Thursday, June 7, 2012

O, For A Muse of Fire: Shakespeare’s Inspiring Love Scenes

Like a Costco of love scenes, Shakespeare has something for everyone. While there is no sex on the page, there is plenty of innuendo. Some rowdy, some sly, some witty, love scenes of every flavor abound from passionate, lusty, or dark, to outrageously funny, poignant, or earnest.

Shakespeare’s lovers are virginal youths, gods and goddesses, attractive opposites, and murderous spouses. The wonder of Shakespeare’s characters in love, coupled with his brilliant language – that can be bawdy, or transcendent – is something you will be struck by again and again. You’ll never fail to find gems within his work that will inspire your own creation of both evocative love scenes and rich characters.

Revisit the most famous, and oft-quoted, of his plays – “Romeo and Juliet” – and you’ll be wallowing in romance, love, desire, and rapturous words of love. He captures with eloquence the youthful energy and passion of the pair. Witness the speeches of Romeo and his Juliet where their impatience and lust are so evident. Romeo’s famous Act II, Scene II speech “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks, It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.”, conveys his emotions and hormones running amuck. And Juliet, as she awaits the return of Nurse, her agitation blatantly clear, bemoans, “O, she is lame! . . . Had she affections and warm youthful blood, She would be as swift in motion as a ball;”. Later, the all-encompassing power of her love is laid out for the reader in Act II, Scene II with its stunning conclusion:

“…Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night,
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
O, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possess’d it; and though I am sold,
Not yet enjoy’d. …”

On the opposite end of the love scene spectrum, you have the witty adult banter replete with sexual innuendo, foreplay if you will, between Kate and Petruchio, in “The Taming of the Shrew”. This famous meeting is a terrific example of Shakespeare’s bawdy bent (Act II, Scene I):

Kate: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy is then to pluck it out.
Kate: Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting?
In his tail!
Kate: In his tongue
Petruchio: Whose tongue?
Kate: Yours, if you talk of tales; and so farewell.
Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail?
Nay, come again,
Good Kate, I am a gentleman.
Kate: That I’ll try

For the author crafting love scenes reading the plays of Shakespeare provides a bountiful wealth of inspiration.

In addition to his plays, there is also the breathtaking beauty of his poems and sonnets – rife with intense romantic emotions. The most famous, perhaps, Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”), presents a lover’s litany to his lady of all her beloved characteristics. But my personal favorite literally chokes me up. In a few short lines it expresses the all-encompassing power of love:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

To paraphrase Portia, I rest my case.

P.S. Of course, among the canon of dramatic literature, lovers and love scenes abound. For other tastes, you might try:

“Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” – a great exploration of post-coital emotions by John Patrick Shanley

“Talk To Me Like The Rain and Let Me Listen” – a lyrical outpouring between 2 lovers exposing their deepest longings, by the master, Tennessee Williams.

“Frankie and Johnny In The Claire du Lune” - Terence McNally’s quiet exploration between two strangers, hesitate, ordinary, who succumb to loneliness and longing. This is an exquisite, passionate play, as lilting as the song the title it references.

“Fool For Love” – Again, this Sam Shepard play is sizzling with erotic tension and action between the two incestuous sibling lovers.

“Desire Under the Elms” – Like some other plays of Eugene O’Neill, “Anna Christie” and “A Moon For the Misbegotten”, “Desire”, with its theme of forbidden lust and love, is a deep and dark exploration of the human heart.

One of the most tortured pair of lovers in all of dramatic literature is Tennessee Williams’ very own Maggie the Cat and her husband Brick. The dynamics of familial pressures on a couple, Brick’s tormented secrets, and Maggie’s unrequited lust for her handsome husband are brilliantly explored. And perhaps the universal desperation of lovers’ can be summed up in Maggie’s classic speech:

“You know, if I thought you would never, never, never make love to me again – I would go downstairs to the kitchen and pick out the longest and sharpest knife I could find and stick it straight into my heart, I swear that I would! But the one thing I don’t have is the charm of the defeated, my hat is still I the ring and I am determined to win! What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? I wish I knew . . . Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can . . . Later tonight I’m going to tell you I love you an’ maybe by that time you’ll be drunk enough to believe me…”

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