The Greek tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe inspired poets all over the world to write about this love affair. Even the great William Shakespeare was inspired by this tragedy.
The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is included in the Metamorphoses. This is a narrative poem written by Publius Ovidius Naso. Consider this a basis for many other writers to go start from. During the Renaissance, the work got a lot of attention. After this period the attention faded. Every now and then, his work is analyzed and inspires others to write more about his work.
In a way, Metamorphoses is one huge poem itself. It can be divided into fifteen parts. Ovidius used a total of 12.000 lines for this masterpiece.
The story of Pyramus and Thisbe appears in the fourth part of Metamorphoses. Click here to read Metamorphoses.
Many people are familiar with Romeo and Juliet. This story is based on what Ovidius wrote. He wasn’t the first one to alter this tragedy. Others such as Giovanni Boccaccio, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower and John Metham were others who wrote words similar to that of Ovidius. Still, Shakespeare got the most attention.
Actually, Shakespeare did not come up with the idea himself to do something with this tragedy. He based Romeo and Juliet on Arthur Brooke’s The tragical history of Romeus and Juliet (1592). Brooke wasn’t very original, because he simply translated a French version of this story.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream (act V, sc. 1), Shakespeare again turned to the story of Pyramus and Thisbe. It goes well with the main theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: forbidden love.
After Shakespeare, many others have used the tragedy for inspiration. It was also inspiring enough to write poetry about.
John Donne wrote a very short poem about the tragic love story of these two lovers.
Pyramus and Thisbe
Two, by themselves, each other, love and feare
Slaine, cruell friends, by parting have joyn’d here.
— John Donne
By far the best interpretation of the tragic love between Pyramus and Thisbe is captured in the poem written by John Godfrey Saxe, entitled “Pyramus and Thisbe.”
Pyramus and Thisbe
This tragical tale, which, they say, is a true one,
Is old; but the manner is wholly a new one.
One Ovid, a writer of some reputation,
Has told it before in a tedious narration;
In a style, to be sure, of remarkable fullness,
But which nobody reads on account of its dullness.
Young Peter Pyramus, — I call him Peter,
Not for the sake of the rhyme or the meter,
But merely to make the name completer, —
For Peter lived in the olden times,
And in one of the worst of pagan climes
That flourish now in classical fame,
either noble or boor
Had such a thing as a Christian name, —
Young Peter, then, was a nice young beau
As any young lady would wish to know;
In years, I ween,
he was rather green,
That is to say, he was just eighteen, —
A trifle too short, and a shaving too lean,
But ” a nice young man ” as ever was seen,
And fit to dance with a May-day queen!
Now Peter loved a beautiful girl
As ever ensnared the heart of an earl
In the magical trap of an auburn curl, —
A little Miss Thisbe, who lived next door
(They slept, in fact, on the very same floor,
With a wall between them, and nothing more, —
Those double dwellings were common of yore),
And they loved each other, the legends say,
In that very beautiful, bountiful way,
That every young maid,
And every young blade,
Are wont to do before they grow staid,
And learn to love by the laws of trade.
But (alack-a-day, for the girl and the boy!)
A little impediment checked their joy,
And gave them, awhile, the deepest annoy. —
For some good reason, which history cloaks,
The match didn’t happen to please the old folks!
So Thisbe’s father and Peter’s mother
Began the young couple to worry and bother,
And tried their innocent passion to smother
By keeping the lovers from seeing each other!
But who ever heard
of a marriage deterred
Or even deferred,
By any contrivance so very absurd
As scolding the boy, and caging his bird?
Now, Peter, who wasn’t discouraged at all
By obstacles such as the timid appal,
Contrived to discover a hole in the wall,
Which wasn’t so thick
but removing a brick
Made a passage, — though rather provokingly small.
Through this little chink the lover could greet her,
And secrecy made their courting the sweeter,
While Peter kissed Thisbe, and Thisbe kissed
For kisses, like folks with diminutive souls,
Will manage to creep through the smallest of holes!
‘Twas here that the lovers, intent upon love,
Laid a nice little plot
to meet at a spot
Near a mulberry-tree in a neighboring grove;
For the plan was all laid
by the youth and the maid,
(Whose hearts, it would seem, were uncommonly bold ones,)
To run off and get married in spite of the old ones.
In the shadows of evening, as still as a mouse,
The beautiful maiden slipped out of the house,
The mulberry-tree impatient to find;
While Peter, the vigilant matrons to blind,
Strolled leisurely out some minutes behind.
While waiting alone by the trysting-tree,
A terrible lion
as e’er you set eye on
Came roaring along quite horrid to see,
And caused the young maiden in terror to flee;
(A lion’s a creature whose regular trade is
Blood, — and ” a terrible thing among ladies, ” )
And, losing her veil as she ran from the wood,
The monster bedabbled it over with blood.
Now Peter, arriving, and seeing the veil
All covered o’er,
and reeking with gore,
Turned, all of a sudden, exceedingly pale,
And sat himself down to weep and to wail;
For, soon as he saw the garment, poor Peter
Made up his mind in very short meter
That Thisbe was dead, and the lion had eat her!
So breathing a prayer,
he determined to share
The fate of his darling, ” the loved and the lost, ”
And fell on his dagger, and gave up the ghost!
Now Thisbe returning, and viewing her beau
Lying dead by her veil (which she happened to know),
She guessed in a moment, the cause of his erring,
And, seizing the knife,
that had taken his life,
In less than a jiffy was dead as a herring!
Young gentlemen: Pray recollect, if you please,
Not to make assignations near mulberry-trees;
Should your mistress be missing, it shows a weak head
To be stabbing yourself, till you know she is dead.
Young ladies: You shouldn’t go strolling about
When your anxious mammas don’t know you are out;
And remember that accidents often befall
From kissing young fellows through holes in the wall.
— John Godfrey Saxe
Have you ever written about a tragic love such as the one of Pyramus and Thisbe? Or were you inspired to write about this Greek tragedy? Let us know! Contact us for more information.