The Consequence of Marriage
William Shakespeare has always been an avid supporter of love as the basis of marriage. Nearly all of his plays support that: Romeo & Juliet, Much Ado about Nothing, and even more notably, A Mid Summer’s Nights Dream. Bernard Murstein noted in his book, Love, Sex and Marriage Through the ages, that “the young should marry whom they choose and that they not bow to parental wishes” (181). Shakespeare’s tragic Othello reminds that parents are there to guide their children onto the right path towards a brighter future, and is a cautionary tale about the potential implications of a quick or thoughtless marriage that generally end his plays. The ramifications of a marriage outside of social rank and race along with the general social consequences are highlighted to show that marriage is more than just an “I do” at the altar, and is to be avoided.
When viewing Shakespeare’s plays in the context of the time period it is obvious that Shakespeare was more than a storyteller. His commentary was directed at the upper tier of society and addressed the need for convention to be followed. At the same time, he had to be sure that his commentary was acceptable or subtle enough so as not to offend his sponsors.
In some of Shakespeare’s better known plays, he teaches that the course of true love never runs smooth, and marriages should not be expected to run smoothly either. Societal expectations of the time were that a woman would marry whomever the male head of the household chose for her. Men, on the other hand, were free to pursue anyone they wanted and arrange their own marriages, with an eye to strategic coupling of social status and finances (Gies 256). Romeo and Juliet showed the importance of parental approval and thus societal acceptance of a marriage. Romeo and Juliet had neither, and met with tragic consequence. Much Ado About Nothing shows that it was socially acceptable for Benedick to not marry. Beatrice, however, has sworn off marriage because she has not found anyone personally suitable and is unwilling to become subservient, which was a given for a married woman. Only when both of them are tricked into confessing their “love” to each other, do they entertain the idea of marriage. Benedick claims that he will marry her out of pity, Beatrice will marry Benedick to “save [his] life, for I was told,/ you were in great consumption” (Crawther).
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is nearly composed almost entirely of love triangles, and it requires a wandering fairy and a few love potions to finally solve the issue. Hermia, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is desperately in love with Lysander, not Demetrius - the man her father has chosen her to marry. Hermia and Lysander run away to be married; this elopement causes great consternation within her social circle. At the end of the play Hermia’s father is outraged when – in a half awake confession – Lysander admits to running away to elope with Hermia, claiming to Demetrius, “They would...