In nearly all classic love stories there is no happily ever after. No walking off into the sunset together. No growing old together. Tristan and Iseult die together after she marries his uncle and he goes insane. King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot all die alone after quite a bit of cheating and deception. Paris and Helen cause the deaths on thousands of men, destroy a civilization, and don’t even get to be together after all that. The stories of Hamlet and Ophelia, Orpheus and Eurydice, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, and, of course, Romeo and Juliet all end with the pair separated or dead. Authors from all times and societies have ended their classics with tragedy and doom and I wonder, is it too much to ask for a happy ending?
Grade 10 English hits hard with a tidal wave of gloomy endings. Eventually they start to affect you. You’re cloistered in your room, desperately trying to finish the next in the line up of cheerless literature in time for the test on Monday when it hits you: you will die sad and alone because you will be spending all of your time doing homework. And if you choose not to spend all your time studying, you won’t end up being successful, which means you will end up sad and alone anyways. When I came to that realization, I went downstairs and broke out the tub of ice cream.
It wouldn’t be that hard to come up with a different ending. What if King Mark decided that Tristan and Iseult should be together because their love is true? What if Guinevere and Lancelot were loyal to Arthur? What if Orpheus didn’t look back? I must admit, though, that I am beginning to understand the necessity of unhappy endings. Without Romeo and Juliet dying for their love they would’ve seemed like two impulsive and irresponsible teenagers. They would’ve been forgettable. The fact that they died for love makes them significant – it makes you realize how fleeting and important love is. It may be a cliché, but love’s flame burns that much brighter against the darkness of death.
Will there be a flame in our lives against the darkness of these stories?