Comparing Shakespeare's Play to Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet

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SWBAT analyze the representation of a subject in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment by viewing Zeffirelli's film and comparing it to the play.

Big Idea

Viewing a movie as a text is entertaining and educational.

Getting Started

5 minutes

Today we are going to watch the beginning of Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, specifically the opening scene through the party scene, which is approximately 40 minutes. In the first few minutes of class, I will explain today's protocol: that we will watch the film, while completing this worksheet, and then we will discuss our reactions and reviews for the remainder of class.

Watching Act 1

45 minutes

Here I explain my methods.


I love showing this version of the play because it provides context. We just read all of Act 1, so students are familiar with the lines and plot, but it still can be difficult to picture the characters and the setting. This film gives a great sense of time and place, which will be especially important in Act 2 when Romeo climbs the high wall surrounding the Capulet garden. Additionally, the party scene showcases, not only the first interaction between Romeo and Juliet, but the societal and familial interactions and expectations. The traditional dances, which are structured and learned, parallel the structured nature of society and its rules. But Zeffirelli makes definite changes, such as cutting out much of the Nurse's speech. What he emphasizes and cuts ultimately impact our "reading" of the text. We will discuss all of these decisions and their impact (RL.9-10.7).


It is also really important for students to hear Shakespeare's lines as they are meant to be said. Shakespeare wrote the play to be heard, not seen. This movie showcases the language in context with the setting and helps students understand Shakespeare's vision. Next class, we will watch the Luhrmann version, which is meant to be seen. We are not simply watching the movies, we are analyzing them, especially the difference between sight and sound. Each director switches the order of certain scenes or cuts them in order to achieve a purpose, which we will discuss more once we have seen both versions (RL.9-10.5). They are texts unto themselves, arguing specific and distinct elements of the original play. 

Debriefing the Movie

10 minutes

After the movie, I will ask students their initial impressions: did you like it? What specifically did you like or dislike? We will discuss their reactions (SL.9-10.1).


Then we will discuss the first box on the worksheet, which should help them read the movie as a text (RL.9-10.1):


  • "Italian"
  • High stone walls


  • Fight scene: bright marketplace
  • Party scene: dark backgrounds, torches light specific areas

Costumes and Props:

  • The Montagues wear blues and blacks; The Capulets wear yellows and bright colors
  • The costume party is upscale and expensive


  • The marketplace and the party are crowded; many more people on stage than just the main characters. 
  • The Queen Mab speech begins lighthearted, but as Mercutio progresses, he separates himself from his friends and the lights fade.


Here is an example of their work.