Student Shakespeare: Declaring love in a modern age



by Hope Smith

When Joyce MacDonald’s father came home from World War II, he was passing through Louisville on his way to New York City, where he aspired to become a great jazz trumpeter. But when he saw his long-time friend and future wife, he told her how much he loved the beautiful light in her eyes, and he dropped his plans and stayed with her.

This, MacDonald said, is exactly the stuff modern love letters should be made of. It might sound corny to an outsider, but for that couple, nothing could sound more romantic. MacDonald, associate professor of English at UK, has taught drama for years. This includes Shakespeare, of course, the king of big romantic gestures.

MacDonald summarized Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing,” in which main character Benedick sits down to write a poem for Beatrice, the girl for whom he can’t bring himself to verbally profess his love. He struggles to find a word that rhymes with “lady” and gives up, realizing the word “baby” simply doesn’t belong in a respectable love poem. Instead, when the time is right (which just so happens to be after he sees a couple break it off at the altar) he spills his guts and comes right out and says it: “I do love nothing in the world so well as you; is not that strange?”

“Shakespeare loved big gestures, killing over love,” MacDonald said. “But when everyone finally let go of their delusions and the real truth came out, it was beautiful.”

Love letters, MacDonald said, should be about the little things your significant other does that you appreciate and remember, not a bunch of fancy rhymes, cliche lines and showy, public actions.

“Relationships in theater are always dramatic, the road is always bumpy,” MacDonald said. “The story would be boring if not…but that’s not how it is in real life. People can’t continue to live up to those big expectations.”

MacDonald compared flashy Shakespearean professions of love to engagements televised on the Jumbotron at baseball games. Some couples, she said, think they have to do something big to prove their love for each other, but that simply shouldn’t be the case.

Instead, she offered some simple advice to couples wishing to make each other feel special around this Hallmark holiday.

“Tell your partner one thing that makes him or her special,” MacDonald said. “Tell your boyfriend you love how he

scrapes the ice off your windshield and starts your car for you. It has to be something true. That’s all it is.”

This year MacDonald and her husband celebrated Valentine’s Day by grabbing some Mexican food and watching baseball at home, because, MacDonald said, they don’t feel compelled to give each other cards and gifts after all the years they’ve been together.

“If that person is your life partner, you should be thinking about them a lot year-round, not just on Valentine’s Day,” MacDonald said.

One other piece of advice to consider when writing letters or expressing your feelings, she said, is to refrain from expecting something in return; it’s not always about material. Just tell your loved one what you like about them, and keep it simple and honest. Don’t feel obligated to throw yourself in front of a train or drink deadly poison to show how much you care.