A Comparison of Nizami’s Layli and Majnun and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

  • Jerome W. Clinton


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.


Romantic Love Islamic World Eighth Century Islamic Society Romantic Passion 
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  1. 1.
    On the perception of love as an affliction in Islamic society see Michael W. Dols, Majnun: The Madman in Medieval Islamic Society (Oxford, 1992), especially his discussion of Layli and Majnun in chapter 11, “The Romantic Fool” pp. 313–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    For a discussion of the early development of the romance in Persian see Julie S. Meisami, Medieval Persian Court Poetry (Princeton, NJ, 1987), especially chapter 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 6.
    A. A. Hekmat, Romi’o va zhuliat-i viliam shakispir muqayisah ba layli va majnun-i nizami ganjavi. Beroukhim, Tehran 1314/1936.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    See, for example, “In a dream Zayd sees Layli and Majnun in paradise.” Nizami Ganjavi, Layli va majnun, ed. Bihruz Sarvatiyan (Tehran, 1347), p. 347.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Y. Dunayevskiy, “Nezami,” Literatura Irana. X–XV vv. (Vostok, sbornik vtoroy) (Moscow-Leningrad, 1935), p. 263. Cited in Rypka, History of Iranian Literature (Dordrecht, Holland, 1968), p. 211.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Dols, op. cit., p. 332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 12.
    Nizami Ganjavi, Layli va majnun, ed. Behruz Servatian (Tehran, 1347), p. 122, lines 9–10. All references to the text are to this edition.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Dols, op. cit., pp. 333–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 14.
    Farid al-Din Attar, Mantiq at-tayr. Edited by S. Gowharin (Tehran, 1356/1978). Translated by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis, The Conference of the Birds (Penguin Books, 1984).Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    “…Majnun seems to be more in love with the idea of Layli than the person…” J. C. Bürgel, “Romance,” in E. Yarshater, ed., Persian Literature (New York, 1988).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kamran Talattof and Jerome W. Clinton 2000

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  • Jerome W. Clinton

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