched this play being performed during the Shakesperean era. Furthermore, there is an implication that the Capulet and Montague boys are oozing testosterone in the very primitive idea of male domination, and how each male wants to have his enemy's female. For example, Samson, who is from the house of Capulet, describes "I will push Montague's men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall." Moreover, it is clear that the boys are quite young, as they wind each other up over who is the strongest and bravest, and who can dominate females better, which is a rather boyish thing. Indeed, it is quite obvious how the boys from both houses are so similar in thinking and in humour. From the first scene, we cannot identify any real differences between the boys, other than the fact that they are from different houses. Therefore, it is rather ironic how they extremely hate each other, when they are both very similar in many ways. ...read more.

Middle

It is something we cannot understand immediately while reading the play. Indeed, Luhrmann used this to highlight the extreme panic felt by the Montagues. It is interesting to note how in the original text of the play, it is the Capulets who bite their thumbs at the Montagues, and yet in his production, Luhrmann had the Montagues bite their thumb at the Capulets. When Tybalt seems to be looking for a fight, Benvolio is seen as the peace-maker, just like in the play. He draws his gun and threatens everyone with it. Here, Luhrmann again updated the sword to a gun because it makes it easier for modern audiences to appreciate this, and to take the idea more seriously. As soon as Benvolio draws his gun, everyone hesitates to do anything, and all the boys go silent, except for Tybalt, who lights a cigar. This is seen as a "cool" gesture. Luhrmann managed to portray to us Tybalt's more dangerous personality. He doesn't seem worried about what is going on. Luhrmann does a lot of camera close-ups, and they are very useful for the audiences' imagination. Close-ups are done on Tybalt's teeth, for example, to point out their sharpness and how they are so pointed. This is a very devilish image. Tybalt then speaks his words "What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word..." He speaks these words so slowly, and emphasizes on almost each syllable. This shows his fiery temper and his extreme hatredness and disgust towards peace. He then continues saying that he hates peace "As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee," referring to Benvolio. It is very clever how while Tybalt says the words "all Montagues", Luhrmann decided to close-up on Tybalt's shoes as he crushes the match which he used to light his cigar with. This image is very cruel and violent. It relates to the idea of his hatredness towards the Montagues, and it is almost as if he is crushing them. ...read more.

Conclusion

When Tybalt speaks his lines, he would act violently, and his facial expression would be one of agression and revenge. This helps bringing about his hostile nature. His words should stand out more than what the others are saying, because in this scene, he talks about hating peace, which is a very strong emotion, whereas the rest of the boys talk about bawdy humour. On the other hand, Romeo should appear to be a complete opposite of Tybalt. He would be wearing soft white clothes, which would symbolize his serene, romantic character. He could also be wearing a chain with a cross on it which would symbolize his na?vety or innocence to some extent. When Romeo speaks his lines, his voice would be dreamy and his face would be tilted upwards, so that he is looking into the sky. This would symbolize his deep thoughts in search of answers to his unanswered questions. When he looks into the sky, it is as though he is trying to go far beyond what man can see or possibly feel, and it would help bring out Romeo's philosophical mind and feelings. Moreover, the fact that he is madly in love with Rosaline, and the idea that she doesn't want him because she plans to be a nun, hurts him a lot. When he talks about Rosaline, and how he is "out of her favour where I am in love", he could sound a bit sorrow and unhappy. This would help point out to the audience Romeo's romantic, philosophical character, which contrasts greatly with the violent Tybalt. Considering the fact that I would be a director on Shakespeare's stage, which therefore means I can't use modern props or clever camera angles, I think that it would be necessary for all the characters acting on the stage i.e. Tybalt, Romeo, Benvolio etc. to face the audience. This is so that the audience would be aware of what was going on, and would be able to follow the story. The actors would also need to speak in a clear, rather loud voice to be heard by the audience. ...read more.

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