Romantic Love in Literature: the case of Plato, Dante and Shakespeare
When a lover is fortunate enough to meet his other half, they are both so intoxicated with affection, with friendship, and with love, that they cannot bear to let each other out of sight for a single instant.
Love sleeps on the naked earth, in partaking of his mother’s poverty…. In the space of a day he will be now, when all goes well with him, alive and blooming, and now dying, to be born again by virtue of his father’s nature, while what he gains will always ebb away as fast.
Love is always poor, and anything but tender and fair, as the many imagine him; and he is rough and squalid, and has no shoes, nor a house to dwell in; on the bare earth exposed he lies under the open heaven, in-the streets, or at the doors of houses, taking his rest; and like his mother he is always in distress.
Like his father too, whom he also partly resembles, love is always plotting against the fair and good; love is bold, enterprising, strong, a mighty hunter, always weaving some intrigue or other, keen in the pursuit of wisdom, fertile in resources; a philosopher at all times, terrible as an enchanter, sorcerer, sophist. Love is by nature neither mortal nor immortal, but alive and flourishing at one moment when he is in plenty, and dead at another moment, and again alive by reason of his father's nature.
Dante’s Platonic Love
Dante Alighieri, 1265 - 1321, Italian Poet, Vitta Nuova
Nine times already since my birth the heaven of light had almost revolved to the self-same point when my mind’s glorious lady first appeared to my eyes, she who was called by many Beatrice (‘she who confers blessing’), by those who did not know what it meant to so name her.
(…) She appeared dressed in noblest colour, restrained and pure, in crimson, tied and adorned in the style that then suited her very tender age.
(…) At that moment I say truly that the vital spirit, that which lives in the most secret chamber of the heart began to tremble so violently that I felt it fiercely in the least pulsation, and, trembling, it uttered these words: ‘Ecce deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur michi: Behold a god more powerful than I, who, coming, will rule over me.’
(…) From then on I say that Amor governed my soul, which was so soon wedded to him, and began to acquire over me such certainty and command, through the power my imagination gave him, that I was forced to carry out his wishes fully. He commanded me many times to discover whether I might catch sight of this most tender of angels, so that in my boyhood I many times went searching, and saw her to be of such noble and praiseworthy manners, that certainly might be said of her those words of the poet Homer: ‘She did not seem to be the daughter of a mortal man, but of a god’.
(…) When so many days had passed that exactly nine years were completed since the appearance of this most gracious being I have written of above, it happened, on the last of these days, that this marvellous lady appeared to me, dressed in the whitest of white, between two gracious ladies who were of greater age: and passing through a street she turned her eyes to the place where I stood greatly fearful, and, with her ineffable courtesy, that is now rewarded in a greater sphere, she greeted me so virtuously, so much so that I saw then to the very end of grace. The hour at which her so sweet greeting welcomed me was exactly the ninth of that day, and because it was the first time that her words deigned to come to my ears, I found such sweetness that I left the crowd as if intoxicated, and I returned to the solitude of my own room, and fell to thinking of this most gracious one.
(…) From that vision onwards my natural spirit began to be obstructed in its operation, because my spirit was completely dedicated to thoughts of that most graceful one: so that in a little while I reached so frail and debilitated a condition, that many friends were anxious about my appearance: and many full of malice put themselves about to know about me things that I wished above all to hide from others.
For an extensive online version of Dante’s New Life: http://www.adkline.freeuk.com/TheNewLifeI.htm
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, English poet and playwright
Romeo: Just as a pilgrim might kiss the statue of a saint in hopes of receiving forgiveness for sins, so your acceptance of my kiss undoes any sin I committed by holding your hand.
Juliet: So you claim to have gotten rid of your sin by kissing my lips. Now I've got the sin. What are you going to do about that?
Romeo: "You want me to kiss you again? Great!"
'Tis torture, and not mercy: heaven is here,
Where Juliet lives; and every cat and dog
And little mouse, every unworthy thing,
Live here in heaven and may look on her;
But Romeo may not.
Did my heart love till now?
Forswear it sight,
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
Romeo and Juliet
For you in my respect are all the world:
Then how can it be said I am alone,
When all the world is here to look on me?
Midsummers’s Night Dream