OK, when reading Antony and Cleopatra, I was struck by the huge (and I mean yuuuuuuge) chunk of the play that separates our titular characters’ second and third appearances together. From Act One, Scene Three, all the way to Act Three, Scene Seven, Shakespeare separates the lovers. Mathematically, that’s 41% of the total lines in the play.
And you know me…it got me wondering.
What about Shakespeare’s other classic lovers?
So I did some number-crunching for Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, the Macbeths, Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing, Kate and Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew, and compared them to Antony and Cleopatra.
Let’s start with our current couple: They appear together almost immediately, just a handful of lines into the play’s first scene. They appear together ten times in the play (for the sake of argument, I’m counting any scene in which they are both on stage, not necessarily talking to one another, but with at least one of them aware of the presence of the other. [though I did break that rule for a one-line Act One, Scene Two overlap (in my Pelican text), that is not in some other editions]). This is the most of any of our couples, but remember, this play has more scenes (by far) than any other play in the Canon, so this is not surprising. Only one of their appearances together lasts more than 100 lines (and that one just barely at 106): Act Three, Scene Seven’s receiving Octavian’s messenger scene. Those ten total appearances (in line length) comprise 15.5% of the total length of the play. Like I opened with, this play has a 1249-line gap between their appearance together in Act One, Scene Three, and their next dual appearance in Act Three, Scene Seven (past the midpoint of the play), with 41% of the play taking place between those two points. This is the longest relative gap between appearances of any of our couples.
When you think Shakespearean couples, Romeo and Juliet usually pop-up first (thanks in no little part to high school freshman English classes). They don’t appear together until Act One, Scene Five, nearly a quarter of the way through the play that bears their names. And then they only appear together five times–four if you don’t count the crypt scene (in which case their last appearance together is in Act Three, Scene Five), which I do since technically they are on stage together, and they certainly are aware of one another. These appearances account for just over 12% of the play (less than ten percent if you negate that crypt scene). This is the lowest relative percentage of any couple studied here. The gap between their goodbye scene and the crypt scene is nearly a quarter of the play (nearly twice the amount they appear in the play).
Let’s move on to that other titled couple, Troilus and Cressida. They don’t appear together until–wait for it (and in the play you have to wait for it)–Act Three, Scene Two (which is the midpoint scene). Then they appear together only four times in the play (three if you don’t count Act Five, Scene Two, in which Troilus spies on Cressida–while they do not interact, they are on stage at the same time). They appear together for 13.24% of the play (10% if you don’t count the spying scene). The gaps between their first and second, and third and fourth appearances together both account for over 10% of the play’s length.
So, then, how about Lord and Lady Macbeth? They appear seven times together, beginning in Act One, Scene Five, and their last appearance being in Act Three, Scene Four (the scene in which the midpoint occurs). Their time on stage together accounts for just under 19% of the play’s length. And the longest gap between appearances is less than 6% of the play’s length (but of course remember that almost the entire second half of the play is couple-less).
OK, so those are our couples whose names (at least partially) appear in the title. Notice that they are all tragedies. Let’s move on to a couple (get it?) of comedies, shall we?
Beatrice and Benedick, from Much Ado About Nothing, appear together first in the play’s opening scene, and they are together at the end. Like the Macbeths, they appear together seven times on-stage, but for a total of 21.87% of the play’s length. Interestingly, save for the gaps between their second and third, and their sixth and last appearances together, their scenes have gaps of more than 13% of the play’s length between them (with the largest gap of 21% between their fourth and fifth scenes together–interestingly that fifth appearance together is their longest [the wedding/fallout sequence], comprising over 12.6% of the play’s length, and over half of their time together).
Finally, we have Kate and Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew. Though they don’t meet until the first scene of the second act, they (like Beatrice and Benedick, and unlike the others) are alive and together when the curtain drops at the end of the play. They appear in eight scenes together for an impressive 29.69% of the play’s length. The longest gap between appearances (between their meeting and their wedding) is nearly 14% of the play.
In the larger scheme of things, I’m not sure this means a hill of beans. However, there are some interesting points of note here:
- Comic couples spend more time together–especially since they fight before marrying
- Tragic couples have huge bookends, meaning that either the time before they meet (that would be you, Troilus and Cressida) or after they have shared their last words together (that would be, again, T&C, but now including all the rest), is a huge chunk of the play:
- Romeo and Juliet say goodbye in Act Three, Scene Five
- Troilus and Cressida say goodbye in Act Four, Scene Four
- The Macbeths leave the banquet together in Act Three, Scene Four
- And Antony dies before the end of the fourth act, leaving Cleopatra solo for the final act
Moral of the story? Not sure, but I’m thinking the sequence of insult, slap, tickle, hug, love, and marriage trumps love, separation, and death any day of the week.