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Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespere, read as part of English 9

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Is Romeo and Juliet still relevant today? I say no.

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Since Romeo and Juliet was written four-hundred years ago by William Shakespeare in what was a very different world, it is no longer relevant, entertaining, or stimulating to today’s modern, mainstream audiences. First, people have changed in four-hundred years. They no longer have time to sit through long scenes that are full of words. Ordinary people want to see and not hear. They do not want to process all of the clues that William Shakespeare included in his language. Second, Shakespeare can’t get to the point easily enough to satisfy modern, mainstream audiences. These people have jobs to think about and are very busy and involved in many things. They only go to the theater for entertainment – a break from their busy world. Shakespeare includes long monologues that force people to think deeply about its meaning. Thirdly, the situations encountered in the play would be either very rare or non existent today. Friar Lawrence could have easily reached Romeo in Mantua with a cell phone or by sending an e-mail. Some films have even tried to adapt Romeo and Juliet to modern day, but these remove most of the original language and add a modern soundtrack. Thus, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is no longer relevant or entertaining to today’s modern, mainstream audiences, when it is presented in its original form.

In the twenty-first century, most people are interested in seeing, not hearing. They are too busy rushing around in their daily lives to fully understand a Shakespearean play. People are much more interested in having everything laid out in front of them. They want to see elaborate sets and costumes. During the intermission, a typical affluent audience member is busy typing away on his or her Blackberries or calling the babysitter, they are not thinking about the play. This is what Shakespeare originally intended to happen. The working and middle class has too much on going on in their lives. Shakespeare did not know about the pressure people face today. In addition, today’s generation has been raised watching MTV. This is very stimulating as the camera switches positions every few seconds. This is done to keep our generation interested, however, its byproduct is that we developed short attention spans. We are unable to pay attention for a long time as required in Shakespearean scene.

Romeo and Juliet doesn’t get to the point. Shakespeare includes mostly auditory clues to make up for his lack of set. As was said in the Standard Deviants video, almost all of the clues about the characters come from the words that are said about them. For instance, the Nurse, her speech includes malapropisms. For example she says, "If you be here, sir, I desire some confidence with you" (II.iv.111). She means, however, to say conference. While an actor is racing through his or her lines, most people won’t notice that this malapropism was included on purpose to show the Nurse’s lack of education, but will to seem educated. In both movies adaptations of the play, some of her dialogue has been removed. This has been done to keep the attention of a modern audience. They don’t want to listen to her rant. In the Queen Mab monologue, Mercutio talks about dreams. This is pretty easy to figure out, he even says it. "True I talk of dreams" (I.iv.102). However, some scholars believe that the monologue has a much deeper meaning, revealing much about Mercutio’s personal life. On the surface, it seems to have nothing to do with it. However you could, if you had the time, think much more into this speech. Modern, mainstream audiences don’t have the time nor wish to do this in-depth analysis. Even if they were able to think about the monologue, they would be limited by the many words in the play that we no longer use. Shakespeare uses words in archaic ways. He sometimes uses out-dated definitions of words and rearranges the sentence structure. You can not focus on extracting the meaning while the actors are racing through their lines or if you have too many things on your mind.

The situations found in Romeo and Juliet could no longer happen or are very unlikely to happen today. Friar Lawrence could have sent an e-mail or called Romeo instead of sending him a letter. A modern-day adaptation tries to say that Romeo was not home to sign for this letter. However, this is not an excuse for Friar Lawrence not to telephone Romeo in addition to writing him. This way, Romeo would then have been able to reply instantaneously saying that he got the message. This mix up with the letter is very unlikely to happen today. Also, in today’s faster paced life, arranged marriages are very rare. Children have many more rights and say in their lives today, then in the past. Children’s wills are much more respected in today’s generations then during Shakespearean times. Also, children aren’t married off with four days notice when they are only twelve, which is almost like what Capulet forces Juliet to do. He even calls her a "disobedient wretch!" when she refuses to obey (III.v.165). These examples show that today’s world is different, both culturally and with technology helping out. There is no way that all of the play’s situations are relevant today.

However, some directors have tried to make Romeo and Juliet relevant to today. One such movie adaptation is William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) directed by Baz Luhrmann. However, the movie makes many changes from the original play. First of all, it is a movie. This allows the director to change camera angles and have lavish sets. It also allows the director to switch back and forth between scenes rapidly. The dialogue is also greatly reduced to fit the movie. Also, it has a soundtrack of modern music with modern lyrics to make it more interesting. Also, some scenes and situations have been changed or have been dropped to cater towards modern audiences. For instance, in this movie adaptation, the Prince’s warning to the feuding families is cut short. So, as you can see, the movie takes many liberties in adapting Romeo and Juliet to modern day. The audience watching the original play being performed live does not have this luxury.

However, some Shakespeare nuts would argue that the story and its themes may still be relevant today. This might be true, but you must first extract these themes from the complicated dialogue. These Shakespeare nuts and scholars may be interested in doing this, but for mainstream audiences feeling the pressure, this is not an option.

The way Romeo and Juliet was originally presented is incompatible with today’s modern day audiences. Theater-goes want to see colorful set and not hear long monologues. They want to easily find the point and main idea of the story. They don’t have time to search for its themes. The play’s situations can not happen today, or are easily avoidable. For these reasons, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is no longer relevant, entertaining, or stimulating to today’s modern, mainstream audiences.