Shakespeare uses the prologue to provide a background and a setting for the play. It was common in Shakespearean times to use the prologue to offer the audience a chance to settle down and get ready for the play. The prologue is a typical Shakespearean sonnet, split into three quatrains and ending with a rhyming couplet. The sonnet tells the audience of the “ancient grudge” (prologue.3) existing between two families set “In fair Verona” (prologue.2). From the very start, audience members learn of Romeo and Juliet’s fate, through the line, “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life,” (prologue.6) capturing their attention, and giving the audience an expectation. Stars were commonly perceived to control people’s destinies, and in turn brought forth the theme of fate. The final rhyming couplet in the sonnet acts as a queue for audience members to prepare themselves, and “with patient ears attend” (prologue.13) signalling the start of the play.
Luhrmann maintains the use of the prologue, but does so in a manner that suits a modern audience, though cinematic techniques. The sonnet is repeated two times, the first in an ordinary news report, and the second time with greater emphasis through camera shots and music. The first reading plays a similar purpose to Shakespeare’s; settling the audience down. The second time the visuals play a major role, with fast switching and cutting to produce energy, which gives a modern audience a sense of excitement. This repetition gives audience members a second chance to understand what is being said. Luhrmann’s use of orchestral music also builds tension and adds to the energy of the scene, arousing interest in the audience. The audience is shown that the movie is set in ‘Verona Beach’, with the statue of Jesus serving as the central axis of the city. Visuals like this, such as the camera shot showing two grand buildings with the names ‘Montague’ and ‘Capulet’ help modernise the language as well as the setting. With these visuals and imagery, the language becomes insignificant and audience members can immediately understand what is happening. Where Shakespeare would have a single actor read out a sonnet, Luhrmann is able to use these cinematic techniques, adding emphasise on key lines capturing the audience’s attention, and alerting them to the fact that it is much more than just a lot of words.
Shakespeare’s Act 1 Scene 1 provides further background on the two families, and helps develop the characters of the play. The Capulets are depicted as the mischievous type, when they ‘bite their thumb’ at the Montagues, which is seen as an insulting. This sparks a swordfight between Sampson and Abram, until Benvolio arrives to put the fight to a halt. These actions represent the foolishness of the Capulet/Montague feud, which audience members are left without knowledge as to what caused this rivalry. Tybalt is represented as an aggressor when he reignites the fight, after challenging Benvolio, and stating his hatred for Montagues and peace. This gave the audience an action packed fighting scene, capturing the attention of the audience, and allowing even the underprivileged ‘groundlings’ of the time to enjoy the scene, without having to know too much about the language. It also provided a break from the sophisticated nature of the play.
Similar to the prologue, the petrol station scene was also modified with cinematic techniques to suit a contemporary