William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
dir. Baz Luhrmann
Teaching resources developed by Neil Béchervaise with Emma Heyde and Dennis Robinson
Verona Beach is an American town torn apart by gang warfare between the rich Capulet and Montague families. While Benvolio and Tybalt lead the gangs, the sensitive Romeo Montague laments the violence, falls in love with Juliet Capulet and confides in his cross-dressing friend, Mercutio.
Forced to conceal their forbidden love, Romeo and Juliet are secretly married against a background of violence and Verona's decaying corporate identity. A misplaced message spells impending disaster and in a tragedy of mistaken appearances, Romeo and Juliet suicide rather than live without each other in a familiar story which is faithful to Shakespeare's speech in a violently updated and compelling setting.
Themes and Issues
love - teenage, father/daughter, nurse/child, and self, and friendship
growing up - love, marriage, parents, gangs, drugs
friendship and loyalty
extended family feuds
wisdom and youth
adult interference in teenage affairs
Language and Structure
- The text of Shakespeare in the context of television
- The news as entertainment. Visual imagery - the hoardings using quotes as advertising.
- Film treatment of classic literature - updating, change. of visual connections to create changed interpretation.
- Metaphor generated by changing contexts.
- Song and dance as linking devices
- Use of reflection - the water fountain and the fish pond
- Use of colour, light and shade, lighting to create atmosphere.
- Violence and corruption counterpointed with opulence and sophistication
- Use of canonical text as a vehicle for contemporary issues
Play: Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, Romanoff and Juliet
Wide reading: Only the Heart by Brian Caswell & David Phu An Chiem, Fireflies by Jonathan Harlen, Daz 4 Zoe by Robert Swindells
Film: Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Strictly Ballroom, Kiss or Kil, Romper Stomper.
Music: Dire Straits, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Suite
Current Affairs: Iran/Iraq/Syria, Serbia/Croatia, Northern Ireland, multicultural relations in Canada & America, internet ‘romance’ of English 12 year old and American marine.
1. Working in small groups, brainstorm a list of groups within Canadian society who would be upset if their sons and daughters fell in love with each other. What reasons would these groups give for their disapproval of each other.
2. Powerful music often tracks the emotions of people with extreme feelings - like love and hate. Make a list of some of the feelings you get from listening to, or playing, music. Write the names of the musical pieces beside each feeling and compare your reactions with others in your group. Are there some pieces of music which create the same feelings for a number of people?
3. The story of Romeo and Juliet is very familiar whenever families disagree with each other. Luckily, the results are not often so tragic. Work in small groups to discuss ways of overcoming family prejudices.
4. Using the cast list, divide the cast into Montagues, Capulets and Others. Describe the relationship between members of each family and then add the names of other characters who are important to that person.
5. Using the stage instructions included in the text of the play, develop a list of personal properties needed by each of the characters in Act 1: Scene 1 and in the final scene. Suggest how the difference in the props from start to finish shows the way the play developed.
6. Romeo is shown to be a dreamer, a drug-taker and a romantic but he can be a man of action when there is no alternative. Use examples from the film to show Romeo as a 'man of action'.
7. The relationship between Juliet and the nurse seems to be a comic relief but it is this comedy that creates the tragedy. Do you agree? Work in small groups to create a response to this statement in words or action.
8. Available film versions of the play are set in different countries. If you were a film maker working in Vancouver, describe the locations you would use for the opening scene, for the street scenes and for the balcony scene. Photograph some of these scenes and draw or make a set model to illustrate one of your choices.
9. Suggest how the balcony scene could be staged as a comedy sequence. Rewrite the scene with stage directions to support your interpretation.
10. Luhrmann takes Juliet off the balcony to the swimming pool and Romeo falls in several times. Evaluate the impact of this apparent clumsiness in relation to Romeo's drug-taking and his image as a romantic hero.
11. Films use music to enhance the emotion of the story line. Make a selection of current popular music for a Canadian production of the play. Describe where, in the play, you would use three of the pieces you have selected.
12. Select a sequence of about one minute from the playtext which includes at least two characters. Decide on the mood of the scene. Collect props and music to support your decision. Rehearse the scene and present it to the whole group.
13 Rewrite a sequence from the playtext into modern Canadian English to be staged without music or costume. The sequence should establish the mood at that point in the play, involve at least two characters and last more than one minute. Rehearse and stage the sequence for the whole group.
14. Some people find Romeo and Juliet very upsetting. Others say that the teenaged lovers over-reacted. Discuss your feelings about the deaths of the 'star-cross'd lovers'.
15. It is too easy for people who do not understand the circumstances to say that things should be done differently. Identify some of the points in the film where a different action may have led to a different ending. Use your understanding of the relationships in Romeo and Juliet to discuss reasons why these actions were not taken.