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  • The Queen's Wager

    History reveals that Queen Elizabeth I was a lover of the theater. While she didn’t see every popular play during her reign, it was recorded that she attended productions by her famous and favorite contemporary, William Shakespeare. Yet, in spite of her earnest love of theatrical spectacle Elizabeth and Shakespeare met only a few times throughout their entire lives.

    Elizabethan England, was in fact, less accessible than the sprawling countryside and European gateway it has become almost 500 years later. Instead of cement and asphalt, there were cobbled paths and bricked ways-- but mostly dirt roads that liquefied even after light rain. Instead of train or bus, a journey to neighboring towns could take days by way of carriage or cart. Running water didn’t exist, and throughout, it was a time in world history when everyone everywhere just stank! Fun fact, it’s 16th century England from which modern brides receive the “bouquet” tradition. To have your daughter process the aisle with the hope that the flowers would distract from her smell was cheaper than the fuss of preparing and paying for a bath. Even the queen was lucky to bathe once a week! This landscape in mind, it’s apparent why people simply stayed put without knowledge of much beyond daily life. Versions of this reality were also true even for an immensely revered sovereign and a popular, long-winded playwright.

    To stay abreast of news, and often to simply fight boredom, the royal court became a gauntlet of idea, scandal, and hot gossip. Court was a living front page of information comparable to an imaginary break room where the writers of Newsweek, The Chicago Suntimes, and TMZ might all gather to smoke and drink coffee. In 1590, Queen Elizabeth held court on a windy Wednesday in August. Many in attendance, but most importantly, nestled in some corner was the 26 year-old, scrawny William Shakespeare, one of the few times he even saw the queen in person. Teased for still not being married, nearly 60, calmly and with regal overtone Queen Elizabeth exclaims, “I would rather be a beggar and single than a queen and married.” Known for her fiery wigs and sharp wit, the Virgin queen continues by teasing the men of court that marriage has made them broke, bald, and boring, “ ...these are the only matters our gatherings prove that you each have squarely mastered.” Then, a playful jest, turned wage, was said to have been set. Queen Elizabeth was to handsomely reward any contender who could prove the essence... the bond... and the very nature of love. Inspired, Shakespeare’s early drafts of Romeo and Juliet began some months shortly thereafter.

    Romeo and Juliet was never my favorite. It’s daft and shows the angstful heights teens are willing to soar when mom and dad say, “no.” The story is complicated, seeping in all sorts of privilege, and hardly uplifting. Yet, with all one thousand iterations of this piece, it can’t be ignored that it is a proper manual of the classic dos and don'ts of dating and love. In order to recognize this year’s St. Valentine's Day tradition and to contend with the Queen’s wager albeit 500 years later,  I’ve assembled a list of lessons fat little cupid shoves down our throat in every relationship and with each romantic encounter.

    When you marry, you marry an entire family and their entire existence.
    How often after meeting someone’s parents do you think to yourself, “WHAT THE HELL HAVE I GOTTEN INTO?” If you’re like most, you’ve pondered that question after the fantasy of your love’s family crashes wildly with reality. Sadly, there is no cure for in laws. They must be endured. Silver lining? These are the people largely responsible for the person you love-- try to see the good.

    A quarrel is okay, but it must always be productive.
    We all need to prove how right we are in the heated moments of debate, and somehow justification becomes the goal of any argument. But truth be told, no one ever “wins”a feud. Have you ever received a trophy at the end of a lover’s fight? Probably not. We live in a competitive culture where the idea of winning trumps all. In our relationships, especially romantic ones, it’s better to toss that highly binary approach into the gutter, and instead foster communication. Place effort into two areas-- being understood and expressing needs that are important to you. The best partners listen.

    We are evolutionary creatures and time is a faulty metric.
    There is a wide misconception that the amount of time we sustain our relationship is directly proportional to its overall quality. The longer, the better. Yea, that’s false and actually, very dumb. Romeo and Juliette, for example met once; fell into a deep, passionate love; and all the while were completely clueless of the other’s middle name. To sum it up, length and duration are the least accurate metrics when assessing the success of partnership.

    In it for the long haul? Then really let the small stuff go.
    She gets the bath rug soaked after a shower. He always parks on a different side of the garage. She never keeps the twist tie for the bread. He does that weird mouth thing after eating cheese, and she won’t stop using your razor to shave her long legs? Breathe... let it go. You love this person, remember?

    Cook together. Have inside jokes. Crush goals and miss each other.
    So, what is the essence, the bond, and the very nature of love? Hell if I know. It’s unique to each couple, each throuple, and to each polyamorous affair. The salve for one might be the utter destruction of the next. Therefore, in an attempt to address the queen’s question, I’m hard pressed to answer, and not that the men of court that day hundreds of years back were apt to supply much better. However, to her majesty Queen Elizabeth I, Gloriana, I would say...

    ‘People are meant to be together. Romance is something that many of us desire. And as for the essence of love? I do not believe it has a certain shape or even a discerning form. Instead love is sometimes a wild and untamed monster. Sometimes it is gentle and ebbs, living some place where the sun and sky meet at the horizon. And, sometimes love is so shrill and so loud that it can never be censored. If we are truly meant to know the essence of love, then we are also meant to let it live within us, and with it, we are asked that with every chance, with every person, and with every relationship to share and give it generously.

    Happy Valentine's Day.