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Forbidden Love through the Ages: Romeo and Juliet, The Scarlet Letter, and Livin on a Prayer

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By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Forbidden Love through the Ages

It goes without saying that the most famous tale of forbidden love in the Western canon is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. However, whether you consider it the archetype of love's self-sacrifice or a prime example of teenage hormonal idiocy is another story altogether.

Broken down, the plot is pretty simple: boy meets girl, boy woos girl, boy and girl die in a messy triple murder / suicide. Romantics (and Twilight fans) will tell you that true love is the willingness to die for someone. Nay-sayers will argue that sleeping with an impressionable thirteen-year old girl is creepy. It's a debate for the ages.

Although it's hard to break away from the romantic tradition set down by Romeo and Juliet, let's fast forward a few years to Puritan New England. "Hot" probably isn't the first word that comes to mind, especially considering that Puritans came to the New World because Old England was too "improper." Then again, this stodginess is exactly the kind of climate that – no pun intended – breeds a good scandal.

The novel we had in mind is Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, which is a far more complicated love story than the three-day hormone fest in Shakespeare's Verona. Everyone knows that Hester Prynne has done the deed, but what no one in Boston realizes is that the father of her child is none other than – oh snap! – their beloved pastor.

God pulls a fast one on pastor Dimmesdale, however, by burning a painful, scarlet A into his flesh as a gentle reminder that a confession is in order. Many of us will remember wishing that Hester and Dimmesdale would just run away together already – as they so nearly do – but instead, they obey the social mores of the time, live separate lives, admit their crime, and go on to die alone. God: 1; Twilight fans: 0.

Fast forwarding another few years to the New England of the 1980's will make you glad you were born in the age of computers and not public lashings. Take Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer, a twentieth-century approximation of Hawthorne's novel. This arena rock song is an epic story of blue-collar, low-income lovin' with an unplanned parenthood subplot. Not your typical rockout material.

What really gives the lyrics impact is the fact that they're based on the story of two of Bon Jovi's high-school classmates. All that stuff about working on the docks, serving diner food, and scraping by suddenly gets a lot more real when it actually, you know, is. And frankly, even if Bon Jovi didn't base the song on anyone in particular, the story's so common nowadays that he might as well have.

Although all that talk of hardship and interrupted dreams might otherwise be depressing, the anthemic chorus reinforces the idea that love (and enough money to get by) conquers all. In that sense, the song is a hopeful (if not happy) medium between the two extremes set by Romeo, Juliet, Hester, and Dimmesdale. Looks like we're halfway there, after all.


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