Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pyramus & Thisbe and ill-fated love

I know I'm backtracking a little looking at Pyramus & Thisbe, but I saw a production of "West Side Story" last evening, and had a different awareness than I had previously. The movie came out in 1961 when I was just a child, and I loved it for the music with little awareness of the love story - By the time the 1968 "Romeo and Juliet" Franco Zeffirelli film came out I had read Shakespeare's "original" as well as "Midsummer Night's Dream" with the Pyramus and Thisbe side story. What a perfect time for a 15 year old girl in love with a "bad boy" who had a motorcycle, parents who forbade contact with him, to really get immersed in the exciting, and rebellious love story- I even had a huge movie poster of "Romeo and Juliet" on my wall. By the time the 1998 "Romeo and Juliet" film was released, I had two teenage daughters, who loved the urban contemporary setting of the story compared to Shakespeare's original. So with a background of watching these other films, and Steiner's "conflict theory" still bouncing around in my brain, I viewed the story in a slightly different way. There was age and youth, society and the individual, and a twist of man vs woman. The story is about 2 gangs in NYC, the Jets (white youth) and Sharks (Puerto Rican youths). Tony, the white male, and Maria, the Puerto Rican female, fall in love - so that's the impossible love situation. But this time I really looked at Doc, the white drugstore owner that employs Tony and tries to get the Jets to stop the violence against the Puerto Ricans; you understand the words of age, wisdom and experience will not do any good. In "Antigone" I thought Creon was a pompous old man filled with hubris, and Antigone was right despite her youth, I felt Doc was able to recall youth and understand what disaster was likely to occur. But the gang members thought he was just an old man with no guts to do what they felt needed to be done - fight to reclaim their "area" from the Puerto Ricans. Society vs the individual occurred in two ways - the racism and prejudice felt by both the whites and Puerto Ricans vs the two people who were concerned with individual feelings and wanted to be together, and the authorities, the police trying to keep the status quo against the individual gang members. And finally in a patriarchal society, (especially Puerto Rican) the male youth feeling the necessity of fighting to claim territory, and the females understanding that the war between the gangs was male pride or some such nonsense. Since I'm awaiting the arrival of the book I ordered "The Reign of the Phallus" I thought the man vs woman part of the drama last night was especially meaningful. I enjoyed the premise of "Lysistrata" and feel women have more power than just the power of controlling sex: the fact that the play was written by Aristophanes, a male, just reinforced that part of patriarchy and phallocentricism is based on male fear of female power, especially sexual power. It just brought back to mind going down to a high school football field where my son was practicing and hearing the coach yelling at them to run harder, not like they were "carrying a purse." What a perfect way to motivate young males to be warrior-like - not like a female. While some thought Aristophanes might be considered an early feminist in fact, I think he was using "Lysistrata" as something of a joke, to shame the men into viewing what continuous war was doing to society - and what better method than to write strong females (who are, by the way, sly and deceitful)?

Just an interesting note: I went to IMDb to see what year the '90s "Romeo and Juliet" was released and found besides the '68 and '98 versions there were 34 "Romeo and Juliet" films produced starting in 1909 - and another 19 that had "R & J" in the title. That's quite a few originating with Pyramus and Thisbe, and who knows what came before that story?

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