Russell Jackson (Shakespeare Films in the Making, 2007, Cambridge, at p.213), in conversation with Leonard Whiting, indicates that these scenes were not filmed. It is easy to rush to simple conclusions as to why Zeffirelli might have done this. For instance, the omissions may have resulted from the need to shorten the length of the movie. However, Zeffirelli tends to use that particular argument when he is cutting scenes that were actually shot. Here, there was a clear and deliberate decision not to include these two scenes from the very start of production. When questioned about these cuts at a seminar at Brooklyn College (City University, NYC), Zeffirelli explained his views about the apothecary scenes:
“…You know why the apothecary scene is wrong? Because the suicide of Romeo can be accepted on the wave of emotion – he makes that long speech and then poisons himself and dies. But if you begin to question, ‘Where did he get the poison?…’ then you part company with the audience right there. You lose the beauty, and the emotion is dead, because they arrive at that point with a lot of questions in their heads”: Staging Shakespeare – Seminars on Production Problems” at. p.244-245 (ed. Glenn Loney. Garland Publishing. 1990. New York)
Crucial to understanding Zeffirelli’s approach is the fact that he was not producing the movie for the benefit of a relatively small number the cerebral thinkers, who already know the precise elements of the plot, but rather for a young, mass audience to whom he wished to bring an element of culture. Compromises were made in the direction of the movie in order to achieve that end. The plot could be carried along on a wave of emotional response from the audience, without having to provide scenes that gave a factual, logical explanation for everything that was happening. The purists may have been asking themselves as to where did Romeo get the poison, but the young audience, who were swept away by the dramatic emotion of the plot, were not!
Below are the two scenes from the shooting script, as originally written for the movie.
Script content: © 1968, Paramount Pictures Corporation
This typescript version: © 2018, Peter Hibbert and the Romeo and Juliet 1968 Movie Database