Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Differences between Shakespeare’s 'Romeo and Juliet' and Zeffirelli’s Film Adaptation

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'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare and Zeffirelli’s interpretation of this play are two different version of this classical tragic story of two young lovers. When reading the play by Shakespeare and seeing Zeffirelli’s movie we can observe various differences between them. Although the original storyline is keep the same, many altered parts can also be observed. Some of these differences are found in the setting, the characters but mostly in the final scene. In this final scene of the play three main changes can be observed, Paris’ death, Friar Lawrence’s speech and the end of the two families feud. The changes that where made by Zeffirelli from the original version emit a different interpretations of the story.

Zeffirelli altered the play around mostly at the end of the film. In the actual play, Paris tries to stop Romeo from going into the tomb where Juliet is. They fight and Romeo kills Paris. This part of the play is totally missed by Zeffirelli and he just shows Romeo going into the tomb. Afterwards when the two lovers are found dead and they are taken to the church, the Prince gives his final speech. In the play, Friar Laurence was supposed to be present to give his own confession about the true death of the lovers. This was left out in Zeffirelli’s version. At the end of the play Shakespeare had Lord Montague raise a golden statue in Juliet’s honour and Lady Capulet allowed both lovers to rest in peace together for eternity, signifying the end of their feud. Zeffirelli, on the other hand, chose only to show the two lords together following their children’s corpses. Other smaller changes where made such as the elimination and addition of lines and the elimination of some minor characters.

The changes made to the text, show that Zeffirelli had understood that he couldn’t do an exact copy of the story as this would have resulted in a four hour film. He tried to make it as similar as possible but some parts had to be omitted. Zeffirelli didn’t include Paris’ death as this scene although important in the original play, didn’t alter the storyline of 'Romeo and Juliet'. Also having Romeo kill another man would make him seem too violent and Zeffirelli probably wanted Romeo to be a much more heroic character. The possible explanation as to why Friar Lawrence’s speech was omitted was that in this way the explanation of why the lover’s were truly dead was left for the watchers to question.

In my opinion, I think that a written play can never be presented exactly, as they are often too long. The director of the film must make an adaptation and include the important parts only. I think that he was right in omitting Paris’ death and Friar Lawrence’s speech as they are not extremely important to the story and not including the Friar’s speech allowed the people more freedom to interpret the situation. I think that Zeffirelli should have included the reconciliation of both families as it is important to know that at the end both families understood that because of their feud, their children had died. I wouldn’t be able to say if these changes have improved or worsened Shakespeare’s work. I think that it is a different interpretation of the original story and as such it should be accepted. The two different authors used a variety of techniques to change the story or to have the audience understand the situations and though they may seem different at times, the storyline never changes, it always remains about two young lovers who tragically die as a result of old family feuds.

Romeo and Juliet (Paramount, dir. Franco Zeffirelli)
Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare; Cambridge University Press)

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