Pyramus and Thisbe

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Pyramus and Thisbē are a pair of ill-fated lovers whose story forms part of Ovid's Metamorphoses. The story has since been retold by many authors.

Plot[edit]

Thisbe, by John William Waterhouse, 1909.

In the Ovidian version, Pyramus and Thisbe is the story of two lovers in the city of Babylon who occupy connected houses/walls, forbidden by their parents to be wed, because of their parents' rivalry. Through a crack in one of the walls, they whisper their love for each other. They arrange to meet near Ninus' tomb under a mulberry tree and state their feelings for each other. Thisbe arrives first, but upon seeing a lioness with a mouth bloody from a recent kill, she flees, leaving behind her veils. When Pyramus arrives he is horrified at the sight of Thisbe's veil, assuming that a fierce beast had killed her. Pyramus kills himself, falling on his sword in proper Roman fashion, and in turn splashing blood on the white mulberry leaves. Pyramus' blood stains the white mulberry fruits, turning them dark. Thisbe returns, eager to tell Pyramus what had happened to her, but she finds Pyramus' dead body under the shade of the mulberry tree. Thisbe, after a brief period of mourning, stabs herself with the same sword. In the end, the gods listen to Thisbe's lament, and forever change the colour of the mulberry fruits into the stained colour to honour the forbidden love.

Adaptations[edit]

Pyramus and Thisbe by Gregorio Pagani. Uffizi Gallery.

The story of Pyramus and Thisbe appears in Giovanni Boccaccio's On Famous Women as biography number twelve (sometimes thirteen) [1] and in his Decameron, in the fifth story on the seventh day, where a desperate housewife falls in love with her neighbor, and communicates with him through a crack in the wall, attracting his attention by dropping pieces of stone and straw through the crack.

Geoffrey Chaucer was among the first to tell the story in English with his The Legend of Good Women. John Gower also uses the story, with some alteration, as a cautionary tale in his Confessio Amantis, while Amoryus and Cleopes is a 15th-century version.

Shakespeare[edit]

A Midsummer Night's Dream[edit]

In Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act V, sc 1), a group of "mechanicals" enact the story of "Pyramus and Thisbe". Their production is crude and, for the most part, badly done until the final monologues of Nick Bottom, as Pyramus and Francis Flute, as Thisbe. The theme of forbidden love is also present in A Midsummer Night's Dream (albeit a less tragic and dark representation) in that a girl, Hermia, is not able to marry the man she loves, Lysander, because her father Egeus despises him and wishes for her to marry Demetrius, and meanwhile Hermia and Lysander are confident, Helena, is in love with Demetrius.

Romeo and Juliet[edit]

The "Pyramus and Thisbe" plot also appears in Romeo and Juliet, in which the titular characters, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, fall in love at a party the Capulet family hosts, but they cannot be together because the two families hold "an ancient grudge" (which the young lovers' deaths eventually quash), and because Juliet has been engaged by her parents to a man named Paris. Shakespeare drew this aspect of Romeo and Juliet from his main source Arthur Brooke's play The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet [2]

Other adaptations[edit]

Spanish poet Luis de Góngora wrote a Fábula de Píramo y Tisbe in 1618. French poet Théophile de Viau wrote Les amours tragiques de Pyrame et Thisbée, a tragedy in five acts (1621).

François Francoeur and François Rebel composed Pirame et Thisbée, a liric tragedy in 5 acts and a prologue, with libretto by Jean-Louis-Ignace de la Serre; it was played at the Académie royale de musique, on October 17, 1726. The story was adapted by John Frederick Lampe as a "Mock Opera" in 1745, containing a singing "Wall" which was described as "the most musical partition that was ever heard."[3] In 1768 in Vienna, Johann Adolph Hasse composed a serious opera on the tale, titled Piramo e Tisbe.

Edmond Rostand adapted the tale from Romeo and Juliet, making the fathers of the lovers conspire to bring their children together by pretending to forbid their love, in Les Romanesques,[citation needed] whose musical adaptation, Fantasticks, became the world's longest-running musical.

Allusions[edit]

There is a chapter entitled "Pyramus and Thisbe" in Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, alluding to the secret romance between Maximillian Morrel and Valentine de Villefort.

In Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Merchant's Tale' from The Canterbury Tales, the two illicit lovers Damian and May are likened to Pyramus and Thisbe for their forbidden love.

In Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, during his "nose monologue", Cyrano mocks his "traitorous nose" in "parody of weeping Pyramus".

In Edith Wharton's short story "The House of the Dead Hand", the romance between Sybilla and Count Ottoviano is seen as "a new Pyramus and Thisbe".

In Willa Cather's O Pioneers!, two of the story's lovers are killed under a Mulberry Tree.

In Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, when Cardenio relates the story of Luscinda and himself, he refers to "that famous Thisbe".

In The Simpsons (23X13/2012) episode "The Daughter Also Rises", Grandpa Simpson talks to Lisa about Pyramus & Thisbe.

In La Celestina by Fernando de Rojas (1499) Calisto talks briefly about the unfortunate Pyramus and Thisbe.

In Gail Carriger's Changeless (novel), Ivy Hisselpenny says that she loves Mr. Tunstell "as Pyramid did Thirsty", a comically inaccurate reference.

The Beatles made a parody of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. It was transmitted on the one-hour TV special "Around The Beatles" on May 6, 1964.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Virginia Brown's translation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s Famous Women, pp. 27-30; Harvard University Press 2001; ISBN 0-674-01130-9
  2. ^ http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/romeo/BrookeIndex.html
  3. ^ Recorded on Hyperion Records, CDA66759

References[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

  • Ovid, Metamorphoses iv.55-166

Secondary sources[edit]

External links[edit]