REVIEW
Jorgens, Jack. "Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet"
Shakespeare on Film. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1977. 79-91. Rptd. in Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays. Ed. John F. Andrews. New York: Garland, 1993. 163-176.

Thesis: Jorgens' review of Zeffirelli's film of Romeo and Juliet is thorough and balanced. He gives credit where credit is due, but concludes that the film doesn't do justice to the play:

However, one may like the film for all its action, emotional power, and sense of theme and structure and still be aware that this Romeo and Juliet, transforming tragedy into a story of sentiment and pathos, is a less mature work than Shakespeare's. It is not merely that the hero and heroine do not ripen in understanding. It is that their deaths are conceived too simply. The sorrow, the sense of loss, the sexual overtones of "death" are present at the end, but the insight and defiant anger are missing. Neither Romeo nor Juliet senses the larger pattern. They never see what a corrupt and flawed world it is that they are leaving, never give any indication that they know how they contributed to their own downfall, and never understand that love of such intensity not only cannot last but is self-destructive. Sorrow at losing each other is not coming to terms with life or death. The clear-sighted calm and sense of inevitability with which Shakespeare's tragic hero and heroine greet their end have disappeared.      (175)

Worth Noting: As a prelude to his review, Jorgens provides a pithy summary of his view of the effect of the play as a whole:

     Certainly Shakespeare trusted the tale and not the teller. One of his most popular plays, written when he was about thirty and also at work on A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet is an exuberant celebration of young love -- its excitement, passion, and lyricism. Despite the ominous Prologue, which foretells the sacrifice of the young to "bury their parents' strife," critics often note that this love story has many of the characteristics of Shakespeare's romantic comedies: the fool Mercutio, the bawdy, funny Nurse, the stereotypical villain Tybalt, the blocking of the loves of the young by the values and laws of the old, ornamented verse, domestic detail, and even the motif of dreaming. Only with the death of Mercutio does the story become a tragedy of Fate and begin its breathless race toward the tomb.
     What Romeo and Juliet lack in depth of character they make up in energy, beautiful innocence, and spontaneity. If the arc of their rise and fall seems unusually intense and brilliant, it is because it is set against a rich, dark background. Love clashes with hate, the ideal with the real. Romeo and Juliet's romance avoids sentimentality because it must pass through the fires of the Nurse's jokes and meandering, trivial, pragmatic mind, Mercutio's bawdy wit, the demands of duty and honor, the ugly rigidities of the old, and the feud, which though bound up with Fate seems to have a life of its own. Shakespeare's pattern seems true because it is never a simple one. If the parents want to live their lives over again through their children, they also have great affection and hope for them. Blended with the impulses of the young toward rebellion are hot tempers and the need to prove their maturity, which keep the feud alive when the old are ready to let it die. Analogous to the literal tragedy that the young and innocent are sometimes cruelly cut off in life is the figurative one that youth, innocence, spontaneity, passion die as we grow older -- they are sacrificed to meaningless conflicts, adult responsibilities, and accommodating oneself to a fallen world.   (161-164)
Bottom Line: Very good.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 2 April 2002