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"romeo and Juliet" / "west Side Story" - a Comparison / Contrast

Essay by review  •  February 4, 2011  •  Essay  •  994 Words (4 Pages)  •  2,359 Views

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Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story both have a lot in common as well as major differences that set them apart. Although West Side Story is a direct rendition of Shakespeare's original play, many of the themes and symbols are altered to fit the modern perspective. The characters have a direct correlation to each other, yet racial issues give them a new light. Many of the events also reflect each other, yet small differences give them uniqueness. West Side Story differs from Romeo and Juliet in characterizations, plot sequences, and themes.

The characterization of the protagonists and antagonists have many differences. The Montagues and Capulets are from the same society and lifestyle in the play. They don't have a reason for their long feud that's stretched back for generations. The Sharks and Jets, however, are segregated by racial and ethnic tensions. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet's parents are the sole obstacles blocking her from Romeo, because they want her to marry someone suitable. Yet parents are never seen in Maria's life, while, her brother and his girlfriend are the ones that act as parents. Juliet's suitor, Paris, is neutral and is on neither side of the feud. Maria's suitor, Chino, is completely on the Sharks' side and ends up killing Tony, one of the main protagonists. As for the main characters, Maria and Tony are somewhat different from Juliet and Romeo. Maria is more carefree and idealistic than Juliet. This is shown through her hopes of her life in America and with Tony. Juliet, on the other hand, follows the orders of her parents until Romeo comes along and shows her true love. Although Juliet seems more serious and mature at the beginning, Maria grows up during the course of the movie. Tony and Romeo are just the opposite. Tony knows whom he loves, and that's Maria, while Romeo had a very idealistic view of love in the beginning of the play, maturing as the end neared and he had to deal with Juliet's death. Tony and Maria are also less preoccupied with the bonds of marriage and love in their society, while it's almost like a sin for Romeo and Juliet to be together before being married. This is further emphasized by the fact that religion plays a substantially lesser role in West Side Story than it does in Romeo and Juliet.

The plot sequences are also different in West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. Prince Escalius is completely neutral about the Capulet and Montague brawls as well as all public disputes. He is the voice of reason in their turmoil, and serves as the peacemaker. Lieutenant Schrank, although he tries to stop the brawl, is more biased towards the Jets. His prejudice almost permits the brawl to go on, and the Jets certainly take the hint. Romeo and Juliet marry each other secretly, and that in itself binds them together. It was because that Juliet couldn't marry Paris for fear of bigamy that she had to go to Friar Lawrence for help. This ultimately led to both protagonists' death. Tony and Maria never marry, though they do consider it. Their deaths were simply because of a misunderstanding, and much more obscure. As for the misunderstanding in Romeo and Juliet, Romeo does not receive the expected message at all from Friar Lawrence. Instead, he receives a false message from one of his own people. Tony, however, receives a false message from the opposite side. Another major difference is the fact that Romeo kills Juliet's suitor at the end while Maria's suitor kills Tony.

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