Shakespeare’s time was an age of great change, as the old ways were being questioned, and more than any other Renaissance figure, Shakespeare exposed an ability to use the past and shape it for his own dramatic needs. As a result of this, his ideas and storyline in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ were being questioned. The earliest registered critic of the play was diarist Samuel Pepys who, in 1662 wrote: “it is a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life”. Ten years later, the poet John Dryden wrote “Shakespeare show’d the best of his skill in his Mercutio”, praising the play and its comic character Mercutio. In the mid-18th century, writer Charles Gildon and philosopher Lord Kames argued that the play was a failure in that it did not follow the classical conventions of drama. However, writer and critic Samuel Johnson thought it to be one of Shakespeare’s “most pleasing” plays. It is evident that “Romeo and Juliet” has received mixed reactions, but also gained value by responders as the context has changed over the years.
In ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Shakespeare applied two specific aspects of life in Renaissance Italy to create the complication of his play. The first was the history of bloody interfamily disagreements that degraded Italian cities during the Renaissance era, and the second was the fashionable approach to love, based on the poetry of Petrarch (1304-1374, an Italian poet who wrote about love). However, Shakespeare does not simply adopt and recount history; instead he modified the civil wars of the period into a minor war; a family feud that takes place in a stable state. Also, he contrasted the fiction act of the Petrarchan lover with the experience of a young man who is truly in love (Romeo). Baz Luhrmann approaches his new version of ‘Romeo+Juliet’ with the same intent. He entertains contemporary viewers by using modern ideas to convey the values embodied in the play and the impossible love, hate and sorrow that are the essence of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Introducing these same ideas in a different context has proven the value of Shakespeares’ storyline and the importance of the morals associated with it.
An aspect of Shakespeare’s play and Luhrmann’s film that varies is the setting. The play is set in the 16th century in Verona, whilst Baz Luhrmann’s film takes place on Verona Beach, 20th century times, resembling Los Angeles. The setting of the film is a striking contrast to the Elizabethan England of William Shakespeare; hence the attitudes expressed in the film vary from those conveyed in the play. This also contributes in articulating the contemporary attitude to religion, violence, duty, etc and how it has significantly changed from those of 16th century England.
A major feature that Luhrmann has maintained in his film is the original...