Team A+ Romeo & Juliet Act 1 Scene1


For our first version of act 1, scene 1, we selected a ‘battle of the bands’ parody sequence which demonstrates in an overdramatized, satirical way, that the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues is based on almost nothing.  The feud between the two bands: one a stereotypical Taylor Swift pop band; the other a rock star heavy metal trio, is rooted in insignificant tension because these two bands would not be in competition for the same fans and have no real reason for their hatred and anger toward each other. This interpretation supports the idea that the actions taken by the Capulets and the Montagues against each other are far too violent and consequential for such trivial reasoning. The play barely speaks as to why the two houses are hostile towards each other in the first place and our purposefully silly battling montage highlights the energy that is wasted by both sides for no real purpose or reward. Our take on the dialogue, although adapted to our theme with a modern musical twist, stays true to Shakespeare’s original framework as it retains the witty pun-filled banter of Sampson and Gregory.

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When brainstorming ideas for our second version of act one, scene one, we drew inspiration from the rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets and how this animosity between the houses reminded us of the rivalry between the Griffindor house and the Slytherin house in the Harry Potter series. The wands used in Harry Potter parallel well to the swords used in the traditional interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. The conflict between Griffindor and Slytherin is one that many of us are familiar with, and adds a more modern twist to Romeo and Juliet. Our Harry Potter version of the scene also contrasts considerably with our Battle of the bands version. While our Rockstar interpretation is satirical, this version is more serious and does not make light of the dangerous conflict between the two parties involved. Our style and camera work also differed from our first version. We filmed it outdoors, making use of longer landscape and tracking shots, in contrast to the fast cuts typical in music videos. The musical score we used was drastically different as well. Whereas the music was overtly a major element in our first version, in our second, it was used more subtly under the action and dialogue to enhance the tension in the scene. We also used music to transition between our two interpretations.

Andra Sutherland: Act 5, Scene 2

Over the past week, I watched Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 full-text version of Hamlet twice; the second time reading along in the text and annotating Crowl’s “Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet: From text to screen”. The following are photos of my screen while watching it and a page of my notes on it.

film diarynotes

A particular passage in Act 5 Scene 2 has always been fascinating to me as it portrays such a drastic change in Hamlet’s demeanor. It is in Hamlet’s conversation with Horatio immediately preceding the dual with Laertes. He talks about there being “special providence in the fall of a sparrow”(l.190), alluding to a line from the bible about divine direction or plan. He continues to say “The readiness is all.”(l.192) and “Let be.”(l.193). In the text I’ve generally interpreted this passage as a change in Hamlet to being finally at peace; having transcended his emotional turmoil into acceptance of his situation. Perhaps he means he is now ready to enact his revenge and face his destiny. He’s ready for anything, including death, and he is not going to needlessly obsess and agonize over it anymore. After philosophizing the meaning of life throughout prior scenes, most notably in the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, maybe he feels he’s reached some sort of spiritual enlightenment and with “Let be.” he’s possibly answering his own famous question.

In Branagh’s film, I found these same lines were delivered in a subtly depressing tone and the passage depicted as Hamlet saying good-bye to Horatio, like he knows he is going to his certain death and is ready to die. Clearly recognizing a trap in the King’s invitation, he seems to resign himself to it. It’s interpreted more as sad than peaceful. As he speaks the last line, a tear runs down his face and Horatio embraces him as if for the last time. The musical score during this speech sounds the same as in the sequence when Hamlet lays dying and when his body is carried out at the end (except without the trumpets), foreshadowing his imminent death.

Annotation Practices: Reading a Play-text vs. Watching Film

Reading the text of a Shakespeare play and watching a film interpretation of it are very different experiences. Accordingly, annotation practices will then differ greatly as well. This post will reflect on my notes accumulated over the last few weeks from both reading play-text and watching film.

The most obvious difference that stands out when comparing my notes is that they focus on different elements. My annotations in the text centre on the structural, semantic and linguistic elements of the passages, whereas my annotations on film, record and examine the visual elements and rhetoric of film.

I always annotate the text in the margins and in between the lines, or anywhere I have room on the page, basically. I will scribble all around it, writing definitions, paraphrasing ideas, marking important elements, etc. I use a highlighter, pen, and pencil to underline, circle, draw arrows and stars, and generally make it completely undecipherable to anyone but myself. A few (of my most legible) examples are included below:

Hamlet 3.1

Hamlet 3.1

hamlet 3.4

hamlet 3.4

henry v 3.1

henry v 3.1

There is a craft to this madness, however, if it serves the purpose of helping me discern meaning in the language and verbal images of the text.

A major element in understanding text is attributing the correct historical definitions to Shakespeare’s words in order to make sense of the meanings. I use the Oxford English Dictionary and the editor’s notes for definitions and explanations on the many historical and cultural allusions in the text.  I annotate brief definitions in the margins as I go.

I read the text generally, broken down into passages and closely focus on word choice, visual metaphors, puns and double meanings. I especially mark repetition of words and changes in rhyming pattern (Such as couplets emerging from blank verse to close scenes or speeches, very prevalent in Hamlet.)

hamlet 2.2

hamlet 2.2

I am more attuned to catching puns when reading the text and annotate them. Shakespeare so often plays on the double meaning of words.  A witty alliterative play on words is used to start Romeo&Juliet Act 1 Scene1:

romeo&juliet 1.1

romeo&juliet 1.1  coals, collers, choler, collar

In contrast, my film notes focus on my observations of the cinematic conventions used. My notes on film comment on the editing style, the camera movements and shots, as well as the director’s creative choices like setting, landscape, casting, costumes, sound, and atmosphere.  In preparing to watch and analyze a film, I’ve made it a habit to split my page into 6 headings to separate the elements of filmmaking: Script, Camera, Editing, Direction, Music, and Acting.  As I watch, I can then keep my random comments organized by jotting details down into the corresponding category. One such example is my notes recorded while watching a scene from Henry V:

notes on film

I find it very productive to cluster my notes in this way, not only to break down the film into its essential elements, but also to focus my attention on each of these components, to ensure I haven’t missed important points. I may watch the same scene four or five times, each time focusing on just one or two individual elements of the six. For example music is one that I particularly like to single out. I watch a given scene, ignoring all other elements to focus on the musical score. Modern cinema audiences are so accustomed to film score that we have been conditioned not to consciously pay attention to it. It’s a convention that’s designed to subconsciously invoke and manipulate emotion in the viewer. Focusing a section of notes on the soundtrack helps to distinguish the interpretive approach of the film.

As well, upon reviewing my film notes, I find far fewer observations relating to the word choice and linguistic elements of the script than in my text annotations. While reading text, I am continually defining and looking up individual words and phrases. However, while watching film, I mostly skip over unknown or unfamiliar words, as the general idea of the dialogue is more obvious from the visual clues. I also try to go once through the entire film following along in the text, to identify what has been changed (ie. lines, speeches, or scenes that have been re-arranged or cut out) in the adapting of the play-script into the screenplay.


The intended outcome of either form of annotation is to better comprehend, make sense of, and analyze the content in its respective medium.

I gauge the success of my text annotation practices by the extent to which I feel comfortable with the text and my handle on the dialogue and action in it. My particular annotation practices have served their purpose well and been worthwhile IF : I have reached a level of understanding and fluency with the text that feels as if I was reading it in modern- day English; I can construct vivid images of the action and characters in my mind as I’m reading; I perceive the plot coherently as a whole and am able to make solid connections between various scenes; and I can move through it with fluency upon re-reading.  In the case of film annotation, its value is determined much the same way. The notes are useful if they provide insight on the film’s interpretive approach on various levels, and evaluate the rich relationship between Shakespeare’s original text and its film version. Annotation will help explore the various layers and elements of the text and/or film, allowing for greater confidence in the making and supporting of arguments.


Andra Sutherland


A Scene Comparison: Romeo + Juliet Act1 Scene1

The scene I have selected for comparison is the opening to Act 1 in Shakespeare`s Romeo & Juliet play, which includes: the Prologue and Act 1 Scene 1 up to line 90 in the text. I will be comparing this scene as depicted in the opening sequences of two film versions : Franco Zeffirelli ‘s  film released in 1968 and set in the Italian Renaissance; and Baz Luhrmann’s contemporary version, released in  1996 and set in the late 20th century,  noting how each director interprets the text differently.

Zeffirelli’s film



Zeffirelli fight scene

fight scene

The Prologue opens the Act in both film versions, as in Shakespeare’s text. In Zeffirelli`s film, it is delivered in voice-over as the camera pans across the foggy, misty landscape of Verona at sunrise. Soft instrumental music plays under the words of the prologue as the camera transports the viewer into the setting of the busy, noisy, bustling town square on market day. The director has chosen a setting and atmosphere close to that illustrated in the text. The dominating colors are reds, browns and yellows as the camera tracks Capulet servants, Sampson and Gregory, as they walk. Here, Zeffirelli has chosen to omit most of the spirited exchange of bawdy puns between the servants in Shakespeare’s dialogue, opting instead, to speed the narrative along to the climax of Scene 1: the outbreak of violence.  Just enough text is retained to establish the plot.  The only lines used, “The quarrel is between our masters and us their men” (l.16), “here come of the house of Montague”(l.27), and “Quarrel, I will back thee”(l.28), serve to emphasize the feud between  Montague and Capulet, and set the scene up for the confrontation to come.  Several extra-textual lines and actions are added, for example: the addition of Sampson spitting on the ground in front of the Montagues immediately after biting his thumb; significant because it makes the gesture even more insulting and conveys more meaning for the modern audience who may not be familiar with the “bite my thumb at them”(l.34) gesture. Another example is the addition of the cheering and shouting out the names “Capulet!” and “Montague!” by the respective sides at the start of the brawl, where the stage direction only states “they fight”.  Most of the fighting is filmed by handheld cameras cutting back and forth. Close-up shots are mixed in, especially focusing on Tybalt. Crane shots then show the fight escalating and the market square turned into a chaotic brawl scene with vegetables flying everywhere, until trumpets signal the entrance of the Prince. The camera shoots him from a very low angle perspective, mounted on his horse, to symbolize his position of authority. Prince Escalus immediately puts an end to the brawl. The length of his speech here, is cut in half, from 24 lines to 12. The trimming of, and changes made to the text in this scene, however, do not alter the general structure of the plot or the setting and atmosphere of the original. The editing style in this scene is mostly subtle and unobtrusive.


Luhrmann’s film



fight scene

fight scene

In Luhrmann’s film, the Prologue takes the form of a newscast where the news anchor serves as the Shakespearean Chorus delivering the introductory content in a format more familiar for a modern audience. The prologue sonnet is then repeated again in voice-over to accompany news footage covering the latest outbreak of violence stemming from the ongoing Montague-Capulet feud. Through a rapid succession of cuts from shot to shot, Luhrmann quickly establishes the landscape, setting and atmosphere.  The camera shows aerial shots panning across a modern city landscape, as the words “IN FAIR VERONA”(l.2) flash on the screen, establishing setting. This extensive media coverage of the violence in the streets, illustrates how the entire city is impacted by the “ancient grudge”(l.3), presenting Verona  as a city divided by chaotic violence. Luhrmann also quickly identities major characters using title cards in freeze frames.  As the sonnet begins, “Two households, both alike in dignity,”(l.1) the camera zooms out from the headline to show the two feuding families pictured on the front page of the newspaper. The ‘two households’ are depicted as two rival corporations. The opposing parties are established, using images like the two skyscapers (shown bearing the name of each respective family) overshadowing the city, juxtaposed with lines from the Prologue displayed as headlines from newspapers and  various media.  These opening shots, with their graphic images of the feud-ravaged city, set the stage for the subsequent action of the film. This sequence also introduces the film’s recurring focus on religious imagery such as the Jesus statue and other religious icons. It moves along at a relentless pace in a flurry of cuts, with most shots lasting less than a second; this aims to create tension and anticipation.

Lurhmann makes creative choices that directly interpret the text;  for instance,  the setting of the ‘Phoenix gas station’, which moves the original setting of the busy, open public space of the town square in Verona, into a modern-day North American city gas station.  As well, the swords are replaced by handguns made by the manufacturer “Sword” . When Benvolio asks all to lower their weapons, the word ‘swords’ is not exchanged for ‘guns’.( l.51)  Original text wording is largely retained. While so much of the action is modified for the sake of being understandable to modern audiences, he also interestingly chooses to retain the Shakespearian gesture of the biting of the thumb, meant to insult and provoke the Capulets (as opposed to translating it into a modern gesture like say, flipping the middle finger) .

Notable deviations from the text are also made here. The audience is first introduced to the Montagues, in contrast to the text where the Capulets are introduced first. Sampson`s original line “a dog of the house of Montague moves me”(l.7) is given to a Montague, as the first line of dialogue heard. It is shouted at the camera from the back of a speeding convertible. Apparently, the characters of Sampson and Gregory are transferred to the Montague side by the director. This would only be noticed by audience members quite familiar with the text, probably not by the film`s target audience, so it is easily overlooked. The ‘street brawl’ is depicted as a chaotic shootout scene that comes across as a crazy mix of a Western movie with a goofy cartoon. It borrows from Westerns in style, with its extreme close ups of Tybalt and Benvolio (revealing close details of their facial expressions, particularly their eyes). The film score attempts to build up suspense as they draw their weapons.  The goofy sound effects, and lines of the text being bizarrely screamed out by the characters, make it hard to take this scene seriously. The camera shots are dizzying. The frenzied pace of the editing, the sign spinning around, guns twirling, bullets ricocheting, point-of -view shots, reverse shots,  fast forward movement followed by the slow motion shot (of a match dropping to ground, igniting a fire), create chaos. The character of Prince Escalus is replaced with a modern-day police chief. The scene ends in his private office, as opposed to the public space where the fight scene took place, reflecting more modern norms.

Clearly, Zeffirelli’s film adaptation is the more conservative, and Luhrmann’s, the more radical, ultra-modernized of the two. Both retain the function of the Shakespearean Chorus of providing commentary on events about to unfold, both set this scene in an open, busy public area (much like Shakespeare`s text indicates) and both contain the original Shakespearean language with trimming and re-arranging of parts of the text, but beyond that, the styles are drastically different. There is great contrast in context, atmosphere and mood. Zefferelli sets his film in the Italian Renaissance period where the story originated. Luhrmann chooses a modern city as the setting for his film to present an urban environment familiar to a 1990s cinema audience. Luhrmann’s scene is a fast-paced, rougher cut style than Zeffirelli’s. The editing styles differ almost as much as the setting.



the films:

Romeo and Juliet, Franco Zeffirelli (1968)

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, Baz Luhrmann(1996)­­      _romeo-juliet_opening_shortfilms

Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare. Editor Daniel Fischlin Oxford University Press, 2013