The Importance of Light and Atmosphere in the Four Shakespearean Plays

Categories: Atmosphere

The Throne of Blood (Macbeth), Romeo and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), My Own Private Idaho (Henry IV, V), and West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet) employ setting, lighting, and ambiance to convey subtle messages which clarify characterization, mood, and internal drama.

The director of The Throne of Blood (1957) by Akira Kurosawa utilizes fog to stress mystery, wickedness, and deception. Quite aptly, the roughly translated version of the film is Kumonosu jõ, which is rendered Spider Web Castle. In the Shakespearean play, the three witches begin the play chanting, “fair is foul, and foul is fair, Hover through fog and filthy air” (Act I, Scene I, Line 11).

Macbeth also converses with his wife about “rooky wood” (Macbeth, Act III, Scene III, Line 51). Rooky is an old English word meaning, misty or foggy. Here one observes the interconnection of darkness, evil, and fog.

Kurosawa implements heavy usage of befogged air in the film. The castle’s view is mostly covered by an impenetrable, nebulous fog.

Also, around the ghosts, fog beclouds the characters. Beside the fog is Shakespeare’s Birham forest or in this Japanese version, the ‘Cobweb forest.’ These allusions to spider web and cob web wound a thick plot, underlining the importance of obscuring visibility. Kurosawa relates that for Throne of Blood, he prefers foggy and misty scenes since they refer to “the spirits of evil and the little good that remains inside Macbeth, it is mist and rain and fog for Macbeth, and he is lost” (Kurosawa 37). Mistiness, which is accompanied by scarce lighting, dampens any mirth and prepares the atmosphere for further scenes of machinations, horror, and blatant evil.

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Kurosawa expands and inculcates the usage of fog in his worldview. He wanders whether “life just another cobweb forest shrouded with thick mist and a fog that chokes us that we lose our way” (Kurosawa 36). The imagery of the spider’s web also manifests the windings of the plot, duplicity of the characters such as Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, and the Witches of Endor, the deception, and the ultimate lethality of the outcome. Throughout the film and play equally, inclement weather rages, employing a tactic utilized by many gothic writers. Meteorologically, fog usually is not a separate entity. It is usually accompanied by snow, hail, or rain which means that it always brings in another element in its train as a portent. The smog casts a shadow of danger, while giving evil free rein to operate under its cover.

The Capulet Ball in Romeo and Juliet (1996) by Baz Luhrmann evokes the first meeting between Romeo and Juliet. When Romeo (Leonardo Di Caprio) confronts Juliet (Claire Danes), the ambience is light, colorful, and festive. Several silver and golden balloons rise into the air and burst like myriads of fireworks at the ball and thunderous applause comprises the background as a entertainer, Desiree, concludes her a song titled, “Kissing You.” Juliet is clothed as an angel while Romeo, decked as a chivalrous knight. In Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet’s introduction is preceded by her father Capulet shouting gleefully “More light! More light! … Cheerly my hearts!” (Act I, Scene V, Line 85). At the masked ball, Romeo epithets Juliet as she who “doth teach the torches to burn bright” (Act I, Scene V, Line 42). The prevalence of light illuminates the atmosphere and sets the scene for one of kindled passion and love. Both playwrights have the masked ball as the setting where both lovers meet since appearance and reality are poles apart. The superficial, gay revelry and festivity betrays an ugly nature of enmity and fell purpose of each of the warring houses to break apart lovers on the grounds of familial disputes. Luhrmann has placed a colorful décor populated by free, easygoing characters at a carnival. This scenario lures the senses and captivates the mind with its voluptuousness. The characterization of Juliet/Maria as light also puts the accent on the passion, the volatility of the love affair, and the controversy which sparks (pun intended). From the effervescent lights at the ball to the glimmering glow outside at the balcony, lighting sheds new understanding on atmosphere, the mood of the characters, the moral definitions of the characters, and adumbrates future occurrences.

West Side Story (1961) by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, the famous balcony scene displays Romeo and Juliet confirming their love and getting acquainted with one another. Romeo (Tony) woos Juliet (Maria) who has given her heart to him. The West Side Story’s balcony scene modifies the 16th century scenario by transforming the balcony of a castle to the urbanized balcony/veranda of a ghetto apartment. In the movie, Wise and Robbins have the lovers meet under the soft light of the moon. Likewise, Romeo and Juliet sing a duet, “Tonight, the world is full of light, with suns and moons all over the place…” The lighting is romantically soft, seductive, and enchants the lovers thus the glowing, incandescent effect of the moon on the characters helps them in their courtship. The lighting is not glaring but just enough is shed to prevent one from stumbling into something. The lovers and viewer know that because of the secrecy of the love affair, that lighting has to be moderate. In Shakespeare’s play, Romeo likens Juliet to the sun, remarking “Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon” (Act II, Scene II, Line 4) and in the couple’s dialogue he refers to and swears by the glorious moon. Although the setting unfolds at night, there are no shadows, which are usually ominous and serve as a harbinger to evil. The ghetto neighborhood does not bespeak of the affluence enjoyed by Shakespeare’s Juliet, but outlines the tale of an average poor Puerto Rican émigré, torn between family values and the love of her life.

My Own Private Idaho (1991) by Gus Van Sant intrigues the onlooker with the carefree and hedonistic life of Mike and Scott, best friends, who hold widely different backgrounds and personalities. This film is inspired by Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Part 1 and 2) of Prince Henry and Falstaff. Like Prince Henry, Scott Favor resolves to break away from his immature, youthful follies at the age of 21 and be more responsible while Mike leads him to debauched parties and wild entertainment. In the movie, Scott’s father, Jack Favor, complains that he is not serious, mature, or responsible. Wondering about his whereabouts, he tells his dignified attendants to search for his son who usually frequents taverns, cheap motels, and other base places, robbing citizens and storeowners. King Henry IV laments that he “see(s) riot and dishonour stain the brow, Of (his) young Harry” (Act I, Scene I, Line 84). Even Hotspur calls Prince Henry a libertine. In the film, the room’s setting is richly professional, walls bedecked with plaques and honors, high grade wooden furniture. The lighting is limited as Jack enters in his wheelchair with disturbing news, very worried about the downward direction of Scott’s life. This aristocratic setting stands in stark contrast to the low slums of the streets and bars where Scott visits often.

The slipshod rooms, dirty bars, apartments, and garages where the gang assembles tell of a different society of individuals who have made up their minds to rebel against authority.

The diplomatic attire of Jack’s retinue and the matched antique figurines on display attest to the artistic work done by a well-paid interior decorator for Jack’s office space. The time of day is morning however; light is not allowed to penetrate the room owing to the thick, rich drapes. The only light peers through a couple candles and a tall lamp. This ambiance reflects Jack’s glum state of mind and the disappointment and missing of his son, Scott, who he claims he has not seen in three months.

In conclusion, the four Shakespearean plays and the modernized representations encompass the importance of light and atmosphere which assist in unifying the predominant themes of the theatre, thus giving the speculator deeper insight. The themes of darkness and light and the battle of each to overcome the other is a typical portrayal in film and plays. Usually, by the ending, the struggle is resolved.


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The Importance of Light and Atmosphere in the Four Shakespearean Plays. (2022, Apr 28). Retrieved from

The Importance of Light and Atmosphere in the Four Shakespearean Plays
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