Do gorillas fall in love? Not really. Pre-pubescent gorillas sometimes get crushes, although it’s usually the object of their affection that gets crushed. I remember an orphaned female gorilla who attached herself to a visiting American footballer in the safari camp. She had a wonderful time with this man, crumpling him with shoulder charges, wrestling him to the ground, and twisting his arms behind his back. The sturdy athlete bore everything in good spirit, never flinching from her caresses or asking her to go easy on him. I heard that he later spent most of the pre-season period on crutches.
It is said that the foremost expert on the human heart was Sir William Shakespeare. (He wasn’t really a knight, but it doesn’t feel right to speak his name without a title.) Sir William’s insight about love was the fickleness of the whole thing. The moral of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is that when Cupid’s arrow strikes you can fall for anyone – your best friend’s fiancé, a fairy, or even a jackass. It’s a fair point, but there’s one thing about the Bard’s lovelorn characters that doesn’t quite ring true: they are constantly talking. I’ve seen enough of humans in love to know that their condition makes them dopey and inarticulate. Yet Shakespearian lovers can’t stop whining about their heartache to anyone who’ll listen. In fact, they keep on chattering about it even when they’re alone.
The most convincing portrayal of human lovesickness is in a film called The Name of the Rose. Christian Slater is an apprentice monk who falls for a stunningly sensual beggar girl played by Valentina Vargas. He has no idea what to do about it, but it doesn’t matter because she takes charge of the situation, pulling off the lad’s habit and literally engulfing him in her yearning flesh. Little Christian’s boyish bottom is exposed to the world, while Valentina mews like a cat being simultaneously stroked by eleven pairs of hands. And throughout their brief encounter, they never exchange a single word. Inevitably, it all comes to grief when a bearded troll from the Inquisition arrives at the monastery, charging around the place making reckless accusations and flashing his deadly instruments. The tragic ending is a familiar denouement in human love stories, although in this one the parted lovers do at least escape with their lives.
The most important lesson of Sir William’s play is that being in love with someone is actually quite different from loving that person. Although Titania was temporarily besotted with Bottom, no one would suppose that she actually loved that buffoon – it’s just that the area of her brain associated with adoration had been stimulated at the wrong moment. The fairy queen was cured of her infatuation by magic, but real humans are rarely so lucky. I would guess the most effective remedy for the love affliction is to engage the idol of one’s heart in commonplace conversation about the weather, the neighbours and the price of fish. Few humans can speak for twenty minutes without saying something daft or banal, and it never fails to break to spell.
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