Monday, February 25, 2013

The Lady or the Tiger

One is often surprised by an old story retold. So it is with The Lady or the Tiger, a short story written in 1882 by Frank R. Stockton in the magazine The Century. "The lady, or the tiger?" has come to symbolize an allegorical expression, a shorthand indication for a problem that is unsolvable. I read the story as a young man, and now read it again with the hindsight of age.

The story is about a young and noble, but poor suitor for the hand of the king's daughter. She is enamored of him, but the jealous king is not. And so, upon discovering the infatuation, the king imprisons the suitor and arranges for a test. The poor suitor is to choose one of two doors. Behind one lies a tiger. Behind the other lies a another lady, as young and fair as the princess. Choose the tiger and the suitor is slain. Choose the other and the suitor may marry the fair maiden and live far away, comfortably, but separated from his princess.

The test is set to take place in the arena. And the king, the princess, and all the subjects of the kingdom have gathered to watch which choice the suitor makes, the lady or the tiger. But, the princess has learned beforehand the secret of which door the tiger lies behind.

And at the moment the suitor must choose, he looks to the princess in the stands. She, with a barely perceptible nod, motions to the right door. The suitor notices the princess' motion and decides.

But what does he decide? Has the princess acted to spare her suitor, knowing that to do so he will find the loving arms of another? Or, acting in spite, is she to deny the suitor of his life?

What do we know of love?

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