Alison May’s fabulous contemporary Shakespeare retelling, Midsummer Dreams, was released in paperback on Valentine’s Day. Today on the blog Alison gives a rundown of her Top Five Shakespearean couples. Is your favourite on her list?
Shakespeare was the king of the romance writers. He wrote about love and romance in all their forms – youthful infatuation, the one that got away, the bickering rivals who are secretly in love, young lovers learning how to woo, older lovers taking on armies together – in terms of literary love the bard really did do it all. But which Shakespearean couples are the best? Well to answer that question, here is my entirely scientific and not just based on random opinion, Top Five Shakespearean Couples.
Cue the TOTP countdown tune…
5. Paulina and Camillo, The Winter’s Tale
Paulina gets a bit of a rough deal in The Winter’s Tale. In terms of the actual story, in which the queen, Hermione, is, apparently, killed by her jealous husband, but later miraculously reappears as a statue that comes to life, Paulina is lumbered with a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s her that either hides the not-dead Queen away, or magics the actually dead Queen back to life, and for her good efforts she’s rewarded with the death of one husband (the ill-fated Antigonus, who is ‘pursued by bear’ all the way off stage to bear-dinner land), and in the final scene she’s lumbered with a new husband, when the King decides that now he’s got his Queen back everyone else should be getting some romance too. So at the end of the play he declares Paulina and Camillo ‘betrothed’ with not so much as a polite enquiry as to whether either of them really fancies the idea.
So, despite not actually being a couple at all at any point during the play, Paulina and Camillo make it to number five for sheer willingness to abandon good sense and good characterisation in the face of aggressive plotting.
4. Viola and Orsino, Twelfth Night
I can’t lie. Twelfth Night has never been one of my favourite plays. I think it’s partly that ungainly run of four consonants in one word in the title. In essence though Twelfth Night is a play about a love triangle. Viola is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, where she promptly disguises herself as a man and gets a job working for the Duke Orsino. Orsino is in love with a local noblewoman, Olivia, and sends Viola, disguised as a boy to woo Olivia on his behalf. Olivia promptly falls in love with boy-Viola, who has, herself, fallen for Orsino. And much hilarity ensues. Fortunately just as the hilarity is reaching fever pitch Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, turns up, and Olivia falls for him instead, because boy and girl twins are essentially interchangeable and basically the same person for the plot purposes. Obviously.
Anyway, asides from all that twin nonsense, Viola and Orsino’s story is actually quite sweet. Orsino is a man in love with the idea of love and romance, but he only truly falls in love when all of that artifice is stripped away. Viola is disguised as a boy so Orsino isn’t even thinking of her as an object of romantic affection, and when he stops thinking about love the whole time, that leaves space for actual love to come rushing in.
3. The Macbeths, Macbeth
Macbeth is an awesome play. It’s properly gruesome. There’s ghosts, and murder, and witches and a full-on battle scene to end with. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are locked together at the centre of all of that. They’re not exactly a romantic pairing. Nobody would say they bring out the best in each other. It’s perfectly possible that if she’d married a nice librarian from Norfolk, Lady Macbeth would have had a lovely life learning cross stich and tending to her geraniums. But she didn’t. She married Macbeth, and from there on in the world around them started to get a wee bit deathy. So they’re not romantic. They’re not pleasant. You wouldn’t invite them round for canapes. But these two were absolutely made for one another – each matching the other in madness, lust for power and commitment to good hand hygiene.
2. Benedick & Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing
Benedick and Beatrice are the archetypal rom-com couple. They hate each other. They fight over everything. They bicker and spar and circle around one another, mocking the idea of romance and love, united and held apart by their shared commitment to the single life.
I think we all know how this one’s going to end up, don’t we? And when it comes, their acknowledgement that they’re deeply in love with each other is really moving. You can feel the layers of stubbornness and self-protection being peeled away by the raw emotion of the moment. If you don’t well up even a little bit when Benedick finally declares ‘I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is that not strange?’ then you have a very cold soul indeed.
1. Oberon & Titania, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Now bear with me here. I get that Oberon and Titania might seem like an odd number one. For most of A Midsummer Night’s Dream they’re not even together. They’re in the middle of an almighty falling out over a changeling baby that Titania’s adopted. And because they’re King and Queen of the Fairies, their falling out involves lots of tricks and spells, and ultimately a whole section where Titania thinks she’s in love with a donkey, so I acknowledge that they’re not exactly love’s young dream, but what I love about Oberon and Titania is the feeling that we’re only seeing a tiny snapshot of their story. These are creatures who exist outside of human time – I like to imagine that they’ve been fighting and falling out, and coming back together and falling in love throughout eternity. I imagine that, although Oberon definitely has the upper hand in this particular battle, on another day in another place Titania will have her revenge, and ultimately they’ll keep coming back together, because he’s the King of the Fairies and she’s the Queen. Who else are either of them going to be with?
So that’s my Top Five Shakespearean Couples. Obviously, I’m slightly doubting the choice of Paulina and Camillo over Romeo and Juliet or Antony and Cleopatra, but the list was scientifically verified and objectively definitely right, so there’s nothing I can do. You, of course, can disagree to your heart’s content – I’d love to hear about your favourite Shakespearean couples in the comments below …
Midsummer Dreams is now available in paperback. Click on one of the links below to purchase.