Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is a great Shakespearean tragedy that reflects the love and faith of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. The play is set on Verona, during the Elizabethan period. Rome and Juliet has been transformed in many modern versions due to the fact that it has some elements that are relevant in the society today while it also carries some that belong to the Elizabethan Era. One of the adaptions of the play is the movie West Side Story that came out in 1961. The movie talks about the love of Maria and Ton, which are from two warring New York City gangs the White Jets and The Puerto Rican Sharks. West Side Story directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, keeps the universal elements of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet while adapting the transitionary elements in a more modern aspect.
West Side Story, changes every character in the play Romeo and Juliet to be relevant in the modern days while keeping their role to the plot of the play. For example the character of the Nurse does not exist in the modern days. The Nurse is Juliet’s nanny which is used for comedy aspects in the play. The Nurse is a servant but knows everything about Romeo and Juliet and helps them to get married. In West Side Story, Anita plays the role of the Nurse. Since servants and the comedy the Nurse shows in transitionary and is only relevant for the Elizabethan Era, Anita is a friend to Maria and does not bring comedy to the movie. Anita also helps Maria and Tony to be together and is the person to stand by Maria while she tries to stand up to the society just like the Nurse did in Romeo and Juliet. Every character in the play adapts to the modern era like this. For another example, the character of the Prince is not universal. The Prince is the person who controls the town and tries to end the feud between the Capulet’s and the Montague’s. In West Side Story Lieutenant Shark plays this role. He tries to end the feud and stop the fight. But in the other hand there is a big difference between these two characters. The Prince definitely does not pick a side between the Capulet’s and The Montague’s while due to the racist tension of the setting Lieutenant Shark has a negative view on the Puerto Rican Sharks and is not completely neutral. The most important characters in Romeo and Juliet are the parents and families of the two characters. In West Side Story, we barely see the families and the parents. The reason of this is the different cultures in different time periods. In the Elizabethan Era, young people specially girls, belonged to their families and their families defined them as a person. In the 1960’s younger people are more free and they can have a life other than their families. This is the reason why Lady Capulet, Capulet and The Montague’s are very relevant in the play but they don’t have a modern adopted version in the movie. So we can see that the
characters in West Side Story are carrying the universal aspects of the characters in Romeo and Juliet.
West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet use different techniques to capture the attention of their viewers and keep them more engaged in the play. Romeo and Juliet impresses it’s viewers with Shakespeare’s great use of language. The characters Romeo and Juliet talk to each other with complicated Old English Language. This language can not be understood clearly to modern day English speakers. This is a transitionary element of the play. West Side Story replaces the Old English language metaphors, ballads and sonnets with songs that can be easily understood. These songs play the role of Shakespeare’s sonnets and ballads. This makes the movie West Side Story relevant in the modern days. For example, the song “Tonight” which is sung by Tony and Maria in the fire escape replaces the balcony scene in Act 2 Scene 2 from the play. In this scene Romeo compares Juliet to the sun and this expresses their love and impresses the viewers. West Side Story uses the song “Tonight” to equally express the love of Tony and Maria. West Side Story also uses songs to express the racist tension between the two gangs. The song “America” is a great example for this. This song is sung by Anita and Rosalia and is in a form of a feud where Anita defends America and Rosalina defends Puerto Rico. This shows the racist tension between the two gangs and reveals the characteristics of the two gangs. It also gives the viewer information about the differences of America and Puerto Rico. This song is not relevant for Romeo and Juliet because it talks about racism, which is an element, added to the movie West Side Story to make the movie relevant concerning modern day problems.
Death in the play and the movie are very different from each other. In the play boh of the characters Romeo and Juliet die but in the movie only Tony dies in Maria’s arms. The reason of the death of Romeo and Juliet is Tybalt. Tybalt enrages Romeo and this makes him kill Tybalt. This causes Romeo to get banished out of Verona. In West Side Story Bernardo plays the role of Tybalt. In West Side Story, Bernardo enrages Chino to a point where he aims to kill Tony. In additional to Bernardo, Officer Krupke is a reason to Tony’s death. While performing his job as a police officer, Officer Krupke increases the amount of racial tension between the two gangs. In the other hand, faith plays an important role in the death of the two characters in both stories. Faith has a bigger role in the play. In the Elizabethan Era people believed that stars and astronomy controlled faith. This belief is not relevant in the modern days therefore it is transitionary. In the play there are many references to day and night, the sun and the moon and the stars. These are the symbolisms that are used in the play because of the fact that Romeo and Juliet believed that stars are responsible of their faith. These symbols and motifs are not seen in the movie. The symbols that are relevant in both texts is colour separation. In West Side Story the colours red and purple signify the sharks and the colours brown and blue signify the jets. Religious symbolism is seen in both texts. In West Side Story, this is shown with Maria praying while in Romeo and Juliet this is shown with dichotomy of meaning. The colour white shows importance in both of the scripts. In the play, Juliet wears a white angel costume. In the movie, Maira wears a white dress to the party. The colour of white shows the pureness of Maria and Juliet. Even though West Side Story is based on the original script by William Shakespeare, it uses different techniques to express the tone and the mood of the story. William Shakespeare uses Old English language, motifs and symbols and slang words to express the time era. West Side Story uses song dialogue, 60’s slang and accents to express the time period.
In conclusion, West Side Story is a modern adaption of the play Romeo and Juliet which keeps the universal elements of the play while adapting the transitionary elements to a modern day view. West Side Story adapts all the characters of Romeo and Juliet to a modern day version while keeping their role to the plot. The main difference between the two texts are the techniques used to capture the attention of the viewer. Romeo and Juliet uses Old English Language while West Side Story uses songs. Also the symbols used in the two texts are different. To understand Romeo and Juliet and see the play in a Modern Era, West Side Story is a must-watch film for all viewers.