Differences are what make people who they are. If everyone was the same, life would be boring. People have been saying this for as long as anyone can remember. However, differences can oftentimes be fatal. The ways in which diversity and divisions affect people and their relationships can be shown in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, as well as the film West Side Story, directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. Romeo and Juliet takes place in the 1500s in the city of Verona. This tragic play tells the story of two teenagers from opposing families, the Capulets and the Montagues, who fall in love with each other against all odds. Eventually, the tensions between their families are too intense for them to bear, and the lead lovers of the story, Romeo and Juliet, commit suicide. West Side Story follows a similar plot, with a less dramatic finale. Tony and Maria come from rival gangs in New York City in the 1960s. Tony comes from the gang known as the Jets, made up of all caucasian Americans, while Maria belongs to the Sharks, a Puerto Rican group that the Jets do not think belong in America. Tony and Maria fall in love as well and must deal with the challenges that arise in having a star-crossed relationship. Both the play and the film address hatred, stubbornness, and ignorance that can cause horrible results for blooming relationships. Of course, there are other themes present within these two works that can drastically disturb relations, however, the evidence most clearly points towards rivalries as the central factor.
To begin, the motives for the feud between the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Juliet as well as the fighting between the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story are quite similar, yet very distinct. First, it is clearly established in the play Romeo and Juliet that the Montagues and Capulets have bad blood between them. In the prologue, it can be found that they are two families of similar wealth and power, suggesting that the two most likely argue over who is the best or who has the most money. However, the true reason behind their dispute is never actually revealed by Shakespeare. It is made obvious, however, that they fight often in a speech that the Prince gives after he catches members of the Capulets and Montagues fighting on the streets of Verona. The Prince declares,
“Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word
By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,
have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets...
If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace” (Shakespeare).
The Prince’s threat establishes the fact that both families have fought before and that this is really the last straw. Because tensions between them are running so high, this makes for a more dramatic and interesting conflict in the future, when Romeo and Juliet meet. Next, in order to understand the difference in exposition and therefore theme in both the play and the film, one must be able to...