It was something Nathan said about "Beatrice and Benedick and how we all want to be them but in real life we often aren't." Last night I watched Becoming Jane and was reminded. It's a fun film, pretty preposterous (my housemate Sophia was amused to learn a new word, she hadn't come across it before) and sentimental, but good for a girls' night out. There's an early scene in which Jane (Anne Hathaway, what is it with getting Americans to play Brits? She did it very well though) and the love interest Tom LeFroy (the very pretty James McAvoy) are dancing and sparring verbal points off each other as they dance. It's fun to watch them, knowing that they're as much fascinated by each other as they are irritated.
What is it that we love about witty pairs of lovers? Historically, Beatrice and Benedick have always been the favourite characters of Much Ado About Nothing. They're so much more interesting and human than the rather sappy Hero, who hardly says anything (I liked the production I saw once in which she was always trying to speak and being cut off by her father or uncle) and the idiotic Claudio. I think it's that we want to be witty, to have clever things to say and win the argument, but also that we want to have relationships that are alive and sparkling, where the other person provokes us, draws us out, makes us more alive.
They're a dangerous pair to emulate. It would be easy to look only at their verbal sparring and build relationships that are nothing but fine words. Perhaps more crucial than their friends' trickery in showing them their true feelings is the moment of testing provided by Claudio's rejection of Hero. In the chilling moment when Beatrice tells Benedick to "Kill Claudio", he must decide whether love for his friend or love for Beatrice is more important. Not that asking your boyfriend to kill his best friend is a good test for whether he loves you, but at the time where it matters, Benedick proves that there is more to their relationship than words and argument.
So why aren't we like Beatice and Benedick? Or Elizabeth and Darcy or any other pair of literary lovers? We aren't scripted by a genius for a start. We live in the real world, where arguments about silly petty things or big ones can hurt and wit can wound more than it means. Love is in the mundane and quotidian as much as in the sparkling and the heat. But it's also in the fizz as much as in the everyday. Either without the other would be incomplete.