Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Can Men Write Romance?

  Image credit: Fruit Tart by lsantilli / 123RF Stock Photo

Okay, here's the deal. Today is my birthday. Since my birthday is just two days removed from that of my favorite author, I decided to do a little homage to the man who wrote romance at its best.

Grab yourself a slice of cake, and enjoy a few sweet lines compliments of Lily.

Can men write romance? Recently, I encountered this question on a writer's forum. It is a valid question, as often we characterize men as being only interested in writing or reading war stories, thrillers, shoot-em-up spy classics and sex stories. 

Well, this week, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the above question, and also thinking and hearing about a favorite author of mine; William Shakespeare.  Yes, it was his birthday on April 23rd, just two days before mine, and all week the public radio station has been doing trivia on him, quoting him, and generally discussing Mr. Shakespeare's works. So, it seems fated that I post yet another discussion about William Shakespeare in answer to the above question. Last week, I wrote about the timelessness of his tragic play, Romeo and Juliet, and it's many theatrical incarnations. This week I decided to write a little about Shakespeare's other romantic writings. As I absolutely love Shakespeare's works, I'm doing this on my birthday as a present to myself.

But in case you've never, ever read a snitch of Shakespeare, dear romance reader, let me share some wonderful, swoon worthy snippets with you from this MAN who wrote plays and poetry back in the 16th century.

My favorite sonnet by the bard is Sonnet 116.  It explores the beauty and constancy of true love. 
Here it is, the whole delightful cake for you to savor: 

Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
which alters when its alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove:
Oh No! It is an ever fixed mark, 
That looks on Tempests and is never shaken:
It is the Star to every wandering bark, 
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. 
Love's not Time's fool, though Rosy Lips and cheeks 
Within his bending sickle's compass come: 
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, 
But bears it out even to the edge of Doom.
If this be error, and upon me proved, 
I never writ, and no man ever loved.

But it doesn't end there. Shakespeare has written so many plots dripping with deep, soul shattering romance, and often he couched such deep longings and yearnings in either bloodshed or comedy. Take, for example, the story Hero in Much Ado about nothing. Hero is a pure, lovely girl who falls in love with a man named Claudio. Claudio's enemy, seeking to destroy the lover's ploy, does some mischief and portrays Hero as being a slut. When the wedding happens, her bridegroom publicly denounces her as a whore at the altar for everyone to see and walks away from her. She's devastated. Her family contrives to pretend she died, and endeavors to prove she is innocent. Once this happens, Claudio, who denounced her so publicly is shattered. He really loved her, but listened to his 'friends' (enemies) instead of his heart. He He apologies to her father, and is then requested to go to her tomb and put a public plaque of apology on the door for all to see. He does so and through his regret, we see a man much in love and ashamed of himself for so grievously wounding his love and causing her death. By the way, the lovers are reunited in the end.

Within the same story is the relationship of Beatrice and Benedict. These two are both strong, witty characters, and they despise each other. As entertainment, the gathering decides to lie to each of them and tell them that the other is secretly in love with them. This brings on a bunch of humorous and scintillating exchanges between the pair, as each one now second guesses the other's stinging retorts for hidden meanings of affection. In the end, they do fall in love with each other. If you haven't seen the movie starring Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thompson as Benedict & Beatrice, check it out. It also stars a very young Kate Beckinsale as Hero, and Denzel Washington as the Prince. 

Another example of timeless romance, is the muli-layered story of A Midsummer Night's Dream: While I'm not the fond of the movie version with Michelle Pfieffer,  (it's okay, but the play reads much better!) I do love the deep romantic subplots of the story. There are mature lovers getting married, fairy lovers at odds with one another, and runaway mortal lovers traveling through the forest at night to escape death, and to escape the wrong person who has fallen in love with them and is chasing after them due to a troubling magic potion. We have so many lovers in this story it is really like a paranormal romance. Fairy Queens falling for mortal men, mortal lovers chasing mortal lovers. Fairy lovers at odds as Titania and Oberon try to work out problems in their marriage ....... it's a beautiful, yet clever, engaging story. 

And lastly,  another favorite of mine, is As You Like It. In this story, a man named Orland, who is so moonstruck in love with a woman, he's going around carving her name on trees, writing sonnets to her, and so forth. The woman, Rosalind, is running away from an evil uncle and encounters him in the woods (she's disguised as a man), she has some amusement at Orlando's expense by trying to talk him out of love with this supposed paragon. Orlando doesn't know that the very woman he loves is before him, dressed as a man. So, they argue, with Orlando defending his love for his lady while Rosalind, disguised as the young man Ganymede, attempts to talk him out of his ridiculous obsession and cure him of his love sickness.

It is truly inspiring to think that a man wrote these passionate scenes, a man, yes, it's true! 
So, if you're still wondering about the answer to the opening question, Can a man write romance?,  the answer is a resounding YES!  Men can write romance, and do it quite well.
Shakespeare has done it, and we all know how that ended. He's become a household name.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tragic Lovers Resonate Through the Centuries


 No tribute to timeless lovers would be complete without considering the story of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.  For some inexplicable reason, the story of these tragic lovers resonates with every age and in nearly every society. Don't believe me, well, consider the most recent version of the tale,
"Gnomeo and Juliet". Yes, you read that right, even the gnomes are doing it!


Copying Shakespeare, that is. Although, now that spring is in the air, I'm sure the gnomes are doing the other 'IT' with gusto as well, as we'll be seeing evidence of their dedication in the proliferation of little garden gnomes on lawns throughout the neighborhood.

If you weren't forced to read this story in High School for Literature class, you've missed one of the greatest romantic tragedies in English Literature. As my blog originates in North America, and I am involved in my local school system as a teacher, I am confident that if you are reading this, you are shaking your head in a positive manner, recalling those awkward teen years when you were interested in anything and everything but being forced to read Shakespeare or Dickens! 

I recall my own high school experiences. I lived for three things, Boys, Rock music, and well, Partying. A seventeen year old girl's life has changed very little since I was one, and I assume that high school girls and guys are the least people likely to be interested in this tragic love story written four centuries past, yet we force them to read it and write a paper on it, just the same. Call it a rite of passage.

In the late 1990's, an obscure filmmaker decided to make a modern version of Romeo and Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo, and it did receive some box office success. I recall watching it with my own teens on a Friday night. To Baz Luhrman's (Director) credit, when my fifteen year old son answered the door and found his dude friends wanted him to come outside and hang in the hood, he told them he would meet them later, as he was watching a really cool movie. He didn't invite them in to watch with us, but to my shock, he didn't try to get out of watching it with the family, either, as one might expect. He said no to his friends and stayed in to finish watching this version of Shakespeare. To be fair, it was really jazzed up with lots of modern imagery, a rock music soundtrack, and plenty of gang fights to hold the lad's interest. The Montagues and the Capulets, in this version used modern handguns instead of swords and carried on like rival street gangs with a drive-by shootings at the local gas station and at the beach, all while quoting the original Shakespeare text. It is pretty wild. I still own the movie and would recommend it as a starter set for anyone interested in Shakespeare. This version was much more fast paced than the old version from the 60's with Olivia Hussy as Juliet. Unlike that one, this one won't put you to sleep. If it can keep the attention of a 15 year old boy, it has done it's job pretty well. 

Okay, gentle reader, as an adult, you have no excuse to ignore these legendary lovers. If you absolutely love romance and the tales of timeless lovers as I do, reconsider this epic romance from a different perspective than your jaded high school self. I promise, this time, no one will mock you or think you uncool if you sigh a little at the hopelessness of their situation and shed a tear for the ill-fated lovers who contrive to take their own lives rather than live without each other.

Here's a thumbnail of the original story written in Elizabethan times, just to refresh your memory.

Romeo is a Montague, his family is rich and powerful in the fair Italian city of Verona. Romeo is morose, moody sort of guy, writes poetry and moons over his lady love, who seems to have dumped him. His family is worried about him because he's so depressed. His cousin and his kinsmen take him to a party to cheer him up. They, being young men full of adventure, decide to crash the party of their enemy, the rival family in town, the Capulets. Romeo sees Juliet, and falls in love with her. Now, to some this might seem a little creepy, as Juliet is only fourteen years old and Romeo is at least eighteen, I would think. But, remember that this was written in the 16th century, so it was not uncommon for a girl to be married at that age or at least betrothed. Juliet, is in fact, being offered in marriage to her father's associate, Paris, at this same time. Juliet does not want to marry Paris. She dances with Romeo at the party and they fall desperately and hopelessly in love.

What follows is a whirlwind courtship, with Romeo and Juliet bantering back and forth in poetic prose that has become famous.  "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." They share a hasty wedding night after a secret wedding that their parents do not know of. And then, fate hands them a blow when Romeo's kinsmen is slain by Juliet's cousin. Romeo is enraged, and kills Juliet's cousin, Tybalt, becoming an outlaw. In order to escape execution, Romeo must leave the city and be in exile.

No one knows Romeo and Juliet have wed, except the Friar who married them in secret, and Juliet's faithful nurse. Juliet is expected to marry Paris, her father's man. Romeo leaves the city, vowing to write to Juliet.  Juliet is desperate, she doesn't want to be forced to marry Paris when she is in actuality married to Romeo, the man she truly loves. She goes to the Friar for help, he gives her a drug and counsels her to take it on the night before her scheduled wedding to Paris. It will make her sleep for 42 hours and appear dead. The Friar vows to send word to Romeo about the plan, and to be there in the family crypt when she awakens with Romeo at his side so the lovers can run away together.

But, the letter to Romeo explaining this plot never arrives, and he learns of Juliet's death by another. Sick with grief, he, too, buys a dram of poison, real poison, and goes to the tomb where his lady love is buried. Finding her there in the appearance of death, he is overcome by grief and drinks the poison, dying at her side. And moments later, Juliet awakens, finding him dead beside her! 

Oh God, if that isn't enough tragedy for you, there is more to come . . . .

 Juliet, being just fourteen, and desperately in love, cannot imagine living in a world without her Romeo in it. She sees the vial in his hand and wails, "Oh, churl, drunk all, and left no friendly drop to help me after?--I will kiss thy lips, Haply some poison yet doth hang on them!"  She kisses him, but nothing happens. Distressed, young Juliet takes his dagger, and says "O happy dagger, this is thy sheath (her heart), there rust and let me die!"  She stabs herself, and dies next to her beloved in the tomb.

By the time the Friar finds them, the pair are lying together in the tomb, each having slain themselves out of grief at losing the other.

Whether you like to read Shakespeare (or watch movie versions) or not, you cannot deny that this epic story has had a huge impact on the Modern world. The story of lovers, kept apart by fate is the bread and butter of the romance novel industry. It sells books, period. The romance genre in books is the single top selling genre, high above mysteries, sci-fi, or political thrillers. Romance sells, and it all comes back, eventually, to William Shakespeare's Iconic characters, Romeo and Juliet.


Other incarnations of Romeo & Juliet: 
  • West Side Story, a musical version in the 1960's, modernized to NYC
  •  Romeo and Juliet (1968 film), UK title: William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (directed by Franco Zeffirelli)
  • Romeo Must Die 
  • Twilight, Bella falls in love with an enemy to humanity, not merely of her family
  • Shakespeare in Love 
  • Romeo X Juliet A TV Anime series, broadcast in 2007, that is based on the Shakespeare story, but with plot twists, more characters, and mythical creatures. 
  • Romeo and Juliet, 2007: TV drama set in modern Japan.
  • Tromeo and Juliet (1996), a parody version of the story
  • Shrek 2 :  Oh, yes. Fiona's father tries to kill Shrek, cuz he's got a contract with the Fairy Godmother stating that Fiona is supposed to marry Prince Charming, or else! 
  • Just about every fourth movie or romance novel ever published has this theme in it: forbidden lovers!