With the death (and supposed birth) anniversary of William Shakespeare upon us, the usual reflection on the beloved bard’s breadth of work comes into “play.” While seemingly every aspect of his work has been scrutinized, the one element people seem to always take at face value is the all-consuming type of love between his characters. Whether this is because the so-called two-dimensionality of the love doesn’t strike enough of a chord with people or the overall themes of the play itself are what audiences find most resonant is at one’s discretion.
From Valentine and Proteus’ love triangle with Silvia to Ophelia’s unrequited love for Hamlet, the levels of intensity and passion portrayed in each of Shakespeare’s narratives, both comedic and dramatic, offer the sort of amorousness that most people (especially women) can only fantasize about.
Remarkably, the majority of great loves in Shakespeare plays appear in his comedies. Viola in Twelfth Night with her drag king snafu ends up falling for Duke Orsino, the man she has found herself staying with in the wake of her shipwreck. Drag king hilarity paired with romance ensues in As You Like It as well, with the heroine, Rosalind, forced to disguise herself as a servant in order to escape to the forest after being banished from the court.
This consistent plot device of disguise is an overt metaphor for the manner in which we all feel the need to camouflage our true selves when we give in to another person. The fear of losing their interest if we reveal too much at once is perhaps Shakespeare’s most resonant and authentic delineation. In this sense, yes, it is very possible to have the kind of love depicted in his plays. Just don’t expect the same level of ardency, lest you become suicidal like Ophelia.
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