When we think of Shakespeare’s impact on modern literature, we’re tempted to think of only the loftiest works: innovative volumes of sonnets, daring new applications of metered verse, and adaptations of the Bard’s plays that strike the perfect balance between modern relevance and historical accuracy. We are less likely to think of Weekend at Bernie’s, Caddyshack, Wedding Crashers, or Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. We are even less likely to think of our own romantic works – partly for fear of flattering ourselves too much, to be sure, but also partly because some of Shakespeare’s contributions, like the green world narrative, have become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to ignore them.
The green world narrative is the common thread that binds Shakespeare’s plays to the bawdy romantic comedies of today’s silver screen. This narrative, which begins by setting up conflict in an urban setting, has our characters fleeing to a natural setting to escape whatever nastiness has corrupted their home in the city. However, the green world is almost always more than it seems, and it is the realm of faeries whose top priority is their own amusement (often at the expense of the heroes). Nonetheless, the strange and unlikely events that happen in the green world allow the characters to resolve the city-born conflict and come home to a happy ending.
In Shakespeare’s works, the green world narrative is most clearly on display in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Tempest. It is also the foundation for a number of modern romantic comedies – although Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle has been a particular favorite of mine ever since I realized that Neil Patrick Harris is thoroughly enjoying his role as a present-day Puck.
However, it is when I find myself sitting down to write a romance that I appreciate the green world narrative the most. It’s an incredibly flexible structure, asking only that I distinguish between an urban setting and a green world setting – and maybe put part of the plot-driving responsibility in the hands of a strange, eccentric, or even supernatural character. A green world narrative can be set in Boston or ancient Greece; faeries can be played by a range of characters from a shamanic healer to an eccentric neighbor. Letting the green world narrative guide your romantic or erotic work can help you stop worrying about what your plot will be and start developing vivid, memorable characters who your audience will cherish and cheer for long after they’ve put the book down.