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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Romeo, Juliet, and That Trojan War Love Triangle

Romeo reminds me of Paris. His impulsive behavior, his flip-flop from agony over Rosaline to absolute adoration of Juliet. He wants to be noble, but somehow he just doesn't quite make it happen, and no matter what he decides to do, it all just goes terribly wrong.

Meynier - Helen and Paris
Helen and Paris
Charles Meynier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Rosaline becomes a very convenient Oenone-- the nymph-wife that Paris abandoned when Aphrodite offered him Helen-- and Mercutio (or Tybalt?) the tragic Hector, or perhaps he serves dual purpose as Patroclus as well, the accidental/confused death that causes the slaughter of so many more.

Juliet is the perfect Helen, already promised to another, and obedient to that calling, until she meets Romeo and her world is turned upside down. Ovid's Heroides paint us a clear picture of Helen's struggle not to love Paris, just as Juliet argues with herself while Romeo eavesdrops. Helen knows Paris is forbidden to her, knows she should not go to him, even takes offense to Paris' arguments that she should give him "satisfaction," as Romeo also suggests of Juliet ("wilt though leave me so unsatisfied?"). Romeo, like Paris, makes promises of marriage, implies that they will overcome the obstacles in their path, and with the blessing of a religious authority, ultimately persuades Juliet, but in the end it leads both of them into ruin -- and not only the two of them, either, but their friends and loved ones!

It's enough to make me wonder if the choice of the name Paris as Juliet's poor, overshadowed, suitor was meant to signal the intent of this play as a retelling of Helen and Paris's star-crossed love. Or perhaps the theme of star-crossed love, and the themes of that Trojan War Love Triangle are so common, so resonant, that any such tale will offer parallels, if the reader desires to find them.

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Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.

A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.

1 comment:

  1. Juliet is the perfect Helen, already promised to another, and obedient to that calling, until she meets Romeo and her world is turned upside down.flip flop