Marriage and Love in Elizabethan England
The movie, Shakespeare in Love, provides insight into the world of Elizabethan England. Through the character of Viola De Lessups the audience is shown how marriage was an institution entered into not for love, but as a strategic maneuver designed to enhance the lives of those who would benefit from a union, whether or not the beneficiaries were the people actually exchanging vows. As Queen, Elizabeth I chose not to enter into such a union. She expressed the thoughts and feelings she had about the subject in both her speech, “On Marriage” and her poem “On Monsieur’s Departure.” A comparison of the character of Viola to the real life Queen of England, Elizabeth I, can provide the reader a greater understanding of marriage and love in Elizabethan England.
Queen Elizabeth and Viola both realized that their station in life would determine their prospects for marriage. Elizabeth had the power to decide not to marry. Viola’s marriage to Wessex decided for her as “a daughter’s duty and the Queen’s command”(Shakespeare). Viola is the daughter of a wealthy merchant and while she is “not so well born” she is, as her nurse points out, “Well moneyed” which “is the same as well born” and “well married is more so” (Shakespeare). Likewise, Elizabeth knew that if the Queen of England were to marry she would have to make a union that would benefit her country. She felt pressure from Parliament to marry and addressed it in her speech, “On Marriage”, given to Parliament in 1559. She assured them that they could put that idea “clean out of [their] heads” for “whensoever it may please God to incline [her] heart to another kind of life,” she intended “not to do or determine anything wherewith the realm may or shall have just cause to be discontented” (Elizabeth, “Marriage”). Elizabeth realized that any marriage she chose to enter into could potentially bring disharmony to England and would inevitably alter her power as monarch. In much the same way Viola realizes that she is not free to make a marriage choice based on love; but is determined that she will go to marriage as “a widow” from her from her love with Shakespeare (Shakespeare). “She despairs that the men at court, “If they see [her] they see [her] father’s fortune” (Shakespeare).
Although their circumstances are different the prospect of marriage, for both women, constitutes the same thing: it is matter of “family, duty and fate, and is as unchangeable as nature” (Shakespeare). Yet, despite the binding nature of “family, duty [and] fate” both women experience love and are forced to turn away from it...