The Antagonism of Tybalt: Zifferelli's versus Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet

The Antagonism of Tybalt: Zifferelli's versus Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet

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“Fiery” and “saucy” are both endearments that our Prince of Cats garners throughout William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (I.i.107, I.v.82). From these descriptors, it is no surprise that Tybalt is often credited as the primary antagonist in the play. After all, Tybalt, who is prideful and quick to anger, kills Mercutio and through his own death sends the two lovers down the inescapable path of tragedy and mutual destruction. However, it is clear that the character is capable of being treated with more nuance and dimension than such a straightforward interpretation would allow. Through a comparison of Tybalt’s portrayals in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film adaptation to Baz Luhrmann’s take from 1996, the extent of Tybalt’s antagonism proves itself to be remarkably variable.
Zeffirelli’s Tybalt played by Michael York opts for an arguably more sympathetic depiction of Juliet’s cousin. While certainly not without fault, he lacks the more violent and villainous nature of Luhrmann’s portrayed by John Leguizamo. Both are ultimately brought down by pride, but York’s Tybalt acts on an overdeveloped sense of familial honor. Leguizamo’s uses this as an outlet for a more deep-seated loathing. These conclusions will be constructed, principally, via the analysis of three key scenes present in both films. These include Tybalt’s first appearance during the opening brawl, the masquerade, and the duels with Mercutio and Romeo. Outlines of each film’s version of the scene will be accompanied by discussion of the salient differences and similarities with reference to the text where relevant. The argument will culminate with a re-examination of Tybalt’s character and role as antagonist. To alleviate ambiguity, Luhrmann’s will be referred ...

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.... This is supported by his relative forbearance during the masquerade, his more developed relationship with his aunt, the initially playful tone of his duel with Mercutio, and his reaction to wounding Mercutio. Conversely, Tybalt L uses those perceived infractions to excuse his tendency for violence. He more easily fills the role of a traditional antagonist and is punished for it. Zeffirelli’s Prince of Cats, however, can be dubbed as “star-cross’d” as he is fiery and, as all those fitting the description must, suffers accordingly (Prologue.6).

Works Cited
Romeo + Juliet. Dir. Baz Luhrmann. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 1996. Film.
Romeo and Juliet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Paramount Pictures, 1968. Film.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. Brian Gibbons. London: Routledge, 1980. Print. The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare.

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