Comparing Arthur Laurents' West Side Story and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

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Although the discrepancies between Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story are too frequent to categorize in such limited space, it is impossible for anyone familiar with both texts to not notice the obvious similarities between the two works ("Theme"). From the opening scenes in both, up through the rumble in West Side Story/death of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, the plays mirror each other (Poelstra). It isn't until the last part of West Side Story, where Tony (our modern-day Romeo) dies and Maria (Tony's Juliet) doesn't (unlike the two star-crossed lovers of Shakespeare's work, both of whom perish), that the major difference between the two works becomes apparent.

Granted, instead of tension between feuding families (Montaguesand Capulets), West Side Story offers prejudice between races, as illustrated between street gangs (Jets and Sharks). Some of the characters in West Side Story are carbon copies of those in Romeo and Juliet: Maria (Juliet), Tony (Romeo), Bernardo (Tybalt), Lt. Schrank (Prince), and Anita (Nurse). Others appear to be a composite of characters, namely Riff, a combination of Benvolio and Mercutio, and Doc, who appears to fulfill the role of Friar Laurence (possessed somewhat of a peacekeeping nature: "You couldn't play basketball?", he asks, when informed of their upcoming "war council" [Laurents 57]) yet, at the same time, it is implied (in the film version, not the play) that he is a pharmacist, and there was, after all, an apothecary in Romeo and Juliet . The tomboyish Anybodys, a Jet wannabe, would best fit into the role of Balthasar (although Doc's character fits into this role marginally, as well), since it was she who aided Tony in escaping after the rumble (which resulted in the d...

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... a story four centuries old to be retold in a fairly modern-day setting (after all, street gangs are more prominent now that ever before), a retelling that has garnered its own wide audience appeal over the past four decades ("Theme"), showing that certain tales can stand the test of time more than once, provided the content/context effectively reflects the world within which it occurs.

Works Cited

Laurents, Arthur. West Side Story. (A musical, based on a conception of Jerome Robbins; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.) NY: Random House, 1966.

Poelstra, James. "Romeo and Juliet vs. West Side Story." (17 July 97).

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Volume I. Ed. W. G. Clark and W. Aldis Wright. NY: Nelson Doubleday, Inc., 247-277.

"Modernizing Age-Old Theme." (17 July 97).

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