R. S. White (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Mature Romantic Comedies," in 'Let Wonder Seem Familiar': Endings in Shakespeare's Romance Vision, Humanities Press, Inc., 1985, pp. 35-66.
[In the following essay, White studies the endings of Shakespeare's romantic comedies, maintaining that the playwright experiments with combining the finality of a comic ending with the "endless" nature of a romantic ending.]
Love's Labour's Lost is another attempt by Shakespeare to write the kind of romantic comedy pioneered by Lyly, where the ending is qualified and open. The stroke he uses to solve the problems inherent in the form is daringly simple, for he simply denies the credibility of the conventional happy ending, almost gratuitously going out of his way to provide a complicating factor. The direction of our expectations in the play is clear and conventional. The action seems to be moving towards a declaration of marriage. From the opening, there is little doubt that the sterile vow will crumble before the shattering power of love, and this is what happens. The pageant of the Nine Worthies seems calculated to relax the mood into the festivity of betrothal. Little resistance poses itself to the courtships, since the ladies' coyness is, we find from their conversations, a teasing test of the men rather than a denial of their suits. The vitality lies not in true conflict, nor in the complexity of debate about love but in the fertility of language, and in the energetic release of the men when they fall in love. However, as if it is too easy for the dramatist to satisfy our expectations, and as if love should not be won so easily by men who have denied its existence, resistance is introduced in the form of a chilly message from the outside world:
Enter as messenger. MONSIERU MARCADE.
MARCADE. God save you, madam!
PRINCESS. Welcome, Marcade;
But that thou interruptest our merriment.
MARCADE. I am sorry, madam; for the news I bring
Is heavy in my tongue. The King your father—
PRINCESS. Dead, for my life!
MARCADE. Even so; my tale is told.
(V. ii. 703-9)
This strikes a grim note, intruding from a more distressing and succinctly-spoken world into the charm, chatter and hyperbole of the King's curious-knotted garden.1 The King tries to sustain the spirit of gallant courtship, but he is quite roughly rebuffed:
KING. Yet since love's argument was first on foot,
Let not the cloud of sorrow justle it
From what it purpos'd . . .
QUEEN. I understand you not; my griefs are double.
(V. ii. 736-40)
Even after sober declaration of love from the men, the ladies are still not able to treat the proposals except as 'pleasant jest and courtesy, As bombast and as lining to the time.' In Lyly's fashion, a compromise is struck. The ladies will mourn for a year in France, the men are to undergo certain taxing experiences such as living in a hermitage or a hospital, to learn genuine self-denial and understanding of people's problems. After the educative process, the courtship may (or may not) begin afresh.
The play ends with chastened self-awareness on the part of the men and reluctant withdrawal on that of the women:
BEROWNE. Our wooing doth not end like an old play:
Jack hath not Jill. These ladies' courtesy
Might well have made our sport a comedy.
KING. Come, sir, it wants a twelvemonth an' a day
And then 'twill end.
BEROWNE. That's too long for a play.
(V. ii. 862-6)
Berowne's rueful comment is more than just a statement about form, since it points towards a moral lesson which the men ought to have learned during the action. They have throughout treated life as a play and other people as merely objects for their own amusement. After the vow to study has been taken, Berowne asks, "But is there no quick recreation granted?" (I.i.159), and the King replies that Armada the Spaniard will serve their turn:
But I protest I love to hear him lie,
and I will use him for my minstrelsy.
Longaville agrees, adding another human toy to their repertory:
Costard the swain and he shall be our sport;
And so to study three years is but short.
The low-born characters are eventually used mercilessly for the "sport" of the courtly, when their humbly offered entertainment of masque is mocked off the stage in derisive laughter and in a manner which is "not generous, not gentle, not humble" (V.ii.621). To emphasize the point, after this touching line from Holofernes, the shadows lengthen on the world of play: "A light for Monsieur Judas! It grows dark, he may stumble" (V.ii.622). The courtiers have played loose with their oaths, have attempted to play with the lives of the women, have condescendingly played with the low-born characters, and they have played with language, turning every word inside out for a joke. Of course, such things are appropriate to a stage comedy, but a life may not be responsibly led on such a basis. "That's too long for a play" uses the word in at least two senses. By drawing attention to the play as artifice, Shakespeare reminds the audience that it too is about to leave the playful world for one more serious. The hints pointing to the necessity of leaving the golden world for the brazen gather as the end comes in sight. Armado sees his duty for the future through the little hole of discretion, and swears marriage to Jaquenetta, and she too is directed into the future, for she is 'quick, the child brags in her belly already'.2
When the action "doth not end like an old play", it is tempting to see the separation as Shakespeare's rejection of the conventions of literature itself, as if from this point onward he is not writing a work of art but somehow showing us "life" directly. It is worth remembering, however, that he could in fact find many prototypes for such an ending in romance. Apart from Gascoigne's The Adventures of Master F. J. and Lyly's Euphues, which give us saddened retreats, there are more clear-cut analogues. In Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Sir Marhaus, Sir Gawain, and Sir Uweyn make an oath to separate from their chosen damsels and to return "that day twelve monthe". "And so they kissed and departed."3 (Gawain's lady is lost and the other two, at the end of the twelve months, effect a permanent separation, which shows that we cannot be so sure of happiness in the world of romance as in comedy.) At the end of The Parliament of Fowls, the female eagle, wooed by three males, asks Nature to allow her to postpone her choice for a year. She advises the lusty suitors:
Beth of good herte, and serveth alle thre.
A yer is nat so longe to endure.
Book I of The Faerie Queene ends with the Redcross Knight leaving his newlywed Una in order to pursue his quest of the Blatand Beast, "The which he shortly did, and Una left to mourne."5 Certainly Shakespeare in Love's Labour's Lost is exhibiting a general wariness about the authenticity and validity of fictions, yet he is ironically, also drawing on a fictional model in doing so. Romance includes in its vision many separations and reunions, and it is often arbitrary which of the two events will be chosen to end the work. Comedy, on the other hand, characteristically closes with happy harmony. With the arrival of Marcade, a messenger whose forebears lie in Greek tragedy, Shakespeare stops writing comedy and begins to write romance. It seems a paradox in the light of unashamed fictiveness of this genre, but he is also representing something more "realistic" than we find in a comedy where Jack hath Jill and all will be well.
The little songs sung by the Worthies after the action, a timely lightening of the tone, continue the disengagement from the play's golden world. Nothing could be further from the pontifical words of the King at the beginning when declaring the plan for the academe. Instead of lofty abstractions like fame, death, time, honour and eternity, the songs modestly depict rapid vignettes of real life: the sight of flowers and the sounds of birds in spring, physical hardship in winter, evidenced by cold hands, frozen milk and red noses, with their homely, cosy compensations like the prospect of roasted crab-apples sizzling in a pot of ale while greasy Joan keels the pot. The songs accept, without any attempt at evaluation, the contradictions in the seasons: delight and sexual uncertainty in the spring, adversity and warmth in the winter. The repeated syntax, 'When . . . then . . . ' suggests the underlying idea that everything is 'fit in his place and time' (I. i. 98).6 A new attitude towards time's open-endedness, and a new mode of expression (a ballad statement by an uncourtly, rustic voice outside the play world, rather than the dramatic utterance of a character in context), takes us further outside the self-contained fictional world of the play about protected university-types. The direction is appropriate to the overall ideas presented by the play, for the men have discovered that the cloistered attempt to discover truth is barren and offending against the law of nature, because, if they had listened, they would have known that 'it is the simplicity of man to hearken after the flesh'. They must accept the brazen uncertainties of the future before committing themselves to the world-without-end bargain of marriage.
Love's Labour's Lost is Shakespeare's first successful attempt to square up the moral problems raised by the narrative with the necessity for an ending. It is also his first considered attempt to fuse the comic expectation of an ending with the romance tendency towards endlessness. Inconclusive as it is, the play-world is brought to an end with a regretful explanation that the future is too long for a play. The final comment, whatever its authorial sanction, is teasing. 'You that way; we this way' is perhaps the final separation of the play-world (where the characters either go back into their fictional world and visit hospitals, or they take off their play clothes and become people like us) and our own world, as we leave the theatre and walk home, or close the book and prepare supper. Since our own minds must still be partially engaged with the fate of the courtiers, speculating upon whether they will marry or not at the end of a year, endlessness rolls before the worlds of fiction and of fact, despite the attainment of a temporary resting-place in both, the end of the play.
After showing a delicate mastery of the Lylian presentation of romance, ending with a careful compromise that balances and sets against each other the conflicting tensions raised in the action, Shakespeare could conceivably have gone on to remain within such a dramatic world. Instead, he chooses to take a slightly different course. In A Midsummer Night's Dream he partly repeats the experience, but he extends radically an element which is present in Love's Labour's Lost but not emphatically. In the Dream we are faced with the curious sense that the play is functioning fully within the conventional assumptions of romance, and yet also contemplating itself, in a self-conscious way, inviting us to explore the boundaries between romance and the reality outside the work of art. The play achieves such a double perspective by centering around the metaphor of the dream, and by making the ending of the play highly elusive and shifting. Here, we have a new dimension added to the 'endless ending'. Convinced by the illusion, we may remain within the world of the artifice; and yet simultaneously we are encouraged to disengage ourselves from the action, and contemplate it from a more rational distance. With this play, Shakespeare develops a critique of romance expectations, as he did in Love's Labour's Lost, but not yet so drastic a questioning as to imply that he is losing faith in the potency and utility of fictions. A more radical challenge is to be posed in later plays.
The elusiveness of A Midsummer Night's Dream as a whole can be appreciated when we simply try to locate where the actual ending of the play lies, as a point in the action. Aristotle would have some trouble specifying the point 'which is naturally after something itself, either as its necessary or usual consequent, and with nothing after it.'7 Does the resolution lie in the awakening of Titania, the awakening of the lovers, the rout of Peter Quince's play or the fairies' benediction pronounced upon the marriage house? In this play which has so many wonderfully overlapping qualities, it is possible to see the inherent tendency of romantic comedy to give a vision of endlessness sustained in one long ending. In his first three scenes, Shakespeare characteristically presents three little societies one by one—the court, the artisans and the fairies—and although unexpected twists will occur, there is never much doubt where each is leading. The need to draw the strings together becomes a matter of urgency as early as III. ii:
My fairy lord, this must be done with haste,
For night's swift dragons cut the clouds full fast.
(III. ii. 378-9)
At the very end the dramatist shows some solicitude for the audience, as he gently allows each society the courtesy of its own farewell, as if acknowledging that we are reluctant to leave his fictional world:
And farewell, friends;
Thus Thisby ends;
Adieu, adieu, adieu.
. . . . .Lovers, to bed; 'tis almost fairy time
. . . . .
Trip away; make no stay;
Meet me all by break of day.
. . . . .
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
(V. i. 335-427 passim)
The ripples of farewells move outwards until they wash around the audience. Having seen what, at the time, the audience thought would be the last performance of Peter Brook's production of the play, I can testify to the strange sense of exhilaration, nostalgia and reluctance to leave, inspired in the audience by this rocking, endless ending.
The atmosphere of the play is created largely by the sustained use of the dream metaphor, and the ending is marked by the repeated idea of awakening. Hippolyta's compressed prediction at the beginning sets the direction:
Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time.
(I. i. 7-8)
So quickly does this happen that the four nights are telescoped into one, and the events packed into that night are 'swift as a shadow, short as any dream' (I. i. 144). There is even a trace of the medieval dream vision of the Roman de la Rose. The lovers, after entering the woods contemplating those doctrines of love that they 'could ever read, Could ever hear by tale of history' are confronted with situations which bring fictional statements to life in such an explicit way that we are reminded of Chaucer falling asleep over 'the Dreem of Scipioun' and dreaming of the parliament of fowls. The ending is made up of a series of awakenings. First is that of the fairy queen:
Oberon. Now, my Titania; wake you, my sweet queen.
Titania. My Oberon ! What visions have I seen!
(IV. i. 72-3)
The wonder of romance is conveyed in the awakening of the four lovers. 'Half sleep, half waking' (IV. i. 146) they tell Theseus that overnight their feelings have changed, and they cannot tell how or why. They are not sure whether they are in the land of the waking or the dreaming:
Demetrius. These things seem small and undistinguishable,
Like far-off mountains turned into clouds.
Hermia. Methinks I see these things with
When everything seems double.
(IV. i. 1-84-7)
It is impossible to be sure grammatically what the repeated 'these things' refers to (the events of the night? the lovers' present condition? Theseus's retinue?), and in the lovers' dazed state of bewilderment, it is unfair to enquire too closely. The experiences of the night and the present happenings of the morning seem unreal, the one displaced and distorted by the perspective of the other. Gradually the lovers mark the limits of what they think to be dream and reality by mentally 'pinching themselves', checking and synchronising the respective versions of the latest fact, the arrival of the Duke. Demetrius concludes:
Why, then, we are awake; let's follow him;
And by the way let us recount our dreams.
(IV. i. 195-6)
They are left not only with hazy recollections of a strange, dream-like ordeal, but with some proof of its occurrence, Demetrius's new-found love for Helena. This identifiable vestige of an intangible experience further confuses the boundary between being awake and being asleep. It should be stressed, however, that the lovers have not been dreaming. We have watched their doings when they were under the sway of fairy power, and we must accept the truth of the events, even if we want to interpret it more as a figurative than literal truth, showing the volatile, dream-like caprice of young love.
Bottom likens his time with the fairy queen in the woods to 'a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was' (IV. i. 204), but in his inimitable way he extends the experience to the status of 'a most rare vision'. His is no idle, deceptive dream, but a vision full of religious significance, as his confusion of Corinthians I, 2, 9 shows:
The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was!
(IV. i. 208-11)
The biblical version ends not with 'my dream' but with 'the things which God hath prepared for them that love him'. Bottom's wondering, respectful awe shows that he accepts the episode as a God-given insight into truth. In many ways, his choice of allusion is appropriate in the context of romance. In the biblical version, Paul is justifying faith in the Spirit as a mystery, contrasted with things accessible to mortal reason, which he describes as 'the wisdom of man', and which he subordinates to faith. In echoing this doctrine, Bottom unwittingly casts light on the action of A Midsummer Night's Dream and on the spirit in which we should approach literary romance. 'The wisdom of man' as voiced by Theseus can make nothing of the strange happenings in the forest, and he sees them as 'antique fables' and 'fairy toys' told by infatuated lovers who are as deranged as poets and madmen:
.. . the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
(1 Corinthians, ii, 14)
We, who have witnessed the deeds of Oberon and Puck, have more faith in the mystery. But even for us, there remains the impenetrable and talismanic secret of the magic flowers. The humble love-in-idleness, simultaneously the secret of love and the speckled pansy, challenges us to dismiss it as a 'weak and idle theme', dares us to be so childish as to believe in its magical properties. And love is such a sub-rational affair that we dismiss the flower at our peril. Irrational, improbable and artificial as the events of romance may be, the mode is capable of carrying a 'great constancy' apprehensible by those willing to awaken their faith. At the same time, A Midsummer Night's Dream is a 'self-conscious' romance, since the contrary view, Theseus's voice of reason, finds its place alongside the mysterious motifs of true romance. The ending gives us a 'goodnight' from both Theseus and Puck.
The interlude, 'Pyramus and Thisbe', another story from romance, serves the double function of relaxing the tone into that of a happy wedding feast, and it creates yet another recession into a fictional world. 'It is nothing, nothing in the world' (V. i. 78) protests Philostrate, and indeed the play is 'like a tangled chain; nothing impaired, but all disordered' (V. i. 124). For that matter, though, the whole of Shakespeare's play is 'nothing' in its elusive insubstantiality. The interlude has all the old romance features: 'A lover that kills himself most gallant for love' (I. ii. 19), a lion (which appears in the Arcadia and Rosalynde), and a lady loved by the hero, moonlight (paralleled in the Arcadia, Montemayor's Diana, Sannazaro's Arcadia, and many other romances), but it has nothing so incredible as fairies or the transformation of a man into an ass. The artistic effect that Peter Quince aims at is close to what the Dream as a whole achieves:
Gentles, perchance you wonder at this show;
But wonder on, till truth make all things plain.
(V. i. 126-7)
The ending, though hinging upon remorseless death instead of Ovid's metamorphosis of the lovers into the dark red berry of the mulberry tree, retrieves something for the future. Pyramus's soul is in the sky, and in good Romeo and Juliet fashion, 'the wall is down that parted their fathers' (V. i. 342). The differences between 'Pyramus and Thisbe' and the Dream as a whole, lie not in the materials, but in the respective attitudes to artifice. Ignoring such aspects as plausibility of conduct, consistency of atmosphere, truth of human responses and so on, Quince concentrates on matters which Shakespeare leaves to our 'imaginary forces', like bringing the moonlight onto the stage. The artisans make the same mistake as Frolick in The Old Wives ' Tale when, hearing about the 'King or a lord, or a Duke that had a fair daughter', he worries about 'who drest his dinner then?'8 They show unawareness of art as an illusion capable of creating a self-sufficient and convincing world which 'grows to something of great constancy, But howsoever strange and admirable' (V. i. 26-7). Like Theseus, they ignore the call to faith and imagination necessitated by the romance mode, hinted at by Bottom and Saint Paul. Perhaps this is why Theseus enjoys the play, whereas the imaginative Hippolyta is irritated by it.
The courtiers' ridicule of the players is directed mainly at the literal-mindedness of the mechanicals' attempts to create verisimilitude, but they do not realise a quiet irony at their own expense. The play of 'Pyramus and Thisbe', seen as a romance whose dénouement depends on chance, accident, and an unseen force of 'Fate', resembles the events which the lovers have themselves encountered in the woods. When Hermia extends to Helena her wish that 'good luck grant thee thy Demetrius' (I. i. 221), she speaks prophetically: it is good luck, no more, no less. In romance the actual result, death or marriage, is sometimes arbitrary, and these lovers are fortunate that the deities placed in temporary control over their destiny (and the permanent deity, the dramatist), are benevolent, while the 'Fates' ruling the lives of Pyramus and Thisbe are less sympathetic. The lovers have no right to criticise the genre of dramatic romance, and if they had the distance and insight of a Feste, each would admit that 'I was one, sir, in this interlude'.9 Even Theseus cannot complain of the seething brains and shaping fantasies of poets, for without them he would never have existed. Such thoughts are whimsical but, as well as illustrating Shakespeare's apparent lifelong obsession with the sin of ingratitude, they seem to be invited by the play itself Its series of overlapping endings folds the play inwards in a series of receding artifices, until we wonder whether the life which the play relinquishes us to is yet another vision, 'No more yielding but a dream'.
The Merchant of Venice gives a different compromise between the comic ending and the romance desire for endlessness. It is again debateable what we call the ending, for there are two distinct dramatic climaxes, each followed by quieter, anti-climactic sections. The first climax is the scene in which Bassanio chooses the leaden casket and plights his troth to Portia (III. ii). The scene is ceremonial and hushed, full of rapt expressiveness of love and joy:
O love, be moderate, allay thy ecstasy,
In measure rain thy joy, scant this excess!
I feel too much thy blessing. Make it less,
For fear I surfeit.
(III. ii. 111-4)
Bassanio likens his confusion to the effect in a crowd of a prince's speech,
Where every something, being blent together,
Turns to a wild of nothing, save of joy
Express'd and not express'd.
(III. ii. 182-4)
Nerissa happily cries 'Good joy, my lord and lady', and she immediately wins a husband in Gratiano. They begin to discuss the feast which will celebrate the two marriages, and they even joke about who will have the first child. If the prime issue were the marriage of Portia, the play is more or less over at this point, and there are all the trappings, the 'wonder', of the comic ending in the treatment of the scene. The rest of the play is about married love rather than courtship, and even in this context, the course of true love does not run smooth.
The action continues with the news of Antonio's financial ruin. From here on, we build towards the second climax, the confrontation of Portia and Shylock in the courtroom (IV. i). The development might be interpreted in different ways. As many critics have noted,10 the play presents a running debate about value, measured by feelings or by finance. Even Portia is described in monetary terms as the golden fleece, 'nothing undervalu'd To Cato's daughter, Brutus' Portia' (I. i. 165-6), and many Jasons come in quest of her. Even Bassanio comes as a fortune-hunter. This makes the marriage less crucial than the resolution of the clash between conceptions of value based on money, epitomised most starkly in the actions of Shylock, and conceptions of value based on love and friendship, belonging to Portia in Belmont. Alternatively, we could place Portia herself even closer to the centre, and say that the play shows her developing in character from weary fatalism generated by the mercenary aims of her suitors and the lax, aristocratic boredom of one who cannot 'choose' her destiny ('so is the will of a living daughter curb'd by the will of a dead father' (I. ii. 18-22)), to the point where, after the 'lott'ry' has been settled, she takes her own future into her own hands. With adaptable independence, she takes on the barrister's role and dominates proceedings. It is she also who brings news to Antonio of the successes of his argosies, and as if she has herself become now a representative of powers of providence, she will not disclose 'by what strange accident' she chanced on the letter. (More cynically, however, we might suspect that she has paid the bill herself, with her massive wealth.) No matter what overall structure we choose to find in the play, it is a peculiar comedy in that it keeps going long after the celebration of marriage. Like the romances, it presents a vision of cycles moving from joy to disaster to joy, into the future.
The play keeps going even after the triumph in the courtroom. Act Five, so easily seen as a flat anticlimax after the tenseness of the struggle against Shylock, seems designed to retrieve the ethic of love after the severe challenge made to it, but even so, there are odd tonalities. The lyrical aria between Lorenzo and Jessica as they sit upon the bank watching the moonlight and recalling mythical lovers, strikes a note of idealism, but it thickens in a kind of cloying self-indulgence as the music plays. The poetry seems to mark time, to the point of stagnation, with a waiting expectancy, and 110 lines pass while all that happens is the setting of the moon. Normally, the tempo of a romance or comedy quickens after the climax, but here it moves with a deliberate slowness. There is even a touch of disease in the air. "This night methinks is but the daylight sick." (V. i. 124) Suddenly, however, as Portia is reunited with Bassanio, a cascade of puns on 'light' switches the play into a bantering tone that lasts until the end. Unfortunately, even this climax cannot be seen unequivocally as the joyful festivity of reconciliation, for the jokes hide barbs. The two pairs of lovers have their first quarrel when they discuss 'the rings', and even though we are confident that the women are simply playing a game, there seems to be an element of self-righteous power-domination, in the way they keep the men on edge for so long. Is this Shakespeare's sardonic prediction of the future of their marriages, in their bickering over trivia? For the women, there is an important point at stake, for they are seeking to establish the principle of fidelity in relationships. They indignantly harp on the 'false heart' that will give away a betrothal ring, as if its value is no more than mercenary: "I'll die for't but some woman had the ring." (V. i. 208) There plays about the rings themselves an ambiguity, for they are regarded by the men as mere trinkets, by the women as profoundly significant symbols. Bassanio with shamefaced exasperation splutters that they have given to the lawyers the rings given by Portia and Nerissa:
If you did know to whom I gave the ring,
If you did know for whom I gave the ring,
And would conceive for what I gave the ring,
And how unwillingly I left the ring,
When nought would be accepted but the ring,
You would abate the strength of your displeasure.
(V. i. 192-8)
The interchange demonstrates anything but an easy, affectionate exercise of romantic forgiveness, considering that the ring is an ancient motif of recognition from romance. In this play of "struggle",11 even reconciliation between lovers has its distresses. In this case the women, when they admit that they were the lawyers, use the rings to inform the men that they have all shared in the arduous and frightening trial in the courtroom, emphasising the mutuality of suffering in love. The loss of the rings also threatens momentarily the happiness of the two couples, and to this extent the women use the episode to symbolise the trust and fidelity necessary to the shared quality of love. By shaming the men, they also establish some dominance in the relationships. At the same time, Bassanio's refrain 'the ring' brings laughter to a theatre audience, and the laughter sounds a challenge to a convention in which tiny trinkets may somehow embody experiences and relationships. Othello takes the hint past harmless parody. The loss of a handkerchief, an even more mundane object, has disastrous consequences, because of the symbolical value accorded it by one character who pins his faith on the romantic vision of life. In the comic world, the potentially tragic chain of events is arrested by a timely disclosure, and a return to common sense, but there is a lurking suspicion that the happy state may not be permanent.
If The Merchant of Venice gives us an ending distinguished by its capacity to 'keep going' into and through incipient disaster, it also excludes one character from the bonhomie of festivity. Shylock is the clearest example of what Northrop Frye calls the 'scapegoat' figure, upon whose distress the comedy is secured. Compassionate actors and critics have seen Shylock's fate as too harsh for a comedy, but in the moral stresses of the play it is defensible. Shakespeare, by the very direction of his comedy, has played advocate on behalf of love and forgiveness, though he has tested them both thoroughly, and he has placed himself against a devil who respects only the 'compulsion' of the law without recognising any concept of mercy:
My deeds upon my head! I crave the law,
The penalty and forfeit of my bond.
(IV. i. 201-2)
The brazen world of legality and money is directly challenging the ethics of the golden world of feelings. The integrity of the writer forces him to provide a genuine resolution, like Sidney in the Old Arcadia, without evading the terms of the struggle. Portia must attack and defeat Shylock with legalistic arguments, for he respects no others. The Jew has placed himself outside a society based on human values, and he resists all appeals to sympathy and forgiveness:
By my soul I swear
There is no power in the tongue of man
To alter me.
(IV. i. 235-17)
His implacable ruthlessness is condemned even by the judge, who feels that at law he must uphold the Jew's claim. Having defeated Shylock with his own form of reasoning, by logic-chopping and mercenary legalism, it is not only just but imperative that Portia, on behalf of the forces of love, must extract the full penalty. In fact, Antonio extends to Shylock the 'mercy' of allowing him to live, and giving him the use of half his goods during his lifetime. The deeper irony, of course, is that the defendants themselves are not entirely innocent of Shylock's offences. Portia's suitors have been mercenary, including Bassanio, and Antonio makes his living as a speculative merchant. The crowing rudeness of Gratiano in the courtroom is considerably less than generous. And Shylock himself has explained that his tactics are valid in a world where Jews are few and Christians are many:
O father Abram, what these Christians are,
Whose own hard dealings teaches them suspect
The thoughts of others!
(I. iii. 155-7)
The tenuous answer is, that whereas Shylock is consistently mercenary and revengeful, the Christians are redeemable because of their basic ethics of human value. Bassanio, for all his faults, does learn from the milieu of Belmont, and chooses the leaden casket, instead of consistently seeing human worth in terms of monetary worth. Because of their implication in the Jew's guilt, however, the Christians cannot afford to be complacent. They should see his defeat as an event which exorcises an element in their own society. Shakespeare is trying to establish a principle or concept which is not represented wholly in any one character, and it is the absence of an embodiment of this principle which forces the dramatist to test with vigilance every action and assumption. As a consequence, Antonio is left alone at the end, a minor scapegoat. Because his trade is money, he is given a monetary reward for his generosity, but he must endure the loneliness of a man who does not base his life fully on an ethic of love. The ending of the play must 'keep going' because the basic threats to its world are still at large, just as the Blatant Beast is at large after Book VI of The Faerie Queene, and more aptly, as Mammon is untouched by his encounter with Sir Guyon.
After the three previous comedies which present variations on the 'endless ending', As You Like It returns to a straightforward celebratory ending in the fashion of Robert Greene and Henry the Fifth. Even the play's closely followed source, Lodge's Rosalynde, is not so weightily concluded as the play. The dramatist slows down the tempo of the last action, expanding what was a rushed and relieved summary in the prose work, into a slow, ceremonial occasion, noticeable after the chatty conversationalism and pace of the rest. The two or three pages at the end of Rosalynde, where the interest shifts from love to the national welfare as the Duke triumphantly leads his men back to overthrow the tyrant, are eliminated in the play and replaced by a miraculous conversion of the bad Duke when he enters the skirts of the forest. Even he is brought into the fold, and poses no future threat. There are some anticipations of trouble. Jaques bequeaths to Touchstone 'wrangling; for thy loving voyage Is but for two months victuall'd' (V. iv. 185), recalling for a moment Rosalind's advice that maids are May when they woo, but the sky changes when they are wives. Jaques himself, remembering Euphues, serenely leaves the wedding feast for sober contemplation. His retreat is the 'tremor in the balance' described by Anne Barton, but it is not allowed to cause us distress.12 Nothing really threatens the moment of 'true delights', and the aesthetic finality is as marked as the emotional:
First, in this forest let us do these ends
That here were well begun and well begot.
(V. iv. 164-5)
Shakespeare even pulls the trick of introducing a new character, Hymen, to establish the mystical nature of the marriages. He has no need of this supernatural introduction. In Lodge's work, the capable resourcefulness of 'the amorous Girle-boy'13 holds the situation in firm control after she reaches the forest, and she carefully prepares and effects the coup de théatre in which all she need do is display her true identity, to bring about the happy ending. No supernatural influence is needed. Earlier in the story, the disguised Rosalynde comforts her lover by saying that she has a friend 'that is deeply experienst in Negromancy and Magicke, what art can do shall be acted for thine aduantage',14 but this is simply a reassuring fiction without significance for the plot. Shakespeare is taking up Lodge's hint of magic and he makes the ending seem like a spell. Rosalind decides the time has come to draw the couples to the ark in marriage, after Celia and Oliver have vowed their love. Orlando is showing impatience with the charade, and needs more tangible reassurance:
Rosalind. Why, then, to-morrow I cannot serve your turn for
Orlando. I can live no longer by thinking.
Rosalind. I will weary you, then, no longer with idle talking . . .
(V. ii. 46-8)
This is a curiously intense moment, for both recognise—Orlando with irritation, Rosalind with disappointed pique—that they are no longer playing games of words and disguises, but playing in earnest with their future lives. With businesslike briskness, Ganimede promises to bring together Rosalind and Orlando, Phebe and Silvius, on the morrow when Celia and Oliver are to be married. The claim is that magical power is involved:
Believe then, if you please, that I can do strange things. I have, since I was three year old, convers'd with a magician, most profound in his art and yet not damnable.
(V. ii. 57-60)
The claim is emphasised by repetition:
Orlando. Speak'st thou in sober meanings?
Rosalind. By my life, I do; which I tender dearly, though I say I am a magician.
(V. ii. 64-6)
Although sceptical, Orlando is inclined to believe the story:I sometimes do believe and sometimes not.
. . . . .
But, my good lord, this boy is forest-born,
And hath been tutor'd in the rudiments
Of many desperate studies by his uncle,
Whom he reports to be a great magician,
Obscured in the circle of this forest.
(V. iv. 3 and V. iv. 30-4)
The repeated emphasis on the supposed magical powers of Ganimede establishes a sense of romance mystery, even if we detect a Puckish joke by Shakespeare that it is he, as dramatist, who is Rosalind's tutor, who can bring about whatever ending he wishes. The several sets of phrases that suddenly break out, take on the force of incantations, as if all the characters are spell-bound: 'And so am I for . . . '; 'I will marry/satisfy/content you . . . to-morrow'; 'You say that you'll . . .' ; 'Keep you your word . . .' (V. ii. 75-101). Rosalind breaks the spell, for it is too early: 'Pray you, no more of this; 'Tis like the howling of Irish wolves against the moon' (V. ii. 103-4). But the spell-like tone is re-established in the final scene. The formality with which Rosalind and Celia are presented in their own persons by Hymen, a divine figure mysteriously produced and accompanied by 'still music', takes us into yet another mode, reminiscent not so much of the magic spell as the neoplatonic axioms of marriage as an earthly analogue of divine harmony:
Then is there mirth in heaven,
When earthly things made even
(V. iv. 102-4)
After the heightened, ceremonial song of Hymen in praise of marriage, there is hushed economy in the interchange, as Rosalind is recognised, and reconciled with her father and lover. The patterned, rocking repetitions are noticeable after the flexible speech rhythms of the dialogue before this final scene:
Rosalind. [To Duke] To you I give myself, for I am yours.
[To Orlando] To you I give myself, for I am yours.
Duke Senior. If there be truth in sight, you are my daughter.
Orlando. If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind.
Phebe. If sight and shape be true,
Why then my love adieu!
Rosalind. I'll have no father, if you be not he;
I'll have no husband, if you be not he;
Nor ne'er wed woman, if you be not she.
(V. iv. 110-18)
Only Phebe's plaintive wail (the shift in tone indicated by the different metre), hints that the identity of 'Ganimede', understood by the audience throughout, is now clear also to the characters. The masque-like stasis of the wooing tableau is broken on the entrance of Jaques de Boys, to report the situation outside the woods, and an air of busy activity is resumed with rustic revelry.
Unlike Viola at the end of Twelfth Night, Rosalind retires, takes off her disguise and returns, before the betrothals. Whereas in the prose account, the narrator can simply tell us this, and bring her back without more ado, the dramatist must fill a vacuum while Rosalind changes, and attention falls on the chatter of Touchstone. When she returns, the tone has altered. She is now a limited character, Rosalind the court-dweller, and no longer the forest-born magician. This is one reason why Hymen takes over the role of controlling deity, imposing upon the woman a limited place in the human pattern of betrothals, after her period of freedom in disguise. In fact, she does not say a word after the wedding song sung by Hymen, until the epilogue. The case reverses that of Viola. Rosalind has been liberated by her masculine disguise, able to speak her mind and exuberantly act out her impulses, and when she takes off the disguise, there is inevitably a narrowing of the range of emotions and activities expected from her. Rosalind is literally brought down to earth, and the exercise of destiny which she has held in the forest, must now be yielded up to a more coercive form of providence—social conventions, as represented in the conservatism of the comic ending.
The figure of Hymen may have been suggested to Shakespeare by Lyly's gods, but the dramatic function is different. Hymen does not adjudicate but presides; the character does not influence the plot but indicates the existence of a mystical hierarchy above the human courtship. The marriage is in this case no compromise but an inevitable outcome of expectation. Hymen does not belong to any characterised society like the fairies in the Dream and the gods in Lyly. The best comparison for the scene, I think, is Spenser's Epithalamion. Both are intended as offerings to the socially sanctioned deity of married love, in order to elevate the occasion above individual common experience:
And thou great Iuno, which with awful might
The lawes of wedlock still dost patronize,
And the religion of the faith first plight
With sacred rites hast taught to solemnize:
And eeke for comfort often called art
Of women in their smart,
Eternally bind thou this louely band,
And all thy blessings vnto vs impart.
. . . . .
And thou fayre Hebe, and thou Hymen free,
Grant that it may so be.
Til which we cease your further prayse to sing,
Ne any woods shal answer, nor your Echo ring.
Spenser's poem, of course, is written throughout in this reverential, unhurried way, whereas Shakespeare has to make a radical shift of tone in order to achieve such a plateau in this play. He creates in a new way the sense of endlessness demanded by romance, by lifting the events of the betrothal from the temporal flux into the realm of stable social harmony. The pains of courtship, its bullying, its strategical, testing lies (signalled by Rosalind's disguise), its moments of animal rapacity and its sharp distresses, are all gathered into a moment when the significance of the event is celebrated. For a short time, the ending of As You Like It is an endless monument to the capacity of betrothal to clarify, surpass and consummate a period of time by establishing a form of stability.
Rosalind's epilogue snatches back for a moment the abrasiveness of prose after the ceremoniousness of poetry, as a reminder of what has led up to the betrothals. She speaks now not as a representative of fortune, nor in the figure of Ganimede who had been liberated by disguise to speak about women from the outside. She speaks for the dramatist who has been playing games of invention upon us: 'My way is to conjure you'. As if to emphasise the mischievous element of feigning throughout the play, Rosalind suddenly speaks as a boy-actor: 'If I were a woman . . .' 'If is the language of hypothesis, summing up the conjectured likelihoods of the golden world which are pressed upon us by the conjuring of the dramatist.16
By making us now aware of the strategy he has been employing, Shakespeare takes us a step away from the magical delights of the marriage scene and from the jubilant pastime in the forest of Arden, and allows us to slip back into the world without close.
In Much Ado About Nothing
Love and Marriage in "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
This term paper deals with the play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare under the aspects of love including the topics of courtship and marriage.
To make it easier to understand what the paper is about and to give a short overview of the complicated relationships between the characters I will give a short plot summary at the beginning. After that I will show how love is presented in the play and what importance it has for the characters and their society. Then I would like to describe what marriage was really like in the Renaissance period and if love was really decisive for a relationship. In the end we will compare the description of love in Shakespeare’s play with the facts we know about engagements and the role of love and try to find out why Shakespeare might have presented love in the way he did.
The Literature I used for this paper does not only concentrate on the specific play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It also deals with other plays by William Shakespeare and with Romantic Comedy in general.
2. Plot Summary
The play takes place in Athens, where Theseus, Duke of Athens, and his fiancée Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons prepare the celebration of their wedding. During the preparations Egeus, a citizen of Athens, appears with his daughter Hermia and two men, Demetrius and Lysander. Hermia is in love with Lysander, but her father wants her to marry Demetrius. Theseus refers to an Athenian law whereby a daughter has to marry the suitor her father has chosen for her. If she refuses she has to face death or live the rest of her life in solitude as a nun. Hermia and Lysander now plan to escape from Athens by night. Hermia informs her best friend Helena, who has recently been rejected by Demetrius, so Helena decides to reveal the plan to Demetrius to win back his favour.
At the same time some mechanicals meet and arrange to prepare a play for the wedding. They decide to meet in the forest of Arden near Athens by night. In the evening, Oberon, king of the fairies, and Titania, queen of the fairies, arrive in the forest near Athens to attend the wedding of Hippolyta and Theseus. They have an argument because Titania refuses to give her Indian page-boy to Oberon. So Oberon decides to play a trick on Titania. He sends his mischievous assistant Puck out to find a magic flower, which makes the sleeping victim fall in love with the first living thing he sees when he awakes. While Puck is away Oberon sees Demetrius and Helena wandering through the forest. Demetrius is searching for Hermia and Lysander and Helena has followed him. Oberon sees how rejective Demetrius behaves towards Helena and when Puck comes back he orders him to use the flower on the young Athenian man as well. Puck first spreads some juice of the flower on the eyes of the sleeping fairy queen and then tries to find the Athenian man.
Meanwhile Lysander and Hermia, who wander trough the forest as well, decide to go to sleep. Hermia tells Lysander to lie not to close because she fears for her virginity. When they sleep, Puck appears thinking that Lysander is the man Oberon told him of. So he uses the flower on Lysander’s eyes.
Helena, who has lost Demetrius, comes by and awakes Lysander who then falls in love with her. Helena thinks that Lysander wants to mock her and leaves, Lysander follows her. Then Hermia awakes. She finds herself alone and tries to find Lysander.
Now the mechanicals meet in the forest to practice the play for the wedding. Without knowing they are very close to the fairy queens bed. Puck arrives and transforms one of the mechanicals, Bottom, so that he has the head of an ass. The other mechanicals get scared and run away. The fairy queen awakes and sees Bottom, who then she fells emediately in love with.
Puck comes back to Oberon to tell him that Titania now loves an ass’ head. While they talk Hermia and Demetrius pass by, who have met in the woods. Hermia accuses Demetrius of having killed Lysander. When Hermia leaves, Demetrius lies down to sleep. Puck and Oberon recognize their mistake and Puck uses the flower on Demetrius’ eyes. Lysander and Helena appear and Demetrius wakes up and fells in love with Helena. Now Helena is desired by both, Demetrius and Lysander, but she just feels mocked. When Hermia arrives, she does not believe what she sees. The four lovers now quarrel with each other all night and lose themselves in the dark.
Oberon and Puck now decide to put the lovers back in order. So they wait until all lovers fell asleep and then remove the magical enchantment from Lysander, so that he loves Hermia again, but they do not remove the enchantment from Demetrius.
After that Oberon releases the sleeping Titania and orders Puck to remove the ass’s head from Bottom and then the fairies dissapear.
The next morning the four lovers are caught by Theseus and Hippolyta. Since Demetrius does not love Hermia any more, Theseus over-rules the demands of Egeus and arranges a group wedding. The lovers decide that the events at night must have been a dream and so does Bottom, who awakes as well.
Back in Athens the wedding of the three couples takes place and the mechanicals perform their play, which is really bad but gives everyone pleasure regardless. Then everyone retires to bed and the fairies bless the house, the couples and their future children. Finally, Puck delivers an epilogue to the audience.
3. Love in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Love is a central topic in the play. H.B. Charlton even dicovers that “’What is love?’ or rather, ‘What is the place of love in life?’ is the question underlying A Midsummer Night’s Dream; ” (Charlton, 1979, p. 108) Nearly every protagonist is somehow in love but some of them are happily in love and some of them are not.
The best example for a very unhappy love is maybe Helena, who has been left from Demetrius, the love of her life, because he preferred the beauty of Helena’s best friend Hermia. Now Helena is really unhappy, desperate and also somehow jealous. What ever she does, Demetrius does not recognize her because he is fixed on Hermia’s beauty. And, much worse, he seems to love Hermia although she despises him all the time:
Helena: Call you me fair? that fair again unsay. Demetrius loves your fair: O happy fair!
Your eyes are lode-stars; and your tongue's sweet air More tuneable than lark to shepherd's ear,
When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear.
Sickness is catching: O, were favour so, Yours would I catch, fair Hermia, ere I go;
My ear should catch your voice, my eye your eye, My tongue should catch your tongue's sweet melody. Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated,
The rest I'd give to be to you translated.
O, teach me how you look, and with what art You sway the motion of Demetrius' heart.
Hermia: I frown upon him, yet he loves me still.
Helena: O that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill!
Hermia: I give him curses, yet he gives me love. Helena: O that my prayers could such affection move! Hermia: The more I hate, the more he follows me.
Helena: The more I love, the more he hateth me.
Hermia: His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.
Helena: None, but your beauty: would that fault were mine!
Here one can really see how desperate Helena is and that she is jealous of Hermia and desires to be as beautiful as Hermia is. But Hermia also reminds Helena, that it is not her fault that Demetrius loves her instead of Helena.
Later in the play Helena nearly makes a fool of herself when she follows Demetrius although he does not love her. After she has told him about Lysander and Hermia’s plan to escape from Athens he sets out to find the two, but that was not what Helena had intended. She wanted him to be thankful and love her again. So she follows him into the forest which annoys Demetrius. So he says: “Hence, get thee gone, and follow me no more.” (II,1,194) But Helena keeps following him and explains to Demetrius what she wants from him:
Helena: And even for that do I love you the more.
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me, Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave, Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love,-- And yet a place of high respect with me,-- Than to be used as you use your dog?
Here we see what H.B.Charlton means when he says: “All she asks is to be allowed to fawn and follow her lover as a spaniel.” (Charlton 1979, p.115) Helena would nearly do everything just to be with her lover Demetrius, even make such a fool of herself and call herself a dog. It is also obvious that
Helena could not bare being without her love Demetrius. Leggatt says, that “in love, the pure sight of the beloved acquires an importance that by any normal standards would be absurd.” (Leggatt, 1973, p.94) That might be another reason why the reader might find it difficult to re-enact Helena’s reasons for being so desperately in love with Demetrius as well as for following him and offering to him to be his dog.
Hermia is much more happier with her love although her relationship with Lysander is dissaproved of her father. Egeus wants his daughter to be married to Demetrius and for this reason he asks Duke Theseus for help. So Hermia gets in conflict with the law of Athens which provides that she has to marry the man her father has chosen for her or die or live as a nun. Egeus informs the Duke of the measures Lysander takes to win Hermia’s love and this is an accusation against Lysander as well. But his lecture in this case is: “presents love from an outsider’s point of view, as trivial, deceitful and disruptive of good order” (Leggatt, 1973, p.92) This can be shown distinctly in the following passage:
Egeus: Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes, And interchanged love-tokens with my child:
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung, With feigning voice verses of feigning love, And stolen the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits, Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth:
With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's heart, Turn'd her obedience, which is due to me, To stubborn harshness
Of course Hermia is desperate in this situation but first she tries to explain her feelings to her father and the Duke and she defends Lysander. When the Duke says that “Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.” (I,1,52) she answers “So is Lysander” (I,1,53) to defend the lover she wants. Further more she defends her love to Lysander by saying: “I would my father look’d but with my eyes.” (I,1,57) She is aware of the fact that her father is not able to understand her feelings since he is not in love with Lysander. It is clear that Egeus can not understand his daughter’s choice, because lovers usually “are in a power that renders choice and will meaningless.” (Leggatt, 1973, p.94) After Hermia has heard what will happen to her if she refuses to wed Demetrius, Lysander speaks to Demetrius: “You have her father's love, Demetrius; Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him.”(I,1,93/94) In this Situation Lysander tries to explain to the Duke that he honestly loves Hermia while Demetrius does not. So he should have the right to wed Hermia: “I am, my lord, as well derived as he, As well possess'd; my love is more than his;” (I,1,99/100) But as the Duke does not help them, the couple finds a way out of this misery themselves.
They plan to flee into the woods by night. Here one can see that Lysander and Hermia are really sure of their love, so sure that they would leave their city, their families and even their old lifes behind just to be together. When the two lovers arrange their meeting in the forest at night Hermia falls into a rather playful, swiftly and easily speech:
Hermia: My good Lysander!
I swear to thee, by Cupid's strongest bow, By his best arrow with the golden head, By the simplicity of Venus' doves,
By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves, And by that fire which burn'd the Carthage queen, When the false Troyan under sail was seen,
By all the vows that ever men have broke, In number more than ever women spoke, In that same place thou hast appointed me, To-morrow truly will I meet with thee.
Alexander Leggatt comments on this: “She can afford to toy with her love because she is so sure of it.” and further more calls this “joking of love” (Leggatt, 1973, p.95)
She is even so sure that she risks to sleep near Lysander alone in the forest, although she is aware of the fact that her state of virginity is in danger. So she orders Lysander to sleep near her, so that she might be protected, but not too close: “lie further off yet; do not lie so near.” (II,2,52) At first Lysander is irritated by that but then Hermia explains to him why they need this seperation:
Hermia: Now much beshrew my manners and my pride, If Hermia meant to say Lysander lied.
But, gentle friend, for love and courtesy
4. Love in the Renaissance period
It would be wrong to say that in Renaissance time everyone got married without the influence of love. In addition to that, not every marriage was arranged and the parents did not always chose the partner for their child.
“In Shakespeare’s England, society had a firm structure, and it enforced rules of conduct; as a result, inclusion and exclusion were decisive events.” (Levin, 1985, p.27) In this structure of the Renaissance society every member had to find it’s place. A woman, for example, had to achieve the goal to get married, because, “those who do not marry are left like wallflowers at a dance, to be stared at by others.” (Levin, 1985, p.26) And that was of course not what the woman of the Renaissance wanted.
Moreover, a marriage as well made it possible to have sex legally. Catherine Bates explains: “With marriage, the couple are finally ushered through the door of regulated sexuality ” (Bates, 2002, p.105) Of corse, sexuality before being married was not allowed. But there has been the so called courtship, which “was in Shakespeare’s day an area of particularly intense ambiguity” (Bates, 2002, p.106) There were two understandings of the word ‘courtship’. The first one meant “the period of wooing and winning” (Bates, 2002, p.106) before getting married, but it could also be understood as “that critical period between a betrothal and its formal solemnization in marriage.” (Bates, 2002, p.106) So courtship was rather ambiguous theme.
The family was often involved in the choice of the partner, but there was no law which said that the parents had to choose the fiancé. In contrast to that, Margaret L. King found out that: “In reality, even with the advance of the notion of consent, many young women (and men) were compelled against their will or preference to marry persons chosen for them by their families.” (King, 1991, p.34)
B.J. and Mary Sokol describe the influence of the family on a marriage a little different but also similar. They say, that the involvement of the family in arranging a marriage was generally considerable, but it varied. How far the parents were involved in the choice of the bride or groom depended on for example the social status, the traditions in the area, as well on the age of the
children. They say that sometimes the family could chose the partner to finance the new household. But there were also situations in which the new couple only needed a blessing of the family. Furthermore, it was expected that aristosratic children would submit to the marriages their parents arranged for them, happy to comply with their parents wishes. Some marriages were arranged when the children were still very young, but this kind of marriage was also socially accepted in Renaissance time. (see Sokol, 2003, p.30) Levin says that “such marriages were heavily influenced by considerations of fortune – by the desire, that is, to effect ‘the economic or social or political consolidation or aggrandizement of the family.’” Here he quotes Lawrence Stone. (Levin, 1985, p.24)
These facts show that a marriage in Renaissance time was also an event which was very important for the whole family and not only for the couple that married. The whole future of the family could rely on that marriage. For that reason “even among poorer families, family design and economic structures dictated marriage partners. Those with a only a small patch of land made the best arrangements they could for their children.” (King, 1991, p.35)
The consequence of this marriage behaviour was, that most couples did not marry for love, but for social reasons. Levin quotes in this case the player King, which maintains that “fortune dominates all relationships, between husband and wife ” (Levin, 1985, p.23)
The role of the wife in a marriage gets very clear in the text by Margaret L. King. She describes the function as following: “The wife who had married, willing or unwilling, had to develop a relationship with her husband negotiated between contradictory injunctions. On the one hand, she was expected to be a companion to her husband, but on the other, she was his subordinate and the object of restrictive regulations imposed by him and other male authorities.” (King, 1991, p.35) In the following paragraph she says that “Marriage was to be a state of ‘unanimity’” (King, 1991, p.35), which might have meant in most cases, that the wife had to do what her husband told her. She also states that “A couple might love, but the husband was in charge.” (King, 1991, p.38) This shows that the role of love in a marriage was rather small. But King can explain what love meant to be in a marriage: “conjugal love is ‘a pattern of perfect friendship’” (King, 1991, p.35)
explain this we can focus on another statement of Levin. He says that “a substantial conflict no doubt existed between life and romatic literature, which, true to medieval courtly traditions, idealized love over all mundane interests.” Levin, 1985, p.24) This corresponds to the statement of Margaret
L. King. She explains that literature in the Elizabethan age should present the “imagery of happy conjugal union” (King, 1991, p.38) which is to say marriage. Further more she says that “the ideal of mutual love and support enjoined by the writers of books could be found to flourish in real marriages.” (King, 1991, p.37) So the books and within that also the plays had an exemplary function.
Charlton has a similar opinion. He says about the Elizabethans that to them “to live was to love, and to love was to love romatically. That was for them a fact of existence.” (Charlton, 1979, p.108) About the Shakespearean theatre and the romatic age he writes that to the Elizabethans “a lover and his lass or a lord and his lady were the most engrossing of God’s creatures.” (Charlton, 1979, p.20)
Finally we can say, that the real love life in the Renaissance and the love that is presented in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are a great contrast. On the one hand we have the arranged marriages and the engagements because of social reasons, in which the love has to grow after the marriage. On the other hand we have those couples in the Shakespearean comedies that are deeply in love with each other, can not stand a day without seeing each other and are willing to give up everything just to be together with the one beloved. So we can take the Shakespearean comedies as a kind of good example and something the Renaissance couples should orientate on. The romaticism shown in the play is something that many couples married in the Renaissance time will never have known, so they might only have dreamt of.
So I can end up this paper with the words of H.B. Charlton: “What is a fantasia like ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ but the very ecstasy of romaticism?” (Charlton, 1979, p.19)