"The Most Insistent Subject of Popular Music": An Exploration of Romeo and Juliet Music Adaptations and Their Expressions of Modern Cultural Issues
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1597) has been persistently popular throughout history, especially in the modern production of popular music releases. People are often widely familiar with Romeo and Juliet’s usage throughout music. However, the reasoning behind the adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is relatively undiscussed. Romeo and Juliet is a leading symbol of tragic romance, an ever-present topic in popular music. Romeo and Juliet’s canonical qualities lead music artists to adapt the original play since it permits access to an audience that is familiar with the contexts of Shakespeare’s tragedy. This essay also provides a clear definition of “adaptation,” requiring pieces to be extended engagements with a source text and provide their own interpretations of current cultural issues. As a result, the 1961 musical West Side Story and the 2017 studio album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom are examined. West Side Story reinvents the original Romeo and Juliet to express the racism against Puerto Rican immigrants present in 1950s New York. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom reverses the gender roles of the original play and establishes a feminist take on Romeo and Juliet that expresses the fluidity of female sexuality. Romeo and Juliet is adapted so often because it permits adaptors to assert their own stances on current social issues while preserving the canonical qualities of the play. Modern music artists continue to adapt Romeo and Juliet because it allows them to express current cultural tensions, making Romeo and Juliet music adaptations worthwhile reflections of issues that matter to artists and to their audiences.
Dr. Stephannie Gearhart
First Advisor Department
Dr. Matthew Donahue
Second Advisor Department
Sheets, Gabrielle, ""The Most Insistent Subject of Popular Music": An Exploration of Romeo and Juliet Music Adaptations and Their Expressions of Modern Cultural Issues" (2021). Honors Projects. 595.