So, the other week I was incredibly excited to book tickets for Much Ado About Nothing at Wyndhams Theatre, not least because it’s starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate. But also because Much Ado is my favourite Shakespeare play. Heck, it’s one of my favourite plays, full stop. And it’s a funny one (literally), because what I love about it is not the main plot about the romance between Hero and Claudio, and how the evil Prince John tries to derail it, but the side plot about Beatrice and Benedick and how they seem fated to bicker their way into old age without ever confessing their true feelings for one another.
And one of my favourite scenes in the play is where Beatrice and Benedick confess their love for each other. It comes after Hero’s wedding has been ruined, and Benedick chances upon Beatrice weeping. Instead of sparring with him she lets out her true feelings—sorrow, anger, frustration–and Benedick can’t contain himself any longer. “I do love nothing in the world so well as you,” he tells her. “Is not that strange?”
It’s one of my favourite declarations of love. We, the audience, knew it all along, and deep down so did Beatrice, but Benedick’s found it pretty hard to comes to terms with. Even better is her response: after stammering her way through half an agreement, half a refusal of her feelings, Benedick coaxes and teases her until she cries, “I was about to protest I loved you.” “And do it with all thy heart,” Benedick says.
Beatrice replies, “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.”
There, that’s a bit of a showstopper, isn’t it? I still haven’t found anything to better it, either on stage or screen or in a book, although a few memorable declarations that spring to mind include:
Andrew Lincoln and Keira Knightley in Love, Actually, where he writes his feelings on a series of giant flashcards. “To me you are perfect, and my withered heart will love you until you look like this,” whereupon he shows her a picture of an Egyptian mummy. Bittersweet, poignant, funny, and ultimately hopeless, because she’s married to his best friend.
The Doctor and Rose in The Satan Pit episode of Doctor Who: About to throw himself into the lair of the Devil, the Doctor shouts over the intercom, “If they get back in contact–if you talk to Rose–just tell her…tell her…oh, she knows.” Since they’ve spent the entire series dancing around each other, we all know, too. At the end of the series, faced with the prospect of never seeing him again, Rose says simply, “I love you.” To which the Doctor, displaying that charm we all fell in love with, replies, “Quite right too.”
Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: He tells Buffy he loves her several times, but it’s this one, from the penultimate episode, that’s so perfect. “I’m not asking you for anything. When I say I love you, it’s not because I want you, or because I can’t have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you and I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You are a hell of a woman. You’re the one, Buffy.” To which Buffy replies, “I don’t want to be the one,” and Spike, displaying charm to equal the Doctor’s, answers, “I don’t want to be this good-looking and athletic. We all have crosses to bear.”
And finally, from the first romance novel I can ever remember reading, Nicholas and Dougless in A Knight in Shining Armour by Jude Deveraux. Nicholas, a sixteenth-century nobleman, has been transported through time to fall in love with Dougless, a twentieth-century American, and he’s just about to—extremely unwillingly—be sent back: “I love you,” he whispered. “With all my soul I love you. Across time I will love you.”
I think I actually cried when I read that the first time. Of course, I was thirteen.
What are your favourite declarations of love in fiction? Do you think it’s necessary for characters to say those three little words or can they, like the Doctor and Rose, know it without ever being told?