Romantic love is “characterized by romance and involves sexual attraction”. In Shakespeare’s plays, romantic love plays a fairly important role because it has the power to bring two of its characters together. However, love’s import is often overshadowed by other aspects of one’s life. For example, Claudio’s “love” for Hero in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is overshadowed by practicality-if he marries Hero, then his social status will increase following her father’s death, etc. In Henry IV, Hotspur’s love for his wife falls into the shadow of his need for the acquisition of both honor and military valor. In Hamlet, Hamlet’s love for Ophelia is destroyed by his desire for revenge. Therefore, love is devalued in each of these plays as its characters turn to other means of attaining both happiness and satisfaction.
In Act 1 Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, readers are introduced to the play’s main characters. One of these individuals is Claudio, who returned from war with his friends. Shortly after his arrival, Claudio professes his love for Hero. He explains that prior to the war, “I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye, that liked, but had a rougher task in hand than to drive liking to the name of love. But now I am returned, and that war-thoughts have left their places vacant, in their rooms come thronging soft and delicate desires”. In other words, when he was last in Messina, Claudio was preoccupied with thoughts of war. It can be surmised that he wondered if he would make it back from the war, how many of his friends would die in battle, if he would be injured in battle, etc. Claudio had no time or energy to think about love, but now that the war is over, he has the time. Furthermore, he has realized that he wants to fall in love and get married. He longs for a companion that will fill the “emptiness” that the absence of war and the thoughts it provokes have produced. The love that Claudio experiences is extremely shallow. Initially, Claudio’s love for Hero is based off her looks. He refers to her as a “jewel,” suggesting that her beauty is as great as that of the finest gems. Claudio also says that “in mine eye she is the sweetest lady that I ever looked on”. This statement’s meaning is twofold.
On the one hand, it suggests that Hero is kind and that he is attracted to the kindness he views as being present within her features. On the other hand, it supports his previous statement that she is a “jewel” of unrivaled beauty. While these quotes satisfy the aspect of romantic love involving sexual attraction, they also serve another function-they demonstrate the practical nature of Claudio’s decision to marry Hero. This conclusion stems from the fact that sexual attraction leads to sex, which is a means of producing children. Following the death of their parents, children inherit their parent’s property and continue their family’s name. Since it may be assumed that Claudio would want his family name to survive after his death, choosing to marry a woman he is attracted to is a logical choice. The logical nature of Claudio’s decision to marry Hero is bolstered by the answer to a question he asks Don Pedro. Claudio inquires, “hath Leonato any son, my lord?”. Don Pedro replies, “no child but Hero. She’s his only heir”. This interaction between Don Pedro and Claudio proves to be extremely important because the question Claudio poses isn’t an innocent one. Claudio isn’t asking if he going to have a brother-in-law; he is asking if Hero is Leonato’s heir. Upon discovering that Hero is an only-child, Claudio’s feelings toward her are strengthened because he realizes that she is a good long-term investment. Since she stands to inherit her father’s property following his death, then he will acquire everything she owns when they are wed. The acquisition of additional property and wealth would prove beneficial to Claudio because it would improve his social standing, since part of what differentiated members of different social groups during the Renaissance was the ownership of land and (material) wealth.
In conclusion, Claudio’s decision to marry Hero was extremely practical-he stood to gain a lot through their union. On the one hand, he gained a companion, but this gain is overshadowed by the fact that he stands to gain an heir and social standing. In other words, he allowed reason to dictate his decision to marry, not romantic love. Thus, romantic love was devalued in Much Ado About Nothing because its true purpose-to unite two (lonely) individuals, was forgotten in the face of practicality.
Prior to the events that transpire in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, it can be surmised that Lady Percy’s relationship with her husband, Hotspur, is a relatively happy and stable one. This conclusion stems from the fact that she complains about his strange behavior during the play. She begins, “why are you thus alone? For what offence have I this fortnight been a banished woman from my Harry’s bed?”. Lady Percy is inquiring as to why her husband prefers solitude to the company and comfort she can provide. She is also expressing concern over the state of her marriage because a commonly held belief during her time was that men and women should make themselves sexually available to their partner in order to maintain the health of their marriage. This belief also proves to be a practical one-routine sex increases the chance that the couple will produce an heir, which Hotspur lacks. Lady Percy continues to express her concern for her marriage and her husband’s welfare when she asks what “takes from thee thy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep?”. She can sense that something is wrong because Hotspur has no appetite and is sleeping poorly and wants to know what is going on. Hotspur replies harshly to his concerned wife. He says, “I love thee not, I care not for thee”. His words suggest a number of things. First, his words could mean that any love that once existed between them has vanished. Alternatively, Hotspur’s words may reflect that he is lashing out at his wife because he is preoccupied with matters other than his marriage. They might also reflect his impatience to return to matters he deems more important than his marriage. Hotspur continues, “this is no world… to tilt with lips”. The word “tilt” means to “duel.” Therefore, his words may suggest that this is no place to argue. Alternatively, they may suggest that there is no time for them to be romantic. Then, Hotspur says, “we must have bloody noses and cracked crowns, and pass them current, too”. In other words, bloody noses should become commonplace as should “broken heads” or “cracked crowns”. Hotspur sums everything up by calling for his horse, which hints at what has been distracting him-an impending battle with Henry IV and his allies.
The Percy rebellion proves to be a major distraction for Hotspur, which causes his wife unease and complications in his marriage. However, he doesn’t care because he deems the rebellion more important than domestic affairs. This conclusion stems from the fact that Hotspur is happiest on the battlefield and feels the most satisfied in life when he obtains both honor and military valor. Naturally, Hotspur will have the chance to obtain both honor and military valor during the Percy rebellion for a number of reasons. First, Hotspur is attempting to overthrow Henry IV, whom he feels has wronged the Percy family. Hotspur feels as though Henry IV owes the Percys a debt of gratitude because they helped him rise to the throne. He also feels as though the king has forgotten his debt and needs to be punished. Second, Hotspur is upset with Henry IV for naming his brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, a traitor for marrying the Welsh rebel, Owain Glyndwr’s daughter and for refusing to pay Mortimer’s ransom. Third, Hotspur will be taking part in a battle with several other talented warriors. When he defeats them, he will gain more power, prestige, and honor. Thus, it becomes apparent that Hotspur has devalued the marriage that bound him to his wife, Kate. Instead of finding comfort in her bed, company, and council, Hotspur has spurned her in favor of what makes him feel the most alive-war.
During Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet expresses his feelings toward Ophelia first by flirting innocently with her. Later, he expresses his desire to have sex with her overtly. When everyone is taking their seats prior to the start of the play, Queen Gertrude offers Hamlet a seat next to her. Before taking a seat next to Ophelia, Hamlet replies, “no, good mother. Here’s metal more attractive”. In essence, he is stating that he’d rather sit nearby someone whom he finds more attractive, which hints at how Hamlet desires Ophelia. Then, Hamlet asks, “shall I lie my head upon your lap?”. Hamlet’s words hint at his need for human connection-he is going through a rough time and feels alone. His father died “twice two months” ago and Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, took the throne. Furthermore, Hamlet’s mother married Claudius, which made Hamlet feel betrayed-he feels as though they should not have married and that his mother should have waited longer to remarry. Finally, he longs to grieve for his father’s loss, but he is being told to get over the loss and move on. Thus, the question Hamlet poses to Ophelia is one in which he seeks to reconnect with her and feel connected to her through physical contact. At the same time, it is an act in which Hamlet seeks comfort. This conclusion stems from the fact that not only does Hamlet feel alone, but he is struggling to remain loyal to his father. This is due to the fact that his father’s ghost asked him to kill Claudius, who murdered him in order to seize power.
In sum, Hamlet is struggling to avenge his father and is seeking comfort through physical contact. From that point on, Hamlet’s advances become both more open and more sexual in nature. He says, “that’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs”. His words are exactly as they sound-he wants to “lie” with Ophelia. After they watch more of the performance, Hamlet states “it would cost you a groaning to take off mine edge”. His words can be taken in either of two ways. First, they may suggest that Hamlet can only be satisfied through sexual release, which would cause Ophelia to “groan.” Alternatively, it could hint at what would result from their coupling-Ophelia’s becoming pregnant. In this instance, the “groaning” would refer to the sounds she makes while she is giving birth. Thus, Hamlet makes it readily apparent that he lusts after Ophelia, satisfying the aspect of “sexual attraction” required in romantic love. While the romantic aspect of romantic love is less apparent during this scene, it becomes apparent whenever Hamlet expresses an interest in being near Ophelia and laying his head in her lap. However, these expressions of romantic love are overshadowed by the scene’s purpose-to discover the truth.
Act 3, Scene 2 of Hamlet is known as the “Mousetrap Scene” because it is the scene in which Hamlet tries to determine whether or not the ghost of his father was telling the truth. In other words, he uses it to determine whether or not Claudius killed his father and he should go through with the act of avenging him. Toward the beginning of the scene, Hamlet talks to his only friend, Horatio. He says, “give him heedful note. For I mine eyes will rivet to his face, and after we will both our judgments join in censure of his seeming”. Hamlet seeks Horatio’s help in discovering the truth-he asks his friend to study Claudius’ face while he is watching the play. If Claudius has a strong negative reaction to the play, then it will prove his guilt because the play involves a murder, which is similar to how Claudius killed the former King Hamlet. When readers/viewers consider the scene’s purpose and Hamlet’s overall goal throughout the play, (to avenge his father’s death), it becomes clear that his affection for Ophelia no longer matters. Hamlet is too preoccupied with thoughts of murder to consider her and her feelings, to feel connected to her, or to find comfort in her company. Hamlet’s quest for revenge has destroyed any connection they might have had and overtaken his life. The words, “O good Horatio, I’ll take the ghost’s word for a thousand pound. Didst perceive?” drives this conclusion home because they express Hamlet’s discovery of the truth. Since Claudius ended the play abruptly, Hamlet knows he killed his father and will not rest until his father is avenged. Unfortunately, this leads to Hamlet’s untimely demise whose only saving grace is that he found some satisfaction in having performed his duty as a son by killing Claudius.
In conclusion, romantic love plays a fairly important role in Shakespeare’s plays because it has the capacity to unite two individuals, make them feel connected to others, and less alone. However, romantic love is devalued in many of Shakespeare’s works as its characters attempt to find both happiness and satisfaction in other areas of their lives. For example, Claudio’s “love” for Hero in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is overshadowed by his need to make practical decisions, which will benefit him in the long-run. In Henry IV, Hotspur’s love for his wife is forgotten by his love of the battlefield and endless quest to attain honor. In Hamlet, Hamlet’s love for Ophelia is forgotten in the face of revenge.