Updated: Aug 5
A perfect antidote to the usual Valentine's Day schmaltz — Love in Shakespeare!
It’s Valentine’s Day! A day that tries as hard as it can to convince us all that love is pink and heart-shaped, romance is shop-bought and for one day only, and happy endings are simple, permanent, and right around the corner. So what better way to celebrate than looking at the romantic happy endings of three of Shakespeare’s best loved comedies…
1. Much Ado About Nothing
What could be a better love story than Much Ado? Beatrice and Benedick are wonderful (as long as you ignore the emotional abuse of promising affection in return for violence, the manipulation of their feelings by their friends, and the deceit at the heart of their romance...) But as for Hero and Claudio: Claudio sees Hero and decides she’s pretty and rich so therefore he’s in love with her. He is then told by a self-proclaimed villain that his fiancée is disloyal, and takes a whole eight lines to go from denying its possibility to coming up with a malicious plan to publicly humiliate her. He proceeds on very little evidence, denounces her at the altar, then walks out thinking she’s dead. But she only fainted! She was innocent! Claudio’s really sorry! They can still get married! Hero is never asked whether she still wants to marry a man who mistrusted her so quickly, hurt her so publicly, and treated her so callously – of course she does! She’s a woman, and what woman doesn’t love a wedding? Lovely.
2. Twelfth Night
Viola’s been disguised as a boy, and fallen in love with her master, Orsino, who loves the beautiful Olivia, who loves boy-Viola, Cesario. It’s an impossible-to-break love triangle, which can only be solved by there being two Violas, one male and one female. Fortunately, there are! Viola’s virtually identical twin brother Sebastian isn’t drowned, and Olivia marries him instead, while Viola reveals her identity and marries Orsino. Ta da! Happy ending! Except Orsino threatened to kill Viola barely five minutes before proposing to her, and Viola loses all the freedom she gained as Cesario, being ordered to strap herself into a dress and be Orsino’s ‘fancy’s queen’ rather than an actual individual. Sebastian’s married to a woman he’s hardly spoken to, and Olivia accidentally married the wrong person. Oops.
3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Another love triangle – or really a love square. In the middle of some magical meddling lost in a forest, Demetrius is chasing Hermia who is chasing Lysander who is chasing Helena. It’s all solved by more mischievous enchanting, until everyone settles into happy couples: Hermia with Lysander, and Helena with Demetrius. Simple. Except. Demetrius is still under the influence of the magical love drug, so is out of his right mind. Helena is married to a man who threatened to rape her in the middle of a dark forest and told her he wished she was dead. And when Lysander was magicked out of love with Hermia, he violently insulted her, and physically attacked her. You’d imagine they’d all want a little bit of time to recover and rethink after that night, but instead they’re caught by Duke Theseus and told to get married that very day. And speaking of Theseus, he’s forcibly marrying Hippolyta, whom he reminds that ‘I wooed thee with my sword and won thy love doing thee injuries’. Romantic. And let’s not even get started on Titania and Oberon, with its kidnapping, drugging, and blackmail…
These are only three of the most popular happy endings in Shakespeare's comedies – we haven’t even touched on the forced marriages in Measure for Measure, All’s Well that Ends Well, and The Taming of Shrew, or on the assault in Two Gentlemen of Verona, the gold-digging and power-games in The Merchant of Venice, or the exceptionally jealous and violent husbands in Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale…
Fortunately, there’s hope in the tragedies! Shakespeare wrote a pretty great example of a married couple in the Macbeths: they share their hopes and their dreams, they make plans together, they communicate when apart, they’re verbally and physically affectionate, and they spur each other on to greater things. Just a shame about the murders, really.
Blog Post Crafted by Rebecca
Background: Rebecca is one of our most popular tutors, with a degree in English from the University of Cambridge and hundreds of hours of private tuition experience in 7+, 11+, English and Maths. She is also an assessor for Titanium Tutors, observing the mock lessons taught by potential tutors and deciding whether or not they meet the high standards of the agency.