Comparing the Characters in Laurents' West Side Story and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

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Meshing Together of Characters in Arthur Laurents' West Side Story and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

The meshing of characters between Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Bernstein’s West Side Story formulate significant similarities between the two. In Romeo and Juliet the story of “Two households both alike in dignity,” (Montagues and Capulets) who have been feuding is parallel to the two gangs in West Side Story (Jets and Sharks). This grouping of loyalties keeps the segregation of the two groups at a dead lock, thus producing the tension that keeps the two lovers in each play (Romeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria) in the unattainable, intangible realm of their idealistic love. It is these two groupings that cause the star-crossed
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The same is similar in West Side Story in the role of Doc, “Why do you live like there’s a war on?”(Laurents119). In his own way he embodies the older society that has been around. He dislikes the Puerto Ricans as much as the next guy, but he sees no need for quarrels.

The need for vengeance runs amuck throughout these two pieces of work. In West Side Story the two gangs come together when encountered by the police in order to be able to continue the fighting outside of the presence of the law. In his essay on Puerto Rican Identity Frances Negron-Muntaner’s says, “The hostility between young and older men is also saturated with immigrant insecurities and resentments concerning the “fatherland(s)” (old and new). Following this, it is important to note that the Jets and the Sharks always band together when in the presence of police: the cops are the common enemy” (Negron-Muntaner 1). The cops are what bring the gangs together in order to continue their ‘rumbling.’

Different from Romeo and Juliet’s feuding groups, the Sharks and the Jets lose their separate identities when the law is involved. They become one group fight for a bigger cause. The lines of segregation are blurred except when Lt. Shrank separates the two by putting down the Sharks. “I always make it a rule to smoke in the can. And what else is a room with
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