Contrast of Romeo and Juliet and West Side StoryEssay submitted by Bob GarrardThree Hundred Fifty Years of Blind Love: A Contraposition of Shakespeare andRobbins Romeo and Juliet Andy Warhol once said, They say that time changes things, but actually you have to change themyourself. Two hundred fifty years passed between the original Romeo and Juliet and the premiereof West Side Story on Broadway in 1957. However, time did not change the message of thestory, simply the creators unique visions evolved. Shakespeares delivery of the timeless tale ofdesperate love in his classic Romeo and Juliet proves to only intensify through retelling andmodern interpretation. Audiences cherish Romeo and Juliet as one of the most beloved plays ofall time from the Elizabethan Age to the present.
Romeo and Juliet have attained the role as thequintessential lovers, and the noun, a Romeo, is synonymous with lover. ShakespearesRomeo and Juliet is closely based on Arthur Brooke’s tale, The Tragicall History of Romeus andJuliet. The language, attitudes, and customs detailed in the play are generally English, in spite ofBrookes original Italian setting. In 1949, choreographer Jerome Robbins decided to retellBrooke and Shakespeares romantic tragedy using song and dance, elements of racism andnationalism, and a modern vernacular.
Robbins called upon the musical talents of composerLeonard Bernstein and the words of Arthur Laurents for the script and book. The love storyproved to have universal appeal throughout all artistic forms, as it had already been adjusted foropera and ballet. The contemporary adaptation of this timeless classic alters details and deepensthe message of hatred, but maintains Brooke and Shakespeares vision. The relationshipsbetween the characters, plot sequence, and theme of hatred in West Side Story and Romeo andJuliet intertwine resulting in two similar, yet varying versions of the most famous love story of alltime. The relationships between the characters of West Side Story and Shakespeares Romeo andJuliet are reflective of their respective time periods and the original story. Maria and Julietrepresent a slightly practical counterpart to both Tonys and Romeos idealistic nature.
Mariasbrother Bernardo and Juliets cousin Tybalt portray impulsively stubborn and violent characterswho both die from wounds inflicted by the male lead. Lieutenant Schrank is similar to PrinceEscalus, although Schrank is unfair in his treatment and attitude towards one gang- the Sharks.Anita and Nurse both take on the role as Juliets confidant and trusted friend, often tamperingwith their roles as messengers. The mischievously tomboyish Anybodys, who desperately wantsto be a Jet, would best fit into the role of Balthasar, since it was she who aided Tony in escapingafter the rumble, as well as later informing the other Jets that Tony was being hunted. Finally, thecharacter of Doc appears to fulfill the role of Friar Laurence because both possess somewhat of apeacekeeping nature.
Doc attempts to get through to Tony by dramatically pleading, Why doyou live like theres a war on? Why do you kill? (2.5). All of the characters are consistent to theheart and soul of the story as well as the slightly differing plots. West Side Story maintains Romeo and Juliets intricate and exciting plot using appropriateadaptations to accommodate mid-twentieth-century pop culture. For instance, both artistic formsportray mutual disrespect between the parties. At the dawn of Romeo and Juliet, Capuletscohorts harass Montagues. I will bite my thumb at them; which is a disgrace to them, if theybear it, boasts Sampson (1.
1.42-43). In the opening scene of West Side Story, several membersof a Puerto Rican gang insult A-rab, a member of the opposing gang.
It is here where LieutenantSchrank 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 ahot surprise for you: you hoodlums don’t own the streets(1.
1). Later, another similarity takesplace. Riff convinces Tony to attend the dance at the gym just as Benvolio persuades Romeo toattend the Capulets masquerade. Tony confesses to Riff that he’s reachin’ out forsomething(1.2), just what, he doesn’t know. Riff encourages Tony by proposing, Maybe whatyou’re waitin’ for’ll be twitchin’ at the dance! (1.2). Shakespeare and director Jerome Robbinschoose to draw the audiences attention to the dramatic lovers by giving them unique and eminentqualities.
At the Capulet ball in Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet, all of the characters speak inblank verse, but when Romeo and Juliet converse, they speak in sonnet form. Throughout thedance at the gym in West Side Story, both of the gangs members dance a mambo, but Tony andMaria dance a cha-cha. Bernstein and Robbins translated Shakespeare’s spoken word intomodern dance techniques (Gravely 1). Along with the dance atmosphere, the discovery of thedoomed love affair is interpreted in a unique fashion in West Side Story, possibly losing passion inthe adaptation. Upon the revelation by Juliets kinfolk of her new love for the enemy in bothversions, 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’sexclamation 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.
Romeometaphorically asks Juliet to arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon (2.2.4). During the fireescape scene, Tony and Maria sing Leonard Bernsteins 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 toconvene by the hour of nine (2.2.182) and Tony and Maria at sundown (2.5). Thetumultuously 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 youve got itwrong/ Are you chicken? / You wont understand (2.5).
Just as Romeo defends his pacificnature by explaining, O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate / And my tempersoftened valours steel (3.1.109-111). Despite Romeo and Tonys courageous efforts, Mercutioassaults Tybalt, which culminates with Riffs attacks on Bernardo. Both episodes result in thedeaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, and Riff and Bernardo.
Ironically, the peacemaker himself, in bothworks, murders his beloveds relative:I do protest, I never injured theeBut love thee better than thou canst devise,Till thou shalt know the reason of my love:And so, good Capulet, which name I tenderAs 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 hebecomes a fugitive and plans to escape with Maria. While searching for the man who hassupposedly killed his beloved, Tony spots Maria, alive and well, as does an enraged Chino. Justas Tony initially fell in love with one glace, Tony perishes with a single shot.
Upon discoveringRomeo’s death, Juliet ends her own by piercing her chest with her trueloves 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 andJuliet and West Side Story respectively. Like Romeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria are of adverseparties, and their doomed love is forbidden. Maria, a Puerto Rican, and Tony, aPolish-American, are youthful, fresh-faced and open-minded. They are apathetic to the societalborders in which they are violating.
Identical to Romeo and Juliet, love is their sole concern. Bothrelationships in each individual time period faced severe pressure when their love crossed into adifferent section of society. Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet experienced long-lasting, deadlyfeuds between prominent families. Comparatively, instead of animosity between feuding families(Montagues and Capulets), West Side Story offers prejudice between races, as illustratedbetween street gangs (Jets and Sharks). The enmity between the two sects was modernized toracism. Just as Romeo and Juliet represent Elizabethan Italian disputes, West Side Storyrelevantly portrays modern civilizations unscrupulous racism. Tony represents the white indigentimmigrant culture, which is being threatened by the intrusion of new immigrant populations that arebeginning new lives in America, especially the Puerto Ricans. The adapted ending in West SideStory involves Marias survival throughout the play, contrary to Shakespeares version in whichJuliet commits suicide upon the learning of her soul mates death.
This altered ending clarifies thesocial message West Side Story delivers to its audience. Perhaps Marias survival signifies apoignant reminder of the responsibility everyone shares in the tragedy that befell her. UnlikeRomeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria were not star-crossed lovers whose destiny was determinedby fate, but rather victims of the intolerance, misunderstanding, and mistrust that seem to beever-present in human society (Gravely 1). The relationships between the characters, plot sequence, and theme of hatred in West Side Storyand Romeo and Juliet intertwine resulting in two parallel yet slightly differing representations of themost famous love story of all time. Shakespeare presents an entertaining, witty and sometimessexually provocative portrayal of Arthur Brookes tale. Robbins presentation of the celebratedclassic paints the awful truths of racism and irrational violence through dance, song, and music.Romeo and Juliets blind love is the force that unites two enemies, just as the eternal human spiritbrings all people of the Earth united as one.English Essays