Romeo and Juliet
The prologue is the introduction, which gives an overview of the play. It tells us what happens at the end of the play, in this case in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ it is told in the introduction, for example the lines, ‘a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life’, ‘doth with their death bury their parents strife’. These two lines say that Romeo and Juliet both deep in love with each other, die at the end of the play, the reason being that their parents hated each other. It also sets the scene of ‘Fair Verona’ and it explains the contents of the play, ‘Two households’, and ‘break to new mutiny’.
The prologue is said by the chorus. This means it is an idea of a group of people taken from ancient Greek tradition. The prologue does not introduce the audience to the characters in the play; it just talks briefly about the events within the play. A prologue at the beginning of a play is a style commonly used by Shakespeare to open up a play. It is also common that Shakespeare uses the use of a sonnet to produce the prologues. A sonnet always has fourteen lines in total. It is a very precise piece of poetry. The rhyme scheme is very tight and controlled- a,b,a,b,c,d,c,d,e,f,e,f,g,g.
They consist of three quatrains with a final rhyming couplet. It is very controlled, yet very subtle. You would tend to notice the story telling first and then later realise that it is a poem with rhythm. There are ten syllables in each line, a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. It is self consciously dramatic. It emphasises its purpose in telling the story, ‘Is now the two hour’s traffic of our stage. ‘ It directly tells the audience to pay attention, ‘The which if you with patient ears attend, what here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend,’ and the play will develop from what the prologue has been revealing.
In Franco Zefirelli’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the prologue is very brief and short. The film starts off with the details, the opening credits. The font to the credits is in white and in a quite gothic style of writing making it fit in with the traditional theme. While the details are slowly appearing on the screen, around the screen there is a thin border of orange geometric shapes on a yellow background. As the border is so bright and colourful, it is able to immediately catch the audience’s eyes and therefore grabs their attention. The border suggests a very sixties styles.
You would probably expect a more formal, dark edged kind of border. A soft and slow melody played on a harpsichord plays quietly in the background. The effect that Zefirelli tries to create here is to create a nice calm beginning to the play. In shot one, you can see the camera panning over the city of ‘Fair Verona’ and slightly out of focus. The light is blue and hazy, gradually brightening up as the camera pans, suggesting that it is dawn. The colour of the light in the sky shining over the city, creates a dreamy and peaceful effect, and adds to the beauty of the city that is being shown.
You could only just make out the tops of tall buildings and churches at first, but as it gradually gets lighter, the buildings and other features become more into focus. The rooftops of houses, church spires and a river are seen clearly. You are able to feel the quietness of the city in the early morning, which again gives the effect of the city being very calm and peaceful. The camera pans round the whole city, and then moves up towards the sun and stop with the sun being directly in the middle of the screen shot. The sun suggests the hot foreign climate of a hot foreign country, such as Italy.
Shakespeare’s name appears when the camera has stop panning and focused on the sun. All of this equals one continuos shot. The panning is slow, and the brightening of the day is slow, creating a slow pace to the shot. It gives me the impression of a slow climax to the prologue, getting more and more intense as it goes along, and stopping at the sun gives me the impression that it represents the end, with an either tragic end or a very happy end. I think that it is trying to relate to the whole play itself, with the gradual climax with an intense ending.
Throughout shot one, the speaker slowly recites the prologue in a poetic style. He speaks slowly going with the steady flow of the slow motion of the panning of the camera, so that it would not effect the background’s creation of peace. The speaker of the prologue is a man whose voice is gentle, soothing and rhythmic as he echoes the prologue. He still speaks when going into the second shot. Shot two is of a medieval courtyard. In front of the courtyard there is the city wall with battlements made of stone and brick, which gives the impression of the setting being in the medieval times.
The camera stops moving and shows the shot of the courtyard while the speaker finishes reciting the prologue. As he completes his speech of the prologue, the camera moves slightly round to the left, which shows that where the camera is next to the city wall, it is also one of the ends of a busy marketplace. The sun’s golden bright morning light shines over the city wall and through the street of the marketplace, representing that it is the start of a new day. The sound of the hustle and bustle of a busy marketplace gradually builds up and the first act of the first scene begins there.
This effect is to bring in the play with a more calm start and not rushing into the play with a different shot, bringing the audience into a slow and calm beginning. Zefirelli does not create any huge special effects. The title of the play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ appears as the speaker says the words ‘star-crosse’d lovers’. Zefirelli’s purpose of having the title and the words ‘star-crosse’d lovers’ coming up at the same time, is to reinforce visually and aurally the main point of the play that it is a tragic story about the lovers Romeo and Juliet.
Baz Luhrmann’s version of the prologue is done in much more detail and is emphasised a huge amount more. Luhrmann tries to grab the attention of the audience with very fast moving screen shots and very lively music. The first shot that comes up on the screen is of a TV with a blank screen, and the distance between the camera and the TV is very far, making the TV look very small in the distance. The first sound is the fuzziness of a TV, and then on the screen of the TV, the opening credits are displayed on white tiles with a black background.
The contrast between the colours gives a very sharp effect. This gives a very different first effect on the audience compared to Zefirelli’s opening shot. Luhrmann’s first shot of the bold white tiles with a black background, gets the audience’s attention straight away. After the credits, a female newsreader appears on the TV screen, and she reads aloud the prologue. She says the prologue like reading aloud a news report rather than in a poetic sonnet way. This makes the prologue subtle and it makes the audience think twice before realising that it is the prologue that she is saying.
The subtle speaking of the prologue differs with Zefirelli’s make of the prologue being obvious to opening up the film. Beside the newsreader in the background, there is a small picture with some text underneath it. As the camera is in the far distance, it makes it hard to see what the picture and text are, which makes the audience wonder what it is. While the newsreader is saying the prologue, the camera subtly zooms in directly towards the screen, and the picture in the corner gradually comes into focus. The picture is of a broken ring with the text underneath it saying ‘Star cross’d lovers’.
The symbolism of the broken ring is that the lovers end up being torn away from each other. After the newsreader says the twelfth line of the prologue, the camera suddenly picks up speeds and zooms right into the TV screen, through a high street. At the same time the words, ‘Fair Verona’ constantly flashes up in white with a black background. From the zooming, it has merged from one background into another. This sudden pick up of speed would as if wake up the audience and shocking them as the screen had suddenly gone from one shot to another.
This is very unlike Zefirelli’s presentation of the prologue, as he keeps his prologue simple and calm all the way through, whereas Luhrmann uses the effect of zooming and flashing words up creating a dramatic scene. The reason of flashing the words, ‘Fair Verona’ while the camera rushes down the high street, is to make the audience understand the comparison and realise exactly how ‘fair’ Verona really is in his version of the film. It shows a decaying urban landscape contradicting ‘fair Verona’. The font style of the writing is bold like Arial, and is in block capitals, making it clear to the audience what it says.
In Zefirelli’s, as the camera pans over the city, you can see that Verona is very pretty and fair, as the prologue says it is. As the camera reaches the end of the street, the camera is suddenly focused on the face of a statue, which was far in the distance from where the zooming into the street began. Very dramatic music starts to be played loudly, which produces a bigger effect on grabbing the audience’s attention. The camera then pulls back to view the tops of two corporate buildings with the statue in the middle. The buildings have big signs on the top of them.
They are the names of the two households, Capulet and Montague. They are in different colours, Capulet in red and Montague in blue. The differences in the colours emphasise the difference between the two. The effect of having the statue splitting the two buildings up is to make the point clear, that the two households need something or someone to keep them apart to avoid causing major trouble in the city, as they absolutely despise each other. The statue shown actually represents Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ who is trying to control the families and bringing some peace to the city.
In Zefirelli’s version, the point that the two families cannot stand each other is not emphasised. As the prologue is said in the same tone and way all the way through and the pictures are just of how fair Verona is, does not give a definite and clear point that the two households are major enemies. Luhrmann makes it visual to the audience, the hate between the two families. The next part of the introduction to Luhrmann’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, is of a rapid chain of clips from one to the other including clips of police cars with ‘VBPD’ on the side of them standing for ‘Verona Beach Police Department’.
This is shown to tell the audience that this is ‘Verona Beach’ and not fair ‘Verona’. The chain of clips also includes clips of helicopters, clips of the disaster from different viewpoints, some far up in the sky, some close up to casualties who were injured, and the damage done to the city by this one disaster brought up because of the hate between the Capulets and the Montagues. The disaster is emphasised in this rapid succession of clips, to stress how much damage can be caused by one incident done by the two families.
It also makes the audience think and imagine if this one incident caused so much damage, the amount of damage that they probably had done to the city in the past and what would be done in the future. The prologue is said once again while another variety of images using other media of newspaper articles and magazine covers appear. This time, the prologue is said by a character whom is actually in the play, referring to how the prologue is traditionally said by the chorus. The character who speaks the prologue is Friar Lawrence, and he says it in a poetic way, and this time the rhythm of a sonnet is emphasised.
A man with a soft, gentle and low voice speaks the prologue like it is in Zefirelli’s production. This is one similarity that the two productions have. As he speaks, some words of the prologue is emphasised by magazine headlines appearing, using the effect of spinning one on top of the other. The headlines include ‘New Mutiny’ and ‘Civil Blood Makes Civil Hands Unclean’. These headlines are to tell the audience and remind them the symbolism and reasoning behind each word in the prologue. There is also a faint background of burning flames when these headlines appearing as if showing the damage done.
The images however, some are of like modern day newspapers and magazines. The camera slowly pans through a rack of different covers, and the headline of each newspaper and magazine are all referring to the feud caused between the two households, emphasising that they produce big issues in the city. Other images in this group of images include police taking charge of the situation in a live kind of view, showing how fast the police and other services had to respond to reduce the risk of more damage happening. The police and fire departments had to work into the night with the clearing up of the situation.
This is known as the images are taken from broad daylight into the dark night. These images give the audience a visual understanding of how bad it is of the two households hating each other, which can cause so many innocent people in the city to be harmed. As the speaking of the prologue comes to an end, with the two lines ‘A pair of star cross’d lovers, take their life’ with the lines shown in white writing on a black background. This effect by now would be recognised by the audience by now as it had been used before to state the words ‘Fair Verona’.
This effect of repeating jogs the audience’s memories reminding them again and again the importance of the lines in the prologue. As the prologue stops being spoken, the same dramatic music becomes loud again. Each of the main characters are shown one by one with a pause on each with the text describing who each of the characters are and how they are either related to Romeo or Juliet or what the purpose of the character is in the film. This presentation of the character echoes the style of how it was done in famous program called ‘Dallas’.
In Zefirelli’s version, the characters were not introduced and the film got right into the first scene once the prologue was spoken. A shot of Romeo looking through the narrow gap of a door appears, and then the camera immediately changes its angle to show what he see, which is a church aisle with blue neon crosses and candles. The angles that these two shots were taken were both through a narrow opening of the door. The first shot was taken from the inside of the church looking at Romeo, the man standing outside the door, and the second shot was taken from the outside of the door looking into the church.
It emphasises what Romeo had seen, which the audience can assume is Juliet lying on the alter at the end of the aisle, Romeo thinking that she had really died. It also symbolises with that it was the conclusion and the end, viewing Romeo and the crosses, show that they were linked together and producing the idea of death. There was one more series of fast moving clips and a rush of lines as a final wind up to the prologue. There are a variety of different clips of things that happen from the beginning of the play to the end. The repeating of the clips again and again produce permanent images into the minds of the audience.
The prologue ends with the words ‘take their life’ and move onto the first act. The words ‘take their life’ are stated to tell the audience that the story line would conclude with something relevant to it. I think that it is a new technique Luhrmann has used. He uses the technique of grabbing the attention of the audience and makes them concentrate. The prologue being reinforced by being presented for the third time, does not makes the audience get bored and tire of the clips being seen and seen again, but make them more excited about the film.
I think that both Zefirelli and Luhrmann were trying to represent ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a different way, with different techniques. The prologue was of course interpreted differently. Zefirelli presented the prologue in his production in a gentle and calm way all the way through giving the audience a good idea of the peace and beauty of Verona. Luhrmann of course presented the prologue in a different way, almost a complete contrast to what Zefirelli did. He changed ‘Fair Verona’ into urban sprawled Verona.
I think that the presentations of the prologue were both appropriate for their interpretations because Zefirelli wanted to keep his production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ original and alike Shakespeare. Luhrmann wanted to interpret the play into something slightly more modern and unlike Shakespeare’s original version. In Luhrmann’s production he emphasised the complications between the two households and the alterations he had made to the film, like how he set his production in an urban city and called it ‘Verona Beach’ instead of setting it in the original city of Verona in Italy.