Example 1

Example 1

Love story superplot number 3:

Secret love relationship

Ronny: “I was dead.”

Loretta: “Me too.”

Ronny: “What about Johnny?”

off: Moonstruck (1987)

Short info: Secret love affair

Two people fall in love, but a third person is also involved. This does not prevent love, but makes it more difficult.

What is the superplot “Secret Love Relationship” about?

The plot of the “secret love affair” condenses in the centre to the motif of unfulfilled love. Those who live in an unhappy relationship seek a secret relationship in order to make secret dreams and wishes come true.

What are the figure targets?

Two people are attracted to each other, even though there is a third. The two lovers are two kindred souls, while the third is usually either a rational person or materialist.

The historical development of the plot

In this constellation there is no third person during the central action, that is, during the approach of the lovers. This is the essential difference to the plot “Love & Jealousy”. Instead, the third person stands in the narrative background. She shouldn’t disappear completely, but she should make the lovers’ relationship mentally more difficult.

It is important that two lovers get to know and love each other relatively undisturbed. For example, the husband is currently on a business trip, and therefore the wife and an initially unknown person can get to know each other. Towards the end of the plot, either the two lovers separate dramatically (“The Bridges of Madison County” (1995), “Winter’s Tale” (2014)) or the two come together (“Moonstruck” (1987), “For Love or Money” (1993)).

A thematic precursor of this narrative type is the amphitryon myth described by Sophocles (496 BC – 405 BC) and also Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC). The commander Amphitryon had to start a campaign against the Taphians. When he is gone, Zeus, the father of the gods, takes his shape and slips into bed with Alkmene, the wife of Amphitryon. Both have passionate sex with each other. Alkmene later even has a son by Zeus, whom she calls Heracles. Zeus is clearly a secret lover, while Alkmene merely believes she spent a romantic night with her husband.

In the Middle Ages the narrative theme of the “secret love affair” was very popular and was sung about in many songs, for example by Wolfram von Eschenbach (ca. 1160-1220) or Walther von der Vogelweide (1170-1230). [i] 

As long as the “secret love relationship” remains secret, nothing happens to the lovers. But if the husband or the public ever finds out about this relationship…

In “Gruppenbild mit Dame” (1971), the German novelist Heinrich Böll (1917-1985) describes an initially secret love affair between a German woman and a Russian prisoner of war during the Third Reich. When the relationship becomes public, the woman is discriminated against and ridiculed. Through unfortunate circumstances she is separated from her lover, who dies a little later. The dangerous husband can therefore be replaced by a dangerous society. 

Film samples are …

The Bridges of Madison County (1995) with Meryl Streep

Moonstruck (1987) with Cher

Winter’s Tale (2014) with Colin Farrell

For Love or Money (1993) with Michael J. Fox


The Seven Year Itch (1955) with Marylin Monroe

The example of a novel is…

“Gruppenbild mit dame” (1971) by Heinrich Böll

Cf also Frenzel, Elisabeth. Motifs from world literature. Stuttgart 1992, p. 455f

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