|Mr. O'Brien as El Gallo, teaching our class on The Fantasticks.|
Grace F. asked three questions that I answer below.
1. How can Beatrice and Benedick's relationship in Much Ado about Nothing thrive if it's based on overhearing the "lies" told about them by their friends when they were eavesdropping?
2. How does the lie about the false feud between the fathers in The Fantasticks affect Matt and Luisa?
3. Is the love we have for family members - who sometimes drive us crazy - eros or agape?
These are great questions. I did my best to answer them below.
- I think the "lies" in Much Ado that are used to bring Beatrice and Benedick together are not lies at all. It's fiction. In other words, their friends are staging mini-dramas that they know Beatrice and Benedick will overhear, and the dramas are telling the truth through a kind of fantasy. Beatrice and Benedick really do love one another and when they eavesdrop they become audience members in little plays that show them a truth they don't want to acknowledge. This is how all fiction, especially drama, works. We may have gone over this in Drama class. Do you remember in the Bible where the prophet Nathan tells a parable or a story to King David about a man who steals another man's sheep and it makes David furious, and Nathan says, "The man in this story is you"? Nathan is not lying to David when he spins his yarn about the rich man who steals a sheep; he is using a form of fiction to convey a great and deep truth, the way Our Lord uses parables in the gospels.
- In the case of The Fantasticks, however, I think we're dealing more with symbols than real characters. Matt and Luisa represent sort of Everyboy and Everygirl. And, in general, eros is intensified when it is frustrated. We see this especially in Wuthering Heights and other romantic fiction. The more Catherine is unreachable to Heathcliff, the more he wants her and the more violent he gets in his attempts to get her - including, in a sense, after she's dead. And so the "feuding fathers" in The Fantasticks is a fiction that is really a lie, a lie designed to make the young lovers more ardent in keeping them apart from one another - because eros is all about the unattainable. In Much Ado, Beatrice and Benedick really do love one another; in The Fantasticks, the fathers are not really feuding, only pretending - in order to stoke the flame of their children's love. But, you see, once the obstacle is taken down and the wall falls, Matt and Luisa are still bothered by an unfulfilled eros, a desire to find something greater beyond. They don't find agape, or the self-giving and humbling love of family life until they both "sow their wild oats" (in a sense) and get hurt by the world in the process.
- I don't think eros is a term that would apply to the family. But remember, using these different words to refer to Love is a bit misleading because Love is One. The face or aspect of love that we call eros is a love that typically seeks something above and beyond. The face or aspect of Love that we call agape is "condescending", willing to be limited, home bound, humble. Lewis would say that the love of family is storge - deep affection that is not always the same as "liking". It's very easy to love your aunt and uncle, for instance, without really liking them very much. When it comes to family, you typically have to make the best of it and get along. And this is a good thing and a humbling thing. Chesterton says, “The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that he was born.”
A NOTE ON LYING: Lying is communicating something you know to be false to someone else for the purpose of deceiving him or her.
In drama or fiction, the audience member or reader is aware that what's being communicated to them is "pretend" or make-believe, and so they are not deceived, and therefore fiction or drama is not lying, for the communication does not involve deception. It's a kind of game whereby a truth is often communicated through imaginary or fantastic means.
In the case of Beatrice and Benedick, they were deceived in as much as they thought what they were overhearing was a natural and not a staged conversation, but they were not deceived in hearing from others how much they loved one another, for that was true. In The Fantasticks, Matt and Luisa are indeed deceived by a lie, which is the false feud between their fathers. And The Fantasticks is not so much about the actual love between Matt and Luisa (who are more symbolic characters than actual or psychologically real ones), as it is about "eros", or our desire for that which we can't have. When Luisa was unattainable, Matt burned for her; after they're together she's "just the girl next door". When Matt appeared to be as swashbuckling and romantic as El Gallo in rescuing her from the pretend abduction, Luisa desired him. When they are brought together, however, they find the reality does not match the romance and the bandit seems better than the boy. See my Study Guide on Moodle - or the next issue of the St. Austin Review, where I write about this!