So, every now and then, there’s an article that floats up on my Facebook news, that’s about Shakespeare’s worst boyfriends (it usually pops up somewhere around Valentine’s Day). It’s a fairly mainstream list (Hamlet’s quite high up there, mostly for killing his girlfriend’s dad), but they NEVER mention Bertram, and in our discussion today, I am reminded of this grave injustice. So, I thought I would go off the well-worn path, and offer my opinion of Shakespeare’s most useless boyfriends, culling especially from our course listings. I’m not going to count murder as a worthless-boyfriend criteria, because a) it’s Shakespeare and everyone’s at it, and b) to be fair, Polonius did start it.
1 – Bertram. Bertram takes the cake. He is the James Franco of the French Nobility – a sense of entitlement, buckets of arrogance, and but nothing that resembles actual talent for anything. He mistakes being born into a good family for actual virtue and nobility, in spite of EVERYONE in the play pointing out to him what a piece of crap he is. He’s too noble to take any interest in Helena, even to talk to her in the betrothal scene, but thinks nothing of giving his family ring to the first Italian chippie he finds. He can’t even bring himself to pretend to care, and all of this comes about a day after he and the King had a lovely long chat about the fact that his father was an all-round decent guy. Let’s presume he’s really hot, because oh my god, is he dumb. Plus, he considers Parolles one of his best friends.
2- Petrucchio. Starves his wife. That kind of should be all you need to know, but I constantly find myself amazed that he thinks sex with him is an adequate reward for her enforced submission.
3 – Demetrius. Ohhhhhh, Helena. Helena, Helena, Helena. Have some self-respect, woman. Honey, if your boyfriend needs to be high to be in a relationship with you, then you might want to rethink your criteria. Seriously. This is good advice.
4 – Richard III. Woos his first wife over the corpse of her murdered husband (although I’m not sure who I judge more in that situation), drowns his brother in a bucket of wine (although that sounds like a fairly decent way to go), tries to marry his teenage niece (although….eew. Can’t really justify that). To be honest, I don’t know who I’m trying to kid here. I love Tricky Dicky. And the two princes were kind of bratty, so he gets a free pass from me.
5 – Troilus. Troilus and Cressida goes on and on about what a noble man Troilus is, and then we meet him. It’s like he’s any the One Direction boys that’s Not Harry Styles, or if you’re of my generation, Andrew Ridgley. If the sons of Troy were a rock band, he’d be the drummer (and they’d have a cool hipster name). So, not only does poor Cressida get the second most insignificant prince of Troy (the dubious title of most insignificant goes to the one whose name I can’t even be bothered to look up), but she gets the one who is willing to sacrifice himself for his brother’s girlfriend while she get send to the Greek camp and gets passed around more than the Olympic flame.
Honorable mentions: Antony. He’s a maudlin drunk, who leaves his girlfriend to marry another woman. I’d kick his ass for that. Richard II. The insinuations of his interest in men might make him a good boyfriend to someone, but that someone isn’t poor Queen Isabella. Although, she’s an utter wet blanket, so I don’t feel unduly sorry for her. Orlando. Nice boy; probably the world’s most annoying boyfriend, in spite of Rosalind’s best attempts at training him into being a man. Prince Arthur. Lady Blanch had a lucky escape. Anyone who doesn’t realize that is’t not a good idea to jump off a castle wall onto paving stones below doesn’t deserve to be King. Or get a wife.