Explain two differences in Romeo + Juliet (the movie) and the play by William Shakespeare.

Two differences between the movie Romeo + Juliet and Shakespeare's play are the staging of the balcony scene and Romeo's suicide.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The play of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare opens with a swordfight in the streets of Verona, Italy between servants and family members of Capulets and the Montagues that occurs at some time in the thirteenth or fourteen century. The movie Romeo + Julietadapted from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet by Craig Pearce and Baz Luhrmann, directed by Baz Lurhmann, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes—is set at about the time the movie was released in 1996 and opens with a gunfight between the Capulets and the Montagues. The fight begins at a gas station near a highway off-ramp in Verona Beach, a fictional city resembling Miami, Florida, and ends in downtown Verona Beach.

From a police helicopter hovering over the chaotic scene, the Verona Beach chief of police, Captain Prince—the corresponding character to Prince Escalus in Shakespeare's play—calls down to the combatants over the helicopter's public address system.

CAPTAIN PRINCE. Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground.

It's not until the entire opening sequence of the gunfight is over that a voiceover of a slightly shortened version of the prologue of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is heard.

VOICE OVER. Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows
Doth, with their death, bury their parents' strife.

Although the openings of the play and of the movie serve the same purpose—to introduce many of the major characters (except for Romeo and Juliet) and establish the underlying conflict between the feuding families—the differences between the stage version and the movie version reflect the different art forms and the different frames of reference for each type of presentation.

Generally speaking, a play "tells" a story, whereas a movie "shows" a story. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet opens with the spoken prologue, in with the Chorus presents a concise narrative of entire story of the play, including the setting "in fair Verona" (Pro. 2), the feuding families and the brawls in the streets (Pro. 1.1, 3-4), the "pair of star-cross'd lovers "(Pro. 6), and their fate: "Doth, with their death, bury their parents' strife" (Pro. 8).

The movie version begins with action, not words, showing a car and a pickup truck speeding down a highway and pulling into a gas station. More vehicles pull into the gas station, and more characters emerge from those vehicles. The characters are gradually revealed to be members of the warring factions of Montagues and Capulets, who become involved in a confrontation that evolves into a full-on gun battle at the gas station that spills over into the city center of Verona Beach.

Both of these opening sequences effectively draw the audience into the play and the movie, as they're intended to do, but whereas it takes several minutes of car chases, gunfights, and hovering police helicopters to establish the background of the story in the movie, Shakespeare does it in the first eleven lines of the prologue.

This is not to say that one way of presenting the information to the audience is better than the other way, only that the differences between the art forms are clearly demonstrated in the comparison of Shakespeare's original play with the Romeo + Juliet movie version.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Despite the 1990s mise-en-scène, Romeo + Juliet is a relatively faithful adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The story and characters themselves are little changed. However, there are two interesting differences in staging that make this adaptation stand out from the original text.

Firstly, the blocking and staging of act 2, scene 2 has been radically altered for the film. This is the famous "balcony scene," perhaps the most iconic moment of the play. Even West Side Story, another contemporary update of Romeo and Juliet, kept the staging basically the same, if on a fire escape instead of a balcony. However, in Romeo + Juliet, when Romeo approaches Juliet's balcony, expecting to see his beloved, the Nurse appears instead. This subverts both Romeo's expectations and the audience's. Instead, the balcony scene plays out in a pool, with Romeo and Juliet delivering their lines while swimming together. This makes the scene more intimate and ties in to the water imagery established in the scene where Romeo and Juliet first see one another through the glass of a fish tank. There, they were separated by the water, but here, it brings them together.

The other big change comes during Romeo and Juliet's suicides. In the play, Romeo never becomes aware that Juliet is alive. He dies before she awakes. In the movie, Juliet awakes right after Romeo has ingested the poison, and he stares at her in both horror and wonder. Such a change potentially makes Romeo's suicide more painful. In the play, the audience knows Romeo is making a mistake, but in the film, he knows it too and is powerless to rectify it.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I am going to assume you are talking about the more recent film produced in 1996.  There are many differences between this film and the play.  One of the most notable differences is the death scene near the end of the play.  In the play, Romeo dies beside Juliet, the priest enters the tomb, and Juliet awakes to find him cold.  She talks with the priest but refuses to leave Romeo's side.  After the priest leaves, she stabs herself with a dagger.  In the movie, Juliet awakes to find Romeo dieing.  He dies in her arms while she looks on in horror.  Romeo saw that Juliet was alive before he died, but it was too late to save his life.  The priest never comes to the tomb in the movie and Juliet is left alone with Romeo in her arms.  She kills herself with his gun and not his dagger.  This is another major difference between the play and movie.  This particular movie attempted to modernize the story.  They used guns with the word dagger or sword etched on the side.  They also substituted several lines scripted for a messenger with a TV new anchor.  For instance, the news anchor told them about the gala at the Capulet's rather than a servant who could not read.  There are many other discrepancies between the play and the movie but these are probably the main two.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial