We have all read them, watched them, and been subjected to
them since we were old enough to have stories shared with us. The story of two people, who fall in love, who
… perhaps … should not. What results
after this discovery propels us into tales of great heights, and (often) deep
You know who we are talking about – Romeo and Juliet.
Despite the Bard of Avon (Shakespeare)’s success with embedding this trope into every classroom, nursery, and movie theatre in existence … he wasn’t the one that started it all. And … indeed … Romeo and Juliet were not the first of literature’s star-crossed lovers. Shakespeare himself seems to have based his Romeo and Juliet on an earlier (1562) English poem “The tragical history of Romeus and Juliet” by Arthur Brooke. Brooke was no doubt inspired by one of MANY different tales from Western Literature that date back to the time of civilization and written record.
Some names we might recall:
· Enkidu and Gilgamesh
· Eros and Psyche
· Pyramus and Thisbe
· Lancelot and Guinevere
· Tristan and Isolde
In The Epic of Gilgamesh (c 7th Century BCE) Enkidu was created by the Gods to be a foil for Gilgamesh. They eventually become fast friends (and lovers), much to the chagrin of the gods (especially Ishtar).
In Lucius Apuleius’ The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche (2nd Century AD) Cupid falls in love with a mortal woman, much to the displeasure of his mother Venus.
In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, we see the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe (c 8AD possibly based on a 2nd-century story) – two young lovers separated by a wall, who agree to elope and are killed by fate and misfortune in the process.
Chaucer recounts this story again, much later in English literature in his Legend of Good Women (c 14th century).
I will be going into more detail on the love-triangle aspects present in both Tristan and Isolde and Lancelot and Guinevere in a later blog. There is A LOT to unpack there.
And let’s not talk about the DOZENS of forbidden love interests that exist in Greek and Roman mythology as a basis for the concept of star-crossed lovers. One need look no further, then the entire epic tale of the Trojan War to discover how long Western Civilization has been romanticizing the idea of an illicit romance leading to a grand story.
In short, elements of this tale have been with us for thousands of years. We find it in its own genre of romance and embedded in other genres across the spectrum of literature. Don’t “poo-poo” the idea of star-crossed-lovers in the stories that we read. There is clearly something about the idea that speaks to the soul of Humanity and has kept it present in our tale-telling.
It may not be for everyone, but star-crossed lovers are here to stay.C.S. Kading
MAED, BSCOMM, BAENG