Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story Scene Assessment

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Romeo and Juliet, a famous play by the great English playwright William Shakespeare, focuses on the themes of hate, death, and passionate love. West Side Story, the 1961 Hollywood adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, modernized the setting by replacing the feud between two noble houses with a street gang rivalry. However, the adaptation admirably preserved the original spirit of the play. In particular, Robert Wise’s and Jerome Robbins’ respect for Shakespeare’s masterpiece manifested in two scenes — the first meeting of the lovers and Tony’s death at Maria’s hands.

The scene in the dance hall where Tony meets Maria for the first time conveys the feeling of gentle yet strong, passionate, all-conquering love. The directors skillfully utilized stage directions to demonstrate how Tony and Maria’s pure love rises above the gangs’ petty struggle. The scene starts with upbeat jazz music — the Jets and the Sharks dance with their girlfriends, trying to show their superiority. Soon after, the lighting changes, blurring the dancers away as Tony and Maria enter the stage (“West Side Story (2/10)” 00:11–42). The way they look at each other and slowly meet in the center of the stage leaves no doubts about the strength of their love. Therefore, the dance hall scene successfully conveys the message and atmosphere of the original play.

Tony’s death scene makes accents the gestures and tragedy. Like Juliet, Maria gently holds her dead lover’s hands; however, she does not commit suicide. Instead, she reaches catharsis, liberating her hate towards the gang rivalry that killed Tony. Maria ceases to be a gentle lady from the dance hall scene. She stops the gang war with a commanding voice, a heart full of hate, and a gun in her hands (“West Side Story (10/10)” 00:31–01:35). The loss of beloved Tony scarred her — in this regard, the viewer can see the destructive power of hate, making the film’s portrayal of Romeo and Juliet ending particularly effective.

In conclusion, one can claim that the popularity of Romeo and Juliet stems from the eternal relevance of the themes covered by Shakespeare. Most importantly, Romeo and Juliet teach that hate gives only fleeting satisfaction at the cost of ultimate downfall. While it might be hard to love someone like Romeo and Juliet loved each other, it is possible to reduce the grief and anguish created by hate. In my opinion, our contemporary world should remember this valuable lesson.

Works Cited

West Side Story (2/10) Movie CLIP – Love At First Sight (1961) HD”. YouTube, uploaded by Movieclips. 2013. Web.

West Side Story (10/10) Movie CLIP – Killed By Hate (1961) HD”. YouTube, uploaded by Movieclips. 2013. Web.