Shakespeare in Love: the best and worst (but mostly worst) couples in Shakespeare

7 minute read
Author: Jo

Writing a romance novel? Let the master-bard of dick jokes inspire you (or at least show you how NOT to represent a healthy fictional relationship) with our run down of the best and worst couples in Shakespeare.

Romeo and Juliet — from, uh, Romeo & Juliet

Everyone likes to bitch about “oh they were only 13 and they knew each other for 4 days” but no one talks about how incredibly horny Juliet is. Romeo is the Petrarchan romantic, Juliet just talks about getting him into her sheets. And we fully support her. Let’s just gloss over the poor communication and bad decisions that ensue. They are tweens, after all.

7/10 for effort — 3/10 for jumping to fatal conclusions instead of taking a minute to check if your girlfriend is really dead

Gif of a man in period dress saying "we were gonna die in a beautiful double suicide, that's what you're missing out on"

Hamlet and Ophelia — Hamlet

D’you know, we are given literally nothing about Ophelia and what she wants from life or love in the text? Zilcho. She’s passed from pillar to post, told what to do by her father, her brother, Hamlet, the king and queen, until she’s finally like fuck all of this shit I revoke my sanity in the name of tragedy and starts handing out flowers. Then Ham and Laertes go all chest-thumping brah wrestling and jumping in her grave but honestly. I’d take a nunnery over this performative fuckery any day.

-1/10 — give us the Ophelia POV remake we deserve

Antony and Cleopatra — clue’s in the name

The OG party couple buuut there’s also a fair bit of pass-agg manipulation going on, and, y’know, the whole issue of his other WIFE. And then there’s that one scene where Cleo’s basically the crying girl in the bathroom surrounded by cheerleading strangers telling her she deserves so much better than that dickhead. And THEN the ultimate drama of Antony attempting to make a big death speech and her being like no no shush your face your queen is speaking now and then proceeds to steal the whole fifth act with full throttle regal drama. Honestly we’re here for all of it.

5/10 — super toxic but also v entertaining in a ‘Real Housewives of Rome’ way

A couple dressed as Antony and Cleopatra dance

Kate and Petruchio — The Taming of the Shrew

GOD. Just. No. There is no way of modernising this (yes yes 10 Things I Hate About You is fine but the source material is still irredeemable). Kate is systematically abducted, tortured, gaslit, and forced into marriage by an uber douche and then gives a speech about how liberating it is to be ‘a good wife’ and perhaps there’s a missing sixth act in which she stabs him in his sleep but as it stands it is problematic with a capital FUCK OFF. The proper version of the story should have had Kate posing as her sister’s tutor and the pair of them running off to live wild and free in Venice or something.

-6/10 — everyone is terrible, burn it all down

Gif of Kate from 10 things I hate about you saying 'you suck"

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth — Macbeth

The himbo and the girlboss, heck yeah. Aaand y’know, regicide and murdering other people’s children aside, you get the feeling they’re a generally loving (if intense) couple. And he gets one of the saddest ‘shit my wife just died’ speeches in the canon. Not exactly an aspirational couple but if they didn’t have the pressure of political advancement on their shoulders and were just, like, running a really great B&B they’d probably be much nicer people.

6/10 — the couple that murders together, stays together

Gif of a woman holding up a sign at a window that says "want me to kill them?"

Hermione and Leontes — Winter’s Tale

FFS do not come at us with even the semblence of the Winter’s Tale being a love story. We will fight you in the library. This play is just one massive relationship red flag. Hermy, please take your kids and fucking go. This guy is a jealous psychotic. We reject his redemption arc with every fiber of our being. Get some therapy. Get a dog. Go hug a tree. Work on yourself a little before straight up ordering the murder of your entire family.

Fuck off forever/10 — #HermioneDeservedBetter1610

Gif of a woman saying "get help"

Viola, Orsino, Olivia & Basically Everyone — Twelfth Night

<deep breath> So. Viola fancies Orsino but Orsino’s in love with Olivia so he sends Viola (disguised as Cesario) to woo her on his behalf but Olivia falls in love with Cesario instead and some other dudes (Malvolio and Sir Andrew Aguecheek) ALSO fancy Olivia but Malvolio ends up being tortured in a cellar and Andrew challenges Cesario/Viola to a duel and then Viola’s twin brother shows up and Olivia’s like ok fine he looks just the same, I’ll have him then and Viola gets Orsino in the end for vague reasons that are never fully explained and we don’t talk about Malvolio’s enduring trauma because LOOK! LOVE AND MARRIAGE HAHAAA!

4/10 — not a single one of you has actually taken the time to get to know each other so don’t pretend this is about love, just have an orgy fgs

Image of Olivia, Viola, and Orsino in a longing kinda threesome pose
11/10 for this promo image though

The Tempest

You know what we love about Shakespeare? He really understood the levels of horny a teenage girl experiences (see Juliet) and wasn’t afraid to put it right there in the middle of a play. Miranda sees a boy for the very first time and is like YES I’LL TAKE THAT ONE PLEASE. Then she sees a bunch of other guys and is like IT’S RAINING MEN AND I’M GETTING THE HELL OFF THIS ISLAND WHERE THERE ARE EVEN MOAR. Love that for her. I mean, Ferdinand seems super sweet but I hope when she gets to the mainland she goes ahead and takes her pick of the beauteous bounty of mankind. You deserve it babes.

8/10 — you never forget your first crush

Gif of Miranda saying "i've never been more aroused"

Othello and Desdemona — Othello

Okay this one’s just sad ’cause they really did love each other and there’s some serious discourse here about interacial relationships and the psychological trauma of white supremacy and toxic masculinity and why are things still so very terrible 500 years after this play was written? So let’s just pretend that Othello took early retirement on a lovely quiet island somewhere and he and Desdemona lived out the rest of their days in peace and marital harmony — oh, and Emilia came with them too because she needs to leave Iago STAT. There. Fixed it.

7/10 — jealous murder notwithstanding

Gif of Othello and Desdemona hugging from the National Theatre Live performance
see, look, they’re happy forever shh

Hermia, Lysander, Helena, Demitrius, Theseus, Hippolyta, Titiana, Oberon and Bottom — A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Some very questionable consent going on in the forest here. Not to mention all the roofying, the abduction of a small child, partial donkey-headed bestiality, Theseus ‘winning’ Hippolyta’s hand in marriage as a spoil of war, and the fact Hermia’s dad said he’d rather kill his own daughter than let her marry the guy she fancies. And this is a comedy, y’all. But there’s a super hungover triple wedding so all’s well that ends well I guess? Wait, that’s an even more problematic play. Godammnit Shakey pls get some relationship counselling.

2/10 — dubious attempts at polyamory + the sheer discomfort of trying to get jiggy in the woods

Gif of girls dressed as fairies dancing in the woods

And finally…

Beatrice and Benedick — Much Ado About Nothing

Ok this one is legit relatable. They spend 90% of the play bitching and bantering, then her cousin gets jilted by Benedick’s mate and she’s like “I would eat his mf heart in the marketplace” and Ben’s like “yes my queen, I will fuck him up for you” and really what else do you need from a relationship but someone who will bury a body with you (but not in a Macbeth way)? #shakespearecouplegoals (also there’s literally a dick in his name come on)

10/10 — cos you know their wedding party would be off the heckin hook and probably culminate in their immediate divorce

Gif of Rizzo from Grease saying "eat your heart out"


Got your romance inspiration? Now how about writing those sex scenes, huh? Eek! Writing about S-E-X (omg mum please don’t read this)

DO THIS: Take our Writing Romance course and learn how to plan, draft and write the perfect romance novel, with advice from best-selling author Jean Oram!

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