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Foreword People sometimes ask me if we notice any threads or common themes in the manuscripts that we read from all over the country. Lately, I have noticed a surge of romance and relationship stories of aU kinds, both in fiction and nonfiction: tenuous relationships, would-be relationships, sublimated relationships, hot and bosomheaving ones, awful relationships, deraUed ones, comic, tragic— every imaginable kind of relationship. I am not speaking of the normal level of love and star-crossed love among our submissions, but many pounds of it every day. It doesn't seem to be due to O.J.'s trial, since the trend was conspicuous before that. I've wondered whether it's a demographic phenomenon, with baby boomers fantasizing about a last fling, or generation X'ers getting desperate in the glum world of post-AIDs sexuaUty. Or whether it's just a fad caused by temporary influences—television programmers vying for higher ratings with ever-increasing "candor" about romance. Or perhaps we are undertaking some culture-wide exploration of sexual relationships in an effort to synthesize new models. Who knows? So many people writing about relationships, at any rate, causes me to wonder about romance, and our conventions of romance. WhUe reading Romeo and Juliet, at age eighteen, I had one ofmy first Uterary epiphanies: After JuUet did herself in at the Capulets' tomb, I realized from how high the body count had gotten that Shakespeare regarded love as dangerous. This was perhaps something of a Precambrian epiphany, but I took them however I could when I was eighteen. One of the wonderful things about starting to seriously read for the first time is that just putting two and two together is enough to raise the hair on your neck. The splendid Mercurio, stabbed to death when Romeo tries to avoid fighting a Capulet, Tybalt then kUled by Romeo, as is Paris when he has the gall to take flowers to JuUet's tomb, then Romeo, then JuUet—these five deaths are due as much to the accidents and agitations of love as to the feud between the houses. Romeo in love is volatile, self-involved, and ultimately dangerous. Juliet is mature and earthy compared to her flighty lover, particularly considering that she is not yet fourteen, yet ultimately she too is a suicide. Showing the dangers and miseries of a powerful love was not Shakespreare's only purpose in Romeo and Juliet, but he certainly felt that his audience could share that assumption, and his portraits of love in other plays are similar. OtheUo is a gallant but naive warrior, surprised by love, then ambushed and destroyed by jealousy. Desdemona, like JuUet, takes her fate into her own hands by marrying her lover over her father's objections. Despite the fact that her minor indiscretions contribute to their problems, and despite her being slow to pick up on his jealousy, she remains faithful to OtheUo to the bitter end, when he comes into their bedroom, delivers a grotesque speech of fareweU, suffocates her, and later stabs himself. Even more than Romeo, OtheUo is rendered vulnerable and delusive by his passion. Unlike the princely but guUeless OtheUo, Antony in Antony and Cleopatra is a coarse soldier. Cleopatra at twenty-seven, with her wrinkled skin and strange fits of wUdness, has seen better days, yet she is the very archetype of someone who makes "defect perfection." The play in fact dweUs on its lovers' defects, but their relationship is the most robust in aU of Shakespeare's plays. They are deeply in contact with each other, with a passion that is both spiritual and physical, expressed in some of Shakespeare's most spectacular passages. However, the outcome of love is simUar: from the start, it undermines Antony's resolve and ,saps his strength, at length bringing about the ruin of both of them. In this, as in all the tragic romances, love is a mentaUy enfeebUng fever, almost an iUness. It goes without saying that these plays were taken from sources and that they were recognizable genre types with dominant moods. A tragic romance needs a tragic story, and there was a whole repetoire of standard elements in...


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