Gnomeo and Juliet Compared to Romeo and Juliet: Modern Adaptations

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Shakespeare’s Legacy and Impact

According to David Scott Kastan, ‘William Shakespeare is the best-known author in the English-speaking world. His work has also been translated into more than one hundred languages, and in virtually every country on Earth, copies of his plays can be found. Shakespeare’s use of language enabled him to write stories and develop characters still remembered today. People have used Shakespeare’s style since the very first play he wrote. Moreover, the themes of Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, remain relevant to contemporary audiences.

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The Bard’s Life and Achievements

William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon Warwickshire, England, to John and Mary Arden Shakespeare. Holy Trinity Church recorded his baptism as April 26, 1564. Born the third of eight children, he was the first child to survive infancy. Shakespeare attended King’s New School grammar school from age six to fourteen. While at school, he studied Latin, grammar, and reading (Branam). At age eighteen, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a prosperous farmer. Together, they were the parents of three children, a daughter named Susanne and twins Hamnett and Judith. 

Shakespeare was an actor, playwright, and part owner of the acting company he wrote plays for, the King’s Men and its theater, the Globe. His first literary success came from his two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis in 1593 and The Rape of Lucrece in 1594. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, 38 plays, and two narrative poems. After his death, his friends John Heminges and Henry Condell published the First Folio, the first extensive collection of Shakespeare’s literary works. With this publication’s release in 1623, ‘Shakespeare truly entered English history as a literary figure–his reputation and artistic achievement were secure.’

Shakespeare wrote during the English Renaissance and, more specifically, during the Elizabethan and Jacobean literary periods. The Renaissance began in the fourteenth century and ended in the seventeenth century. It was a time of ‘rebirth’ or ‘revival in the classical cultures of Greece and Rome.’ This renewed focus on ancient societies impacted the ‘social, political, and intellectual’ framework of many European countries, including England, Shakespeare’s home. The Roman Empire and Roman Catholic Church began to lose their power as individual countries created their monarchies, city-states, and languages. During the English Renaissance, England experienced unprecedented growth, stability, and peace. However, it also suffered immensely from the continuous outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague.

According to literary scholars, the Elizabethan literary period was ‘unquestionably a golden age for drama. Some forms of literature published during this time were ‘historical chronicles, pamphlets, and literary criticism.’ Elizabethan literature usually contained literary elements such as ‘the poetry of the sonnet, the Spenserian stanza, and blank verse.’ Shakespeare read ancient texts and heavily borrowed from them for his writings. One classical idea Shakespeare included in Romeo and Juliet is humanism, focusing on ‘what causes human suffering and what works to establish social order.’ Darkness appeared in literature, especially in Shakespeare’s tragic plays, due to a focus on evil’s impact on people. The tragic plays of Shakespeare center around one person with ‘fatal flaws, such as greed or pride,’ and these defects cause ‘their downfall and their death.’ Shakespeare combined historical events about ‘real rulers and their battles’ with fictional characters and events in writing his history plays. Shakespeare’s ‘romances or tragicomedies’ combine ‘humor and tragedy’ and also ‘sad scenes, magic moments, and mostly happy endings.’ Indoor theater became extremely popular during the Renaissance. Shakespeare’s play company was instrumental in adding trap doors, fireworks, supernatural elements, and other props to the performance of plays.

Romeo and Juliet: An Eternal Tale of Love and Tragedy

Widely ‘considered one of the greatest love stories of all time,’ most literary scholars believe Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet between 1591 and 1595. The basis for Romeo and Juliet was a narrative poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, written by English poet Arthur Brooke. Shakespeare changed Brooke’s poem to ‘make the action of the play more urgent and intense.’ Romeo and Juliet ‘belong to one of the most dependably heartrending genres in all of world literature: Liebestod, or love death. Shakespeare’s language throughout the play gives the reader a sense of doom. He also has Romeo and Juliet speak in sonnet form so their love is apparent to the audience. Unlike his other tragedies, Romeo and Juliet do not have one central flawed character. Romeo and Juliet are two simple teenagers experiencing young love. Rather than use one ‘twist of fate’ event as the cause of the play’s tragedy, Shakespeare ties the character traits and personal agendas to the tragic suicides of Romeo and Juliet.

The main characters in the play, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, are two simple teenagers who fall in love. Due to the long-standing feud between their families, the young couple secretly marries. Romeo kills Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, and the Prince of Verona banishes Romeo to Mantua. To avoid marriage to Paris, Juliet takes a sleeping potion. Thinking Juliet is dead, Romeo secretly visits her tomb, finds Paris, and kills him. He then kills himself by drinking the poison. Juliet, not dead, awakes from her sleep, sees her Romeo dead, and fatally stabs herself. The deaths of Romeo and Juliet end the feud between the Montague and Capulet families.

The themes in Romeo and Juliet are ‘timeless,’ and because of this, every generation relates to the story of Romeo and Juliet. One of the ageless themes is ‘the power and passion of love and hate.’ Shakespeare reveals the hate in the play’s opening prologue. ‘From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, / Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.’ The hate between the families affects even their servants, who argue in the play’s first scene. Tybalt, the ‘most hateful’ and ‘hot-tempered’ Capulet family member, exhibits the power of hate when he kills Mercutio, Romeo’s closest friend. Romeo’s powerful love for Juliet allows him to avoid an altercation with Tybalt after Lord Capulet’s party. However, Romeo’s love for his deceased friend and his hate for Tybalt ultimately override his emotions when he revengefully kills Tybalt. Juliet’s powerful love for Romeo allows her to forgive him for murdering her cousin. Despite the threat of death by the Prince, Romeo’s powerful love for Juliet leads him to sneak into her tomb after hearing of her death. Ultimately, Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other drives them to commit suicide. They cannot bear being apart while alive, so they decide death is the only way they can be together forever. American scholar Denton Snider says, ‘Just as with the passion of hate, the intensity of love’s passion blots out reason and self-control and leads to destructive behavior.’

The power of hate between people began when Cain killed Abel, a sad part of living in a fallen world. Capulet and Montague can be switched out for words like ‘Republican’ and ‘Democrat’ or ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim.’ The same hate that causes Romeo and Juliet’s demise still causes ‘violence and tragic death’ in our current society. People disagree and end relationships due to frivolous issues, just as Capulets and Montagues hate each other for the simple fact their last names are Capulet and Montague (Alfieri). Hate is a strong emotion and causes people to act in unimaginable ways. However, the power of love is as strong, perhaps more potent, than the power of hate. Love allows people to accept each other as they are, faults and all. The power of love allows us to forgive others when they hurt us.

Our love for others makes us compassionate towards those suffering great trials. The power of hate separates people, but love unifies people despite differences in culture, education, economic, and racial issues. Another eternal theme in Romeo and Juliet is the ‘individual against society.’ While reminiscing about meeting Romeo, Juliet says, ‘Deny thy father and refuse thy name; / Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, / And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.’ Juliet’s love for Romeo is so strong she willingly disobeys her father, the ‘absolute power’ in her life, causing a breach of the social fabric that guides family structure in the culture.’ Similarly, Romeo shows his frustration with society when he tells Juliet, ‘I take thee at thy word: / Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized; / Henceforth I never will be Romeo.’ Romeo has no authority to baptize himself, as only a priest has this authority. However, he reciprocates Juliet’s love so firmly that he has no hesitation in defying acceptable societal standards. Because their marriage breaks many societal standards, Romeo and Juliet must keep their marriage a secret.

Modern-day teenagers identify with this theme because they desire to make rules for their lives. They often argue with their parents over the same issues causing division between Romeo and Juliet. Teenagers often hide a romantic relationship from their parents because their significant others do not meet their parents’ standards. Like Romeo and Juliet, teenagers can make impulsive decisions, leading to negative consequences and tragedy. Teenagers often feel the need to hide their relationships secretly. Teenagers believe parents do not understand their feelings for their boyfriends or girlfriends.

Gnomeo and Juliet Compared to Romeo and Juliet: Modern Adaptations

A story about ‘star-crossed lovers’ is timeless and appeals to every generation of youth. There are ‘more than 100 different versions of the story in books, movies, and music’. The movie West Side Story (1961) remains ‘the most timeless adaptation of Shakespeare’s story.’ It portrays the love affair of Tony and Anita as they try to hide it from their families. Another adaptation is Gnomeo and Juliet, an animated version of the famous story featuring ‘star-crossed garden gnomes.’ The blue Montague gnomes and the red Capulet gnomes are part of a lifelong feud between the two gardens. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet substantially impacts how we view Romeo and Juliet because the author modernizes the decades-old story. The film Warm Bodies portrays a war between zombies and humans rather than the Capulets and Montagues’. Zombie Romeo saves Juliet ‘from his brain-eating brethren’ and falls in love with her. Romeo and Juliet marked the play’s return to the stage after a 36-year absence, giving it a contemporary theme.

Street Love, written by Walter Dean Myers, is the modern-day version of West Side Story. Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Song’ is a musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that displays Juliet’s yearning to be with Romeo through crucial lyrics. ‘Little did I know…That you were Romeo, you were throwing pebbles. And my daddy said, ‘Stay away from Juliet,’ And I was crying on the staircase Begging you, ‘Please don’t go,’ And I said…Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone. I’ll be waiting: all that’s left to do is run. You’ll be the prince, and I’ll be the princess. It’s a love story, baby. Just say, ‘Yes.” Comparing the modern adaptations to the original play leads to a better understanding of the play’s relevancy in modern society.


  1. Kastan, David Scott. “Shakespeare.” The Norton Shakespeare. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, W.W. Norton & Company, 2016, pp. 477-480.

  2. Branam, Harold. “William Shakespeare Biography.” World Literature and Its Times: Profiles of Notable Literary Works and the Historic Events That Influenced Them, Vol. 3: British and Irish Literature and Its Times: The Tudors and Stuarts and the English Civil War to 1700, Gale, 2001, pp. 3-8.

  3. Johnson, William. “Shakespearean Theater.” The Norton Shakespeare. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, W.W. Norton & Company, 2016, pp. 9-27.

  4. Romeo, Rosalind. “Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.” The Explicator, vol. 60, no. 4, 2002, pp. 253-261.

  5. Diehn, Gwenyth. “The Romance of Romeo and Juliet.” The Explicator, vol. 58, no. 1, 1999, pp. 25-40.

  6. Alfieri, Mark. “Shakespeare’s Star-Crossed Lovers: An Analysis of the Relevance of the Love and Hate Theme in Romeo and Juliet.” Loyola University Chicago, 2013.

  7. Jorgensen, Paul A. “Romeo and Juliet: The Tragedy of Love’s Difficulties.” Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 1, 1986, pp. 26-31.

  8. Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Edited by G. Blakemore Evans, The Riverside Shakespeare, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997, pp. 2.2.36-39, 2.2.53-55, Prologue 3-4.

  9. McDonald, Audrey L. “Shakespeare Goes to the Movies.” Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 200, Gale, 2004, pp. 1-4.

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Gnomeo and Juliet Compared to Romeo and Juliet: Modern Adaptations. (2023, Aug 16). Retrieved from