Tuesday, June 06, 2006

On romantic tragedies

Amar and Akbar watched a romantic tragedy the other night. I watched it a week or so before my brothers, and when they asked me for my opinion, I did say that when all is said and done, Fanaa is a romantic tragedy. Now dear reader, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against romantic tragedies. I just think they are rather hard to do. And I’m not the only one. No less a person than the Bard thought so. Allow me to explain.

William Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. Romeo and Juliet was the 28th, so one can assume that he was a quite experienced storyteller when he penned the story that ends with a pair of star-cross’d lovers taking their lives.

Now how does this taking life business happen?

Friar Lawrence helps Juliet by providing a sleeping draught that will make everyone think she's dead. Romeo is then supposed to come to her tomb and take her away. When the wedding party arrives to greet Juliet next day they think she is dead. The Friar sends a colleague to warn Romeo to come to the Capulet's family monument, but the message doesn't get through. Instead, upon hearing that Juliet is dead, Romeo returns to Verona and takes poison and dies just as Juliet awakes from her drugged sleep. She learns what has happened from Friar Lawrence and stabs herself.

Romeo and Juliet, the first romantic tragedy the Bard penned, was a big hit. Upon finding the successful formula of the taking of multiple lives in confusing circumstances, he ended four of his remaining nine plays in similar manner.

In the rotten state of Denmark, Hamlet duels with Laertes where Claudius plots for Hamlet to die either on a poisoned rapier, or from poisoned wine. The plans go wrong, and basically everyone dies.

Okay, Hamlet is not a romantic tragedy you say. Hmmm, maybe, but Othello surely is. And how does the Moore of Venice meet his end? He accuses Desdemona of infidelity, and after a brief argument, smothers her (obviously someone named Ataullah — Othello in English — has Quranic licence (4:34) to smack their bitch up). Desdemona dies but says Othello is innocent. Eventually it is revealed that Iago is the villain, and Othello commits suicide.

Antony and Cleopetra is another romantic tragedy where Shakespeare used the multiple death formula. Here, Cleopatra goes to her tomb and sends a message to Antony that she is dead. Antony is devastated and decides to kill himself. But wait, he botches the suicide and wounds himself without dying. His followers take him to Cleopatra's tomb, where he dies in her arms. Of course Cleopatra wasn’t dead, but now that Antony is dead, what can she but to kill herself?

You see dear reader, romantic tragedies are not easy to do. They are actually so hard that upon finding a successful formula, even Shakespeare chose to stick to it rather than try something new.