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Mariana Franklin

Mr. Phillips
English 9B
20 May 2014
Music is the Food of Love
Manhattan, 1961. That is where the newest Shakespearean tragedy happens.
West Side Story, screenplay written by Ernest Lehman, is an adapted play from William
Shakespeare's magnificent and tragical play, Romeo and Juliet. Because it was based
on the the second, the similarities of both plays are extremely visual. The driven and
first sight love between Romeo and Juliet and Tony and Maria, the fight at the beginning
of both plays and their unexplained anger towards each other are all part of the
What we can definitely see as one similarity between both plays is the driven and
first sight love between Romeo and Juliet and Tony and Maria. At the start of the ball,
Romeo seems to look at the masked lady and immediately be driven to her. It is not
because of her beauty, for she is masked. It seems to be this inevitable desire that
suddenly began, it was love at first sight. Before even meeting her, Romeo already
refers to Juliet as being a beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear (1.5.45). The 2013
play-based movie was less romantic and intense than reading it in the play, therefore
we can definitely see the love at first sight between Romeo and Juliet. Likewise, Tony
and Maria met at a dance. Therefore, their meeting scene was more intense and the
love at first sight was even more apparent. They first saw each other while the others at
the dance were dancing the mambo. When one eye meets the other, everything and
everyone else blures. It is like they are in their own world and nobody else matters. After
they look they are literally driven by each other and, because it is a musical, start
dancing. Tony and Marias love is so immediate that he asks her if she is joking, she
says she has not yet learned how to joke that way (West Side Story.1.3). With less
than fifty words said, they kiss.
Another major similarity we can find is the conflict at the beginning of both plays.
The Capulets and the Montagues literally fight at the start of the play. But different from
West Side Story, they do not seem to want to fight, while the Jets and the Sharks
provoke and poke each other the entire first scene. Both disputes seem a little comical,
Romeo and Juliet because of the thumb part and West Side Story because of the
provoking, the dance and the jokes that are played between the gangs. Romeo and
Juliet is especially diverting because it is the servants who are initiating the argument,
stating one is better than the other and calling each other heartless, slashers and
slaves (1.1.40-56). The Jets and the Sharks, like the Capulets and the Montagues,
have a fight as the initial scene of the movie. Of course their scene is less of a fight and
more of a choreographed dance, because of it being a musical. Likewise to the first
scene of Romeo and Juliet, the Lieutenant stops the fight.
Also, one primary similarity is the unexplained anger between the families and
the gangs. In the prologue, we already get the knowledge that the Capulets and the
Montagues are rival families. Therefore, it is never explained why; was not mentioned
once in the play. From the first line we can already see the rivalry when Sampson
claims to Gregory that they will not carry coals" from the Montagues (1.1.1). And it is
not easy to assume what the problem was in the past that made these families loathe
each other so much that both their children had to die to make everything right.
Although never mentioned, we can at least imagine why the Jets and the Sharks hate
each other. It is probably a control or power situation. Or not, it could be much more
than that. The Lieutenant, the one person who is always there to break up their rumbles,
does not know why the kids live like there's a war on" (West Side Story.2.4) The reason
not being mentioned in neither play is, in my mind, considered a main characteristic of
both tragedies.
As it is clear West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet are two very similar plays,
with one taking place in the 1800s and the other in the 1950s. Some of the
characteristics that make them so alike are the points I stated before: their intense first
sight love, the fight at the start of both plays and the unexplained anger of the families
and the gangs. Scattered throughout the plays are many more similarities. And not only
similarities, but differences to consider in their plot, characters and settings as well.

Works Cited
"No Fear: Romeo and Juliet." SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 26 May 2014.
"West Side Story Script." . N.p., 5 Apr. 2001. Web. 26 May 2014.
"English Literature." : Romeo & Juliet vs West Side Story. N.p., 16 May 2006.
Web. 26 May 2014. <
"Study Guide for Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (1591?)." Romeo & Juliet. N.p.,
n.d. Web. 26 May 2014. <>.