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Shakespeare & Beyond

Shakespeare’s Best and Worst Couples

People are always falling in love in Shakespeare’s plays. His comedies and romances usually end with weddings or with couple reunited, and roughly 40 percent of his tragedies have couples at their centers. With Valentine’s Day approaching, we took a straw poll of our theater partners to determine who Shakespeare’s best and worst couples are and what we can learn about love from their relationships.

The Best Couple in Shakespeare: Beatrice and Benedick

Much Ado About Nothing’s lovers-at-loggerheads received the most votes for best couple.

Jalen Lee, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Communications Manager, says, “Their witty banter and love-hate dynamic make them a fan favorite and an obvious choice. In the end, the audience is not only rooting for them but also for the power of love to bring two people together and change them for the better.”

“The original Bickersons,” writes Beth Emelson, the Folger’s Associate Director of Programming and Director of Producing, “What won’t these two quarrel about? Each person fiercely holds tight to their previous hurts and wounded hearts—until their friends trick them into dropping their guards and allow their love to grow. The best part is that we the audience get to watch their ‘will they or won’t they’ romance unspool in real time. It’s delicious, grown-up, and honest.”

Sydney Schwindt, Resident Artist at the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, writes that because she just directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia and Lysander come to mind right away.” But when asked to pick Shakespeare’s all-time best couple, Schwindt hops on the Beatrice and Benedick bandwagon: “There is something about playful and sarcastic banter that is just so timeless and sexy. They are equals in wit and they enjoy their bickering! I can see them as an old married couple lovingly snipping at each other.”

Ron Heneghan as Benedick and Bythe Coons as Beatrice, "Much Ado About Nothing," Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 2015. Photo: C. Stanley Photography.

Beatrice and Benedick also received three votes from the amongst cast of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet, who submitted a video ballot:


Who is the best Shakespeare couple? You tell us! The cast of Romeo and Juliet seem to have a solid answer…well almost #romeoandjuliet #shakespeare #theatretiktok #theatretok #shakespearetiktok #valentine

♬ Love Me Like You Do - Elena Gray

Shakespeare’s Best Couple: The Runners Up

David Daniel and Carrie Coon, Henry IV: The Making of a King, 2008. Photo: Zane Williams.

Hotspur and Lady Percy, of Henry IV, Part 1, received two votes, from Ellen Geer, Artistic Director of Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum and Carey Cannon, Associate Artistic Director of American Players Theatre. Geer writes, “Hotspur and his Lady Percy. Bright, volatile humor, and a deep love and understanding, hold them together.”

Sam White, Founding Artistic Director of Shakespeare in Detroit, votes for Florizel and Perdita from The Winter’s Tale: “I see their love as youthful and hopeful. They accept each other in all forms. Perdita loves Florizel as Doricles or as a prince. And he loves and accepts her as the Shepherd’s daughter then as a princess.”

“For my money, Shakespeare’s best couples are Twelfth Night’s Viola and Orsino and Sebastian and Olivia,” says Bryn Boice, Associate Artistic Director of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.

Once this play ends, I think they complement each other beautifully and bring each other back to reality. It’s fun to muse on this play, rom-com-style, thinking of a “One Year Later” supertitle situation. . . I imagine the two couples vacationing together and laughing about the hijinx from the play. “Do you remember thinking I was a boy?” “Do you remember how incredibly pompous you were?” “Do you remember how in love with me you thought you were and how I just kept mourning to keep you away from me?” “Do you remember what happened the SECOND you saw me, Olivia? Dang!” When I see this play I imagine rich futures for these people and for Illyria.

Laura Sohn and Bradley James Tejeda as Rosaline and Berowne in St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s “Love’s Labors Lost,”, 2019

Allie Magee, Marketing and Communications Manager of the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, highlights Love’s Labor’s Lost’s Berowne and Rosaline, a couple she calls “The original Beatrice and Benedick, if you will.”

An often overlooked pair, the central lovers of Love’s Labors Lost are at the top of our best couples list with chemistry that is off-the-charts. Their well-matched-wit and flirty banter is giving major long-term potential. But the biggest green flag and what will hold them together is a shared sense of loyalty to friends and the people they love most.

The Worst Couple in Shakespeare: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

You’ve heard of a “power couple.” What about a power-hungry couple? Our partners voted the Macbeths Shakespeare’s worst couple.

Sam White, Founding Artistic Director of Shakespeare in Detroit: “Lady M and Mac are the worst. They both have a lot of unhealed trauma and cause a lot of it as well. It’s a lot.”

Bryn Boice writes, “Macbeth and Lady Macbeth really should have had some counseling. This is no way to go about a promotion. They need hobbies.”

Sam White, Founding Artistic Director of Shakespeare in Detroit: “Lady M and Mac are the worst. They both have a lot of unhealed trauma and cause a lot of it as well. It’s a lot.”

Bryn Boice writes, “Macbeth and Lady Macbeth really should have had some counseling. This is no way to go about a promotion. They need hobbies.”

Ellen Geer, of Theatricum, adds “Ambition, possession, power… [the Macbeths] try to own each-other and those around them, and tip into the unforgiving dark side to gain selfish goals.” Geer notes that being Shakespeare’s worst couple won’t keep the Macbeths from storming the stage at Theatricum Botanicum: Macbeth opens there on June 10.

Max Lawrence as Macbeth and Willow Geer as Lady Macbeth at Theatricum Botanicum. Photo by Ian Flanders

But the Macbeths are a controversial choice. They also received multiple votes as Shakespeare’s best couple. The Folger’s emma poltrack, Community and Audience Engagement Programs Manager, says,

Teamwork makes the dreamwork! They support each other’s ambitions and compensate for each other’s weaknesses to ensure Duncan gets murdered and the grooms get blamed for it. It’s only when communication breaks down that they run into trouble; a useful reminder of how important it is to keep your other half in the loop…. the couple that slays together stays together.

Derek Charles Livingston, Interim Artistic Director and Director of New Play Development at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, notes that “despite their deeds, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth actually work well as a team.” And, as Daryel T. Monson of Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet says, the Macbeths are Shakespeare’s best couple “because they’re ride or die” and they’re Shakespeare’s worst couple… “because they’re ride or die.”

Shakespeare’s Worst Couples: The Runners Up

Turns out, Shakespeare’s plays are chockful of pairs that need some serious couples counseling.

Chesapeake Shakespeare’s Jalen Lee points to Richard III and Lady Anne: “Marrying the guy who makes a move on you at your father-in-law’s funeral probably isn’t the best choice. Their relationship is built on manipulation, deceit, and tragedy, rather than genuine love and affection.”

Utah Shakes’s Derek Charles Livingston: “Antony and Cleopatra from Antony and Cleopatra. . . [they] keep doing these obsessive and compulsive actions based on passion, but that are ultimately unhealthy.”

Vince Eisenson as Richard III and Lizzi Albert as Lady Anne, from Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s “Richard III,” 2017. Photo: Teresa Castracane.

Sydney Schwindt, at San Francisco Shakes, chose Bertram and Helena from All’s Well that Ends Well: “I cannot imagine this becomes a long and happy marriage. Bertram does not match Helena’s bravery and spirit. He is so petty and spoiled. Not to mention she has to trick him to be with her! Come on girl—you can do better! That does not feel like a great start to the relationship. It’s definitely downhill from there for them.

Our Folger colleague emma poltrack suggests Beatrice and Benedick’s young counterparts in Much Ado About Nothing: “While some of Shakespeare’s couples have significantly less-happy ever-afters, Claudio’s treatment of Hero gives me an incredible ‘ick’ factor that I can’t shake. Get out of there, Hero—you deserve so much better!”

American Players Theatre’s Cannon writes, “Not big fan of the Capulets [from Romeo and Juliet], but I think I’d say Goneril and Albany have some significant issues.”

To accommodate Angelo and the Duke’s pursuit of Isabella in Measure for Measure, The Folger’s Beth Emelson proposes a new category: Worst Throuple.

“The Duke leaves Vienna putting the creepy Angelo in charge. When Isabella, who is on the verge of taking her religious orders, goes to Angelo to plead for her imprisoned brother, Angelo says that he will consider it if she gives up her body to him. Horror. When she protests, he says so icily ‘Who will believe thee, Isabel?’

To make matters worse, the Duke finally returns to remove Angelo from power. Once done, he tells Isabella he plans to marry her, completely ignoring the fact that she was planning to be a nun.

Angelo and the Duke are the worst.”

Karen Peakes (Isabella) and Mark Zeisler (Duke) in Measure for Measure, Folger Theatre, 2006. Photo: Carol Pratt.

Which couple from Shakespeare’s plays do you think is a match-made-in-heaven? Which couples really shouldn’t be together? Tell us in the comments!

Atlanta Shakespeare Company, American Players Theatre, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare in Detroit, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, Utah Shakespeare Festival, and Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum are members of the Folger’s Theater Partnership Program.


Without question. We are about to dive into the worst couple in my THE 2000 class (dual enrollment 12th graders). The reminder regarding Beatrice and Benedick has me thinking about following Macbeth with Much Ado. I think they will enjoy the contrast.

David Payne — February 15, 2023


Should: Antony and Cleopatra hands down. An intelligent, capable, couple who get great enjoyment from each other, and life generally – until it all comes crashing down. Where the Macbeths crumble in adversity, they soar above. For a more comfortable couple, the Pages. They will make admirable grandparents, Meg Page will help young Nan out when Fenton gets carried away by aristocratic fantasies, as he will.
Shouldn’t:Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

Elizabeth Jane Paterson — February 15, 2023


I’m amazed that people are so down on the Macbeths but don’t even mention Othello and Desdemona!? Doing capital crimes together is definitely wrong, no argument there, but imho killing your wife is worse, at least as a feature of coupledom.

2nd worst: Claudius and Gertrude.

Best: Viola and Orsino!

Mary Baine Campbell — February 15, 2023


I. Couples that shouldn’t be together:

Leontes and Hermione in “The Winter’s Tale”: Leontes asks Hermione to help him convince his friend, Polixenes, to extend his visit. When she does so, he accuses her of infidelity, triggering events that change the rest of her life (not the least of which is the death of their son).

Othello and Desdemona: She falls in love with his stories and ends up marrying him. In their relationship, he is the one who talks and she is his audience. He clearly knows little about her and trusts her even less. His lack of trust makes him vulnerable to manipulation, and he ends up killing his innocent wife.

Other couples I don’t care for:
— Iago and Emilia shouldn’t be married.
— Oberon and Titania (“Midsummer Night’s Dream”) are a poor match (Oberon gives me the creeps).
— Hamlet and Ophelia
— Petruchio and Katharina in “The Taming of the Shrew.” The whole concept of women being shrews who need a real man to tame them nauseates me.

II. Matches made in heaven:
I agree with the ones identified in your post (particularly, Beatrice and Benedick; Orsino and Viola; Perdita and Florizel). I would add Miranda and Ferdinand in “The Tempest” although I have some mixed feelings about them (she is so inexperienced; he is the first young man she ever laid eyes on) but overall I like them.

TCS — February 16, 2023


A Winter’s Tale: Definetly Hermione deserves to be away from Leontes ! What a brat !
Romeo and Juliet are the loving couple forever:match-made-in-heaven

Nuria Torner — February 16, 2023


I’m wondering why Hamlet and Ophelia aren’t mentioned as worst couple. He mistreats her and kills her father. She kills herself. Very dysfunctional.

Ann Van Dyke — February 16, 2023


The worst couple in Shakespeare are Valentine and Sylvia in “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Valentine offers to give his girlfriend (Sylvia) after his best friend attempted to rape her.

Richard Nathan — February 16, 2023


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