Shakespeare's Timeless Love Story Retold In Film

1264 words - 6 pages

“He was not of an age, but for all time!”, described Ben Jonson in regards to Shakespeare (qtd. in Chrisp 62). As research proves, there is no doubt to the truth of this statement. Adding to Jonson’s words in regards to Shakespeare’s timelessness Peter Chrisp explains that “there have been more than 500 film and TV adaptations of Shakespeare’s dramas” (Chrisp 65; Mabillard). Furthermore, in the introduction to Gnomeo and Juliet, a Red Good Gnome says, “The story we are about to tell has been told before… a lot” (Asbury, “Gnomeo & Juliet”). While likely meant as simply another comedic line in film, there is significant truth to that statement. Regarding this, within the theater and film industries Romeo and Juliet is very recognizable. As a timeless love story for generation after generation, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has been retold several times in film from how it was originally performed, to the films where it was directly adapted, and films where it has been artistically adapted.
As the production that inspired many films, Shakespeare’s original Romeo and Juliet was a tragedy written to be performed (Chrisp 62). Shakespeare’s love story was one of his earliest tragedies with quite the history. Romeo and Juliet is broadly agreed to have first appeared around 1595 (Chrisp 65). From the beginning, it was truly a love story written for the stage. As a play, one of the most important aspects of the story was it’s performance. Shakespeare’s story, “historically set in the 14th century Verona”, was far away from his own home (Johnson). Another fun fact is that during the late 1500s women were played by men, and Romeo and Juliet was no exception (Chrisp 42). Given the evidence, however, it was not the performance that made Romeo and Juliet timeless, but rather it was the tragic storyline. Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies (Chrisp 50). The play’s plotline follows two star-crossed lovers who despite their families feud find themselves so lovestruck they would rather kill themselves than live without each other (Rosenthal 119). Consequently Shakespeare’s early love story written to be performed with it’s tragic plot line makes Romeo and Juliet just the production to inspire the many films brought with the 20th century (see Figure 1).
Some of the most dramatic films inspired by Romeo and Juliet directly used Shakespeare’s sonnets in the films. First of all 1936 brought MGM’s black-and-white Romeo and Juliet produced by Irving G. Thalberg. On the good side, the film was unbelievably luxurious and authentic, spending close to the equivalent of $80 million dollars (Rosenthal 122). Sadly the young lovers could not be accurately portrayed by the well-aged actors of 35 and 43 years (Rosenthal 122). As the 19th century continued, Franco Zeffirelli directed his highly successful 1968 Romeo and Juliet in full color (Zeffirelli, “Romeo and Juliet”). Contradicting the 1938 rendition, “he chose actors almost as young as their...

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