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Even though love is a universal language, it has always been a struggle due to societal norms. Social systems have affected love in many different ways, good and bad, throughout time and are shown in many different works of art, such as poems, stories, etc. The three works of art that reflect the love and relationships through, and sometimes in spite of, social systems are, The King and The Slave Girl, Shakuntala, and The Tale of Genji. The King and The Slave Girl is Persian literature and talks about a king that falls in love with a slave girl that doesn’t love him.
Shakuntala is a Hindu or Sanskrit drama, about a king that loves a Hermit girl. The king gets cursed after they are married and forgets her. Lastly, The Tale of Genji is from a Japan culture and tells the story of Genji and his life as a prince. He then became a commoner and got married to a girl at 12.
They all talk about love and how social systems are a major part of their relationships and part of their culture/religion. Each piece describes different relationships, also it shows how each group of people lived and what they believed. They all show the difference in each caste or social system from the time period and country they were set in, and who is important in them. It also shows who makes the decisions in each system, and how it affects their love and relationships.
The King and the Slave Girl is a story about a king who falls in love with a slave girl that he finds on the highway while he is hunting.
‘The king became a slave boy to that slave girl.’ He takes her with him and he falls in love with her. Meanwhile, this slave girl is in love with a goldsmith and she doesn’t love the king, so she becomes sick. The king is miserable seeing her sick like that. He is desperate to find a cure for her illness because of the love he has for her. The king calls every doctor he can find to try and heal her and offers them so much if they can heal her. The king doesn’t know that she isn’t truly sick, but that she is acting this way because she is not with the goldsmith she truly loves. The king says he is nothing without his slave girl and says ‘My life is worthless! She is all my life! I’m wounded and in pain. She is my cure.’ He was desperate to find a cure for this girl because, he loved her, even though she is so low in the class system compared to him.
Shakuntala is a play that was written by Kaidasa. It is about a king that falls in love with a Hermit girl. At first, the problem is that they can’t be together because they are in different classes. The king later finds out that she was adopted so she isn’t in the Brahmin class because her mom is a heavenly fairy and her dad is a famous hermit, and she was adopted by a different hermit. Even with these hard circumstances, they fall in love with each other. In Act II of this story, the king doesn’t want to go back to his kingdom, so he sends a clown in his place. They get married, but then the king gets cursed. The curse makes it so that he can’t remember her unless she shows him the ring, he gave her, but that ring gets eaten by a fish and she can’t get it back. Shakuntala has their baby boy and names him Bharat. The king finds the ring and he remembers her again and that they were in love before he had been cursed.
These two stories are very similar because they are both talking about kings who fall in love with girls that are in different classes. It shows how prevalent and important the caste systems were in that culture during that time and how even King’s were meant to obey them. In Shakuntala, it shows the social system and tells about how the king was cursed. In the story about The King and the Slave girl, it shows that classes don’t matter to the king and that he can be in love with anyone in any class, even if they are a slave or love someone else. The relationships in each of these stories are very different in the way they show who can love each other and who can’t create a meaningful relationship because of these great class divisions. These two countries are close to each other geographically, but the differences in their values and belief systems are worlds apart. The King and the Slave Girl shows that the king is in charge and can love whoever he wants to, whereas, in the other story, even the king must stay within the social norms of his own society.
The Tale of Genji was written around 1000-1012 and was one of the first stories we have found in history to go deep into each character and their thoughts. Genji, the main character throughout most of the story, is a son to the emperor. However, he got demoted to commoner status because the emperor had many sons and Genji would not have a successful life if he stayed at the rank he was. Only commoners had last names and the royal family didn’t so Genji’s father gave him the name Genji, so he would be able to have more opportunities. His father also said that no one would protect him if he stays a prince. He moved on to his new life and finds a princess that he likes because she looks like his mom, and he was married off at age 12. The story continues when he is 17 and Genji is talking to his brother-in-law To No Chujo, the Chief Equerry and two other men were talking about other girls that aren’t Genji’s wife. They are just having a casual conversation about all these girls that have sent Genji letters. Genji says that many of the girls seem promising because they write good poems and have good calligraphy. He wants to find a perfect girl that can do both of those things and sing and play music to their poems. They also talk about having a wife that isn’t ‘high maintenance,’ but she must also still care about him because his wife doesn’t really care much about Genji. This feeling is reciprocated in their relationship because it was a forced marriage when Genji was 12. The relationship shows how the men in these times were focused more on their own pleasure than the pleasure of all, so they would go around with other women that they aren’t married to when they got ‘bored’ of their wife. It was common for the men during this time to not be very committed to their relationships with their wives especially because they got married at such a young age and didn’t really care about much at that age.
These stories all talk about the different relationships between the kings/rulers and there significant other and how they treat each other. It also shows the norms of each of their time periods and places they lived. In Shakuntala, it shows their social system and how the king responded at the beginning to those social norms. The King and the Slave Girl shows a dominance in the men and the king’s role in his society. The slave girl loved a different man but couldn’t leave the king because he was in love with her and he ruled over her, so she made herself sick because she loved someone else. Additionally, in the tale of Genji it shows how the men were not very committed and when they got ‘bored’ with one girl, they would move on to another girl without really caring. I think that it is very interesting how much each culture is unique, but also have some of the same values and relationship beliefs across different times and places.
The meaning of love has changed over time and continues to have a different meaning in many cultures over time. Each of the three works of art I chose to show how love is viewed at that time in that place. The King and The Slave Girl, the Persian literature story talks about a king that falls in love with a girl while he was out hunting one day. She didn’t love him and loved another man but couldn’t leave him because he was the king. Shakuntala, a Hindu or Sanskrit drama, is about a king and a hermit girl that fall in love. At first, the king thinks their love is forbidden because of the different classes but then finds out that she was adopted. The tale of Genji a Japanese story that talks about Genji and how he was married at the age of 12 and then would go around with other girls. This shows how society didn’t have very committed relationships. Love is represented in different ways in each culture but has the same baseline and meanings behind them and their relationships they make in society.
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