Who is the WORST Shakespeare Couple?
Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.
It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and as I wait for all the V-day chocolate to go on sale, I came up with a wonderful way to pass the time. Today, I bring you something that I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for. Today, I bring you the answer to the age old question: who is the worst Shakespeare couple?
It’s Versus Match time!
Please welcome back my friends Amanda, Frankie, and Katie! They’ve once again agreed to debate a weird topic I came up. I’ve given them a cheat sheet on what happens in the plays these couples appear in, and what they are like. So do you want to know who the worst Shakespeare couple is!? Let’s meet today’s opponents!
In the first corner we have Shakespeare’s most well known couple. After only knowing each other for 24-hours, they get married and then die three days later: Romeo and Juliet!
And in the other corner we have real historic couple, and rulers of the ancient world: Cleopatra and Marc Antony!
We are not fighting to the death today, Cleo and Marc Antony would make incredibly short work of Romeo and Juliet. Today we are just debating which is the worst couple. The rules are simple, my friends had to convince me who the worst couple is out of these two. So now, I have but one thing to say, dear reader.
A quick disclaimer. Both couples commit suicide at the end of their respective plays. My friends and I discuss all four suicides at great length, and do describe some of them as “romantic.” We don’t actually believe that Romeo and Juliet’s or Antony and Cleopatra’s suicides are romantic. Suicide is never the answer. If you are having suicidal thoughts, I promise you that you can overcome them, that life is worth living, and there are people out there who love and support you and want you to have the world. Please do not take anything that we say about suicide as fact or truth or view it as us romanticizing suicide; that can’t be further from the truth. Please, if you are in a dark place and thinking of unaliving yourself, please close out of this post. Please get help. If you need to talk with someone, here is a link to a list of suicide hotlines all around the world. Please take care of yourself, you deserve to be here and live your life to the fullest.
Ok, if you are staying…
Hannah: Welcome to Marc Antony and Cleopatra v. Romeo and Juliet. This is not a fight to the death, besties.
Amanda: Well, they do all die.
Hannah: They do all die in their plays.
Frankie: So sad.
Amanda: They should fight to the death.
Hannah: Well if it was a fight to the death, Antony and Cleopatra, you know the people with an army and military knowledge, would win over two children.
Katie: Yeah, there’s no way they’d lose to two 14-year-olds.
Hannah: Yeah, there’s no battle.
Frankie: What are we actually debating? Who the worst couple is?
Hannah: Yes, instead of having these couples fight to the death, we’re just debating who the worst couple is.
Amanda: Romeo and Juliet fucking suck!
Katie: Yep, that’s my pick too.
Frankie: Are we debating them as a couple or as individuals? Like, are we debating them on how they behave in a relationship? Cause Antony and Cleopatra have a much longer relationship. The shit that they went through is much worse than Romeo and Juliet.
Katie: Well in the play they actually have a pretty good relationship; they’re just shitty people.
Frankie: Oh yeah, except for the part where Cleopatra is pregnant and Antony goes off and marries someone else!
Hannah: She’s not pregnant in the play, but he does do that.
Frankie: In real life she was pregnant.
Hannah: Yeah, but that’s not canon in Shakespeare.
Amanda: I think we should mention that historically, she was pregnant. We’ve got to give credit to the Boss-Ass Ladies of History. And Cleopatra was a Boss-Ass Lady of History.
Frankie: Okay, so I’ve never read or watched Antony and Cleopatra so I may mess up and include somethings that happened in history but aren’t in Shakespeare. You’ll have to correct me.
Hannah: That’s ok. To be honest, it [Antony and Cleopatra] is actually, fairly, historically accurate. To an extent.
Amanda: For plays and dramas of that time.
Hannah: For a historic play about a historic event, it’s fairly accurate.
Frankie: Another question, does this play include how they [Marc Antony and Cleopatra] meet?
Hannah: No, this play takes place at the end of their lives.
Hannah: Cleopatra and Marc Antony met when she was dating Caesar.
Amanda: Caesar’s a dick. Also, I think Frankie should mention how Cleo and Antony met. Because I feel that when this play was written, Shakespeare expected people to know that information, but, ya know, kids today are dumb. Not to say that your readers are dumb, but just in case people don’t know.
Hannah: If Frankie knows the exact way they met he can share.
Frankie: I know some of it. Cleopatra was a young ruler in Egypt, very early on in her reign, and during that time Antony was Caesar’s favorite. And then Caesar was assassinated and Antony comes to power. He then forms the Triumvirate with Octavian and Marcus Lepidus-
Hannah: Who are in the play, by the way.
Frankie: -And Octavian is kinda the reason Marc Antony and Cleopatra die. But they [Antony and Cleopatra] met in Rome when she was Caesar’s mistress. She was young and inexperienced, but Antony kinda fell for her then. Flashforward ten-years, Caesar’s dead, Cleo sails into Rome with a huge show of pageantry because she knew he [Marc Antony] was into that kind of stuff. And she threw a bunch of extravagant parties, flaunted her wealth, drank with him, and that’s kinda how they got together. They kinda needed each other. Marc Antony wanted to expand Rome, he needed Egypt to do that. And Cleopatra wanted more power in Rome, and she was gonna use her son with Caesar to do that, but she needed Marc Antony’s protection to do that. They kinda loved each other, but it was very much a political alliance.
Hannah: Ahh, politics back in the day: all blood and drinking.
Amanda: Not just back in the day. I was watching Scarface today, and there was blood, drinking, and it was kinda political; in a Cuban mafia kinda way.
Hannah: I don’t remember Scarface being a Shakespeare play. Is it one of his unperformed works, Amanda?
Frankie: Is it one of his later works?
Amanda: Well I’m hoping Frankie can back me up on this, but it was a remake of a 1930’s classic, correct?
Frankie: I think so, but I don’t think either of those were based on Shakespeare. Anyway, Hannah, you said that this couple is highly attracted to each other physically?
Hannah: Yes, Shakespeare makes it seem like these two are going at it like bunnies. There is a lot of lust in their relationship, but they still don’t fully trust each other. Like, Cleopatra doesn’t trust him because in her mind she needs to put her kingdom first.
Frankie: She’s very much the brains of the operation. Antony is pretty stupid.
Hannah: You can argue that she’s with Antony just for Rome’s military power.
Frankie: The lust thing is very accurate though, historians often describe them as a college couple. But Antony does get married to Octavian’s sister while he’s with Cleo.
Hannah: And they don’t invite Cleo to the wedding.
Frankie: And in real life, not in the play, Cleo is pregnant with Marc Antony’s twins at the time. But in the play, when they reunite, they don’t care that he’s married.
Hannah: Yeah, she’s pretty much like, “oh, you’re married. You’re still giving me your army, right?”
Amanda: “We’re still gonna bang, right?” -Cleopatra, probably.
Hannah: She seduces him back in. Not that she had to do much seducing.
Katie: She was very excited when she found out she was hotter than his wife. One of her exchanges in the play is between her and a servant, and she asks if she’s prettier.
Hannah: Yes, she’s a very vain and jealous woman as presented in Shakespeare.
Frankie: That’s shitty, that sucks.
Katie: Shakespeare does not write good women.
Frankie: In real life, when they get back together, they begin issuing currency that had both of their faces on it in Egypt.
Hannah: Most pictures we have of Cleo come from that time period thanks to those coins.
Frankie: And then Antony became really fucking stupid and made a bunch of military mistakes. And ancient historians blamed it all on Cleopatra.
Hannah: So if we’re arguing who the shittiest character out of these four are, it’s definitely Marc Antony. But when it comes to these couples, I feel that both are fairly evenly matched when it comes to stupidity. Marc Antony is like -100 smarts if this were DND. Cleo is like +50, but she has a stupid partner.
Amanda: If only we had those numbers in DND.
Frankie: You can never get +50! That’s impossible!
Amanda: I want +50 health, but that never happens!
Frankie: Let’s table that discussion for next Wednesday. Right now I want to argue that Antony and Cleopatra are the worst couple. While Romeo and Juliet are both super stupid, like really dumb, just stupid children, they love each other. Antony and Cleopatra have lust and power, but I'm not sure if they love each other.
Katie: True, but Romeo and Juliet, did they actually love each other either? They knew each other for four days and then died.
Frankie: I’ll concede the point, Katie, four days is not a long time to know each other.
Katie: It’s not! They’re just dumb babies.
Frankie: They are, they’re dumb babies.
Katie: There’s no love; it’s just teenaged hormones.
Frankie: I think it’s love!
Amanda: I don’t think it’s love! When Romeo went to that party, it’s because he wanted to find Rosaline. In the beginning, he’s like, “woe is me, Rosaline doesn’t love me.” And his friends tell him to go to this party which Rosaline will be attending. And then suddenly he sees Juliet and goes, “who the fuck is Rosaline! Look at that beautiful 13-year-old!”
Hannah: And then he never mentions Rosaline ever again!
Amanda: And he’s never even talked to Juliet! I personally don’t fall in love with someone at first sight. I want to go over and talk to them first to make sure they aren’t a douchebag or dumbass. Intellect is important to me.
Frankie: I want to attack the point I know Katie is going to bring up again, that Romeo and Juliet are dumb children, I want to strike this point down. Look at the fact that they’re so quick to jump to suicide. As Hannah puts it in the notes, they don’t need to. But what Juliet does is somewhat smart. She does it to trick other people.
Frankie: Cleopatra tricks Antony into believe that she’s killed herself just to piss him off. Knowing that he’ll kill himself because of that.
Hannah: He lost Egypt! He lost Egypt!
Frankie: He did lose Egypt! But if we’re talking about them as a couple, I think it’s better to pretend to kill yourself- god, I never thought I’d say these words- I think it’s better to kill yourself to be with the person you love rather than tell the person you supposedly love you’ve killed yourself just so they will kill themselves.
Hannah: So what you’re saying is Antony and Cleopatra are the worst couple because Cleo said, “F you!”
Frankie: Cleo literally said, “I want you to kill yourself.” Cleo committed a crime!
Amanda: I hate to end that conversation, but I want to say that Romeo and Juliet have a relationship that you just know will fail. You know why this relationship was doomed from the start? Because of the Friar! The Friar is an idiot! Fuck him! He gives Juliet a potion that makes her look like she’s dead, but he doesn’t tell Romeo. He doesn’t go out to find Romeo. Instead he sends a letter, and letters take a while to get places in that time.
Katie: In the Friar’s defense, why would he think that Romeo is going to kill himself after his girlfriend of three-days dies?
Frankie: First of all, that’s Romeo’s wife! They’re married. Give them some respect!
Katie: My automatic response is that he [Romeo] isn’t going to kill himself over this!
Frankie: That’s his lawfully wedded wife!
Katie: The Friar’s like, “he got over Rosaline fast so he’ll get over this.”
Frankie: I will defend the Friar here. The Friar is a little tubby. It takes a lot of physical effort to find Romeo. He’s a little tubby, you hear about that in friars. He couldn’t have found Romeo.
Amanda: You’re fat shamming the Friar, Frankie!
Hannah: What do you have against friars all of a sudden?
Frankie: No, I’m speaking as someone who is also a little tubby, I wouldn’t want to find Romeo either. Also, I said they were a little tubby; I didn’t say they were fat.
Hannah: Let me review where you all stand. Frankie has taken the position that Antony and Cleopatra are the worst couple because they’re spiteful towards each other.
Frankie: It’s a toxic relationship!
Hannah: Amanda stands by Romeo and Juliet because they’re stupid children. And Katie has also taken that side.
Amanda: More so Romeo is stupid cause he’s 16. At 16 he should have a decent intellect and head on his shoulders.
Hannah: But he’s being controlled by his dick.
Katie: See, that’s my main point. They’re just hormonal.
Frankie: So are Antony and Cleopatra.
Katie: Less so. Because they’re adults making adult choices.
Amanda: And they have children together.
Frankie: They do have children together, but what’s Antony doing? He’s marrying another woman!
Katie: Yeah, but Cleo don’t care. She’s hotter than his wife.
Amanda: Yeah, way hotter.
Frankie: She is! But that doesn’t make this a great relationship! She’s the Pharaoh of Egypt, she can be with someone else at the time too! But she’s not. She’s loyal. Yet he goes off and marries someone else?! That’s shitty.
Amanda: Listen, infidelity isn’t a cool thing. But in this case, the only person who is gonna be pissed off by Antony’s infidelity is his wife!
Frankie: I think that proves my point of them not being in love like Romeo and Juliet are.
Katie: I think they [Antony and Cleopatra] love each other. In a way.
Hannah: But he didn’t put a ring on it.
Frankie: No he didn’t! They just have a lot of bastard children running around.
Katie: They had a different culture than we do now.
Frankie: Back to Romeo and Juliet’s suicide now. Suicide isn’t a great thing. A quick disclaimer before I continue. Don’t kill yourself, suicide isn’t the answer. This has been a PSA with me. Anyway, Romeo kills himself out of love for Juliet. He loves her so much that he can’t envision life without her. Cleopatra kills herself out of self-preservation.
Amanda: Which is smart.
Frankie: It is smart, but that doesn’t make them the best couple.
Katie: Is it not romantic enough for you?
Frankie: No, it’s not! We’re arguing who the better couple is. Do I think Cleo’s smart to preserve her dignity by doing this? Yes. But it’s not about that. I think that Romeo and Juliet’s suicide is more of a romantic, love-based thing. Whereas Antony and Cleopatra’s was out of spite and Cleo’s self-preservation.
Hannah: Fair point.
Katie: I will admit that a lot of my hatred for Romeo and Juliet does come from my hatred of the play itself. I personally don’t think it’s a good story. I think Romeo and Juliet's relationship is boring. Whereas you look at Antony and Cleopatra’s, that’s a much more interesting relationship. That’s a story I want to see. I don’t care about two dumb babies who “love each other” and then die.
Amanda: Hold up, Frankie keeps saying that Romeo and Juliet die out of love. Can you prove to me that Antony and Cleopatra were not in love? Prove it! That’s what I want to hear!
Frankie: I can’t prove they were in love or not. That’s not really how the burden of evidence works. I will say this to Katie’s point though. I too think Romeo and Juliet is a shit play. And I think Antony and Cleopatra may be a more interesting play because it has a more compelling couple because Antony and Cleopatra are a worse couple. When we watch reality tv or dramas, we don’t want to see a happy, in love, perfect couple all the time, we want to see the drama between a couple who may not be too good for each other.
Katie: I just think that Marc Antony and Cleopatra have a lot more chemistry. We see them interact in the play, they have some back-and-forth, they do the dirty a lot. Whereas Romeo and Juliet only hardcore interact in the balcony scene.
Frankie: Let me ask you this then, Katie. Antony and Cleopatra may have more chemistry, but of the two plays, which one has the scene that is cited as the “romance scene” or as “romantic” for just about everything? It’s the balcony scene. Antony and Cleopatra doesn’t have that!
Katie: Well people are dumb.
Frankie: That may be true, but the balcony scene has become a romantic thing for a reason.
Katie: I guess.
Amanda: If some dude I don’t know came to my window and started to talk to me, I don’t think I would answer. I think I’d call the cops for trespassing.
Frankie: It was a different time.
Katie: True, you could even marry your mom like in a different play.
Hannah: Okay, I have a question for all of you.
Amanda: Oh boy.
Hannah: Do you think that Romeo and Juliet is a romance? Do these characters have a love story?
Katie: Yeah, I guess.
Hannah: Did I hear “no”?
Amanda: Yes. I think when Shakespeare wrote it, he wasn’t like, “awe, star-crossed lovers, love at first sight.” I don’t think he meant any of that. Shakespeare was a dad. He had a daughter, and I’m sure when she reached the age of 13 she said that she was in love with some dude. I think he wrote this as a cautionary tale to young lovers. I think he was like, “if you fall in love too quickly and rush into things, you’re gonna die cause you’re being stupid.” I think this was a cautionary tale. Shakespeare knew that Romeo and Juliet were stupid.
Hannah: I’m doing some quick research. I want to know when his children were born, and you know what, Amanda?
Hannah: Guess how old his daughter was when Romeo and Juliet premiered?
Hannah: She was 12.
Katie: Pretty damn close.
Amanda: Do you hear that? That’s the sound of Frankie’s case crumbling.
Frankie: Do you hear that? That’s the sound of speculation.
Katie: I don’t know…that’s pretty good evidence.
Frankie: Let me give you more evidence as to why Antony and Cleopatra are the worst.
Hannah: Wait, Frankie, answer me this. Do you think Romeo and Juliet is a love story?
Frankie: Yes I do.
Hannah: You think there’s a romance?
Frankie: I think there’s a romance.
Hannah: You don’t think it’s a cautionary tale?
Frankie: It can be both. I don’t think that makes them the worst couple. If that is the reason Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, that doesn’t make them the worst couple. I looked up love scenes from Antony and Cleopatra, and there are some, but it’s very competitive. They are competing with each other in this relationship over who is the “better.” I don’t think that’s a great way to be in a relationship.
Amanda: Are you a licensed marriage and family counselor?
Frankie: No. But I’m just saying, I don’t want to be competing with my significant other.
Amanda: But if you’re a competitive person and so is your partner, that’s something that you share. I don’t agree with this.
Frankie: With what I’m saying or what you’re saying?
Amanda: With what you’re saying.
Frankie: I think if you’re both competitive people then there are things you can do to compete against each other. I don’t think a relationship should be treated as a competition. It’s a partnership!
Amanda: That’s your opinion of a partnership.
Frankie: I guess so, yeah.
Katie: I mean, I agree with Frankie.
Frankie: We only get to see Romeo and Juliet together for four days. We don’t get to see them live together as a couple. With Antony and Cleopatra, we’re getting a decades long relationship prior to the start of the show. They’ve been together for much longer.
Katie: We don’t know how long Romeo and Juliet would last. Maybe they’d only last a week.
Frankie: Yeah, we don’t know. But with them, I think they have more of a union. They’re both hoping for the best for each other. Antony and Cleopatra are kinda hoping for the best for each other, but only if it benefits their own agenda. If something good for Rome happened to Antony, but it would have hurt Egypt, Cleopatra would have shot that down real quick.
Hannah: Okay. Now I want to ask another question. Antony and Cleopatra. Do we think there’s a romance there?
Frankie: Do we think there’s a romance between the couple or is there a romance in the story?
Hannah: Is there a romance in the story?
Hannah: So there is a romance in Antony and Cleopatra, but we’re divided on if there is one in Romeo and Juliet.
Katie: I’d argue they both have romances. They’re both romantic tragedies. That was the genre back in the day.
Hannah: Okay, I have decided who the WORST Shakespeare couple is. Can I get a drum roll please!
Hannah: I have decided that in this debate, where no one fought to the death but we did talk about it and determined Romeo and Juliet would get crushed in under two-minutes. They would probably kill themselves actually. But I have decided that Antony and Cleopatra are the winners of the Worst Couple Contest. And by win I mean lose because they are the WORST Shakespeare couple.
Amanda: I don’t agree. I thought my theory changed your mind.
Hannah: Romeo and Juliet being written as a cautionary tale is a really good idea and is a hot take I’m now going to have to write. But at the end of the day, they’re at least in puppy love. Antony and Cleopatra are mainly in lust, and they’re petty, and they have a toxic relationship. We shit on Romeo and Juliet a lot because they only knew each other for four days before killing themselves, but they’re at least in puppy love. You can argue that Antony and Cleopatra are just in a relationship for the political alliance.
Frankie: I’d like to thank the true winner: Cleopatra. I’d like to thank her for being a Boss Bitch and not caring about love.
Hannah: Frankie, how do you feel knowing you’ve been on the winning side both times we’ve done this?
Frankie: I feel great about that. And I want to reveal to the audience, and to Amanda and Katie, that I fully agree with everything they said and do think that Romeo and Juliet are the worst couple, but I love to argue.
Hannah: Congratulations, I hope you all had fun tonight, besties.
Thank you all for joining me today. I hope that this versus match lived up to the first. I did cut quite a few things out again. You did not get to experience our tangents on Six, the actual Cleopatra, Rome, Scarface, and the prostate. Please don’t ask.
This was so much fun to write. I love getting to create versus matches and watch my friends fight over stupid things; it brings me great joy. Once again, a huge thank you to Amanda, Katie, and Frankie for helping me out with this post. Please give them some love cause they really made this post. Amanda and Katie didn’t want their socials linked so give them some love on Reading Has Ruined My Life’s Twitter page: @RHRMLBlog. I’ll pass along all your messages. If you wanna give Frankie some love then you can check out his podcast, The PACRats, on YouTube, Spotify, and Twitch.
If you loved this post as much as I did then please give it a like and maybe even a share. I have a few more ideas for some versus matches that you’ll hopefully see in the future. Stay tuned for those. As for next week, I have another awesome review for you.
So until then, stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.