LIT 380: Shakespeare in Film

Rome + Juliet: Symbolism

With only about half of Shakespeare’s text from the play, Luhrmann uses film media as a way of visually expressing Romeo and Juliet’s story, creating multiple layers of meaning. The most obvious and frequent symbols are the hints towards Catholicism. Romeo + Juliet is overflowing with Catholicism with the Capulet house as the best. Everything from a cross on the gate (shown in the scene where the Montague boys are leaving the party) to Juliet’s room literally having two shrines to Mary. The references are never in the speech, but rather visually shown through cinematic techniques. For example: during the scene where Juliet drinks the sleeping potion, the mother shuts off the lights and the shrines to Mary are highlighted with candles.

In some instances, the director turns the religious undertone into another character in the story. In a few scenes, he purposely includes them in the mise-en-scene, perfectly framing them as if they were their own actor. For example, in the scene where the nurse tells Juliet that Romeo will marry her, the shot includes the Nurse, Juliet, and a subliminal religious statue in the background. Also, in a later scene (when the Nurse visits Romeo after she hears the news of Tyblat’s death), the camera starts with an establishing shot of Romeo, the Nurse, the Priest, and a picture of Jesus. It is as if there are four characters in this shot instead of three actors. Despite all of these references to Catholicism, the director always seemed to always revert back to one focal point: Throughout the film, Luhrmann’s most frequent used symbol was the statue of Jesus that resembled the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro.


Categorised as: Romeo and Juliet


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