Three Hundred Fifty Years of Blind Love: A Contraposition of Shakespeare and Robbins? Romeo and Juliet
Andy Warhol once said, "They say that time changes things , but actually you have to change them yourself." Two hundred fifty years passed between the original Romeo and Juliet and the premiere of West Side Story on Broadway in 1957. However, time did not change the message of the story, simply the creators? unique visions evolved. Shakespeare?s delivery of the timeless tale of desperate love in his classic Romeo and Juliet proves to only intensify through retelling and modern interpretation. Audiences cherish Romeo and Juliet as one of the most beloved plays of all time from the Elizabethan Age to the present. Romeo and Juliet have attained the role as the quintessential lovers, and the noun, "a Romeo," is synonymous with " lover." Shakespeare?s Romeo and Juliet is closely based on Arthur Brooke 's tale, The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet. The language, attitudes, and customs detailed in the play are generally English, in spite of Brooke?s original Italian setting. In 1949, choreographer Jerome Robbins decided to retell Brooke and Shakespeare?s romantic tragedy using song and dance , elements of racism and nationalism, and a modern vernacular . Robbins called upon the musical talents of composer Leonard Bernstein and the words of Arthur Laurents for the script and book. The love story proved to have universal appeal throughout all artistic forms, as it had already been adjusted for opera and ballet. The contemporary adaptation of this timeless classic alters details and deepens the message of hatred, but maintains Brooke and Shakespeare?s vision. The relationships between the characters, plot sequence, and theme of hatred in West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet intertwine resulting in two similar, yet varying versions of the most famous love story of all time.
The relationships between the characters of West Side Story and Shakespeare?s Romeo and Juliet are reflective of their respective time periods and the original story. Maria and Juliet represent a slightly practical counterpart to both Tony?s and Romeo?s idealistic nature. Maria?s brother Bernardo and Juliet?s cousin Tybalt portray impulsively stubborn and violent characters who both die from wounds inflicted by the male lead. Lieutenant Schrank is similar to Prince Escalus, although Schrank is unfair in his treatment and attitude towards one gang- the Sharks. Anita and Nurse both take on the role as Juliet?s confidant and trusted friend, often tampering with their roles as messengers. The mischievously tomboyish Anybodys, who desperately wants to be a Jet, would best fit into the role of Balthasar, since it was she who aided Tony in escaping after the rumble, as well as later informing the other Jets that Tony was being hunted. Finally, the character of Doc appears to fulfill the role of Friar Laurence because both possess somewhat of a peacekeeping nature. Doc attempts to get through to Tony by dramatically pleading, "Why do you live like there?s a war on? Why do you kill?" (2.5). All of the characters are consistent to the heart and soul of the story as well as the slightly differing plots.
West Side Story maintains Romeo and Juliet?s intricate and exciting plot using appropriate adaptations to accommodate mid-twentieth-century pop culture. For instance, both artistic forms portray mutual disrespect between the parties. At the dawn of Romeo and Juliet, Capulet?s cohorts harass Montague?s. "I will bite my thumb at them; which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it," boasts Sampson (1.1.42-43). In the opening scene of West Side Story, several members of a Puerto Rican gang insult A-rab, a member of the opposing gang. It is here where Lieutenant Schrank becomes aware of the potential rumble. In Romeo and Juliet Escalus, Prince of Verona, threatens, "If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace" (1.1.103-104). In West Side Story, Schrank mediates in his own way when he declares, "I got a hot surprise for you: you hoodlums don't own the streets"(1.1). Later, another similarity takes place. Riff convinces Tony to attend the dance at the gym just as Benvolio persuades Romeo to attend the Capulets? masquerade. Tony confesses to Riff that he's "reachin' out for something"(1.2), just what, he doesn't know. Riff encourages Tony by proposing, "Maybe what you're waitin' for'll be twitchin' at the dance!" (1.2). Shakespeare