In my novel, Ding Dong the Diva’s Dead, there are several people rejected in love who can’t seem to move on.
In America we’re taught not to take “no” for an answer. And yet, romantically at least, we hope like hell that the person with the “crush” will lighten up quickly and move on to pursuing someone who wants them in return. Because a handgun (licensed or not) often wins over a restraining order.
Problem is, it’s in our genes not to give up easily on love. Back in the time of Elizabeth I, unrequited love was something noble. In fact, most of the lute songs that fans of early music adore express a love that will never grow old, at least on the part of one of the lovers.
Of course, few grew old in those days. Life was “brutish and short.” If someone didn’t return your love, you challenged your rival to a duel or went off to war. If you didn’t die, your love probably died in childbirth, and that took care of it!
Elizabethan songs are always a favorite of young singers in contests, because they are relatively simple musically and they have catchy melodies. Surprisingly few young singers ever take a moment to consider what the lyrics mean. Here is “Faire sweet cruell,” by Thomas Ford:
Faire sweet cruell
Why dost thou flie me?
Oh! Goe not from thy dearest!
Though thou dost hasten, I am nie thee,
When thou seem’st far, then am I nearest.
Tarrie then and take me with thee!
Translation: You beautiful, cruel one, why are you running away? Don’t leave the one person who truly loves you! You’re running faster, but I’m right there with you. You may think you’re safely away, but then I’m by your side. So … you might as well slow down and take me along.
Not so romantic anymore, right? The next verse is even creepier.
In contests I always enjoy asking these young singers what they are singing about. They have no idea. When assigning songs in English, teachers don’t necessarily think to ask their students if they know what the words mean. Change a few spellings, add a few archaic words, and a lot of people just assume they won’t understand and so don’t bother to try.
But don’t let the subtext stop you. These songs are gorgeous–the poetry as well as the music. And the lovers are long dead. Chances are, if they had survived that war, that pestilence, that duel, or that difficult childbirth, they would have come around.