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 Shakespeare's drama" (p. 10). Another deviation in plot is the role of the Friar Laurence character, Doc, in West Side Story. Mr. Houghton also comments, "Doc, who is obviously intended as a counterpart of Friar Laurence, takes no comparably active role in the plotting" (p.10). Houghton also agrees, "More significantly, the false report that the boy receives of the girl's death is carried by Anita through the gang as a willful act, not as an unfortuitous happenstance, such as befell Romeo because of the erroneous information Balthasar conveyed and the prevention of Friar John's delivery of the secret of Juliet's feigned death" (p.10)
The greatest alterations in the plot of West Side Story occur in the final scene. In Romeo and Juliet, the final moment is as expected from a Shakespearean tragedy, almost all of the main characters die. However, Houghton explains that Laurents totally abandons Shakespeare's ideals in his final scene. "Laurents eschews Shakespeare's scheme of the fake death of Juliet induced... to allow time for a reunion with Romeo" according to Houghton. Due to this abandonment, Laurents must create his own quasi-tragic ending. Laurents does create the desired ending, and with this creation he removes the...