When we think of stories about forbidden love, the first thing to jump to mind is usually Romeo and Juliet (or lately, Twilight). However, since you probably aren’t going to fall in love at first sight with someone who turns out to be a sworn enemy (or undead) any time soon, these stories aren’t all that culturally relevant as far as forbidden love goes.
A more realistic barrier between two unlucky lovers would be a discrepancy in class, religion, or (despite what Dr. Laura might say… over and over again) race. For a quick fix of that good ol’ literary feasibility, here are three classic tales about forbidden love spanning the last five hundred years.
Realistic Obstacle Number One: Class. You’re a smart and exceptionally beautiful young woman who happens to be in love with the Prince of Denmark. Too bad your dad is only a counselor to the throne and not any actual form of royalty. That’s right: you’re Ophelia of Hamlet fame and, much to your dismay, dad’s called off your romance with Prince Hamlet for fear that the guy’s not after any of your, shall we say, more queenly qualities.
The thinking behind this intervention is that if Hamlet is serious about the relationship, he’ll have the power to marry you (or anyone he wants, really) once he actually becomes king. This would be a smart move if it weren’t for two things: 1) Uncle Claudius has killed Hamlet, Sr., thereby cutting Hamlet, Jr., in line for the throne; 2) There’s a good chance that you and Hamlet have already swapped more than just love notes, making you particularly eager NOT to dump Hamlet at this particular moment. The stress of this situation – compounded by Hamlet’s accidental murder of your father – finally causes you to go insane and, ahem, accidentally fall into a river.
Realistic Obstacle Number Two: Religion. You’re a beautiful young woman with mad embroidery skills and you’ve just been blessed with your first child. In prison. By the way, you’re Puritan and your husband hasn’t been seen in two years. You’re Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter and you’ve had the great misfortune of being born in seventeenth-century New England. But wait, it gets better.
You refuse to tell anyone who the baby-daddy is because: 1) You feel it’s best that he come forward on his own; 2) You’re twelve different kinds of dignified; and 3) He happens to be the reverend, which, in Puritan society, means no swapping of ANYTHING – including love notes. To your credit, you eventually overcome the stigma of your indiscretion by accepting your punishment unflinchingly… even after people forget what it is you actually did. On the other hand, if achieving social redemption means bending to the will of an unjust patriarchy for the rest of your long life, we’ll settle for pulling up stakes and heading West, thank you very much.
Realistic Obstacle Number Three: Race. You’re the troubled, nineteen-year-old daughter of white trash and you’ve made the huge mistake of falling in love with a married man. Who’s black. In 1930’s Alabama. You’re Mayella Ewell from To Kill A Mockingbird, and Daddy Drinksalot just caught you making the moves on someone he considers to be an inferior.
After taking a savage beating, you claim that your crush, Tom Robinson, actually raped you. Whether to convince your father or simply to obey him, you then make a court case of the incident; after all, no one in 1930’s Alabama would dare acquit Tom regardless of the groundlessness of your accusation. As expected, Tom is given the death sentence only to be shot no less than seventeen times in the process of attempting to then escape from prison. Tom’s wife and children must live off of the charity of their community while you figure out a way to live with yourself.
Shmoop is an online study guide for To Kill A Mockingbird, Hamlet and many more. Its content is written by Ph.D. and Masters students from top universities, like Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, and Yale who have also taught at the high school and college levels. Teachers and students should feel confident to cite Shmoop.