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"A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life..."

One thing I LOVE about romance novels is how every story has a happy ending—no matter what, you know that your hero and heroine will get it together someway in the end. Some people say “then what’s the point if there’s no conflict and already know what’s going to happen?” And I always remind them it’s the journey to the happily ever after that matters, too!

However, every now and then, there are stories where you don’t get a happy couple, but you want everything to work out (well, most of the time)! Here are some famous star-crossed lovers:

1. Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps the most famous (from which the term star-crossed really took hold in Shakespeare’s play)—young and innocent, these two can’t be together because of their feuding families and end up paying the ultimate price: their lives! However, those deep monologues (But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East and Juliet is the sun! SWOON.)

2. Tristan and Iseult (sometimes Isolde). A medieval tale that takes a wrong turn when Tristan and Isolde drink a love potion that make them fall desperately in love with one another… Too bad Tristian was sent to bring Isolde to King Marc to marry, and the love potion was meant for Marc and Isolde to drink to ensure a happy union! Various medieval versions of this tale exist, but in the end Tristan usually dies of grief because Iseult doesn’t come to him in the end, and when she learns of his death, Iseult also dies…

3. King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. Here’s a medieval tragic love triangle. Again, legends vary, as do the views of how manipulative Guinevere is, but in the end of many tales, none of these three end up happy or in love, and Guinevere and Lancelot’s attraction is often blamed for the beginning of the downfall of Arthur.

4. Antony and Cleopatra. So, Cleopatra decided she would seduce—and ultimately love—TWO rulers of the Romance Empire. And while Caesar’s untimely and treacherous death is tragic, I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Antony and Cleopatra more. They seemed more suited for one another and their passion much more palpable. And who can forget Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton playing these two?

5. Heathcliff and Catherine. I’ll admit right now that I’ve never finished Wuthering Heights (I’ve started it too many times to count), but the story of Heathcliff and Catherine has always intrigued me—they grow up together, but because Heathcliff is of a lower class than Catherine, they can’t marry when they realize they’ve been in love all along… Catherine ends up marrying someone more suitable (and rich), which makes Heathcliff INSANELY jealous. So he goes away and then comes back very rich and marries Catherine’s sister-in-law to make HER jealous. AND then (after some other stuff), Catherine dies and her ghost haunts everyone. Nonetheless, these two are very, very sad.

6. Samson and Delilah. Aside from my favorite phrase in the song “Fire” by the Pointer Sisters (or Bruce Springsteen), this Biblical love story is one where two people find love, but it is thwarted by ruling powers. Delilah is bribed to find out what makes Samson so strong because he’d single-handedly slain thousands of Philistines, and she discovers that it’s his hair—which, of course, he only admits to once he thinks he knows that she loves him… And when she reveals the source of his power, his hair is cut off, and he’s captured. Interestingly enough, the fate of Delilah is never mentioned.

7. Paris and Helen of Troy. Helen of Troy is regarded as the “face that launched a thousand ships” (which Christopher Marlow said so nicely), and it’s true—the Trojan War began after Helen ran away with Paris! Aphrodite, goddess of love, granted Paris the love of the most beautiful woman in the word, and Helen really doesn’t have a choice in the matter… but considering she’s married to Menelaus, their disappearance proves difficult. And then there’s a very bloody war for a very long time, and Paris dies in Battle. Some myths say she returns to Sparta to her husband Menlaus, and others say she goes to Mt. Olympus, to live with her father (who just so happens to be Zeus).

Are there any tragic couples I’ve missed? Any modern couples you can think of?

Happy Valentine’s Day!


  1. It's a classic remake of Romeo and Juliet, but I like Westside Story. I also like Alex's Westside Story dance version in Madagascar 2 - and speaking of star-crossing lovers, how are Gloria (a hippo) and Melman (a giraffe) ever going to work it out? Yeah, ok, I have young kids and it shows.

    Unfortunately, my love affair with my size 8 pants has also come to a tragic end. :)


  2. Hi Danielle!

    I could think of two that may fit the bill: The Duchess with Kiera Knightly and Ralph Fiennes. It's the story of the Duchess of Devonshire. She is denied her heart's desire (another man) by her husband, who claims to love her, but keeps his mistress in residence-- at their house! Very interesting story. Have a blox of tissues handy. :)

    The last one is (and it's probably a stretch) Braveheart *le sigh* I adore that movie! The way Mel Gibson watches Murron in the market place has got to be one of favorite scenes of all time. Such heat and passion with only a look! I remember balling my eyes out through most of that movie, too.

    Hence-- I may not be a person to take the movies. LOL

    Fun post and I loved the pics!

    OMG! Amanda, you are too funny!! :)

  3. Maybe Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca?

    Sarah, I loved The Duchess. It was so sad. When I read about the Devonshires in history books, the story never seemed as sad as it must have been in real life.

  4. Amanda-I LOVE West Side Story. And I know exactly what you are talking about in Madagascar 2 :)

    Sarah-The Duchess of Devonshire and the story in Braveheart are both two that I think fall into this category,too!

    Shana-Casablanca is one, too! That is such a great movie!

    For everyone interested in The Duchess of Devonshire, you should check out a Sourcebooks Historical Fiction novel we just re-released called The Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware. It tells the story of Jane Maxwell, the Duchess of Gordon, who had a similar story to Georgiana's, and was even her political and social rival. And there's even a love triangle!

  5. Movies pop into my mind also since I think you have well covered the great literary stories, Danielle!

    Both Shakespeare in Love and Sommersby come immediately to mind. I don't like unhappy endings, so would have rewritten the endings to suit me - LOL! Nevertheless, the tragic ending did not ruin the story and did indeed make it more powerful.

    And then, who can forget Gone With the Wind! Tragic literature and a movie. :)

    I was thinking of Braveheart too, Sarah, since my son was watching it yesterday! In that same vein would be Gladiator.

    Fun post, Danielle.

  6. I'm afraid I don't have much to add to the list. Call me shallow. Call me illiterate. Call me uncultured. I don't like "star-crossed" love stores and I don't get misty-eyed--no matter how brilliantly told.

    The problem isn't the unhappy ending per se. Victim of circumstance stories in which the circumstance wins are always inherently unsatisfying to me.

    Now, if the lovers aren't together at the end because one or the other chooses to be noble, i.e., chooses to serve a higher value than their personal desires, that's different. For instance, I love the love story subplot in "Horse Whisperer." That's the kind of sad love story I can happily cry over. :-)

  7. OMGOSH! Angela Lansbury was in "Samson and Delilah"?!?!? I never realized that. And Burton and Taylor were fabulous in everything they did together, but their own love story was pretty sordid and tragic.

    I can't believe Sharon didn't mention Arwen and Aragorn from LOTR. At the end of Return of the King, they are happy, but of course she is doomed to watch him age and die before she too finally dies. Same with Luthien and Beren in the Silmarillion.

    Hey Amanda, at least you HAD a love affair with size 8 pants! Mine was a mere teenaged flirtation. :-P


  8. You forgot Bert and Ernie. What? They share a special kind of relationship.

    Love the blog, as always!


  9. Sharon-Rhett and Scarlett! I love the way that movie ends.

    MM-Very good point, and I LOVE The Horse Whisperer.

    AC-It does seem like there are quite a few couples in the Tolkien canon that do not end up together... I love the story of Luthien and Beren!!

    Hahaha, very funny Tawna :)

  10. I can't think of any tragic love stories, Danielle. I tend to avoid them, unless I don't know the ending, like when I watched Tristan & Isolde. It just killed me.
    Then again, it gives me the opportunity to rewrite the ending of the story in my head. ;}

  11. Never cared for the tragic love story thing. For me, there has to be a HEA, and that's not really possible if one or both of them is dead.


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