Romeo and Juliet Adaptation in 1936

I started this past weekend reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and I’m like almost done with it. I can remember vividly getting my first copy of the play, when I was about 14 (that was 16 years ago this month), getting home taking it out of my backpack and reading the full play from start to finish in one sitting and feeling pretty awesome about it. Granted, at the time I didn’t know that during the class that we would be reading and studying the play and West Side Story for a full semester which was like for four months. Let me tell you that there is nothing quite like that and I would never do that again.

This week I thought that it would be fun to look at Romeo and Juliet in context of the play and not only what we can learn from the play but also the many variations/adaptations of the play.

Granted there is nothing light about the tragedy that is Romeo and Juliet but some of the adaptations that came out over the years can be kind of funny to look at. The first adaptation that was sort of a sinking ship in my book of adaptations was the one that was one by MGM in 1936.

This adaptation started Norma Shearer as Juliet and Leslie Howard as Romeo. The first failing with this adaptation is the ages of the stars versus the ages of the characters. In the play Juliet is about 13-14 years old Norma Shearer at the time was about 34 years old and as for Romeo, he was about 40, so the stars were not young by any means. The second fall out with this adaptation was that at the time MGM was doing the big production movies that you see with The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. The biggest production scene out of Romeo and Juliet is the party scene.

Yes, the costumes were fabulous and the music was grand for the time, however, when you’re actors are old enough not be starry-eyed school girls it just doesn’t work. Sorry, it just doesn’t. Furthermore, because of this production, it was the only film in Norma Shearer’s film career that took a big loss. I will give this for the 1936 adaptation and that is it is the only one to have Juliet’s only speech where she takes out the vile of and the dagger after she meets with Friar Lawrence [Act 4, scene 3], and that is about it.

Tomorrow, we will talk about one of my favorite adaptations of Romeo and Juliet.

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