Writer’s block. A common problem suffered by all different types of authors. But, there is many ways to overcome it and one of the best ways is to find some kind of inspiration. Sometimes, the best kind of inspiration out there comes from other authors and their stories. The screenplay writer of West Side Story, Ernest Lehman was inspired by the author of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare. William Shakespeare inspired Ernest Lehman because of the obvious similarities in theme, plot and the characters of both of their stories.
Inspiration can be the best way to jumpstart your own imagination and is especially helpful when it comes to the theme of a story. The themes of both Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story are very similar. The theme of masculine pride is apparent in both stories. In Romeo and Juliet it is clearly shown when Mercutio lay slain on the ground and Romeo says to him, “Courage, man. The hurt cannot be much. ” (Shakespeare 3. 1. 96). Romeo says this to make sure his fears and “femininity” is not shown even though his friend lies dying at his feet. This theme comes up in West Side Story often.
But, is most obvious through the male gang members, who believe they need to be the tough guys and stand their ground. The theme of hastiness also appears in both stories. When Romeo sees Juliet “dead” but looking life-like he doesn’t think and kills himself, thinking it was the only option, “…thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die. ”(Shakespeare 5. 3. 120). This theme is also a part of West Side Story when Tony, not knowing that Maria is actually dead, he just heard it from the doc, runs out into the street and begs to be killed as well, at the thought of not being able to stand being without his love.
Immature love, another major theme of Romeo and Juliet that is also incorporated into West Side Story. Romeo and Juliet meet at a party hosted by Juliet’s father, after their meeting Juliet expresses to the nurse, “My only love sprung from my only hate! ” (Shakespeare 1. 5. 140). This shows their immature love because Juliet feels that Romeo can only be, and only ever will be her only love after meeting once. This theme was also brought over into West Side Story when Tony and Maria meet at a dance. They see each other and have one dance and afterwards they feel that they are ‘in love’ and must see each other again.
All of the original themes of Romeo and Juliet have been integrated into West Side Story, the plot of the two stories also share similarities. The musical West Side Story followed a similar plot to Romeo and Juliet. The story of Romeo and Juliet is based a great deal on the feuding families of the Capulets and the Montagues. The feud of the two families is clear from the prologue, “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny…” (Shakespeare Prologue. -3). This same feud is found in West Side Story but as opposing gangs rather than feuding families. The Sharks and the Jets battle and fight over who owns “the streets” and that the Sharks or Puerto Rican’s should go back to where they came from. The most important part of the story, Romeo and Juliet is of course the idea of, “a pair of star-crossed lovers (who) take their life” (Shakespeare Prologue. 6). This part of the storyline is also followed in West Side Story.
The pair of lovers, Maria and Tony are supposed to not love each other because they come from different loyalties, the Sharks and the Jets, just as Romeo and Juliet come from opposing families, the Capulets, and the Montagues. Of course, the ending of Romeo and Juliet, the ‘coming together’ and forgetting the ancient grudge and hatred between the two families was also transferred over into West Side Story. In Shakespeare’s play the truce was more verbal, “O brother Montague, give me thy hand” (Shakespeare 5. 3. 296), this was to show that Capulet wishes to no longer fight and to “bury his strife” with his daughters death.
Whereas in West Side Story, the truce came about in the form of an action. After, Chino shot Tony in the back, Tony lay upon the ground lifeless, the rest of the Jets try to pick Tony up and carry him, they struggle lifting him and the Sharks join in and give them a hand creating the truce between the two groups reminiscent of the two families in Romeo and Juliet. The characters of West Side Story are easily comparable to the characters of Romeo and Juliet. William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Ernest Lehman’s Tony have very similar personalities and actions throughout the play.
Romeo and Tony’s hasty decisions throughout the play are similar, the idea of loving a girl they had just met, running away with them, or choosing to die without thinking. They also have their immaturity in common, Romeo is proven immature in the beginning of the play, “…Do I live dead that live to tell it now” (Shakespeare 1. 1. 227) Romeo would choose to die, than live unloved. The biggest thing that Romeo and Tony have in common is that they let their emotions tell them what to do. Their anger leads them to kill a loved one of their lovers and their grief leads them to kill themselves or at least ask to be killed.
Another character from each story that have parallel connections to each other are Juliet and Maria. Juliet and Maria share qualities like their maturity to think things through a bit more than the male characters in each story, even though by the end they start to make hastier decisions and make mistakes. They share their acts of rebelliousness to rebel against their loyalties and love someone “from the other side”. They also share their ‘death’. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet fakes her death with a potion whereas in West Side Story, Maria’s death was a rumour spread by Anita.
The two character groups, the Sharks and the Jets can be traced back to the families of Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues and the Capulets. The two groups or ‘gangs’ show similarities to the two families of Romeo and Juliet. Each gang follows the similar pattern of, we hate each other, we see our hatred it’s wrong and we need to fix it. Overall, the characters of West Side Story can all be traced back to some character of Romeo and Juliet. In conclusion, it is apparent that Ernest Lehman used William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as inspiration for his musical West Side Story.
The themes of Romeo and Juliet are used as themes in West Side Story to construct a modernized but classic version of William Shakespeare’s original. The plot of West Side Story is so similar to the plot of Romeo and Juliet that it would be a logical connection to make that, Ernest Lehman used the play for inspiration for the new screenplay. All the characters of Romeo and Juliet were extremely well developed by William Shakespeare that Ernest Lehman used them as an idea or motivation to create new more modern characters for West Side Story.
All things considered, it is a fair judgement to make that Ernest Lehman did use William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as inspiration for his popular musical West Side Story. Although there are many ways to overcome a problem like writers block, using old classics for inspiration can sometimes be the best solution.
http://www. imdb. com/title/tt0055614/ – used to find the screenplay writer for West Side Story Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet, New York: New American Library, 1998 Lehman, Ernest. West Side Story, (release date) Japan: 1961