There was an awful lot of laughter at our rehearsal of the Labyrinth of Desire the other night. Or it seemed like it, since I had temporarily forgotten how funny the play is. It’s pretty common to lose track of the comedy when reading and rereading a play on the page, and in this case, I’ve been happily absorbed in the significance of our “love raising,” which has focussed my attention on the universal tale of true love overcoming all its obstacles.
What I forgot is that the universal tale of true love overcoming its obstacles is almost always funny.
In Norse mythology, when the jotun maiden Skade comes to Asgard demanding fair retribution for her father’s death, a death in kind, quick thinking Loki offers her a deal. Marry one of the gods instead. Become a goddess. It’s much more fun than killing one. She counters. If any one of the Aesir gods can make her laugh, she will settle for a marriage instead of a killing. But, she warns, having just lost her father, she’s not in a laughing mood. The gods agree, and, being a real-deal ice princess, Skade demonstrates a stunning ability to keep a straight face. Nearing the end of his considerable resourcefulness, Loki ties himself to the beard of a billy goat. The goat whines. Loki climbs on its back. The goat bucks. Loki holds on for dear life. The goat kicks. Loki tries to protect his most vulnerable parts. The goat runs. Loki crab walks underneath, and finally, the stubborn goat lays itself down on top of Loki and grunts. Skade laughs.
That’s pretty much what I think is funny about romance. Two people become tied to one another. Even if they’re completely individually responsible for creating the bond in the first place, love takes over and pushes them around. The more they try to escape, the more tangled they become. The more stubbornly the parties cling to their independence, the more they throw themselves into each others arms..and the funnier it gets.
But I don’t know that the people experiencing it very often find it funny. In real life, I think maybe the most potent sacrifices made for love are made kicking and screaming, or by accident, or not at all. But we all feel somehow, deep in our hearts, that the human capacity for unconditional love is the most redeeming and desirable quality we have. So we work out the tension by telling and retelling this wonderful story of “love that conquers all.”
Your real life suitors may have flipped you a metaphorical bird when your mom suggested they prove themselves in a darkened labyrinth. Your real life Florela may not have bothered to follow you when you wandered away from your engagement in search of greener pastures. But in this story, adapted from the Spanish Golden Age into a timeless present, love is a force that cannot be denied. And nothing will stop the assembled human beings from acting like stubborn billy goats in valiant response.