365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

258. Arranged marriages in Shakespeare’s plays

with 5 comments

In many of Shakespeare’s plays, characters are victims of arranged marriages. These business arrangements set up by their parents are usually important plot points, which the characters must either accept or overcome in order for the story to advance and reach its culmination. I will demonstrate three examples in this article: Portia from “The Merchant of Vernice”, Juliet from “Romeo and Juliet”, and Kate from “The Taming of the Shrew”.

Portia’s situation is a most unusual one. Rather than a traditional arranged marriage, her father constructed a complicated sort of riddle in order to find a proper husband for her. Each suitor is presented with three boxes: one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. In one of these boxes is a portrait of Portia, and if the suitor chooses that one, he will win the lady. Portia is faced with three suitors, and only the last of them, whom she truly loves, is able to choose the correct box (lead). Having her fate so out of her hands is perhaps why Portia is as strong a character as she is; she is intelligent enough to find a flaw in the contract between Shylock and Antonio and save Antonio’s life, and clever enough to disguise herself sufficiently in order to do it.

For Juliet, it is a more traditional situation. Her parents have found a man they approve of, Paris, and begin making the necessary preparations to have the two married. Juliet is accepting of this until she meets Romeo, and suddenly it seems that her marriage to Paris would be a fate worse than death. She wants nothing more than to escape this destiny and her attempts to do so are what ultimately lead to her untimely and tragic demise. Had it not been for the impending marriage, she would not have had to fake her own death and the unfortunately miscommunication with Romeo would never have occurred.

Kate, the shrew that the title suggests must be tamed, is also the victim of an arranged marriage, but where she differs from the other two is that she must both accept and overcome it. Petruchio utterly abuses her (interpretation as to the nature of his abuse toward her varies wildly, so for the purposes of staying on topic I will not delve much into his behavior) until Kate is broken. She goes from being a horribly-behaved woman with a strong will and a stronger tongue to being a submissive and obedient wife. Pleasanter to be around, certainly, but hopefully at least partly the same old Kate we know and love. She overcomes her circumstances by learning to get results through proper behavior and she accepts the marriage by doing so.

Though all of these plots are quite different from one another, the thing that ultimately ties them together is Shakespeare’s use of the somewhat antiquated convention of arranged marriage.


Written by Caroline Mincks

June 16, 2010 at 9:04 PM

5 Responses

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  1. Kate was a really bad woman but ended up getting abused which happens to bold, alpha, bad girl types in real life.


    October 17, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    • I have to disagree with you on this one. I don’t think Kate is “bad” in the slightest. I think she is aggressive, independent, and very frustrated with her lot in life. Sure, she expresses it in a way that is often unacceptable, but I don’t think that warrants abusive behavior in return.

      Kate’s character is that of a strong woman in a time when women were not encouraged to be strong. She lashes out accordingly, given her frustration.

      In real life, people who act like Kate often do find themselves in unsavory situations. I don’t agree that this is true of all strong women.

      Caroline Mincks

      October 17, 2012 at 3:03 PM

      • Most of the time aggressive, bold, confident, and independent women will find themselves in unsavory and sometimes dangerous situations compared to men in the same manner. In every culture, women can’t be as strong or stronger than men. They have to be less stronger.


        October 28, 2012 at 9:14 PM

    • come on nothing is working on any site and i am trying to get this for my homework


      February 4, 2013 at 2:39 PM

  2. *Puts Kate back in one of the binders full of women*

    Caroline Mincks

    October 28, 2012 at 9:34 PM

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