The two plays, Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, have a lot in common. In fact, many analysts claim that West Side Story is the modern version of Romeo and Juliet (Wells 7), hence a great resemblance in the theme development. Conversely, the two plays have many differences for anyone with a keen eye, especially as regards their plots, character traits, ending of the stories, and the development of themes. This analysis will be a comparison of these two plays.
The plays, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare and West Side Story, have many different and similar features. First, the plays were written in different periods, so their characters are not similar. This is a statement to establish in the following discussion/comparison of the two plays.
The Plays’ Plots
The two stories revolve around disagreements between families with opposing values and conclude in the demise of young adults. This is because the young people involved had a notion that their deep love to each other would surmount the aggression between the families (Gibbons 3). In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet’s family (Capulet) considered themselves as noble, while Romeo’s family (Montague) was a humble family. Juliet was a young virgin girl 14 years of age, who had been promised to marry a man of the family’s own choice. However, she cared less for the man. It occurred that Romeo, accompanied by his friends, crashed at the Capulet’s party and instantly fell in love with Juliet.
At that time, when Juliet was falling in love with Romeo, she had no idea who he was. Juliet came to know more about Romeo from her cousin, who identified him as a family enemy. Romeo and his friends were ousted by the Capulet family from the party. Some days later, Romeo returned back to Juliet’s home where they met on her balcony. He slept with her and promised to marry her. The two families issued various threats against each other, and Romeo accidentally killed Juliet’s cousin (Bly 17). Romeo was banished from the city. Conversely, in the West Side Story, Tony was Polish while Maria was a Puerto Rican residing in New York. Just like the Montague and the Capulet, the two groups had people who protected them regardless of the aggressiveness between the two families. Tony is killed by a gang in the end as a result of the union between him and Maria (Laurents 3). Maria decided to move on after Tony’s death despite the strong love she had for him.
Comparison between the Two Plays
The West Side Story plot and performance is in Manhattan Upper West Side. The story revolves around the conflict between two youth groups living in different areas. Anton, who is an affiliate of the white gang, falls in love with Maria, who happens to be a sister of the members of the rival Puerto Rican gang. On the contrary, Romeo and Juliet is about two families in conflict – Capulet represented by Juliet and Romeo by Montague. The main theme in the two love stories is profound, powerful, and ardent love that overrides everything; not even the family differences or loyalties can stop it.
The bonds between Tony and Maria and Romeo and Juliet were strong to an extent of defying their families, social class, and friends just to remain together. They both rebel against their environment of origin to the point of even forgetting their wellbeing. Both plays are filled with intensity of thoughts and emotions. Romeo’s emotions go to a different level when he accidentally kills Juliet’s cousin and later commits suicide as he believes Juliet is dead. On the other hand, Tony was killed by the Puerto Rican gang after numerous attempts to separate him from Maria. This is after Tony challenged Chino to a duel when he believed Chino had murdered Maria. Initially, Tony had killed Maria’ brother Bernardo after an intense argument.
In the two plays, the male personalities tend to be described by their intense and powerful feelings of love. This powerful deep feeling in the male characters is what seems to drive the stories to greater heights. It must be noted that if these male characters had not had such strong love to the female characters, the conflicts would not have been there in the first place. On the contrary, the female characters showed some sense of reasoning and took circumstances into consideration. For example, Juliet showed submission when she tried to show some form of affection to Paris, her parents’ choice for her. Maria, on her part, showed some willpower when she consented to marry Chino.
Another theme of contrast is the objectivity. When Maria makes a decision to run away to the city with Tony and leave all the conflicts behind them, theme of objectivity is revealed. In contrast, when Romeo accidentally kills Juliet’s cousin, Juliet does not flee with him immediately. She, however, makes a rational decision to let her love for her boyfriend to take its course. It is evident that both female characters, opting to follow their hearts, made efforts to delink themselves from their present social links. Maria had the objective to follow her boyfriend Romeo and leave behind her social status, family, and the nurse who was her best and trusted friend. Maria had the objective to delink herself from the social connection when she decided to flee off with Tony to the city.
Out of love she had for Romeo, Juliet commits suicide after finding out about his death. She opted to kill herself with a dagger rather than use other simple means. This shows her courage. On the other hand, Maria does not commit suicide but decides to walk away upon witnessing the death of Tony in the hands of Chino. Maria courageously uses the tragedy to condemn the hatred between the two groups – the hatred which led to the demise of Tony. After this, the two groups declare respite. In essence, the deaths of two youngsters lead to peace between the two groups, and this seems to be the objectivity behind it. That is to say, peace between the two groups was only probable after the death of someone and the pain of losing someone. There is no particular lesson that can be learned from the two love stories. The playwrights seem to convey a message to the reader that at times chaos and other constrains is likely to exist where two lovers from different backgrounds love each other passionately.
In both of the novels, theme of violence is expressed in unique ways. The reader is able to figure out that love in the two stories is connected to death. Violence is so evident that at the end of Romeo and Juliet both lovers die, while in West Side Story Tony is killed. From the beginning of the two stories one can easily sense trouble brewing due to the hostility between the two groups and families. It is only death that ends the violence between the two groups and families.
The two stories also portray the theme of conflict between the individuals and the community. The community wanted the lovers to remain in their own groups against their expectations. Romeo and Juliet defy their families’ wishes of not being together romantically due to their social class. They all fought for their personal desires to an extent of taking their own lives. Respectively, Tony and Maria fought for their love but on their part they did not opt for suicide, which makes a difference between the two groups. Tony’s death was caused by another person as opposed to Romeo and Juliet, who killed themselves.
Paris, who was the suitor Juliet’s parents had chosen for her, wants to marry her against her will. Her parents want someone who has the same social status, but Juliet goes for someone of the inferior social class. She ends up marrying Romeo without informing anyone. In West Side Story, Tony and Maria do not end up getting married. Their love is separated by the conflict between the two opposing groups: the white gang and the Puerto Rican group.
The most explicit dissimilarities between the two stories are the following: the fact that the identities of Tony’s and Maria’ parents are never revealed to the reader and the fact that Maria does not opt to commit suicide despite the fact that she loved Tony so much. The significance of the gangs and the two socially bounded families in the plays is not actually revealed to the reader.
In West Side Story, the play is expressed mostly in songs while Romeo and Juliet has more profound spoken words. The character’s thoughts are more expressed in speech when Romeo and Juliet meet on the balcony. On the contrary, in West Side Story, the characters’ thoughts are shred in form of music. The play is written in musical form, which adds liveliness to the whole action.
Another main contrast between the two stories is the reaction of the female characters after discovering that their lovers are dead. Juliet commits suicide upon seeing Romeo dead. In West Side Story, after seeing Chino kill Tony, Maria does not make a choice to kill herself. Rather, she decides to walk away. It seems that she is not overwhelmed or stricken by the death of her lover. It is then apparent that the main characters in Romeo and Juliet do not let themselves continue with new life upon finding one of them is dead. In West Side Story it is apparent that Maria might have moved on with her life after the death of Tony.
In Romeo and Juliet the relationship is mostly bonded by blood. Montague and Capulet are two families separated by social class. The blood connection difference seems to be so deep that when their children fall in love there is a great conflict. Conversely, Tony and Maria are separated by their gangs. No family connections are mentioned in the play apart from Maria’s brother. Perhaps this is the reason why it is much easier for Maria to move on after the death of Tony. Their love is only separated by the affiliated membership in the two distinct gangs.
In addition, another clear difference between the two stories concerns issues relating to marriage. Romeo and Juliet are married while Tony and Maria are not married. This might also be the reason why Juliet kills herself after Romeo’s death. In their scenario, the marriage subject is immediately brought up when they meet. On the other hand, the issue of marriage in West Side Story is only discussed in a joking way. This shows their love was not that profound. They seem not be ready for what they have put themselves into.
Finally, there is no reason to believe that there are no other similarities. The similarities between the two plays revolve around the characters’ roles and love. The main male characters have a lot in common. Romeo and Toni fail to spot the fight at the commencement of the plays; they both fall in love and in the end they both die. On the other hand, the two main female characters have something in common. Juliet’s and Maria’s families had a high contempt for their boyfriend’s lineage. The hate goes to an extent of the demise of the youth due to differences between the families. In summing up, the comparison of the two plays reveals something to the reader. First, in terms of quality character development and plot movement, as discussed above, Romeo and Juliet surpasses West Side Story. The language used in Romeo and Juliet is more appealing though difficult to understand at some point. The story has much to teach the current playwrights as seen from the contrast between the two stories.
Bly, Mary. “The Legacy of Juliet’s Desire in Comedies of the Early 1600s”. Shakespeare and Sexuality. Eds. Margaret M. S. Alexander, and Wells Stanley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.
Gibbons, Brian (ed.). Romeo and Juliet. The Arden Shakespeare Second Series, London: Thomson Learning, 1980. Print.
Laurents, Arthur. Original story by: a Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood. New York: Knopf, 2000. Print.
Wells, Elizabeth A. West Side Story: Cultural Perspectives on an American Musical Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland, 2010. Print.