Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2011

Document Type

Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Richelle Munkhoff

Abstract

Modern pop culture mediums such as songs, books, and films teem with references to William Shakespeare‟s Romeo and Juliet as an iconic representation of true heterosexual love. This thesis aims to delve more deeply into the issues of love and sexuality in the play and explore its subtle underlying themes of homoeroticism and problematic heterosexuality through an analysis of the two major film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet from the latter twentieth-century: Franco Zeffirelli‟s 1968 Romeo and Juliet and Baz Luhrmann‟s 1996 William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. Love and sexuality in these films will be explored by first analyzing the inherent problem posed by the presence of Rosaline, who calls into question the legitimacy of the idea of true love with regards to Romeo‟s feelings for Juliet. The next situation that complicates love and sexuality is Juliet‟s extreme youth; Shakespeare significantly and deliberately lowers her age from the source texts to just shy of fourteen years. After establishing the problems that Rosaline‟s character and Juliet‟s youth pose to a reading of Romeo and Juliet as a story of true heterosexual love, the focus shifts to the homoeroticism evidenced in the relationship between Luhrmann‟s Mercutio and Romeo. I argue that Luhrmann transforms the play‟s subtle evidence of homoeroticism into a blatant and crucial type of love between Mercutio and Romeo that is in competition with compulsory heterosexuality. By using Zeffirelli‟s film to compare and contrast critical scenes of the play, one can come to the understanding that Luhrmann creates a world of blurred sexual desires and gender roles that challenge views of Romeo and Juliet as emblematic of heterosexual love alone.

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