Even for an Eggshell – a day with The Players
23 Jul 2018
We asked an expert panel to name their favourite romantic duos in Shakespeare. Today we begin the countdown with numbers ten, nine, eight, seven and six.
Compiled by Andy McLean
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When it comes to swooning romance, Hermia and Lysander tick all the boxes. Young lovers in peril? Tick. Eloping under cover of darkness? Tick. Lost in a magical forest where a careless fairy almost wrecks everything in a single night of mayhem? Erm… also tick.
For these reasons and more, actor and writer Kylie Bracknell chose Hermia and Lysander as her favourite lovers in Shakespeare: “Hermia and Lysander’s love is so strong and true and rebellious and victorious! A determined one, right from the beginning. I love how hard they fight for it together and I adore Hermia’s courage and bravery. Plus they get to marry each other in the end, yay!”
You learn a lot about a husband and wife during desperate circumstances. So while Portia appears only twice in Julius Caesar, the love between her and Brutus is deep enough to leave a lasting impression.
Portia can see Brutus is tormented by a terrible secret, which he refuses to reveal to her. By withholding the details of the plot to murder Caesar, Brutus is trying to protect his wife. But theirs is a modern love and Portia is every bit his intellectual equal. She uses philosophical and spiritual arguments – and even physically injures herself – until Brutus promises to confide in her.
Finally, Portia’s death is the ultimate gesture of devotion: When she hears about her husband’s impending military defeat, she swallows fire and kills herself. Now that’s commitment.
A wise man once wrote that the course of true love never did run smooth – but sometimes love is the simplest thing on earth. The Tempest provides the perfect example.
“For pure sweetness, it’s hard to go past Miranda and Ferdinand,” says Bell Shakespeare’s Artistic Director Peter Evans. “Miranda is delightful and (like most of the young men in Shakespeare) Ferdinand is a bit clueless and needs her help to grow up.”
One of Evans’ favourite moments is when the lovers shake hands to seal their love: “Ferdinand says ‘Here’s my hand’ and, quick as a flash, she comes back with a wonderful reply: ‘And mine, with my heart in’t.”
While Shakespeare’s Comedies typically follow young people discovering love, his History plays often include long-term couples seeking to resolve emotional crises, such as enforced partings.
The latter variety is exquisitely presented in Henry IV Part I, says director, dramaturg and editor Dr Anna Kamaralli: “Kate’s desperate concern for Hotspur is so openly that of a mature woman who knows what real love is, and what real loss will be,” she says.
Hotspur is a feared warrior but Kate threatens to break his little finger unless he explains why he’s been brooding and neglecting her. “Their exchanges are charged with crackling humour and passion,” says Kamaralli. “Then she mourns him as ‘the mark and glass, copy and book that fahion’d others… my heart’s dear Harry.’”
Yes, Gertrude and Claudius have gatecrashed our top ten. The couple everyone loves to hate. Why are they included? Well, you have to look past the fact that Claudius murders his brother and then shacks up with his brother’s wife, stealing the Danish crown in the process. Beyond those (gigantic) indiscretions, Claudius does actually love Gertrude quite profoundly.
In conversation with Laertes, Claudius lets his guard down to reveal his devotion: “…and for myself – My virtue or my plague, be it either which – She’s so conjunctive to my life and soul / That, as the star moves not but in his sphere, I could not but by her.”
Like many of Shakespeare’s greatest lovers, Gertrude and Claudius die beside one another – drinking from the same poisoned cup. Perhaps that’s why people secretly have a soft spot for the despicable duo. As Bell Shakespeare’s Artistic Director Peter Evans puts it: “They love each other and seem to have a whale of a time. Until they don’t.”