A comparison between film and drama: Romeo and Juliet

Pre-University Paper, 2003

11 Pages, Grade: 14 Points

Free online reading

Table of Contents

1. Preface, assignment and goals

1.1 Main characters and their relationships

1.2 Summary

1.2.1 Act 1: Romeo and Juliet fall in love

1.2.2 Act 2: Garden scene, (pool scene), preparation for marriage

1.2.3 Act 3: Fight between Mercutio and Tybalt → Romeo‘s banishment

1.2.4 Act 4: Solution to the problem of two marriages: the soporific

Friar Laurence

1.2.5 Act 5: Romeo and Juliet‘s last meeting before they die, speech of Prince Escalus of Verona

1.3 Characterization of the players: page 6

1.3.1 In the drama

1.3.2 In the film

2. Language

2.1 Metaphoric, symbolic and mythological

2.2 The original text versus the text in the film

2.2.1 Use of old English and biblical words

2.2.2 Complicated symbolism, the use of mythological puns

3. Technical and stylistic differences

3.1 Original play

3.2 Film version

3.2.1 Advantages with music, light and language at the same time

3.2.2 Dramatization easier with special effects

3.2.3 → Act 3

4. Themes which are still current today

4.1 Assisted suicide

4.2 Black/white.confict

4.3 Conflict of generations

4.4 Rivalry and jealousy


1. Preface

In the following essay I intend to show you what Shakespeare wanted to say with his drama Romeo and Juliet. The main conflict of this drama is still timely.

The following is a comparison between the film, which was produced by Gabriella Martinelli and Baz Luhrmann, and Shakespeare‘s drama, the German translation by Herbert Geisen (from Reclam publishing). I plan to exhibit differences and what they have in common. I will begin with a general overview concering Romeo and Juliet.

1.1 Main characters and their relationships

The drama takes place during the 16th centuy in Verona. The film, on the contrary, is a modern 20th century production which is also set in Verona.

The most important characters are Romeo, the son of the rich family Montague, and Juliet, the daughter of the influential Capulet family. These prominent families despise each other and have been enemies for a very long time.

Paris, a young count, is the man Julia‘s father wants her to marry.

He does not appear on stage very often, but as the rival of Romeo, he is of significance to show the strain in the relationship.

Friar Laurence is also very important as the friend who Romeo and Juliet can confide in.

He marries the two lovers, but before he is able to, he has to prevent Juliet‘s marriage with Paris. Here he uses his knowlege about poison. He mixes Juliet a soporific to deceive her parents into thinking that she is dead.

A parallel conflict grows between Mercutio, a friend of Romeo, and Tybalt, the nephew of Lady Capulet. I will explain the significance of this ethnical conflict later.

The Nurse is Juliet‘s intimate friend. She and Friar Laurence are the only people who know about the relationship between Romeo and Juliet.

In the drama, Escalus is the Prince of Verona. In the film version, he plays a policeman. He knows about the fights between the Capulets and Montagues. In the end, he is the one who settles the dispute.

Balthasar, is a friend of Romeo. He brings the news of the death of Juliet to him in Mantua.

1.2 Summary

In the year 1595 William Shakespeare wrote the drama Romeo and Juliet. Three centuries later Gabriela Martinelli and Baz Luhrmann used this text for their modern film version of the same story

The drama and the film are similar, but in some scenes the movie is quite different. But first I will tell you the story about Romeo and Juliet, and later I will go into more details like language, differences in content and other distinctions between the film and the drama.

The Drama begins with a prologue., where the main conflict is told: Two young lovers, Romeo and Juliet, must die because of the strong hatred shared by their parents.

The prologue depicts what Shakespeare wanted to say with this drama: The play shows how you can harm young people because of hatred and prejudice.

1.2.1 Act 1:

The film begins with a monologue by Romeo, in which he talks about his love for Rosalinde.

There is a bloody fight at the beginning which shows the rivalry and struggle between the Montagues and the Capulets. Juliet‘s father talks to Paris, her prospective husband, who can’t wait to marry Juliet. Lady Capulet rushes to her daughter to tell her the ‘wonderful‘ news.

The drama begins with a fight between the Capulets and Montagues. Benvolio, a friend of Romeo, tries to smooth the struggle between some employees of the Capulets but then Tybalt comes and marks him as a coward. Benvolio wants to defend his honor. He and Mercutio fight. Romeo wants to talk with Benvolio about his love for Rosalinde, which makes him sad.

(Romeo:„I have a soule of lead.“)

Romeo and his friends go to the ball at Capulets house. When Tybalt realizes that some of the Montagues are also present, he complains to Juliet‘s father, but the old Capulet does nothing.

This is the evening when Romeo saw Juliet the first time, and he did not need a lot time to fall in love with her.

Romeo: „Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.“ Act 1, Scene5

In the film Juliet wears the costume of an angel which is a symbol for her innocence and purity. Romeo wears the costume of a knight to show his strength and ambition to do the right thing.

In the following scene, Romeo and Juliet appear on stage alone. Romeo compares a kiss with Juliet with a prayer of the lips. Romeo and Juliet already fell in love with each other before they realized who they are and that they could not have a future together.

Julia: „my only love, sprung from my only hate!

Too early seen unknown, and known too late!

Prodigious birth of love it is to me

that I must love a loathed enemy.“

1.2.2 Act 2:

The next scene is the best known of the whole play. Act two, the balcony scene.

Romeo‘s friends mark him as deranged and mad with love because he runs back to Capulet‘s house after the ball to see Juliet. When Romeo `with love’s light wings` climbs the high walls of Capulets Villa, he saw ‚the sun‘. He saw his Juliet and she cries out for Romeo.

Juliet: „ O Romeo, Romeo! – wherefore are thou Romeo?

Deny thy father and refuse thy name!

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.“

Romeo climbs the balcony and interrupts her. Although Juliet loves Romeo, she wants more time to be sure. Juliet describes this love with a metaphor. It is as lightning which comes fast, but disappears even faster.

In the third scene Romeo looks for help from his friend, Friar Laurence. Romeo implores him to marry the two lovers. Friar Laurence doubts Romeo‘s sudden love, because of his old love for Rosalinde. But he will agree to this marriage for one reason: He hopes for peace between the rival houses of the Capulets and Montagues.

Friar: „ In one respect I’ll thy assistant be.

For this alliance may so happy prove

To turn your households‘ rancour to pure love.

In the film you can see a white pigeon, which is a symbol for the peace between the houses Capulet and Montague.

Since Romeo was not at home that night, Mercutio and Benvolio fear his death in combination with his sorrow about Rosalinde.Romeo appeares on stage and explains to his friends about that night. When the nurse appears, she is in doubt because of Romeo‘s love for Juliet, but this changes quickly. She then returns to Capulets house to report to Juliet that Romeo does want to marry her.

Juliet hurries to Friar Laurence to confession before the wedding.

Romeo: „Do thou but close our hands with holy words,

Then love-devouring death do whathe dare-

It is enough I may but call her mine.“

1.2.3 Act 3:

In the third Act both families appear on stage. Tybalt wants to talk with Romeo, but he isn’t present. Mercutio provokes Tybalt until they beginn to fight. Tybalt wants revenge for the slander which Romeo caused.

Tybalt: „Villain, this shall not excuse the injuries

That you hast done me. Therefore turn and draw.

Romeo tries to deescalate the struggle but Tybalt is so aggressive that this encounter ends with fight again. Mercutio wants to save Romeo and dies.

This scene got dramaticated in the film with some special-effects.

During Mercutio is dying it starts to rain and a dangerous storm comes.

Mercutio: „A plague a’both your houses!“

This sentence he repeats several times. He is angry because he couldn’t accomplish peace even by his death.

Romeo looses his best friend, Mercutio, so now he wants revenge. A new fight between Romeo and Tybalt begins! Tybalt dies.

Escalus banishes Romeo from Verona for Tybalt‘s death, and Romeo goes to Mantua, and suffers without his Juliet.

Romeo: „Tis torture and not mercy. Heaven is here where Juliet lives.“

In the original drama, you can see a difference here. Romeo does not want to live anymore, so he tries to kill himself, but in this moment Juliet‘s nurse comes and stops him.

1.2.4 Act 4:

Juliet doesn’t want to marrry Paris. Nevertheless, to deceive her parents she goes to Friar Laurence to make her confession. But what she really wants is his help. Friar Laurence decides to give her a sleeping potion, which shows all the symptoms of death for 24 hours.

Friar Laurence reports to Romeo by post to come back to Verona and collect Juliet.

Here again we see a difference between the fim and drama. In the film Juliet says goodbye to her parents. In the original play she will do anything so that her parents love her again.

In the Third Scene of the 4th Act, Juliet is in doubt about the poison. She is afraid that Friar Laurence wants to kill her because he married her and Romeo once before.

She takes a knife with her to the grave as not to suffocate if she awakes too early.

Juliet’s father prepares for the marriage but then the Nurse reports of Juliet‘s death. Everybody is shocked. And Juliet‘s parents are so sad that they talk about the wish to die, too.

1.2.5 Act 5:

This Act is not the same in the film and the drama – there are strong differences.

The scene takes place in Mantua. Romeo‘s friend, Balthasar, hurries to him to report what he has seen: He has seen the dead young Juliet in the family grave. Romeo goes back to Verona to `meet` Juliet.

Romeo:“ Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight.“

In the film you can see how Romeo buys illegal poison at the pharmacy.

The police go to the church where Juliet’s body is try to stop him. Romeo takes a hostage, Friar John, to get into the church.

In the original drama Friar Laurence wants to open Juliet‘s grave and hide her at his house.

Romeo reaches Juliet‘s grave and Paris is also there, but Romeo doesn’t see his rival.

Romeo starts to open Juliet‘s grave when Paris can’t believe his eyes and comes out to stop him. Romeo fights for his destiny, which is to be with Juliet.

Paris dies and his last wish is to lie next to Juliet. Romeo understands this wish and consents. After Romeo brings the dead Paris to her grave, he drinks the poison and falls into Juliet‘s grave, too. As Romeo dies, he sees Juliet awakening. Juliet can’t belive what is happening! She takes Romeo‘s dagger and kills herself.

In the film scene only Romeo and Juliet appear. They are in Juliet‘s coffin. Romeo says goodbye to his Juliet an drinks the deadly poison, Juliet awakens, sees this and takes his pistol to kill herself.

Prince Escalus regrets this mournfull end. He feels that the parents are responsible for these tragic and unnessesary deaths. He demand that they make peace with each other..

1.3 Characterization of the players

1.3.1 In the drama

The women Romeo loves are very different types. Rosalinde is exhibited as a heartless and pale hussy. Juliet on the contraray as an angel.

1.3.2 in the film

The film version uses symbolism with the costumes at the ball. For example, Juliet wears an angels costume to show her innocence and purity. Romeo, on the other hand, wears a knight‘s costume, which symbolises his strength and fighting spirit.

2. Language

Often you can see the form of sonnets in Shakespeare’s texts (a sonnet has 14 verses with rhymes and the stanzas are distributed into two quartettes and two trios). A good example for such a sonnet in quartett form is found in Act 1 scene 2, Benvolio:

“Tut, man, one fire burns out another’s burning.

One pain is lessened by another’s anguish.

Turn giddy, and be holp by backward turning.

One desperate grief cures with another’s languish.(...)“

Sonnets do not only sound nice, but are a complicated use language. The artistic construction is a combination of the repetition of thoughts, associations, images and sounds. The form of sonnets was usually only used by members of nobility, because commoners were too uneducated in reading and writing and did not know this style of language.

2.1 Metaphoric, symbolic and mythological

Shakespeare did not have the technical means which we possess today. Also, he would not have used them either! For him it was important to play “in natural style“, his main goal was to call the spectators attention to the language. Often Shakespeare uses metaphors. The best example again for this is the discription of Juliet‘s angel costume.

Further examples are:

Act 4 scene 1, Friar Laurence: “The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade

To wanny ashes, thy eyes‘ windows fall

Like death when he shuts up the day of life.“

Act 4 scene 1, Paris: “Immoderately she weeps for Tybalt‘s death,

And therefore I have little talked of love;

For Venus smiles not in a house of tears.“

(This means Paris is not blessed with good fortune.)

Act 3 scene 3, Friar Laurence: “Unseemly woman in seeming man!

And ill-beseeming beast in seeming both!“

This is a drastically different language Friar Laurence uses here. He sounds very serious using many puns and rhetoric. Friar Laurence is Romeo‘s intimite friend in this hopeless situation. I want to point out another example of a nice pun:

Act 5 scene 1, Romeo: “If I may trust the flatterimg truth of sleep,

My dreams presage some joyful news at hand.

My bosom’s lord sits lightly in his throne,

And all this day an unaccustomed spirit

Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts.“

Often you can find comparisons between the story and mythology, which are very difficult to understand if you don’t have a good knowledge about mythology. There is a good example in Act 2 scene 2 where Romeo compares a life of eternal chastity with the moon to show his gravity. The moon which Romeo means is Diana.

2.2 The original text verses and the text in the film

In the film, there are also rhymes and use of old language in the German translation, but it’s idiomatic and not directly taken from Shakespeare’s original. Important metaphors are translated literally, like in the balcony scene (Act 2 scene 2), for example:

“That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.“

2.2.1 Use of old English and biblical words

In Shakespaere’s texts you can often find words which are called obsolete or poetic in dictionaries. I noticed, that the old English language sounds often similar to German.

Also I wondered about different words I never have heard before. These have been words which does not really exist, Shakespeare made them up (for example the word “star-crossed“, which means that something does not have a good chance of success). If you consider these aspects it is clear why this literature is so fastidious and requires much thought to enjoy.


illustration not visible in this excerpt

2.2.2 Complicated symbolism, the use of mythological puns

To understand Shakespeare’s literature you need a good knowledge of several sciences like mythology, music, ethics, and the history of war and weapons, and of course the venerability of this time. Symbolic delineations were not rare, especially among these lyricists like Shakespeare.

Here an example for a pun about science:

Tybalt: “What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds.“

Homophonical heartless compared wih hartless. Hind means a cow or farmer. So this example means a heartless farmer or a cow without heart.

3. Technical and stylistic differences

3.1 Original play

Shakespeare worked under extreme primitive conditions. The audience understood the play because the metaphoric language was so highly imaginative, that Shakespeare did not need technical help to strengthen the public’s emotions.

On stage exists only a balcony, a flap on the roof; which is the way to heaven, and such a flap on the floor; which leads to hell, and there is room for a few musicians to sit and play. Shakespeare did not like extravagant costumes and stage backgrounds, so actually there were great demands made of the actors for a successful performance.

3.2 Film version

3.2.1 Advantages with music, light and language at the same time

To use the theatre like Shakespeare did is almost impossible today. You need vast general knowledge to understand his language. Today it is not common for people to have interest in this knowledge so the emotions have to be given them by another way.

In the film production you have the possibility to use the advantages with light, side-scenes, language and of course the variable time at the same time. The emotions are further supported by the music.

3.2.2 Dramatization easier with special effects

The transposition of 16th century Verona to a modern Verona builds dramatic scenery to show the differences of lifestyle (Prince/policeman, dagger/revolver...) and impressions (love/sex).

If you read the third Act you seriously can imagine a certain picture: A storm! That’s what the producers also have seen and used for their film.

“Brave Mercutio is dead! That gallant spirit hath aspired the clouds, which too untimely here did scorn the earth.

This day’s black fate on more days doth depend.

This but begins the woe others must end“

This is from Shakespeare’s original text.

In the film, this is showen by a stormy weather scene with black a sky which causes the dramatic spirit.

Another good example is in Act 3 scene 4. Here Friar Laurence thinks about Romeo‘s and Juliet’s wedding. He consents with the hope to bring together the rival families Montagues and Capulets. White doves are the symbol for peace. During the wedding, a white dove is seen which symbolizes Friar Laurence’s hope.

4. Actuality

4.1 Assisted suicide (Pharmacist)

Romeo buys some poison. Romeo wants to be with Juliet, and will die to join her in heaven.

Although according to the law it is not allowed to own, take or even sell such a poison, he finds a poor pharmasist, who is willing to break the law, and sells him some because he really needs the money. He does not die because of an accident or disease so we can talk about suicide here.

Today this is illegal, also because of worse reasons, than Romeo had, like AIDS, for example.

Romeo decided to die because of his emotional woes, although his body was okay. Is this a reason for suicide? We don’t know anything about his religion, but at his young age, the passion and the wish to be with Juliet pressed him to suicide. How would we act in such a situation?

The pharmacist is an old, poor, ugly man who claims not to be a law-breaker, nevertheless he gives Romeo the poison for his survival and Rome’s death. By law this means that the pharmacist assisted in Romeo’s death and is so implicated.

Also the poison Friar Laurence gives to Juliet is not lawful because Juliet seems to be dead and perhaps really could die if she took too much of it. In case she awakes too early, she takes a knive along to help kill herself. So this is suicid, too.

4.2 Black/White-conflict

Blacks still feel disadvantaged or disciminated against. To strengthen the conflict between Tybalt and Mercutio the producers of the film adapt another conflict which still is relevant today. Mercutio is shown with black skin in the film which alludes to the conflict of races.

4.3 Conflict of generations

A long time before Romeo’s and Juliet’s birth, their families had serious problems with each other. None of the families were able to admit to fault so their conflict was carried on for generations. Juliet‘s parents did not even know why they are embroiled in this fight.

Nevertheless they were taught to hate the Montagues. As Romeo and Juliet fell in love this hatred got out of control. This goes so far that Juliet opposes her parents and marries Romeo.

To be loved by her parents a last time, however, Juliet agrees to the wedding with Paris.

Act 3 scene 5, Juliet: “(...)tell my lady I am gone, Having displeased my father, to Laurence‘ cell, To make confession and to be absolved.“

Capulet: “My heart is wondrous light, Since this same wayward girl is so reclaimed.“

This shows how much children learn and take over from their parents. So every mother and every father should be careful of what they say. Otherwise there could be permanent damage.

4.4 Rivalry and jealousy

Rivalry in Shakespeare’s time and jealousy today are comparable. Not until the end do the rivals, Paris and Romeo meet. Romeo knows about the planned wedding between Paris and Juliet but must go to Mantua because of Tybalt’s death. In the end, they fight because Romeo wants to open Juliet’s grave, what Paris prevents. Romeo kills Paris.

Although Romeo and Paris love the same woman, Romeo grants Paris‘ last wish: to lie next to Juliet in her grave. He understands this because this also would be/is his last wish.

But the two of them in classic poetic style continue their rivalry over the love of Juliet long after she is dead.


Reclam: Romeo und Julia Zweisprachige Ausgabe (Englisch, Deutsch)

Reclam: Schauspielführer S.116-118

Film: Romeo und Julia von Gabriela Martinelli und Baz Luhrmann

Das kluge Alphabet, Lexikon

The Collins German Dictionary, fourth edition 1999


„www.google.de“ Romeo und Julia

„www.yahoo.de“ William Shakespeare


Hiermit erkläre ich, dass ich die Arbeit ohne fremde Hilfe angefertigt und nur die im Literaturverzeichnis angeführten Quellen und Hilfsmittel benutzt habe.

Wörtliche Zitate und sinngemäße Wiedergabe habe ich als solche kenntlich gemacht.

Ort, Datum: Sindelfingen, den 29.12.2002


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A comparison between film and drama: Romeo and Juliet
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Romeo, Juliet, English
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Julia Essig (Author), 2003, A comparison between film and drama: Romeo and Juliet, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/108099


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