love and marriage

I studied Shakespeare in high school and college, and one question came up a few times: "Why are Shakespeare's comedies called 'comedies' when they're not funny?"

Different teachers had different answers to that one. One answer was: "Those plays were very funny when they were written, but humor has changed a lot since Shakespeare's time. Audiences back then wouldn't have laughed at our jokes either." The other answer was: "The word 'comedy' meant something different in those days. Tragedy meant that everybody was dead at the end of the play. Comedy meant that it ended with at least one wedding."

As far as I know, both explanations are probably at least somewhat true, but it's the second one that I've been thinking about. Why is the wedding at the end? A lot of the movies classified as "romantic comedies" these days seem to work the same way. Two people meet, various misunderstandings and otther difficulties come up and are eventually overcome, and then, at the end, they Get Together (not always getting married, though).

And I'm not saying you can't do a lot with that template (as I pointed out in my post "My Genre Is Better Than Your Genre," genre forms always look restricting until you start to work in the genre), but I'm wondering why that's the template for a romantic story.

What about if the wedding (or the equivalent commitment) was at the beginning, not the end? After all, marriage (or some sort of equivalent) is a far more complex, interesting, multi-layered (and funny) relationship between two people than dating and courtship.

What if you ran into somebody you hadn't seen since high school and they wanted to get caught up on what had happened to you since then? If you're married (or equivalent), would you describe how you and your partner got together in detail,and then say, "Since we got together, nothing interesting has happened"? I expect (or at least I hope) not.

Which is not to say that you can't do a good "courtship" comedy (Bringing Up Baby is often cited as the funniest movie ever made), and I'm not proposing that one sub-genre replace the other, but hey, equal time for marriage! Look at The Thin Man, for example. There's a couple who are married, having a great time, and solving mysteries besides. What more could you want?

Hollywood came up with another interesting solution to this, by the way, which was the great divorce comedies of the 1930s (The Awful Truth, His Girl Friday, Philadelphia Story), where the "courtship" was between two people who had previously been married (or who were in the process of getting divorced) and therefore knew each other very well already.

And even in superhero movies, where are the married couples? Where's Ralph and Sue Dibny, or Hank and Janet Pym? (In the comic books, of course, both of those women are dead, which is a different – though probably related – problem). (It is worth noting the one of the great moments in The Avengers is the brief appearance of Gwyneth Paltrow, since Pepper is the one person who always has Tony Stark's number. Later: Joss Whedon has said that it was Downey who insisted Paltrow be in the film, but Whedon didn't complain. He got to have Gwyneth Paltrow in his movie, and, as he put it, he got to write three minutes of The Thin Man.)

Anyway, I think this is reflected in my writing. I've never really written about dating and courtship (which doesn't bode well for the teenage protagonist of Stevie One, I guess). Various people I write about do get into relationships, of course, but it's usually an adjunct to whatever else is going on, rather than the central story.

And I've spent the last 20+ years writing about a certain very well-dressed amateur detective and her assistant (and husband), and I'm certainly not stopping now. They're even more fun to write about now that they're married. 🙂

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  1. Pingback: yo thinking about pronouns (again) » Anthony Lee Collins

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