West Side Story Compared to Romeo and Juliet Essay

West Side Story written by Arthur Laurents is actually a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The West Side Story is set in Upper West Side Manhattan. It is about rivalry between two teenage gangs of different backgrounds. Anton, a member of the white gang, fell in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of the rival Puerto Rican gang. Romeo and Juliet is undoubtedly the most popular romantic love story to ever hit the literary world. It talks about intense passion between the star-crossed lover Romeo and Juliet.

Their love was doomed from the start because of their feuding families- the Montague represented by Romeo and Capulet, by Juliet. The overriding theme, of course, between the two stories – Romeo and Juliet and The West Side Story is love – deep, intense and passionate love. The kind that defies everything even families and loyalties. The love Tony felt for Maria and Romeo for Juliet made them defy their families, their friends and their social world. Their love is strong and forceful, so much so that it made them revolt against the very world they revolved in and, sometimes, even against themselves.

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Intensity of thoughts and feelings dominate both stories. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s character takes on intensity to another level. His capacity for deep passionate love is merely an extension of his capacity for intense feelings of all kinds. His intensity is evident when he sneaks into enemy’s territory to seek Juliet. Or, when he kills his wife’s cousin in a duel. And finally, when he committed suicide upon erroneously believing Juliet is dead. The same way, Tony of the West Side Story is capable of extreme emotions.

This is when he killed his lover’s brother Bernardo in a heated argument. He also challenged Chino to kill him when he thought Chino killed Maria which as we know led to his untimely demise towards the end of the story. Both male characters seem defined by their extreme emotions and capacity for deep love. This deep intense emotion shared by both male protagonists is what propels both stories forward. Had these male characters, Romeo and Tony, did not have such intensity of feelings in the first place, the love they feel for their women – Juliet and Maria respectively, would not have existed.

The women, on the other hand, exhibit logic, objectivity and strength. Juliet, for instance, showed her determination when she first obeyed her parent’s request to try to love Paris, their favored suitor. The same way, Maria showed force of will over emotionswhen she agreed to marry Chino. Their objectivity comes across when Maria decided to flee the city with Tony to leave the chaos behind them. When Romeo killed Tybalt, Juliet did not follow Romeo right away. Instead she made a logical decision to allow her love for Romeo to guide her priorities.

Both Juliet and Maria, in essence, decided to cut themselves loose from their social connections when they decided to follow their love. Juliet cut herself off from her Nurse, her parents and her social status when she followed Romeo. Maria cut loose from her family, her dead brother’s memory and her social circle when she decided to run away with Tony. Juliet killed herself upon finding out that Romeo is dead not out of weakness but out of love. She stabs her heart with a dagger which showed a lot more courage than taking down pills. Maria, on the other hand, did not commit suicide upon seeing Tony killed by Chino.

She used the tragedy to point out to the feuding groups Jets and Sharks how their hate led to Tony’s death. The two groups declared truce in the process. There is no specific morale that one can gather from both stories on love and relationships. Both stories seek to portray the chaos and obstacles that surround passion and love. Violence brought about by love is another theme that permeates in both stories. In both stories, love is linked to death. As in the case of Tony who died at the end of the story in West Side Story. The same goes to Romeo and Juliet, who met untimely death at the end of the story.

Violence is very pronounced in both stories as we are being made painfully aware from the very start that the two protagonists come from feuding clans such as in Romeo and Juliet or feuding culture such as in The West Side Story. We have this unshakeable feeling that trouble is brewing as soon as the story commences. Another theme in the story is the conflict of individual self with society. What the protagonists in both stories Romeo and Juliet wanted were different from what the society expected from them. Romeo and Juliet fought for their private feelings to the end by committing the ultimate act of privacy- suicide.

In the same vein, Maria and Tony fought for their private love but they did not really resort to extreme means. Tony’s death is not brought about by suicide although he challenged the villain Chino to come to kill him when he thought Maria was killed. Still, Tony’s death is not self-inflicted or voluntary as in the case of the lovers Romeo and Juliet. Comparison: There is a lot in common between the two plays Romeo And Juliet and West Side Story. The main male characters have many things in common. In fact, Toni and Romeo both miss the beginning fight at the beginning of the plays, they both fall in love and end up getting killed.

The difference between the two is that Toni takes place in the 1950s”, while Romeo happens in Elizabethan times (the late 1500s). The two main female characters also have many things in common. Juliet and Maria both come from families that hate each other’s boyfriend’s families. Something that makes Juliet different from Maria is that Juliet dies and Maria lives. In both of these plays the main male character kills a relative of their lover. In Romeo And Juliet, Romeo kills Tybalta, Juliet’s cousin. In West Side Story, Toni kills Bernardo, Maria’s brother. There was a person in both play’s that tried to make peace.

These people were the Prince and the Lieutenant. The Prince, from Romeo And Juliet, had told Romeo and Juliet’s families that if there was another riot that the heads of each family will be killed. The Lieutenant, from West Side Story, had told the Puerto Rican’s and the American’s that if they get into another fight they all will have to go to jail. The difference between the two peace-makers is that the Prince has more power than the Lieutenant. In the story of Romeo and Juliet, Paris wants to marry Juliet against her wishes. Her father wants Paris West Side Story to marry Juliet.

Juliet goes off and marries Romeo without telling anyone. In Chino wants to marry Maria against her wishes, just like Paris in Romeo and Juliet. Maria and Toni do not get married, which is in contrast to Romeo and Juliet. Marcucio in Romeo and Juliet, is killed while battling Tybalta. In West Side Story Riff is killed in a knife fight with Bernardo. Both deaths are accidental and cause the hero’s ( Romeo and Toni) to kill the close relative of their lovers (Tybalta and Bernardo). Both stories conclude in the sad reconciliation of two fighting factions at the cost of the lives of the two young lovers.

After comparing and contrasting the two plays I’ve come the conclusion that Romeo and Juliet is better than West Side Story. It is better because the language and the story moves in a more interesting manner. “A grooming peace this morning with it brings. The Sun for sorrow will not show his head. For never was there a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo”. Romeo And Juliet – Comparisson to West Side Story (Essay) Andy Warhol once said, “They say that time changes things, but actually you have to change them yourself. Two hundred fifty years passed between the original Romeo and Juliet and the premiere of West Side Story on Broadway in 1957. However, time did not change the message of the story, simply the creators’ unique visions evolved. Shakespeare’s delivery of the timeless tale of desperate love in his classic Romeo and Juliet proves to only intensify through retelling and modern interpretation. Audiences cherish Romeo and Juliet as one of the most beloved plays of all time from the Elizabethan Age to the present. Romeo and Juliet have attained the role as the quintessential lovers, and the noun, “a Romeo,” is synonymous with ” lover. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is closely based on Arthur Brooke’s tale, The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet. The language, attitudes, and customs detailed in the play are generally English, in spite of Brooke’s original Italian setting. In 1949, choreographer Jerome Robbins decided to retell Brooke and Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy using song and dance, elements of racism and nationalism, and a modern vernacular. Robbins called upon the musical talents of composer Leonard Bernstein and the words of Arthur Laurents for the script and book.

The love story proved to have universal appeal throughout all artistic forms, as it had already been adjusted for opera and ballet. The contemporary adaptation of this timeless classic alters details and deepens the message of hatred, but maintains Brooke and Shakespeare’s vision. The relationships between the characters, plot sequence, and theme of hatred in West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet intertwine resulting in two similar, yet varying versions of the most famous love story of all time. The relationships between the characters of West Side Story and Shakespeare’s

Romeo and Juliet are reflective of their respective time periods and the original story. Maria and Juliet represent a slightly practical counterpart to both Tony’s and Romeo’s idealistic nature. Maria’s brother Bernardo and Juliet’s cousin Tybalt portray impulsively stubborn and violent characters who both die from wounds inflicted by the male lead. Lieutenant Schrank is similar to Prince Escalus, although Schrank is unfair in his treatment and attitude towards one gang- the Sharks. Anita and Nurse both take on the role as Juliet’s confidant and trusted friend, often tampering with their roles as messengers.

The mischievously tomboyish Anybodys, who desperately wants to be a Jet, would best fit into the role of Balthasar, since it was she who aided Tony in escaping after the rumble, as well as later informing the other Jets that Tony was being hunted. Finally, the character of Doc appears to fulfill the role of Friar Laurence because both possess somewhat of a peacekeeping nature. Doc attempts to get through to Tony by dramatically pleading, “Why do you live like there’s a war on? Why do you kill? ” (2. 5). All of the characters are consistent to the heart and soul of the story as well as the slightly differing plots.

West Side Story maintains Romeo and Juliet’s intricate and exciting plot using appropriate adaptations to accommodate mid-twentieth-century pop culture. For instance, both artistic forms portray mutual disrespect between the parties. At the dawn of Romeo and Juliet, Capulet’s cohorts harass Montague’s. “I will bite my thumb at them; which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it,” boasts Sampson (1. 1. 42-43). In the opening scene of West Side Story, several members of a Puerto Rican gang insult A-rab, a member of the opposing gang. It is here where Lieutenant Schrank becomes aware of the potential rumble.

In Romeo and Juliet Escalus, Prince of Verona, threatens, “If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace” (1. 1. 103-104). In West Side Story, Schrank mediates in his own way when he declares, “I got a hot surprise for you: you hoodlums don’t own the streets”(1. 1). Later, another similarity takes place. Riff convinces Tony to attend the dance at the gym just as Benvolio persuades Romeo to attend the Capulets’ masquerade. Tony confesses to Riff that he’s “reachin’ out for something”(1. 2), just what, he doesn’t know. Riff encourages Tony by proposing, “Maybe hat you’re waitin’ for’ll be twitchin’ at the dance! ” (1. 2). Shakespeare and director Jerome Robbins choose to draw the audience’s attention to the dramatic lovers by giving them unique and eminent qualities. At the Capulet ball in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, all of the characters speak in blank verse, but when Romeo and Juliet converse, they speak in sonnet form. Throughout the dance at the gym in West Side Story, both of the gangs’ members dance a mambo, but Tony and Maria dance a cha-cha. Bernstein and Robbins translated Shakespeare’s spoken word into modern dance techniques (Gravely 1).

Along with the dance atmosphere, the discovery of the doomed love affair is interpreted in a unique fashion in West Side Story, possibly losing passion in the adaptation. Upon the revelation by Juliet’s kinfolk of her new love for the enemy in both versions, the leading lady responds in similar manners. “Couldn’t you see he’s one of them? ” (1. 4. ) Bernardo asks Maria, his sister. “No; I saw only him,” (1. 4) she replies. Sixteenth-century Juliet’s exclamation was starkly more eloquent: My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me,

That I must love a loathed enemy. (1. 5. 140-143) “The balcony scene” is mirrored in West Side Story as the “fire escape scene. ” Romeo metaphorically asks Juliet to “arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon” (2. 2. 4). During the fire escape scene, Tony and Maria sing Leonard Bernstein’s’ s melody, “Tonight”: Tonight, tonight, The world is full of light, With suns and moons all over the place. Tonight, tonight, The world is wild and bright, Going mad, shooting sparks into space. (2. 5) Before drawing apart, both lovers agree to meet the following day. Romeo and Juliet are to convene “by the hour of nine” (2. . 182) and Tony and Maria “[at] sundown” (2. 5). The tumultuously intense meeting inspires the young romantic lead to negotiate peace in both versions. Tony, at the request of Maria, tries to stop the violent affairs by pleading, “Bernardo you’ve got it wrong/ Are you chicken? / You won’t understand” (2. 5). Just as Romeo defends his pacific nature by explaining, “O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate / And my temper softened valour’s steel” (3. 1. 109-111). Despite Romeo and Tony’s courageous efforts, Mercutio assaults Tybalt, which culminates with Riff’s attacks on Bernardo.

Both episodes result in the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, and Riff and Bernardo. Ironically, the peacemaker himself, in both works, murders his beloved’s relative: I do protest, I never injured thee But love thee better than thou canst devise, Till thou shalt know the reason of my love: And so, good Capulet, which name I tender As dearly as my own, be satisfied. (3. 1. 71-75) While Romeo is forced into exile for his action, Tony is so horrified by his own behavior he becomes a fugitive and plans to escape with Maria.

While searching for the man who has supposedly killed his beloved, Tony spots Maria, alive and well, as does an enraged Chino. Just as Tony initially fell in love with one glace, Tony perishes with a single shot. Upon discovering Romeo’s death, Juliet ends her own by piercing her chest with her truelove’s dagger. Coincidentally, an anguished Maria remains alive, although she cries, “How many can I kill, Chino? How many [bullets do you have left] and still have one bullet left for me? ” (2. 6) The universal theme of hate and close-mindedness presents itself in unique forms in Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story respectively.

Like Romeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria are of adverse parties, and their doomed love is forbidden. Maria, a Puerto Rican, and Tony, a Polish-American, are youthful, fresh-faced and open-minded. They are apathetic to the societal borders in which they are violating. Identical to Romeo and Juliet, love is their sole concern. Both relationships in each individual time period faced severe pressure when their love crossed into a different section of society. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet experienced long-lasting, deadly feuds between prominent families.

Comparatively, instead of animosity between feuding families (Montagues and Capulets), West Side Story offers prejudice between races, as illustrated between street gangs (Jets and Sharks). The enmity between the two sects was modernized to racism. Just as Romeo and Juliet represent Elizabethan Italian disputes, West Side Story relevantly portrays modern civilization’s unscrupulous racism. Tony represents the white indigent immigrant culture, which is being threatened by the intrusion of new immigrant populations that are beginning new lives in America, especially the Puerto Ricans.

The adapted ending in West Side Story involves Maria’s survival throughout the play, contrary to Shakespeare’s version in which Juliet commits suicide upon the learning of her soul mate’s death. This altered ending clarifies the social message West Side Story delivers to its audience. Perhaps Maria’s survival signifies a poignant reminder of the responsibility everyone shares in the tragedy that befell her. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria were not “star-crossed” lovers whose destiny was determined by fate, but rather victims of the intolerance, misunderstanding, and mistrust that seem to be ever-present in human society (Gravely 1).

The relationships between the characters, plot sequence, and theme of hatred in West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet intertwine resulting in two parallel yet slightly differing representations of the most famous love story of all time. Shakespeare presents an entertaining, witty and sometimes sexually provocative portrayal of Arthur Brooke’s tale. Robbins’ presentation of the celebrated classic paints the awful truths of racism and irrational violence through dance, song, and music. Romeo and Juliet’s blind love is the force that unites two enemies, just as the eternal human spirit brings all people of the Earth united as one.


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