William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet and Arthur Laurent’s “West Side Story”, are both great stories of their time written by great writers. These stories are to be used as benchmark for other writers. Although “Romeo and Juliet” is more famous than “West Side Story”, the latter is also a great work of its time. The most basic similarity between the two stories is that they are both love stories and end in death of the lovers. The authors did their best while writing these stories (CheatHouse.com, 2010).
The Similar Framework of the Two Tales
The two stories revolve around young lovers are who are separated by their friends or families which lead to severe consequences. West Side Story is a modern day adaptation of the classical Romeo and Juliet (West Side Story, 2010). The story takes place in New York, on the west side of Manhattan involving highways, roofs and play grounds. It is clearly based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” but with some modifications based on modern world. West Side Story presents the rivalry between two gangs, Puerto Rican and Anton. The lovers belong to different gangs which cause grave consequences, whereas, Romeo and Juliet presents the passionate love that is doomed due to the feudal system in their families. The story became very popular because of the use of the characters of Romeo and Juliet who are madly in love with each other. Hence, similarity between the two tales is the deep and intense love, which defies the cruelties of friends and families (Gottlieb, 2010). The quotes from Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story are as follows which represent the similarities in romance
“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.”
“And there’s nothing for me but Maria, every sight that I see is Maria”-Tony, (Dirks, 2010)
The Links between the Two Tales
The Male Characters
The couples “Romeo and Juliet” of Shakespeare and “ Tony and Maria” of Arthur Laurent have intense love for each other that makes them stand against the world they revolve and their friends and families. The passionate love of Romeo makes him step up into enemy’s territory and kill his wife’s cousin. Finally, Romeo killed himself believing that Juliet is dead. Similarly, the extreme emotions and love of Tony makes him kill his lover’s brother, and is also challenged to commit suicide believing that Chino killed Maria. This shows extreme similarity of personalities of characters in both stories and the end of the deaths of the two characters. Hence, both male characters are characterized by the deep and intense love for their women, Juliet and Maria, and this is what propagates the stories forward.
The Female Characters
On the other hand, both female characters showed great strength and objectivity in the two stories. Juliet obeyed her parents and tried to love Paris, whereas, Maria showed determination by agreeing to marry Chino (Cuizon, 2008). They are presented as strong characters with logic and will to do things. But without the love and passion of Romeo and Tony their characters wouldn’t have existed. However, their objectivity comes to question when Maria leaves the city with Tony and Juliet kills Tybalt; not following the correct path. Both women follow their love leaving behind family, friends and society. Juliet leaves behind her social status, parents and Nurse for Romeo as compared to Maria who leaves her parents, social circle and dead brother’s memory to follow Tony’s love.
“O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
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.”
– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 2.2 (Lombardi, 2010)
Juliet kills herself upon finding out that Romeo is dead out of love; however, Maria uses Tony’s death as an example for both the gangs to end hatred and declare truce and is successful in doing it. Instead of committing suicide in contrast to Juliet she makes use of this tragedy to end the hatred between the gangs Jets and Sharks.
Although there is no particular lesson that one can learn from these stories about passionate love but both stories portray the constraints that the love has to face and severe consequences that one might have to face leading to chaos and destruction. The two stories are sad love stories in which the lovers have to face resistance from the family and the society, however, one is a classic of Shakespeare and the other is the modern day love story directly based on “Romeo and Juliet”.
Theme of the Two Stories
In both the stories love ends up in deaths and murders. Another theme that is similar in both the stories is that love causes chaos, rivalry, bloodshed and emotional destruction. In spite of having a happy ending to a love story, both authors have associated violence with love. There is a negative association shown in both the stories leading to serious consequences and failure of love. There is a feeling of trouble that prevails, making the story more intense as it commences. Romeo and Juliet belonging to feudal clans and Tony and Maria to different gangs make it obvious that the story will involve violence and rivalry making their love more difficult and complex. The following quote from West Side Story signifies the presence of violence:
“Maria: All of you! You all killed him! And my brother, and Riff. Not with bullets, or guns, with hate. Well now I can kill, too, because now I have hate!” (Dirks, 2010)
Another common theme between the two stories is that the characters are in conflict with the society. They go against what the society expects from them leading into chaotic situation. The difference in the stories is that Romeo and Juliet commit suicide in the end so is voluntary, whereas, Tony and Maria do not go into the extreme situation. Maria does not commit suicide and Tony’s death is not self-inflicting although he challenged to kill him but was killed by Chino himself later. However, in both stories they fought for their love till the end in hope to gain their love.
As the characters are showed in different time and place so they do have differences, however, the story portrays them in a similar manner. Not only Romeo is like Tony and Juliet like Maria, there are many other character similarities. The character analogies can be shown by taking the examples of: Anita and Nurse, Doc and Friar Laurence, Bernardo and Mercutio, Sharks and Capulets, Det. Shrank and Escalus, Riff and Tybalt, Chino and Paris and A-Rab and Sampson. The characters are not replica but similar in some manner. For example Doc is more powerless than Friar Laurence and Maria and Juliet have different motivation considering the religious side (ww.rit.edu, 1999).
Structure of the Two Stories
Considering the structure of both the stories, we see a lot of similarities. The story of “Romeo and Juliet” starts with the fights between the rival clans and the “West Side Story” starts with the fight of rival gangs: Sharks and Jets. Then the first time Romeo character is presented he is counseled by a priest in the following words: “The earth that is nature’s mother is her tomb/What is her burying grave, that is her womb.” Similarly when we observe the character of Tony for the first time, his friend who thinks he is neglecting the gang uses the following words: “Womb to tomb”, to represent their lifelong friendship. As the story commences Romeo is convinced to attend ball in the rival territory, whereas in West Side Story, Tony is encouraged to attend dance at a gym to challenge the Sharks. Tony agrees thinking of a “miracle due” just as Romeo is convinced thinking that he meets his ex-lover and that a “miracle” may occur. Similarly, in the end Romeo kills Paris and Chino kills Tony. Families and friends see the consequences of hatred and see their children dead. Finally, gangs are united in case of “West Side Story” and are families united in “Romeo and Juliet”.
CheatHouse.com. (2010). Essay Title : Romeo and Juliet, west side story, compare and contrast. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from cheathouse.com: http://www.cheathouse.com/essay/romeo-and-juliet-west-side-story-compare-and-contrast-1
Cuizon, G. (2008). Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story: A Comparison in Themes. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from Bookstove: http://bookstove.com/classics/romeo-and-juliet-and-west-side-story-a-comparison-in-themes/
Dirks, T. (2010). West Side Story (1961). Retrieved May 15, 2010, from filmsite: http://www.filmsite.org/wests2.html
Gottlieb, J. (2010). West Side Story. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from WEST SIDE STORY FACT SHEET: http://www.westsidestory.com/site/level2/archives/fact/fact.html
Lombardi, E. (2010). ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Quotes. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from About.com: Classic Literature: http://classiclit.about.com/od/romeoandjuliet/a/aa_romeojulietq.htm
Shakespeare, W., Houghton, N., Bernstein, L., Laurents, A., & Sondheim, S. (1995). Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story (Reissue ed.). (N. Houghton, Ed.) Dell.
West Side Story. (2010). WSS Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from WestSideStory.com: http://www.westsidestory.com/site/level2/archives/fact/faq.html
ww.rit.edu. (1999). West Side Story: The Romeo & Juliet Connection. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from ww.rit.edu: http://www.rit.edu/~w-npart/performing_arts/comparerj.html