Happy 90th Birthday Stephen Sondheim!

Both Stephen Sondheim and William Shakespeare created large numbers of works during careers that spanned several decades. And each gave voice to small universes of characters who represent the human condition in all our diversity, complexity and flaws. Most importantly, Sondheim and Shakespeare share the ability to create those voices in vernaculars that are lyrically and poetically beautiful, emotional, intelligent.

So today, on Sondheim’s 90th birthday, I decided to publish a post about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, whose adaptation, West Side Story, introduced Sondheim to Broadway. In adapting Shakespeare’s play for West Side Story, Arthur Laurents made a critical plot change to explain why Tony was misled into believing Maria was dead, which then resulted in Tony’s death. Laurents wrote a scene in which the Jets sexually assault Anita who, in her rage, lies to them by saying that Maria is dead. This motivation in a central character perfectly suits the theme of anger and revenge in West Side Story. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare uses the plague as a plot device to prevent a letter from reaching Romeo informing him that Juliet’s reported death is untrue.

Some argue that Laurents improved on Shakespeare. Actually, each author chose the perfect devices to advance their plots. Laurents understood that what worked for a London audience over 400 years ago would not work well in New York in the twentieth century. For more on how Shakespeare integrated his plot device into the themes of Romeo and Juliet, read Unhappy Fortune! The Plague in the Plays.

An Upgraded!

Since my last post over a year ago, has been improved. Michelle McGinnis of Friendly Web Consulting redesigned the home page and created a new tool for searching and filtering. In addition, some of the content has been reorganized under new drop-down menus. And some new short essays and notes have been added. Check them out here:
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John McGinnis