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

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

In approximately 1594, William Shakespeare began to write one of the most well known tragedies in history, Romeo and Juliet. Arguably, no author to date has matched Shakespeare's skill and beauty in the creation of this work. However, authors have regurgitated and will continue to regurgitate the theme, "star-crossed lovers", for centuries. Martha Duffy remarks in "West Side Glory", "Slang may change and violence escalate, but the theme of star-crossed city kids has never dated, nor has its appeal diminished" (p. 1). The only viable attempt is the work of modern dramatist Arthur Laurents. However, Laurents' West Side Story originally written as an attempt to modernize Romeo and Juliet, actually became a work of skill and beauty in its own right. The emphasis is now removed from simply "modernizing" Romeo and Juliet; the emphasis is the creation of art through a similar theme, yet very differing styles and influences. The similarities abound within Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story; consequently, there are many deviations found in the plots, characters, and authors' influences.

While certain aspects of the two works remain parallel, many deviations are found within the plot. In West Side Story, the first obvious difference, excluding time periods, is the "exile" situation. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is exiled due to public knowledge of his deed. West Side Story's Romeo, Tony, becomes a fugitive because the public is searching for a criminal. In "Introduction, Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story: An Appreciation" Norris Houghton writes, "As a result of this altered circumstance the plot of West Side Story begins at this point to deviate from Sh...

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... sum of Laurents' work is told through Maria as she stands by her fallen lover and cries, "We all killed him!"

The facts are clear, Arthur Laurents is not some second-rate copycat author. An analogy is made by Robert Brustein in "Whose Faust Is It Anyway?" Brustein says, "West Side Story is about as true to its source as Superman is to Nietzsche's ebermensch" (p. 1). He is, in fact, a superb writer who, just as Shakespeare did, expounded on an over-used, sensitive theme of "star-crossed" lovers to covey the message laid on his heart to the best of his abilities. West Side Story is similar and different from Romeo and Juliet; it is not better nor worse. West Side Story is a wonderful creation of art by a man who should never be persecuted for his lack of originality, but should be praised for his intellect and ingenuity.

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