A Comparison of Nizami’s Layli and Majnun and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
There is an obvious logic to comparing Nizami’s Layli [Layla] and Majnun with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Each epitomizes the romance of star-crossed lovers within its own tradition and so invites anyone familiar with both works to read them against each other. To attempt to do so, however, is to find oneself groping for a bit of common ground that is wider and firmer than the thought expressed in the old adage, “The path of true love never did run smooth.” Beside the obvious and significant differences of time, language and historical context, there are formal distinctions between them that fundamentally alter how the poet approaches issues of character, plot, and pace. To put this briefly, Romeo and Juliet is a play of a very particular kind, a tragedy, and it was written to be seen and heard in a public performance that would last a little under two hours. Nizami’s poem is a romantic narrative that was written to be read at a much more leisurely pace, and usually, one assumes, in solitude.
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