Top 10 Greatest Lovers in Shakespeare – Numbers 10, 9, 8, 7, 6
3 Oct 2018
Our expert panel has nominated the Shakespeare couples who set their pulses racing the fastest. Today we reveal some of the greatest lovers to ever grace the stage.
Compiled by Andy McLean
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Shakespeare presented many Comedies as games of cat and mouse, where women toyed with the hapless men in their lives. As You Like It provides the definitive example of this, with Rosalind schooling Orlando in the ways of love.
“Rosalind is obviously extremely intelligent but also extremely compassionate,” says Bell Shakespeare’s Associate Director James Evans. “She knows what she wants and she’s in control of her life. She’s got a way with words that’s absolutely brilliant, she’s got great respect for family and also for herself and other people.”
Orlando may be naïve in the ways of love, but he’s a worthy romantic foil for Rosalind. As the play unfolds, he proves himself to be principled, heroic and – most importantly – hopelessly romantic. After setting eyes on Rosalind, the tough guy is “overthrown” by his love for her and remains devoted thereafter.
Shakespeare virtually invented the trope of ‘warring lovers’ when he wrote the parts of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.
That is one reason why Bell Shakespeare’s Associate Director James Evans can’t go past them as his favourite lovers in Shakespeare: “Think about Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (and of course its companion piece, Bridget Jones’s Diary), and movies like Dirty Dancing, Life As We Know It, Knocked Up, the list goes on!”
Evans enjoys the fact that Benedick and Beatrice are portrayed as equals by Shakespeare: “They are definitely as witty and smart as each other and are destined to get together by the end of the play. Whether they will stay together… that’s another story.”
The Macbeths may not be mushy, but the sheer power of their love is beyond question. Author Jane Caro describes their relationship as “intense and dark,” adding that: “Lady Macbeth in particular personifies unconditional love. There is nothing she will not do for love of him, even if that drives her insane.”
Actor and writer Kate Mulvany, who played Lady Macbeth in 2012, also picked the Macbeths as her favourite couple in Shakespeare: “Theirs is a relationship of paradoxes – shifting power, yet co-dependency, parental grief, yet sexual re-awakenings. They are funny, filthy, poetic and pragmatic, sexy and stricken all at once. They are the couple you want to have at your dinner party but very quickly regret inviting… I adore them for all the wrong reasons.”
“Juliet and her Romeo” would make many people’s top ten greatest lovers in history, not just in Shakespeare. No wonder they were nominated for our Top Ten by experts on three different continents.
Australian writer Benjamin Law was among them: “Okay, I’m being predictable. But listen, there’s a reason everyone is obsessed with this play (and Baz Luhrmann’s film) when they’re teenagers. First love feels like the most dramatic thing on the planet – Shakespeare just took it to its logical endpoint.”
UK-based Shakespeare Magazine editor Pat Reid agrees: “The love poetry Shakespeare puts in their mouths has never been bettered in the English language. Even though the play is a bit of a bloodbath, and its events would be horrific if they happened in real life (which they sometimes do), nothing captures the life-changing thrill of romance quite like it.”
Robert O’Brien, Professor Emeritus of English Literature at California State University, Chico also nominated “those two crazy teenagers from Verona” as his favourite romantic couple in Shakespeare.