365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

245. Marriage in Shakespeare

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Look at any of Shakespeare’s comedies and you will likely find the word “marriage” at least a few times. Ditto for the tragedies, and at least half of the histories. What exactly is the obsession with marriage that Shakespeare seemed to feel? What exactly was so important about marriage that made it so very vital to his plays? And how is it portrayed?

Marriage is synonymous with love most of the time, most obvious in the comedies but occasionally in the tragedies (apart from a select few, marriage has little to do with the history plays). When a character finds themselves in love with another, they long to marry them almost immediately. Viola, for instance, has scarcely had time to become Orsino’s servant (under the guise of the boy Cesario) before she is set on by him to woo Olivia in his name – and she laments doing so, for she would as soon be Orsino’s wife! Orlando and Rosalind see each other only for a moment in “As You Like It”, but that is all it takes for Orlando to be inspired to nail poetry praising Rosalind to trees in the Forest of Arden (not to mention the triple wedding at the end). And were it not for the immediacy of love in “Much Ado About Nothing”, there would be no wedding ceremony, second wedding ceremony, and third-soon-to-come wedding ceremony.

In the histories, apart from “Richard III” in which marriage is used for dark and devious purposes, weddings are generally a political afterthought, such as in “Henry V”. Henry quickly woos his French wife, Katherine, and they supposedly live happily ever after now that the war is at an end.

The tragedies, of course, are where marriage is represented as the means of tragedy itself. Love lost seems to be the greatest misfortune of all, even above death. Romeo and Juliet’s young love and brief marriage is torn asunder by the circumstances surrounding their death. It  is the idea of infidelity on the part of the virtuous Desdemona that drives Othello to his mad rage. Marriage in the tragedies is used for just that – for tragedy.

Shakespeare was fairly straightforward when it came to his feelings about marriage: that it ought to be happy unless extraordinary circumstances prevented it from being so. It is why his comedies so often include weddings and why his tragedies often include failed marriages.

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Written by Caroline Mincks

June 3, 2010 at 9:42 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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