Three Hundred Fifty Years of Blind Love: A Contraposition of Shakespeare and Robbins’ Romeo and Juliet 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 Prin...
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...ary 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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