Wit and Wisdom: Shakespeare for Valentine’s Day?

February is the exciting month of love and 14th February is a day to express our love to the special one. So, let me kickstart with the two direct references of St. Valentine’s day in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet:

“Good morrow, friends. Saint Valentines is past:
Begin these wood-birds but to couple now?”

Act IV Scene I
Act IV Scene V (source)

In the first quotation, it depicts the belief of bird-mating in French and English Valentine tradition. In Hamlet, Shakespeare expresses the mood of Valentine’s Day through Ophelia’s singing.

How to express Love?

Still, wondering what to write in your Valentine’s card? Here are some Shakespearean suggestions to capture the essence of love and warm your Valentines’ heart:

i. Sonnet XVIII: The Ultimate Valentine’s Day Poem

“Shall I compare thee to a summer day? […]
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

A 14-line sonnet is perfect for the couple to convey the idea of loving your partner eternally. Despite the change of seasons, Shakespeare expresses the timelessness of love and beauty. Summer is not fading, as well as love (it is immortal).

ii. Sonnet XXIX: The Significant One Poem

“For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”

This is a unique sonnet about the impact of love and self-motivation. Who says Valentine’s Day is about being with another one? The persona talks about his significant person in the past who motivates him to live his life. Don’t forget to love yourself.

iii. Sonnet LXXVI: The ‘I Love You’ poem

“O! know sweet love I always write of you, […]
For as the sun is daily new and Old,
So is my love still telling what is told.”

Indeed, the sun dies at night but reborn in the day. The persona uses the metaphor of the sun to describe love; the love does not change as if the renewing sun. You may consider dating a writer like Shakespeare so that your love will be immortal.

How to be in Love?

   Out of the 36 published plays, Shakespeare has written 21 plays about love. He portrays the theme of love through tragedies and comedies. Here are the three types of love: LAB.

i. Love at First Sight – As You Like It

Falling in love at first sight is always doubtful yet sometimes believable. Rosalind and Orlando fall in love at first sight in their first meeting. She is banished to the Forest of Arden and dresses as the boy, Ganymede. Either Ganymede or Rosalind, Orlando continues to love her or him and hence, leads to their marriage.

ii. After-life Love – Antony and Cleopatra 

The relationship between Antony and Cleopatra is not a typical but tragic love. Their love is influenced by their political desires. Both have powerful positions in Roman and Egypt respectively. When Anthony receives false news of Cleopatra’s death, he kills himself to be with her. Cleopatra takes her own life after his death. They sacrifice themselves for love and prove that love does not die after death.

iii. Boundless Love – Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet express their love passionately in the form of freedom. Their love is illustrated in a realistic way. Juliet describes her feeling by saying “My bounty is as boundless as the sea. My love as deep: the more I give to thee. The more I have, for both are infinite.” (2.2). A mixture of lust, sincerity, and marriage are reflected throughout their love.

Overall, Happy Valentine’s Day!

…and allow me to end this article with three questions:

  1. How to express love? Sonnets.
  2. How to be in Love? Be like Shakespeare [*cough*].
  3. To Love or Not to Love? You decide.

Written by Joann Chua Rou En