Romeo and Juliet - From Stage to Screen

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1. The play
Romeo & Juliet was written during a period when Shakespeare had found the strength of his writing. He would have been about 26 years old when he wrote it. It stands as a great play in its own right, and it is believed to have been written around 1595. 
The story is, of course, about a pair of star-crossed lovers. Two teenagers pursue their love for each other despite the fact that their families have been at odds with each other for decades. The story combines swordfighting, disguise, misunderstanding, tragedy, humor, and some of the most romantic language found in literature all in the name of true love. 
This is the story In Verona, Italy, in the late 1500's, two powerful families the Montagues and the Capulets have been feuding with each other for years. Old Capulet, Juliet's father, throws a party to which he invites all his friends. The Montagues are not invited of course, but Romeo devises a plan to get a look at Rosaline, a young girl he has been pursuing. He disguises himself and slips into the party. Once inside, his attention is stolen, not by Rosaline, but by Juliet. Romeo falls instantly in love, but is disappointed when he finds out that Juliet is a Capulet. Juliet notices Romeo too, but she is unaware that he is a member of the hated Montagues. 
Later, after discovering that the young man who caught her eye is a member of the enemy family, Juliet goes out onto her balcony to tell the stars about her strong, but forbidden love. At the same time, Romeo is lurking in the bushes below. He overhears Juliet confess her love for him to the heavens. No longer able to control his powerful feelings, Romeo reveals himself to her and admits that he feels the same. The very next day, with the help of Romeo's friend, Friar Lawrence, Romeo and Juliet are secretly married. 
On the day of the wedding, two of Romeo's friends, Benvolio and Mercutio, are walking through the streets of Verona when they are confronted by Juliet's cousin, Tybalt. Tybalt is out to get Romeo for crashing the Capulet's party so he starts a fight with his friends. Romeo shows up, but does not want to fight Tybalt because he no longer holds a grudge against Juliet's family. Romeo's friends can't understand why he won't stand up for himself, so Mercutio steps in to do it for him. A swordfight with Tybalt follows. Mercutio is killed. To avenge the death of his friend, Romeo kills Tybalt, an act that will award him even more hatred from the Capulet family. The Prince of Verona banishes Romeo and he is forced to leave Juliet, who is devastated by the loss of her love. Juliet's father, not knowing of his daughter's marriage, decides to marry her to another young man named Paris. 
In despair, Juliet consults with Friar Laurence. He advises her to agree to the marriage, but on the morning of the wedding, she will drink a potion that h e prepares for her. The potion will make it look like Juliet is dead and she will be put into the Capulet burial vault. Then, the Friar will send Romeo to rescue her. She does as the Friar says and is put into the vault by her heartbroken parents. 
Bad news travels fast. Before the Friar can tell Romeo of the hoax, Romeo hears from someone else that his beloved Juliet is dead. Overcome with grief, Romeo buys a poison and goes to Juliet's tomb to die beside his wife. At the door of the tomb, Romeo is forced to fight Paris, whom he swiftly kills. Nothing will stop him from joining his love. Inside the vault, Romeo drinks the poison and takes his last breath next to his sleeping wife. 
Moments later, Juliet awakens to see her husband's dead body. She learns what has happened from Friar Laurence who has just arrived and accessed the scene. With no reason left to live, Juliet kills herself with Romeo's dagger. The tragedy has a tremendous impact on both the Montagues and the Capulets. Seeing their children's bodies, Capulet and Montague agree to end their long-standing feud and to raise gold statues of their children side-by-side in a newly peaceful Verona.
2. Adaptations and differences between them
The play is a tragic love story. When reading the play it can be very difficult to understand. This is mainly because you are unable to see the setting and the characters. 
Shakespeare's most famous play has been adapted for the screen many times. The most successful adaptations were Franco Zefirelli's version of 1968 (shot in Verona, with very young actors and in Renaissance costumes) and Baz Luhrman's version of 1996 (a rock'n'roll version with a not-yet-very-famous Leonardo Di Caprio). Both films cover the same major elements of the storyline, however each films has distinguishing features.
In Baz Luhrman's version, Romeo and Juliet is transposed to modern-day Verona. By incorporating lively, modern imagery with a throbbing rock soundtrack and hip actors, he has taken aim at an audience that would normally regard Shakespeare as a chore to be endured in school, not a passionate drama to ignite the screen. This Romeo and Juliet isn't the match of Franco Zeffirelli's unforgettable 1968 classic. While Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes make an effective couple, their romance doesn't burn with the white-hot intensity of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey's. Nevertheless, this interpretation is so fundamentally different from anything to have come before it, that there's no danger of repetition. 
Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet (properly titled William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet) takes the play and deposits it in a modern Verona Beach that is part decaying Miami and part Mexico City. By the director's own admission, this is a created world, borrowing aspects of its unique visual style from such diverse periods as the 1940s, 1970s, and 1990s, and using a variety of classic films (most notably Rebel Without a Cause) for inspiration. Fast cars with roaring engines replace horses. Guns stand in for swords and daggers. The resulting hybrid background is startling. 
Romeo and Juliet's camera is restless, always moving. There are times when the rapid cuts and raging soundtrack might cause understandable confusion between the movie and a rock video. Indeed, with all the camera tricks, special effects (such as a roiling storm), and riotous splashes of color, it's easy to lose the story in the style.
The movie settles down when Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet ( ClaireDanes) first come face-to-face, gazing at each other through the transparent panes of an aquarium while a love ballad plays in the background. It's a delicately romantic moment whose magic is never quite matched by any other scene in the film. Danes makes a breathtaking Juliet, merging strength and fragility into one. DiCaprio isn't quite as successful as Romeo; there are times when his delivery of Shakespeare's dialogue sounds forced, and, on at least one occasion (when he learns about Juliet's supposed death), he goes way over-the-top. 
The supporting cast has its share of successes and failures. John Leguizamo plays a particularly effective Tybalt, Juliet's Latino cousin. Despite a terrible accent, Miriam Margolyes gives a delightful interpretation of Juliet's nurse. In a daring move that works, Harold Perrineau's Mercutio is presented as a high-energy drag queen who gets a chance to strut his stuff to a disco tune with Shakespearean lyrics. Pete Postlethwaite (as Father Laurence) and Vondie Curtis-Hall (Captain Prince) are both at ease in their roles. Brian Dennehy's presence is, as always, imposing, but, as Lord Montague, he doesn't have more than a handful of lines. Less successful are Paul Sorvino's cartoon-like portrayal of Lord Capulet and Diane Verona's Blanche DuBois-flavored version of his wife. And a pair of characters, Paul Rudd's Paris and Jesse Bradford's Balthasar, are so ineffectual that they're virtually invisible.


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