On Wednesday I ran down my top five Shakespearean heroines. Today it’s the turn of the heroes. Let’s hear it for the boys.
Cue another round of Top of the Pops countdown music…
5. Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet
Mercutio is the cool, impulsive best friend we’d all love to have. The guy who always knows where the best party is and is always at the centre of the action. Now, admittedly, his need to be at the centre of the action does get him a tiny bit killed, but up until then he’s been spectacular. Louder, funnier and more outrageous than anyone else in the play, and to his credit he keeps joking to the end, managing to squeeze out a play on words about being ‘grave’ with his last breath. For commitment to punning alone, Mercutio is number five.
4. Berowne, Love’s Labour’s Lost
Love’s Labour’s Lost is a silly little play where a group of men decide to forgo female company for year and live in a state of abstemious study. Obviously, that plan goes pear shaped pretty fast when a passing Princess and her ladies-in-waiting rock up at their door. Despite the daft plot, and the fact that the suspected sequel has been lost to history so the play ends disconcertingly abruptly, Berowne, is still a great character. He’s funny and clever, and about a zillion times more realistic than any of his mates about the chances of the whole ‘abstaining from female company’ thing working out. Promising to stay away from women he declares is ‘flat treason ‘gainst the kingly state of youth.’
3. Macduff, Macbeth
Macbeth is Shakespeare at his most haunting and grisly. It has murder, ghosts, bloody daggers, insanity, witches, and a denouement that depends on your main character’s head being paraded across the stage on a pole. But at the centre of that denouement we also have Macduff. Macduff is the moral centre of the play – he’s the sane man alongside Macbeth’s madness, the good man in a sea of depravity. And when it comes to the crucial moment, he’s the man who does what has to be done and kills Macbeth, avenging his family (who Macbeth had killed) and returning the rightful heir to the throne. Hurrah! Cue the head on the pole, and everyone living happily ever after. All thanks to Macduff.
2. Don Pedro, Much Ado About Nothing
Ok, so Much Ado is by far my favourite play, so it might be a bit of a surprise not to see Benedick at the top of this list, and I do love Benedick, but, for me, the unsung hero of the play is the Prince, Don Pedro. It’s Don Pedro who helps Claudio woo the beautiful Hero. It’s Don Pedro who conspires to get Beatrice and Benedick to admit their feelings for one another, and it’s Don Pedro who ends up alone. His selflessness is only underlined by the hint that he’s more than a little bit in love with Beatrice himself. For services to friendship and the cause of true love, Don Pedro, we salute you.
1. Antipholus of Syracuse, The Comedy of Errors
So picture the scene. You’re new in town. You don’t know anyone apart from the trusty man servant you brought with you. Then your man servant denies knowing you, and perfect strangers start berating you for not paying money owed or delivering goods purchased. Before you’ve had chance to wrap your brain around any of that, a woman, who seems pretty damn sure she’s your wife, accosts you and accuses you of running around with a mistress. It would be enough to mess with anyone’s head, and it’s pretty much what happens to Antipholus of Syracuse within the first half hour of The Comedy of Errors. By the end of the play he’s got a new girlfriend, a twin brother, a shipwrecked father and a long lost mother who’s now a nun to contend with as well. For holding onto some shreds of sanity in the face of extreme plotting, Antipholus is my personal favourite of Shakespeare’s heroes.
And now it’s over to you. Who have I missed out?
Alison May was born and raised in North Yorkshire, but now lives in Worcester with one husband, no kids and no pets. There were goldfish once. That ended badly.
Alison has studied History and Creative Writing, and has worked as a waitress, a shop assistant, a learning adviser, an advice centre manager, and a freelance trainer, before settling on ‘making up stories’ as an entirely acceptable grown-up career plan.
Alison is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and won the Elizabeth Goudge Trophy in 2012. She writes contemporary romantic comedies, and short stories.