As I’ve proven before, I get kind of weird about the
love lives of Shakespeare’s characters. As in, I think entirely too much about them. In fact, I’m basically one step away from quitting my job and spending my days writing professional Shakespeare fanfiction. Which, when I think about it, sounds pretty great.
For now, though, I’m stuck working by day and over-analyzing Shakespearean relationships by night. On today’s agenda is “ranking Shakespearean couples by how toxic their relationships are," or “oh my god why do so many Shakespearean couples end up dead?” For those of you who stopped reading Shakespeare after Sparknotes-ing
Romeo and Juliet in high school, here’s a little spoiler for you: They weren’t even the most messed up couple in the canon. Shakespeare seemed to specialize in writing doomed, troubled, or even homicidal lovers, with few of them getting a truly happy ending.
Still, some couples had it a lot better than others. Sure, none of them had a perfect, fairy-tale romance, but at least they didn’t all end up dead (though a disturbing amount of them did). Below are some of Shakespeare’s most famous couples, ranked from least to most toxic. Obviously this is subjective, but my thought process was fairly simple: If murder was involved, they typically ended up in the “most toxic” range.
Benedick and Beatrice from 'Much Ado About Nothing'
So technically they were brought together by the lies of their friends, but I don’t care because Benedick and Beatrice are made for each other. They have a relationship based on wit, mutual respect, and occasionally demanding that one kill the other’s enemies. #relationshipgoals
Orlando and Rosalind from 'As You Like It'
An apparent rarity in Shakespeare: two people who are in love with each other at the exact same time who don’t end up killing each other or themselves! Sure, Rosalind spends much of the play pretending to be a male friend of Orlando’s, but honestly, beggars can’t be choosers.
Duke Orsino and Viola from "Twelfth Night'
Duke Orsino and Viola don’t have a bad relationship, per se, but you do have to take into account that he spends most of the play convinced that Viola is a man who’s trying to woo another woman for him. Maybe friendship turned into love, but honestly, I think he was just so confused that by the end, he agreed to married Viola because he didn’t know what else to do.
The Duke and Isabella from 'Measure for Measure'
On one hand, the Duke protects Isabella from the lecherous Angelo, saving both her virtue and her imprisoned brother in the process. On the other hand, the Duke ends the play by proclaiming that Isabella will be his bride, despite the fact that she’s pretty into being a nun. So it’s a little hard to judge this one.
Bassanio and Portia from 'The Merchant of Venice'
Personally, I thought Bassanio was better suited for his best friend, Antonio, partly because Portia is a little much. First Bassanio can only marry her if he wins a weird game designed by her father. Then, Portia disguises herself as a judge, demands Bassanio’s ring as payment, and later yells at him for giving up that ring! Bassanio, do you really want to be playing these mind games your whole life?
Oberon and Titania from 'A Midsummer's Night Dream'
Oberon wants to take a child from Titania, but when she refuses, he puts a spell on her to punish her for being disobedient. He then amuses himself by watching her make a fool out of herself lusting over a man with a donkey head. Yeah, Oberon really sounds like a great partner.
Proteus and Julia from 'The Two Gentleman of Verona'
Seriously Proteus? You claim to be in love with Julia before immediately falling in love with your best friend’s girl and doing everything you can to steal her from him. And Julia, after watching him do all this, you still take him back? You both need to rethink your lives.
Antony and Cleopatra from 'Antony & Cleopatra'
These two are that couple you know who always fight but never break up because they’re kind of perfect for each other. Sure, Antony blames her for his failed battles and Cleopatra pretends to kill herself to make him upset, but what couple doesn’t do that? Oh right, functional ones.
Romeo and Juliet and 'Romeo and Juliet'
Nothing says “toxic” like “joint suicide.” Even setting aside Romeo’s fickle ways (remember Rosaline?), a relationship that involves running away and/or faking your own death is probably not that healthy. Plus, these two were never great at communicating with each other, as their particularly dark ending shows.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth from 'Macbeth'
You could argue that Lady MacBeth is a cutthroat, manipulative monster who bullies her husband into killing his friends in order to gain power. Or, you could argue that they are partners-in-crime and that she tries to cover for MacBeth when he gets in over his head. Either way, they probably weren’t the best at not encouraging each other’s bad habits.
Hamlet and Ophelia from 'Hamlet'
Once more for the people in the back:
Psychological manipulation is not the foundation of a healthy relationship. So Hamlet, if you’re going to drive Ophelia insane to the point that she drowns herself, you don’t get to then mourn her like she was the love of your life. That’s called having your cake and eating it too.
Leontes and Hermione from 'The Winter's Tale'
A slightly less murder-y case of jealousy than someone else on this list, though not for lack of trying. Leontes asks Hermione to talk to his friend, and then automatically assumes they must be sleeping together and throws her in a dungeon? If I were Hermione, I would haves stayed a statue.
Othello and Desdemona from 'Othello'
These two were actually kind of cute together, until the whole strangling thing went down. Desdemona may have fallen in love with Othello’s stories, but she was probably less fond of his insane jealousy. Here’s some advice, Othello: Next time, try talking it out before doing anything rash.
Petruchio and Katherina from 'The Taming of the Shrew'
Othello straight up killed Desdemona, and they still had a better relationship than these two. Out of the many truly noxious men that Shakespeare created, Petruchio just might be the worst. If he kidnaps you, starves you, and psychologically manipulates you? That’s a deal breaker, ladies.