Romeo and Juliet (Film 1968)

Romeo and Juliet (Film 1968) Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Explore the relationship between Juliet and the Nurse. How does their dynamic function at the start of the film? What about at the end?

    Lady Capulet is established as a distant mother unable to properly parent, so where she falls short, the Nurse takes over. The Nurse is both a true mother and a friend to Juliet, albeit an immature one at times. When Juliet falls for Romeo, the Nurse is quick to act as her messenger for the two, a demonstration of the trust she and Juliet share. She is both a caretaker and a confidant for the girl.

    However, we notice an important shift in their relationship once Lord Capulet chastises Juliet for not wanting to marry Paris. Where the Nurse has previously been complicit in Juliet’s deception, seeking out Romeo, covering for Juliet's absences, and generally being a reliable partner in crime, her decision to implore Juliet to reconsider Paris' proposal, on which she then doubles down by claiming that Romeo isn’t all that Juliet thinks him to be, is an abhorrent betrayal in Juliet's eyes. From that moment forward, the Nurse becomes as much an enemy to Juliet as anyone. This, of course, marks a turning point in the story, for had the Nurse remained on good terms with Juliet, she may have been let in on the plan to fake her death, and subsequently been able to help ensure that it didn’t go awry. Instead, she’s left in the dark and treated like just another member of the family.

  2. 2

    Describe the role that voices of reason play in a story so full of passion and impulsivity. Who are these voices? How do they serve the story?

    Friar Lawrence is the most notable example of level-headedness in the face of Romeo's overflowing love for Juliet. When Romeo first comes to him to tell him about her, the Friar immediate reprimands him for jumping from Rosaline to Juliet so quickly, and when Romeo reminds him that the Friar advised him to "bury" his love for Rosaline, the Friar replies, "Not in a grave, to lay one in, another out to have," meaning that he didn't want Romeo to get rid of one love and replace it with another. The Friar then continues to serve as a voice of reason throughout the story, as when he advises Romeo to love Juliet in moderation lest their love die too soon, and later still when he has to remind Romeo of the reasons he has to be thankful and to stay alive. His more reasonable rebuttals to Romeo's professions of grandeur remind the audience that Romeo is every bit as impulsive as he comes across as being.

    Benvolio is another example of a voice of reason, particularly in the context of the fighting families. When the first brawl breaks out at the beginning of the film, Benvolio draws his sword to try to get everyone to stop, though he is baited into fighting by Tybalt. Later, when he and Mercutio are walking about in the hot sun, he advises that they seek shelter lest the heat make them want to fight the Capulets. He, at the very least, demonstrates a measure of restraint, in contrast to Mercutio's unfettered desire to taunt the Capulets. Still, Benvolio tends to end up as wrapped up in the violence as anyone else (in contrast to the Friar, who exists outside the feud entirely), an acknowledgement that reason isn't enough to quell the families' enmity.

  3. 3

    Describe the scene in which Mercutio dies. What is the great irony of his friends' laughter as he pleads for help?

    Mercutio's death is one of the most tragic scenes in the film. From his first appearance, Mercutio has established himself as the jester among his friends, going out of his way to amuse and entertain them. When he’s struck by Tybalt’s sword, his initial reaction is therefore to pretend that it's just "a scratch." However, this quickly proves impossible as he feels the severe pain the wound is causing him. His next step is then to plead desperately for help, but most of his peers think he’s joking, as his previous antics are now working against his credibility. Only Romeo, whom Mercutio says shouldn't have gotten in the way of the fight, and Benvolio, always the realist, seem to grasp that something is seriously wrong with him. Right up until his death, even after cursing the Montagues and Capulets and falling down the stairs, the other boys still think he’s putting them on, until Romeo reveals the bloody wound he was covering with his hand. This is a dark, twisted moment, as Mercutio’s comical, immature disposition is ultimately his undoing—anyone else who so dramatically cried out for a doctor likely would have been taken seriously, but Mercutio’s reputation as a witty fool discredits him, and so he dies to the tune of his friends’ laughter.

  4. 4

    The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues has a toxic tendency to corrupt those involved. Explore some examples of this, citing specific characters.

    Truly, there is no one in Romeo and Juliet who remains unscathed by the families' rivalry and without sin by the end of the film. The Nurse, who consistently has Juliet's best interests at heart, unintentionally enables her risky decision-making by acting as messenger between her and Romeo, and then ultimately drives Juliet to desperation by refusing to endorse their love. Despite the best of intentions, she plays a key part in Juliet's death. Benvolio, another character viewing much of the chaos from the outside looking in, tries in vain on several occasions to get the families to stop their brawling, but is consistently unsuccessful and often ends up in the fray as completely as anyone else. Finally, the ultimate instance of the feud's corruptive power comes via Romeo's rage upon seeing that Tybalt fatally wounded Mercutio. Where mere minutes before he was calm and happy, pleading for peace, he now becomes inconsolably angry and seeks revenge, turning him to a murderer of Juliet's kin and an exile from his own home. He, who had every reason to denounce the feud and actively wished for it to end, becomes among its most implicated offenders.

  5. 5

    Explain the meaning and connotations of Juliet's famous proclamation, “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet." How does this relate to her love for Romeo? How about the feud more broadly?

    This famous line is, in essence, acknowledging that the names of things hold no bearing over the nature of those things: a rose would still be a sweet-smelling flower even if it were not called a "rose" (or called a "flower," for that matter). By the same logic, Juliet is saying that Romeo would still be Romeo even if he were to give up the name that ties him to his relatives, and so she wishes for him to do so—or if he won't, she will—so that they may be together without their love compromising the honor of their feuding families. More broadly, this idea suggests the triviality of the feud, as the names "Capulet" and "Montague" alone seem to be the most important elements fueling it. After all, those involved in the feud do not antagonize one another on the basis of who they are as individuals, but the name with which they're associated, which then gets forgotten by the time the attacked retaliate in self-defense and an all-out conflict is instigated. Were those involved to give up their names and choose new ones (or none at all), there would be no cause to fight in the first place, because there would no longer be "Capulets" or "Montagues" to arbitrarily hate.