Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet,
by William Shakespeare
Generally perceived as the quintessential romantic couple, Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed lovers, painfully separated by feuding families. In this classic play, Shakespeare asserts that teenagers were just as impulsive and dramatic in the 16th century as they are in modern times. In the tragic ending, the lovers perish in a catastrophic double suicide. So, if you're not in the mood for happy endings this Valentine's Day, dig up the Bard's most famous tale and remind yourself why love stinks.
Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy
Pride and Prejudice,
by Jane Austen
If happily-ever-after is more your style, then check out Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's version of love in the 1800s. Despite her mother's incessant pleas, the independent and headstrong Lizzy is determined to marry for true love or else be a spinster. Heedless of societal pressures, this feminist protagonist prefers nature to dating and boldly exclaims, "What are young men to rocks and mountains?" In a life bound by etiquette and frivolity, she meets the proud, taciturn, and very wealthy Darcy. The two seem to disagree on just about everything, but an unlikely love blooms from their antagonism. In the end, Lizzy yields her admiration of rocks and mountains to delight in the natural charms of Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Tristan and Iseult
This archaic legend tells a tale of forbidden love between a Cornish knight and an Irish beauty. Tristan, who is trusted implicitly by the King, is sent to fetch the enchanting Iseult and bring her back for a royal wedding. During the journey, the two unknowingly consume a potion that entrances them, and they fall deeply in love. After Iseult becomes Queen, she carries on a secret liaison with Tristan, which is eventually exposed. The ending of this tale is flexible, because multiple versions of the tale were written by numerous authors. So pick the conclusion that suits your mood this Valentine's Day!
Gatsby and Daisy
The Great Gatsby,
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In a period marked by surrealism and superficiality, Jay Gatsby attempts to win back his old flame, Daisy, with flashy parties and panache. Daisy's marriage presents a weighty obstacle, but Gatsby fervently persists. Reviving Daisy's attentions are his sole purpose, and his entire existence is constructed around regaining her affections. However, his schemes are soon discovered and immediately extinguished by Daisy's bullish husband. In a final tribute to his love, Gatsby gallantly protects Daisy from a disastrous incident, which ultimately leads to his own demise.
Jane Eyre and Rochester
by Charlotte Bronte
In Charlotte Bronte's famous tale, friendless characters find a cure for loneliness in each other's company. Jane is an abused orphan employed as a governess to the charge of an abrasive, but very rich Edward Rochester. The improbable pair grow close as Rochester reveals a tender heart beneath his gruff exterior. He does not, however, reveal his penchant for polygamy -- on their wedding day, a horrified Jane discovers he is already married. Heartbroken, Jane runs away, but later returns after a dreadful fire has destroyed Rochester's mansion, killed his wife, and left him blind. Love triumphs, and the two reunite and live out their days in shared bliss.
Catherine and Heathcliff
by Emily Bronte
The howling moors could not drown out the love of childhood sweethearts Catherine and Heathcliff, who manage to continue a paranormal affair even after Catherine's death. Death has not abated Heathcliff's adoration of his beloved, and he begs Catherine's spirit to haunt him always. With an obsession that would warrant a restraining order in today's world, Heathcliff is driven to cruelty by Catherine's demise, and his life is fueled by a preoccupation with revenge on Catherine's widower. In the end, Heathcliff starves himself to death and is buried beside his Catherine. Bronte's bittersweet story affirms that sometimes love can survive death.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
by William Shakespeare
Proving that femme fatales preceded feminism, Lady Macbeth wields a weighty influence over her infatuated husband. When she urges him to seize the crown by murdering the current king, her infectious ambition takes hold, and the easily manipulated Macbeth takes measures to carry out the treasonous scheme. The wicked pair's connection is made only stronger by their shared secret, but their plans unravel when Lacy Macbeth dies. Left without his partner in crime, Macbeth is weakened, exposed, and killed. This play reminds of us of the infinite power of two - stronger together than apart.
Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler
Gone with the Wind,
by Margaret Mitchell
Proving that timing is everything, Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler never seem to be quite in synch. Throughout the epic story, this tempestuous twosome experience passion but not permanence, and their stormy marriage reflects the surrounding Civil War battles. The flirtatious, promiscuous, and perpetually pursued Scarlett can't make up her mind between her many suitors. When she finally decides to settle on being happy with Rhett, her fickle nature has already driven him away. Hope springs eternal in our devious heroine, however, and the novel ends with Scarlett proclaiming, "Tomorrow is another day."
Lancelot and Guinevere
The love that rocked an entire kingdom, the illicit affair between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot has been immortalized by storytellers for generations. The rogue Lancelot is knighted by King Arthur after he bravely rescues Guinevere from odious captors. However, unbeknownst to the King, his favorite new member of the Roundtable is in hot pursuit of the Queen. Their adulterous love proves poisonous when it contributes to Arthur's demise and leaves the lovers regretful and racked with enduring guilt.
Emma and Knightley
by Jane Austen
Austen once remarked that she created Emma as a character that no one would like but herself. Contrary to the author's intentions, and despite Emma's numerous flaws, the character is a most appealing and pleasing young woman. Emma's appeal is particularly noted by her neighbor and brother-in law, Mr. Knightley, who secretly pines for her. Vowing never to marry, Emma is content instead to play matchmaker -- to fruitless and hilarious results. She nonetheless finds herself a surprising and loving mate in her close friend, George Knightley.
Odysseus and Penelope
Few couples understand sacrifice quite like this Greek pair. After being torn apart, they wait twenty long years to be reunited. War takes Odysseus away shortly after his marriage to Penelope. Although she has little hope of his return, she resists the 108 suitors who are anxious to replace her husband. Odysseus is equally devoted, refusing a beautiful sorceress's offer of everlasting love and eternal youth, so that he might return home to his wife and son. This Valentine's Day, take a cue from Homer, and remember that true love is worth waiting for.