Tuesday, February 14, 2012

10 FAVORITES (52) - Shakespeare's Lovers

Happy Valentine's Day all!  After a long (and much needed!) break, I have returned to the blog I love with an all new 10 FAVORITES.  As it is the day of love, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about one of the most romantic authors in history: William Shakespeare.  His plays have come to define drama, comedy and even romance.  But what are his greatest love stories?  He had so many plays and so many characters and couples that represented true love.  This week's 10 FAVORITES discusses the best couples in Shakespeare's plays.  Some are obvious, some are tragic and some are complete surprises; yet each of them displays a different aspect of Shakespeare's view of love and romance.


Lorenzo and Jessica from The Merchant of Venice
No they are not the main couple in this Shakespeare "dramedy" (it's classified a comedy, yet tends to be one of the Bard's more dramatic ones!).  They are not even the secondary couple in play.  True, Shylock's neglected daughter and the man who takes her away from her unhappy home serve as the play's tertiary couple (and they often get forgotten by most, as my father will attest!).  But in each other, Jessica and Lorenzo find their ultimate happiness.  Jessica is one of Shakespeare's more interesting female characters who doesn't get much stage time.  She is neglected by her miserly and vengeful father; but when she runs off with Lorenzo (and converts from Judaism to Christianity!), her actions set in motion Shylock's famous "Hath not a Jew..." speech and his literal blood-thirst for the titular character's (Antonio's) heart.

MacBeth and Lady MacBeth from MacBeth
It's hard to talk about this couple in theatrical circles (you all should know how superstitious actors are!), but this Scottish couple must be mentioned when it comes to raw sexual energy.  Their twisted love is inflamed by the idea of killing the Scottish king just so MacBeth can take his place.  The murder ultimately drives both of them mad and destroys them both, yet their passion is always displayed with dark and sensual air.

Orlando and Rosalind from As You Like It
This couple is fascinating because both of them have been banished and forced to live in hiding from their "enemies."  Orlando is running from his elder brother who despises him, while Rosalind is fleeing her uncle who has usurped her father's (the Duke's) land.  Orlando is hopelessly in love with the intelligent and forward-thinking Rosalind.  Rosalind loves him too, but is wary of his devotion (as she as seen how men behave when they are near or have power!).  So she tests him (like most of Shakespeare's great heroines) by dressing up as a boy (named Ganymede) and helping him "work out" his courtship to Rosalind.

Othello and Desdemona from Othello
Yes I know that he ends up killing her in a jealous rage, however the love and passion that causes that murderous rage is one Shakespeare's best.  Othello, a celebrated general, is a Moor in the very Christian Venice and he marries Desdemona, the daughter of a wealthy Venetian.  Their romance for each other is brief but happy.  When the wicked and jealous Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona is adulterous, Othello's emotions rise to a boil and he strangles her in her bed.  That's love for you, folks!!!

Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing
Do you remember back in kindergarten when that little boy pushed a little girl into the mud?  Or when that same little girl threw her juice box at that same little boy?  Remember how throughout their entire childhood they fought constantly and teased each other mercilessly?  Remember how they ended up living happily ever after years later?  That pretty much describes the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice.

Marc Antony and Cleopatra from Antony and Cleopatra
When it comes to great lovers in history, Roman leader Marc Antony and the beautiful Egyptian Queen Cleopatra are among the most legendary.  Shakespeare's dramatic version of their love affair is one of his best tragic histories.  Antony, the great Roman general, is utterly beguiled and bewitched by the goddess-like Cleopatra and ignores his duties in Rome.  When he finally returns to Rome (over Cleopatra's objections), he is forced to marry Octavian Caesar's sister Octavia.  When Antony returns to an angry Cleopatra and declares themselves rulers of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, Octavian and Antony go to war.  Octavian drives a wedge between the lovers and with scene after scene of political and military intrigue, the two lovers die (Antony in her arms and Cleopatra by her own hand and asp!).  Their deaths cement their legends as one of history's greatest love stories.

Orsino, Viola and Olivia from Twelfth Night
Viola is another one of Shakespeare's great heroines (and yet another one who disguises as a boy!).  But in this play, Viola's disguise becomes the very center of the play and the very apex of Shakespeare's greatest love triangle.  Viola, who survived a shipwreck which she believes killed her beloved brother Sebastian, decides to present herself to the Duke Orsino as a servant boy named Cesario.  Orsino is in the process of trying to woo the Lady Olivia, who wants nothing to do with him.  He sends the young (and surprisingly pretty - at least to him!) Cesario with messages of his love.  However Olivia falls for Cesario, which of course is really the disguised Viola who in the meantime has fallen for her "master" Orsino.  Is your head spinning yet?  Well you ain't seen nothing yet!

Practically Everyone from A Midsummer Night's Dream
Everyone's in love in this play!  This play doesn't only deal with couples.  It goes the extra step beyond a simple love triangle and gives us a love quadrangle.  Let me break down all the lovers in this play as easily as I can: Athenian youths Hermia and Lysander are in love, but Hermia's father wants her to marry Demetrius, who has previously wooed Hermia's best friend Helena.  Meanwhile, fairy king Oberon is angry at his queen Titania (for various reasons) and she's angry at him (again for various reasons), so he has his servant Puck make her fall in love with another creature (which turns out to be the arrogant Nick Bottom turned into a donkey by Puck!).  Oberon also wants to help Helena get Demetrius back so he asks Puck to pour "love juice" on his eyes, yet Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and basically all hell breaks loose between the quartet!  Hoo, I'm already exhausted (and I still have two couples left!).

Petruchio and Katherina from The Taming of the Shrew
This is the Shakespeare comedy that is one of my all-time favorites.  The main reason it ranks so high is because of the palpable chemistry between the two leads that just leaps off the pages.  Katherina is the eldest daughter of a wealthy Paduan gentleman.  Her younger sister Bianca is beautiful and has several suitors, but their father will not allow his beloved Bianca to wed until Kate is married.  The problem is Kate despises men (most likely due to the disdainful treatment she gets from her father!) and is considered by all to be quite "shrewish."  Enter Petruchio, an intellectual who seeks to marry a wealthy woman (or woman from a wealthy family!), and only he can woo the tempestuous Kate into marriage.  The scenes between the two are just ripe with wit and sexual tension.

Romeo and Juliet from Romeo and Juliet
This one is just a "no-brainer" if there ever was one.  Some of you might even be saying: "You don't need to do a whole list when there is an OBVIOUS #1!" and those of you would probably be correct.  When it comes to Shakespeare's Greatest Lovers, none of the above I mentioned truly hold a candle to this youthful and tragic pair.  It is the romance against which all other great romances are compared.  We all know the story of star-crossed lovers from feuding families and that story has been adapted countless times (including one of my all-time favorite movie musicals).  It is the truest definition of love and romance.

No comments:

Post a Comment