Love, marriage and Shakespearean tragedies are wasted on the young

Three cheers for mature love, I say. Give me Antony, long out of boyhood, and Cleopatra, no longer green, any time

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Three cheers for mature love, I say. If we are to have marriages then let them be between mature people only. Marriage, like love, is wasted on the young. If we were sensible we would make it illegal to marry, or indeed to fall in love, the baby side of 50.

Three cheers for mature love, I say. If we are to have marriages then let them be between mature people only. Marriage, like love, is wasted on the young. If we were sensible we would make it illegal to marry, or indeed to fall in love, the baby side of 50.

Seeing the famous newsreels again of Charles and Diana answering the question of whether they are in love - of course we are, says Diana; whatever in love means, says the Prince - it is hard not to shake one's head in sorrow over both of them.

Since then, and with hindsight, we have come to see a terrible duplicity in Charles's prevarication, and it may well be that he was thinking of someone else even as Diana was flushing and starting by his side. But the truth is, they were so unevolved when they underwent the ordeal of declaring their love on television - mere embryos of people they look now, not a wrinkle of knowledge or understanding between them - that neither could have had an inkling of what love meant.

Whether Diana ever did get a better handle on the word or the thing it denotes is open to debate. She certainly enjoyed deploying the language of love for everyone to hear, and no less willingly unpacked her heart for everyone to see. That was a hot night for most men when she looked out of our televisions with fire in each cheek and said "Oh yes, I adored him" about somebody the world has since forgotten. But it always looked like an emotion in search of an object, which is the way of it when you're young, before experience yields, or in some lucky cases, confirms a choice.

It's for this reason that I have never been able to read or watch Romeo and Juliet to the finish. I cannot attach sufficient value to their protestations of devotion to care how things turn out. Badly - how else were they ever going to turn out? Now act me a play about grown-ups.

This is not to say I doubt the young experience intensity. I loved like a tornado when I was a boy - if you can imagine a tornado that bites its pillows and sobs into handkerchiefs. For a girl whose hand I held for five minutes in a field in Chester, but who insisted on wearing a woolly mitten while I was holding it, I was prepared to sacrifice my education. For a girl with her leg in plaster who asked my name in Oswestry market, then laughed when I gave it to her, I would have cut my mother's heart out.

I can see neither of their faces now, for all that I was not able at the time to imagine a life worth living without them. Write a tragic drama about that if you will, but do not call it a tragedy of love, however much like love it felt to the soppier of the parties.

That we can feel so powerfully when we are young, and feel it almost without a cause - without what T S Eliot with leaden infelicity called an "objective correlative" - is shocking for what it presages. A child with a seeming broken heart is among the saddest of sights. But it is sad not least for telling us how the seasoned heart will crack when the hour for making practice runs has passed.

The young, of course, will put their fingers down their throats at the spectacle of middle-aged lovers gazing into each other's eyes. Yuk! Myself I put my finger down my throat at the spectacle of anybody younger doing it. Those creamy little unmarked moon-calf faces, those uncertain coagulations of puppy fat, that exchange of entirely second-hand sentiment and inarticulacy wrapped in baby fluids - yuk, yuk!

Three cheers for mature love, I say. Give me Antony, long out of boyhood, and Cleopatra, no longer green in judgement, any time. It's not just because Shakespeare himself was older when he wrote it that Antony and Cleopatra is a greater play than Romeo and Juliet. It's because in the wisdom of his years he chose to write of wiser lovers.

Yes, Antony and Cleopatra are still as irresponsible as children when it comes to prosecuting their ardour, but the foundations of that ardour are deeply planted. They have knocked about the world, separately and together. They know what else is or is not on offer. And they are not embarrassed by their own sexual maturity.

Very bold of Cleopatra to speak of herself as one who is "with Phoebus' amorous pinches black, /And wrinkled deep in time". No botox, for a start. No concern about her complexion. And rather witty, wouldn't you say, to imagine the ravages of time as ravishments, the bites and bruises given her by the sun god in the diurnal course of their embraces.

I don't know how much of Cleopatra Camilla Parker Bowles has in her nature. It's hard to imagine her making the winds lovesick in a burnished barge in Clarence House, I grant you. But hopping 40 paces through a public street might not be beyond her, would protocol allow. She is, after all, reputed to be a sporty woman.

The mistake - a mistake commonly made with regard to English country women - is to suppose that horsiness must be at odds with sensuality. I have seen photographs of Charles laughing with Camilla at the opera, where he unmistakably sees her as a morsel for a monarch. Conversation is the key to it. Enjoy the conversation and there is no extremity of love you might not reach.

I have always thought it, among other things, heroic, that in the days when he had for wife a woman thought to be the most beautiful in the world - the nonpareil of women in a ball gown - Charles would rather be tramping through the mud with Camilla in her scarf and jodhpurs.

And if you don't understand why that should be, you are definitely not old enough to marry.

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