Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare
Critics have long recognized the centrality of family relationships in Shakespeare's drama, but the shifting affections of fathers and daughters has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention only in recent decades. The focus of the critical literature has primarily centered on a few early romantic comedies, the late romances, and King Lear, in which daughters struggle to negotiate a passage into adulthood and marriage with their fathers' blessing, while the fathers struggle to relinquish these young women to other men—their future husbands.
Much of the reversal in critical sympathies may be attributable to the influence of feminist criticism. The earlier appraisals, dating to the 1970s and early 1980s, are typically more sympathetic to the fathers, finding the struggles between them and their daughters to be among the expected hurdles of normal family life, even if the particular plots in which they appear are atypical for Shakespeare, The later readings, however, are more likely to find a tyrannical possessiveness in excess of normal parental affection in the father's behavior—or, as the case may be, a capriciousness, coldness, or disloyalty unwarranted by the daughter's exemplary conduct. While some critics discern an incestuous desire for the daughter in the father's motivation, others see the father's possessiveness as a love corrupted by the power a patriarchal society confers on him. In these cases, the daughter takes on the aspect of a heroine, becoming the focal point of the play she inhabits.
As Shakespearean fathers came under less indulgent scrutiny, other father-daughter relationships began to attract more attention. In the most recent scholarly literature, Juliet and old Capulet, Ophelia and Polonius, and Desdemona and Brabantio move to the whims of patriarchy, willingly or not. To the extent that these daughters are helpless to change the terms of their fate, their tragedies have come to be presented as indictments of sexist oppression. The question that lies just under the surface of such analyses, then, concerns a post-modernist critical evaluation of Shakespeare, as some feminist scholars claim him to be a proto-feminist, while others assert that he remains within a tradition of patriarchy.
Mark Taylor (essay date 1982)
SOURCE: "The Lords of Duty," in Shakespeare's Darker Purpose: A Question of Incest, AMS Press, Inc., 1982, pp. 84-119.
[In the following excerpt, Taylor focuses on the irregular control that fathers exert on their daughters in many of Shakespeare's works.]
The plot of As You Like It could be described as the simultaneous movements of two daughters—one, Rosalind, toward her father, and the other, Celia, away from hers. At the beginning Rosalind and Duke Senior are apart from each other. His brother has usurped his power and banished him from the court; she has remained behind as a companion to Celia. It is an unfortunate situation, not of their own contrivance, but it raises certain questions. When we first meet the two girls Celia is trying to cheer her friend up, asking her to "be merry," Rosalind answers,
Dear Celia, I show more mirth than I am mistress of, and would you yet I were merrier? Unless you could teach me to forget a banished father, you must not learn me how to remember any extraordinary pleasure.
It is an understandable sadness, but why, then, did Rosalind remain behind and not accompany her father in the first place? Furthermore, she does in fact cheer up almost immediately—she starts quizzing Celia about falling in love—and when Duke Frederick banishes her as a bad influence on his daughter, it is not she but Celia who proposes they "seek my uncle in the Forest of Arden" (1.3.103)—oddly, if one considers how dependent on Rosalind Celia will become. The closer physical proximity a father and daughter enjoy, in the play, the greater is her sense of independence and initiative. Additionally, Celia provides a somewhat pathetic context for underscoring the investment fathers and daughters have in each other when she tells Rosalind, "You know my father hath no child but I, nor none is like to have . . ." (1.2.15-16).
For his part, Duke Senior has no child but Rosalind, nor none is like to have, and yet his separation from her appears to bother him not at all. In the Forest of Arden he asks Amiens and his other companions,
Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp?
and continues to compare their new life favorably with that lived in the court. The virtue of this life, as he says, is the absence of flatterers and false counsellors, but its distinct limitation, although he does not say so, is the absence of women, which means its inability to perpetuate itself. It is of course true that despite frequent defenses of the rural life or the life of solitude, Shakespeare's characters, like Socrates, opt finally to live in the company of other men in the city or the court.4 In 2 Henry VI Alexander Iden asks,
Lord, who would live turmoilèd in the court
And may enjoy such quiet walks as these?
This small inheritance my father left me
Contenteth me, and worth a monarchy.
But after he kills Jack Cade and the King prefers him in his service, Iden says,
May Iden live to merit such a bounty,
And never live but true unto his liege,
evidently quite content with his prospects at court. Duke Senior, too, is perfectly happy to have his authority restored at the end of As You Like It, and so we may say about his earlier praise of the solitary life that he is merely putting a good face on an unfortunate but temporary predicament. It is nevertheless strange that he should miss his daughter even less than she misses him or that he should not feel he is deserting her when she, on the verge of her maturity, might need him most.
Away from him, in any event, it falls to Rosalind not only to choose Orlando for herself but also to test his merit and honor by having him address to Ganymede the sentiments appropriate to Rosalind. When this has been done, and when the other complications that arose from Rosalind's disguise have been untangled, she can present herself equally to father and husband-to-be, saying identical words first to one, then to the other:
To you I give myself for I am yours.
In coordinate sentences she stresses the equality of her roles as daughter and wife by telling Duke Senior,
I'll have no father, if you be not he,
and then telling Orlando,
I'll have no husband, if you be not he.
It is quite unthinkable that the Duke should object to the way Rosalind thus limits his ownership of her, but it is noteworthy that in distinctly dividing her roles this way, Rosalind is successful exactly where both Cordelia and Desdemona fail. Cordelia says to her father,
Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight
Half my love with him, half my care and
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.
(King Lear, 1.1.100-04)
And when Brabantio demands that Desdemona say "Where most you owe obedience," she answers,
My noble father,
I do perceive here a divided duty.
To you I am bound for life and education;
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you: you are the lord of duty;
I am hitherto your daughter. But here's my
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.
Of course, the circumstances surrounding the three marriages differ enormously. Whereas Lear seeks, in the protestations of absolute love that Cordelia cannot give, an affirmation of the powers that he is obviously yielding to age, and Brabantio sees in Desdemona's elopement with Othello an act of something like cultural and racial treason, Duke Senior does not appear to freight his daughter with any particular emblematic value. Although they are being asked only to share their daughters, in other words, the first two fathers find in this sharing the distinct loss of something else—either personal strength or the cultural inviolability of Venice; by contrast, Duke Senior is regaining his duchy and symbolically his power at the moment he is losing exclusive title to Rosalind. That, naturally, makes her changed status much easier for him to accept. It is significant, none the less, that it no more occurs to Rosalind to seek her father's blessing than it does to Duke Senior to admonish her for proceeding so independently.
Contrasted with Rosalind, who moves toward her father in the play, Celia, in accompanying her friend into the forest, is abandoning her father. His irrational outburst toward Rosalind costs him a daughter, as does Leontes' toward Hermione (even the names Aliena and Perdita, the estranged and the lost, are not altogether dissimilar), but unlike that finally lucky father, there is no reason to suppose that Duke Frederick ever sees his daughter again. Insofar as Duke Frederick has a reason for his sudden hatred of Rosalind, it is that she draws attention away from Celia. He tells Celia,
She robs thee of thy name,
And thou wilt show more bright and seem
When she is gone.
Whether or not this contrast has been perceived by others at the court is uncertain, but it is interesting that Duke Frederick is concerned with the appearance of virtue in his daughter, not with virtue itself. In any event, he surely tries too hard to make his daughter shine. Doing so, he anticipates a later Shakespearean mother, Dionyza in Pericles, who instructs Leonine to murder Marina so that Philotea will be more honored than she is. When Cleon learns of this piece of treachery, he is outraged and denounces Dionyza as a harpy (4.3.46-48), but in one of the peculiar inconsistencies of that play, he will be both blamed and punished as if the plot has been his own. Just before their mutual recognition, Marina tells Pericles that her father had left her in Tharsus
Till, cruel Cleon, with his wicked wife,
Did seek to murder me,
and in the epilogue Gower describes how the good citizens of Tharsus had risen up against both king and queen and burned them to death in their palace:
The gods for murder seemed so content
To punish—although not done, but meant.
Cleon is punished for Duke Frederick's sin, and more severely than Frederick himself. It would be special pleading to suggest, in this regard, that the two plays are drawn together by any common moral, but it may be observed that one extreme method fathers have of celebrating their daughters—by eliminating the competition—leads to the loss of the daughter or of the father's life.
At the end of As You Like It, according to Jaques de Boys (the brother of Orlando and Oliver), when Frederick was intending to kill Duke Senior,
.. . to the skirts of this wild wood he came, Where, meeting with an old religious man, After some question with him was converted Both from his enterprise and from the world. . . .
It is a very convenient conversion, for it enables Shakespeare to end his play by restoring Duke Senior's lands to him without subjecting Frederick to any corresponding disappointment over the loss of these same lands. In Frederick's renunciation of "the world" there is an implicit surrender of the sort of control over, even interest in, Celia that he had demonstrated earlier in trying to choose her companions for her. So he is not asked to approve her marriage to Oliver, nor does he seem to be aware of it. At the same time, it is appropriate that Celia should pass from Frederick to Oliver, from one jealous usurper of a brother's prerogatives to another, from one convert to goodness to another; it is a way of finding in her husband an image of her father.
In several plays the commands of a father, at least as his daughter perceives them, are obeyed even though he is no longer alive to enforce them. Of minimal importance in Julius Caesar, this circumstance figures significantly in Love's Labor's Lost, Measure for Measure, and The Merchant of Venice. Until its end Love's Labor's Lost seems to be, like Twelfth Night, a play concerned with a single generation of independent young adults. It is true that the Princess of France and her ladies have come to the court of Navarre in the first place because of her father's debts to Ferdinand; but it does not appear, till the final scene, that that fact or that character has any particular pertinence other than to bring the courtiers and the ladies together. Then Marcade arrives with news of the King of France's death, and in a happy, sometimes farcical drama, "The scene begins to cloud," as Berowne says (5.2.712). The Princess and her entourage immediately prepare to depart for Paris, and Berowne and his friends, interrupted on the verge of matrimony, are left with the charge of doing good works and remaining "Remote from all the pleasures of the world" (786) so that their love may yet be requited, a year hence. Resisting the urgency felt by the Princess, the King says to her,
Now, at the latest minute of this hour,
Grant us your loves,
and she replies,
A time, methinks, too short
To make a world-without-end bargain in.
Of course, there is no world-without-end, but throughout the play its characters, especially the four young men, have acted as if there is—as if their actions are not to be contained within, and measured by, the finitude of their lives. Thus, the two main occupations in which they are engaged—the pursuit of wisdom and then the pursuit of love—are presented in perverted forms: wisdom as the most sterile trappings of scholarship and a withdrawal from life, and love as an imitation of traditional lovers' postures and a parroting of conventionally appropriate verses. The former is shown to be essentially ludicrous by its caricatured practitioners Nathaniel and Holofernes; and the latter is shown to be woefully artificial by contrast with Costard's naturally lusty chasing of Jaquenetta. Both wisdom and romance, when divorced, as it were, from the facts of life, become kinds of folly, the opposites of their true selves. Early on, the King asks,
What is the end of study, let me know?
and when Berowne can finally provide an answer to that question,
Learning is but an adjunct to ourself,
we should understand that his answer assumes some knowledge of the nature of "ourself—that it is, among other things, a mortal organism—that they all had lacked before. We may note, equally, the contrast between the three-year period of voluntary withdrawal from the affairs of the world in act 1 and the one-year period imposed upon the men in act 5. Longaville speaks for the four (although Berowne partially demurs) when he says,
I am resolved. 'Tis but a three years' fast.
And it is this same courtier who says, when his Maria puts him off for a year,
I'll stay with patience, but the time is long.
To someone who refuses to confront the meaning of time, three years are the briefest instant; but to someone unable to ignore it, one year is long indeed.
Much credit for this transformation in attitudes must go to the King of France. Significantly, the princess's response to her father's death is directed not by any explicit statement of his will but by her sense that the pattern of artifice in which she, too, had participated, as if in a permanent design, has been shattered. She tells the men,
We have received your letters, full of love;
Your favors, the ambassadors of love;
And in our maiden council rated them
At courtship, pleasant jest, and courtesy,
As bombast and as living to the time.
But more devout than this in our respects
Have we not been, and therefore met your
In their own fashion, like a merriment.
In a moment she has stopped being a clever little girl and become a woman, aware of the painful burdens of life and aware, also, how these burdens make life worthwhile and change love from artifice into an expression of natural feelings. In this moment, indeed, all the characters come to man's estate. One would be hard put to find a Shakespearean father who bequeaths his daughter a more precious legacy than the King of France, who, like the man who shares his title in King Lear, is an indicator of the presence of real value. Contrary to the practice or the intention of some fathers, he personally confers, through his death, adulthood upon the Princess.
We have already discussed the problematic Isabella in the context of her imagined obligations to a dead father. The salient features of her personality—her general inflexibility, her desire for the most rigorous novitiate, her horror before the uses of the flesh—appear to be less a conscious response to her father's will, real or imagined, than a compensation for his loss when they were closest and she needed him most. Thus she asks the Church to be a substitute for his authority, and thus she finds the advances of Angelo particularly repugnant because her celibacy is a form of sexual fidelity to her father. This dilemma, this fixation on a lost past, is resolved by her finding in Duke Vincentio, a man we may estimate of her father's age, a fusion of supreme temporal authority in his capacity as Duke with spiritual authority in his guise as friar. He is all that she has lost in a father, and yet he is not her father, so union with him, coveted in the earlier instance, is not forbidden.
Additional light may be cast upon the problem of Isabella by a story well known to Shakespeare: the tale of the Cyprian king Cinyras who fathered on his daughter Myrrha the child Adonis (Metamorphoses, X). According to Ovid, it is the nubile Myrrha who conceives "unlawful love" for her father, not the other way round. This she is able to consummate, after a brief struggle with her conscience, during her mother's three-day absence at the "secret rites" of Ceres, and with the aid of her nurse who, "fynding Cinyras/Well washt with wyne" (501-02), tells him of "a pretye lasse/In love with him" (502-03), and then dispatches Myrrha to Cinyras's dark chamber. She goes to her father several successive nights, and they enjoy each other, her identity unknown to him. Finally, in the language of Arthur Golding's translation,5
Cinyras desyrous for to knowe
His lover that so many nyghts uppon him did
Did fetch a light: by which he sawe his owne
most heynous cryme,
And eeke his daughter.
Cinyras kills himself, and Myrrha flees to Arabia where, after being delivered of Adonis, she is changed into a myrrh tree. (Literature was not done with the poor girl, however: Dante placed "l'anima antica di Mirra scellerata" [XXX, 37-38] deep in his Inferno.)
Several features of Ovid's story are generally pertinent to this discussion. There is, for one thing, Myrrha's consciousness of the dilemma Cinyras's being her father forces upon her:
were not Cinyras my father than, Iwis
I myght obtaine to lye with him. But now
because he is
Myne owne, he cannot bee myne owne.
This is similar to the predicament, much exacerbated by the father's death, that hardens Isabella in her enthusiasm for the celibate life, and is resolved for her by the substitution of Duke for father. Second, the riddle that Antiochus presents to Pericles (Pericles, 1.1.65-72) and Pericles' words upon recognizing Marina, "O, come hither, / Thou that beget'st him that did thee beget" (5.1.196-97), passages oddly similar to each other, as we have noted, are strangely echoed in these words that the initially tormented Myrrha speaks to herself:
Wilt thou thy fathers leman bee? wilt thou be Mbr/> both the moother
And suster of thy chyld? shall he bee both thy
sonne and brother?
The unnaturalness of incest in both stories is underlined by the characters' sense that it multiplies the single way one person should be, and normally is, related to another, as Hamlet, hating the "incestuous" union that has made him son to his uncle, can say, "A little more than kin, and less than kind!"
Most important, finally, is the evidence in the Metamorphoses that the story Ovid recounts is a clear displacement onto Myrrha of the motives and desires of Cinyras himself. It is the daughter who is said to desire her father and by deceit to seduce him; making the father an unwitting victim is the easiest way to justify his taking what he wants when the proscriptions against what he wants are so strong. Consequently, as a way of neutralizing our objections to what Cinyras does, and his own as well, Ovid has him drunk, as if that condition removes him from judgment; it is a device we saw earlier, probably used to the same purpose, in the story of the seduction of Lot by his daughters in Genesis 19. A man escapes blame for cohabiting with his daughters by the simple expedient of drunkenness. Ovid, however, is more explicit than this about Cinyras' motives. After the nurse describes the beauty of the unnamed Myrrha to Cinyras, he asks her age and is told, "shee was about / The age of Myrrha. Well (quoth he) then bring her to my bed" (504-05). This shared identity with his daughter is all it takes to fire his lust. Then, when the two are in bed together, Ovid writes, moralizingly,
And lest this cryme of theyres
Myght want the ryghtfull termes, by chaunce
as in respect of yeeres
He daughter did her call, and shee him father.
Cinyras goes to bed with his daughter, who pretends to be another girl so that he can pretend that other girl is his daughter. What he gets is what he wants, however much he, and the original motives attributed by the story teller, may have succeeded in disguising that fact from him; but that this success is no more than partial is shown by his suicide. Somehow knowing that what he had done is no less than what he wanted to do, he destroys himself.
The story seems to reveal Ovid working at cross-purposes with himself. It appears as if he wished to tell a story in which a man would not be culpable for incest with his daughter and thus sets the action up entirely as the daughter's practice (and as the vengeance of Venus, who cursed Myrrha because of her mother's boast that the daughter was more beautiful than the goddess); and then, in the act of telling the story, he confronts and corrects what was fundamentally dishonest in it. This correction reveals his knowledge that whatever else an act of father-daughter incest might be, it is not something truly alien to the imagination of the father. In effect, Ovid admits that the urges he had given first to Myrrha were a displacement of those of Cinyras. Correspondingly, though we know nothing about the father of Isabella other than her need for him, it is tempting to understand her whole psychic mechanism on the analogy of the motives of other Shakespearean fathers, Lear and Leontes, for instance, displaced onto their daughters.
There is nothing similarly ambiguous about the instructions left to Portia in her dead father's will in The Merchant of Venice, the counsel that she allow "the lott'ry that he hath devised in these three chests of gold, silver, and lead" (1.2.27-29) to determine her husband. This means that her father insists from beyond the grave that he play a part in selecting her mate. It is a tedious enterprise with which she grows easily impatient. She tells Nerissa,
I may neither choose who I would nor refuse who I dislike, so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father. Is it not hard, Nerissa, that I cannot choose one, nor refuse none?
Nerissa defends the soundness of the father's device:
Your father was ever virtuous, and holy men at their death have good inspirations.
Though fidelity to her father's wishes is, as Portia says, hard, her reward—the perfect reward, in an ideal world, for an obedient daughter—is marriage to the man she had wanted all along. Doing what her father bids, Portia gets what she wants. So perfect a paradigm emerges from this situation for the harmony that results from the congruence of a father's wishes and a daughter's actions that it would be churlish to wonder whether the father's "good inspirations" are at all belied by certain unfortunate characteristics in the man she actually gets. It is significant, when Bassanio describes Portia to Antonio—
In Belmont is a lady richly left;
And she is fair, and fairer than that word,
Of wondrous virtues.
—that he mentions her wealth first, and it is equally significant that he has no compunction about letting Antonio risk death to help him out.
On the other hand, it is perhaps necessary to assert that Portia is indeed faithful to the spirit, and not the letter only, of her father's will. She employs the scheme of the three caskets to the end without any act of subversion. For over a century certain critics have maintained that Portia tips off Bassanio with the words rhyming with lead in the first lines of the song she chooses while he makes up his mind.:
Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourishèd?
John Russell Brown's commentary in the New Arden edition argues persuasively against this possibility. He points out that Portia has specifically said she will give no clues; that she believes in the efficacy of the lottery; that the themes of the play would be considerably cheapened thereby; and that in other plays "where a character sings a secret that he is forbidden to speak the hint is very much broader than here."6 To this I would add that Bassanio is engaged in a very serious and demanding task—choosing between a wealthy wife and perpetual bachelorhood—and since he has not been directed to listen attentively to Portia's Song, which exists as stage business for the audience's benefit while Bassanio takes the time to ponder, it is unlikely that he would allow it to interfere with his concentration.
As Portia's fidelity to the conditions of her dead father's will emphasizes the happiness that will sometimes be the result of the conjunction of a father's and a daughter's wishes, so does Jessica's disobedience provide an opposite model, showing how a daughter's happiness, as she defines it, depends upon, or can emerge from, a disjunction of values. It is not only in the relationship of Portia to her father, however, but also in that of Desdemona to Brabantio in Shakespeare's other Venetian play that we find a proper context for considering Jessica and Shylock. It is unthinkable to Brabantio that Othello can have won Desdemona without casting some spell upon her, that of her own volition she can have chosen him; but if his daughter's point of view eludes him, there is no reason to suppose that Othello's does. Brabantio could understand perfectly why Othello should wish to marry Desdemona and into the world of money and privilege that, he wrongly assumes, goes with her. His repeated references to Othello as a thief or a "foul thief (1.2.62) make it clear that, although he abhors what Othello has done, he is not puzzled by it; it is not, in the nature of things, mysterious that a thief should take what he does not have, particularly when the acquired object is better than what he does have. That someone should aspire to more than he has is no more surprising than the belief, in the minds of those who possess wealth, in the need for vigilance to thwart the aspirations of the dispossessed. Additionally, Othello's pretensions, as Brabantio (correctly) perceives them, are not to the hand of a beautiful girl alone but also to the superior culture that she represents. He is trying to rise from a servant to a citizen of Venice, and since Venice and all things Venetian are eminently desirable (again, from Brabantio's perspective, which Othello shares) that, too, is no more surprising than that the Turks should covet Cyprus. Indeed, after the Duke tries to console Brabantio, saying,
The robbed that smiles steals something from
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief,
Brabantio with bitter irony replies,
So let the Turk of Cyprus us beguile:
We lose it not so long as we can smile.
Both Othello and the Turks are trying to usurp the very identity of Venice.
Various Shakespearean fathers object to suitors for their daughter's hands because of the inferior social or economic position of the suitors (Cymbeline, Page in The Merry Wives, the Duke of Milan in The Two Gentlemen, and others), but only in Othello and The Merchant of Venice is the alliance transcultural and transracial as well, between white and black or between gentile and Jew. If we could ask the majority of the characters in each play how successful the marriages are for the girls, they would surely hold that though Desdemona lowered herself by marrying beneath the station to which she was born, Jessica raised herself by marrying into a higher station. On pragmatic grounds, the first marriage seems a failure, the second a success, since in both cases it is the woman who joins the man, and not he her. There is, of course, no reason that Shylock, who is as proud of his racial heritage, and as bent on maintaining its purity, as the Christians are of their own, should share this view; but Jessica unquestionably earns perquisites, like entrance into the world of Belmont, that she had lacked. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say, not that she earns these perquisites, but that she purchases them with money stolen from her father.
Like Antonio and Portia when first we meet them, Jessica announces her unhappiness with her lot; but whereas the first two are made unhappy by something that has just happened, Bassanio's falling in love, or by a temporary situation, the need to wait and to see who chooses the lead casket, Jessica's unhappiness is evidently a long-term condition. She tells Launcelot,
I am sorry thou wilt leave my father so;
Our house is hell, and thou a merry devil
Didst rob it of some taste of tediousness.
There is no reason for us to doubt the legitimacy of Jessica's indictment, and Launcelot, who sees service in a Christian household as preferable to service in Shylock's, offers a kind of confirmation of Jessica's view. On the other hand, it is natural to wish for more objective evidence of conditions—hellish? tedious?—in Shylock's home than the play offers. Unless we can accept Jessica's situation as truly intolerable, and perhaps even if we do, we must regard her leaving with his gold as a terrible betrayal for any daughter. Here, as so often in the play, we must make up our minds, for less than conclusive reasons exist about the sort of man Shylock is, and then let that judgment determine subsequent judgments about everything that happens to him. It is much easier to do this in the theater, where the director will foist his decisions on us, than in the study, where almost any unambiguous view is likely to seem extreme. As a partial justification for leaving Shylock, Launcelot tells old Gobbo,
I am famished in his service; you may tell
every finger I have with my ribs.
That sounds bad indeed, but Gobbo, who is "more than sand-blind, high-gravel-blind" (32-33) and cannot even recognize his son, is unable to substantiate the report. By contrast, Shylock tells Launcelot that, when he goes over to Bassanio,
Thou shalt not gormandize
As thou hast done with me.
It is tempting to laugh at this hypocrisy, but we cannot be sure it is hypocrisy; it may be, rather, that Launcelot, like Jessica, simply seeks social preferment for its own sake, not because the circumstances of his life are really very bad. Again, there is Solanio's report of Shylock's outcry in the streets:
"My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!
Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!
Justice! the law! my ducats and my daughter!
A sealèd bag, two sealèd bags of ducats,
Of double ducats, stol'n from me by my
And jewels—two stones, two rich and
Stol'n by my daughter!"
which, if accurate (as it need not be), is not necessarily prejudicial to our sympathy for Shylock. Probably everyone laughs at these words and their implied equivalence of the two losses, a daughter and gold, but if the first loss should be regarded as infinitely more severe than the second, the two together still add up to everything the man owns. Furthermore, even if Solanio is providing a verbatim transcript of Shylock's words, it is unlikely that he is trying to duplicate Shylock's tone.
(Irrespective of Solanio's accuracy, however, one thing about this speech is highly significant: the pun on testicles implicit in "two sealèd bags" and "two stones, two rich and precious stones." Since these bags; or stones, were stolen by Jessica, as Shylock says, it follows by corollary that he has been disembowelled, castrated, unmanned by the departure of his daughter. The point is not that this wound is present in Shylock's mind, though it may well be, but that in his words, or those of Solanio, as in those of Antigonus, there lies the association of a daughter's coming to maturity and a father's loss of sexual potency.7)
Having lost his daughter, Shylock calls on the state for restitution. Solanio says,
The villain Jew with outcries raised the Duke,
With him went to search Bassanio's ship.
Like Brabantio, Shylock believes that the power of the state will preserve a father's control over his daughter. The social insider and the social outsider are for a moment one in their appeals to external authority for buttressing of their personal authority when it is challenged within their families. The state's response to each man is ultimately the same. Though we may feel more sympathy for Desdemona than for Jessica, and though we cannot attribute the same or even similar motives to the Duke in Othello and the Duke in The Merchant of Venice, we may recognize that it is the proper business of both to allow girls to grow up, whether their fathers will or no.
Like Jessica, Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream marries the man she desires at the cost of permanent estrangement from her father; and her father, Egeus, like Shylock, is punished for his obstinacy by exclusion from the fifth act of the play. A Midsummer Night's Dream begins, like Othello and King Lear, with the spectacle of an old man, Egeus, enraged at the prospect of his daughter's marriage. But whereas Brabantio's anger follows from Desdemona's genuine violation of social convention, as both he and the other senators understand it, and Lear's follows from Cordelia's refusal to play the brief part he has authored for her in his harmless little love game—in terms of superficial appearances, that is, both Brabantio and Lear have a certain reasonable entitlement to their dismay—Egeus appears to lack any comprehensible basis for his quarrel with Hermia except that she is his daughter and should therefore do what he says. She wants to marry Lysander, and he would have her marry Demetrius. He blames Lysander for having
Turned her obedience (which is due to me)
To stubborn harshness,
and he seeks to exert his authority against that independence of will, as if it is the only way he has of demonstrating that he occupies a needed place in the world. His is the conventional anger of the senex iratus, which amuses us in spite of our recognition that it has a real power to do damage and cause everlasting unhappiness. Although Egeus pretends to be crossed by Hermia, it is perhaps our impression that it is she who has been crossed, quite arbitrarily, by him. If she had fallen in love with Demetrius, then his choice for her might well have been Lysander. In any event, it is hard for him to believe that his daughter legitimately possesses a mind of her own. Like Brabantio, he denies that all is fair in love, and accuses Lysander of foul play. He tells the Duke that "This man hath bewitched the bosom of my child" (27). It is odd how these fathers denounce the natural instincts of their daughters as the supernatural powers of their daughters' lovers.
Egeus' anger and determination to keep Hermia faithful to him, though authentic emotions within himself, are hard for any reader or audience to take too seriously. One reason, as I have suggested above, is that the force of his imperative—marry Lysander or die—is immediately lessened when Theseus widens the possible consequences of disobedience:
Either to die the death, or to abjure
For ever the society of men.
The curse of celibacy can always be reversed by the simple expedient of having Egeus change his mind, whenever. That is all to the good, but I think that the reader must be careful not to credit Theseus with more high-mindedness and balanced judgment than he displays. A bit earlier he had said to Hermia:
Be advised, fair maid.
To you your father should be as a god,
One that composed your beauties; yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.
One makes one's children, but Theseus' severe words notwithstanding, one may not then destroy a product that is unsatisfactory. Theseus is not Hermia's father, but the two men appear to belong to the same generation and class in Athens, suggesting that on certain matters one might well speak for the other. In any case, the chilling threat to "disfigure"—Theseus probably intends something like "unmake," or remove all form from the wax, but we cannot very well ignore the connotations of mutilation—recalls the similar threats of Antigonus and Polixines.
A second fact of the play that comically undercuts Egeus' determination is the alternative action that Lysander perceives. The will of Egeus, reinforced by the power of Theseus, may prevail in Athens, but Athens is not the whole world. Lysander tells the compliant Hermia that if she will accompany him to his aunt's house seven leagues distant,
There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee,
And to that place the sharp Athenian law
Cannot pursue us.
This possibility further neutralizes the consequences of Egeus' interference.
Third, it is commonplace to observe that Egeus' preference for Demetrius is essentially preposterous, and therefore a matter that cannot worry us unduly, since the two suitors are so nearly indistinguishable.8 This both is and is not true. Lysander and Demetrius, young Athenian noblemen, are the same age and of equivalent social rank; with either Hermia would be marrying an eligible man of her own class. Neither of them, moreover, shows any great resource of intelligence or imagination: they never understand what has happened to them in the forest or question why they have turned about in their romantic preferences as they have. That there is not much to choose between them is a probability emphasized by the decision of many directors to dress them in identical clothing. Hermia is perfectly within her rights to favor one over the other because—this is Shakespeare's profound comment on the nature of love—the person in love will see uniqueness where everyone else sees sameness; by definition love differentiates its chosen object from those about it.
On the other hand, Lysander has a steadfastness that Demetrius lacks. It is only under the spell of Puck that Lysander comes briefly to favor Helena over Hermia, while Demetrius had originally been infatuated with Helena, that is, before the play begins. Lysander tells Theseus, as if this history supports his claim to Hermia, that
Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head,
Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena,
And won her soul; and she (sweet lady) dotes,
Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,
Upon this spotted and inconstant man,
testimony that Helena supports in her soliloquy at the end of the scene:
For ere Demetrius looked on Hermia's eyne,
He hailed down oaths that he was only mine.
Such romantic fickleness, no less common than young constancy, hardly constitutes much of a sin to charge Demetrius with. There is no evidence that he came to desire Hermia only because Lysander did, as Proteus came to desire Silvia only because Valentine did in The Two Gentlemen, and we should not normally judge him harshly for going from one girl to another. At the same time, however, Theseus finds Demetrius' behavior objectionable. After Lysander has accused him of making love to Helena, Theseus says,
I must confess that I have heard so much,
And with Demetrius thought to have spoke
But, being over-full of self-affairs,
My mind did lose it.
It is unclear just why Theseus believes, as he seems to, that Demetrius' fickleness is a matter calling for his official adjudication or reprimand, but it is fairly certain that, though bound by the law to support Egeus' authority over Hermia, he sees Demetrius as a less honorable man than Lysander. Indeed, like a later duke, Vincentio in Measure for Measure, who encourages Mariana to believe there will be nothing criminal about sleeping with Angelo, Theseus seems able to promote extralegal behavior when the letter of the law suppresses natural impulse and affection. When he says,
But Demetrius, come,
And come, Egeus. You shall go with me;
I have some private schooling for you both,
he leaves Hermia and Lysander alone and gives them the opportunity, which they will seize upon, to escape into the forest. It is very likely that he is trying to see if they will dare act in their own behalf.
The scenes in the forest bear out Theseus' suspicions of Demetrius' dishonor. Although Lysander is eager to enjoy the fruits of his love before marriage (2.2.34-65), but only with the acquiescence of Hermia, Demetrius is more ominously prepared to do sexual violence to Helena, though he claims to detest her, if she will not leave him alone:
I will not stay thy questions. Let me go!
Or if thou follow, do not believe
But I shall do thee mischief in the wood.
It is perhaps significant that Shakespeare gave to this young man the name he had assigned earlier to Tamora's son, the despoiler of Lavinia in Titus Andronicus. It is at least arguable that Egeus' preference for Demetrius represents not merely a capricious intrusion upon Hermia's rights but a choice of the less worthy man and thus a choice contrary to the best interests of his daughter. In all events, Egeus ignores whatever these interests may be.
Although angry at Lysander when she believes that he and Demetrius, under Puck's spell, are having fun at her expense in the forest, Hermia remains constant to him, as does Helena to Demetrius, and as do most women in Shakespeare to their lovers, Cressida being a rare, though notable, exception. In her constancy Hermia prevails, for after the four young lovers have happily paired off, so that every "Jack shall have Jill," Theseus has the wisdom—if wisdom is measured by the attainment of human satisfaction—to set aside the law it is his duty to enforce. He says,
Fair lovers, you are fortunately met.
Of this discourse we more will hear anon.
Egeus, I will overbear your will,
For in the temple, by and by, with us
These couples shall eternally be knit.
And there the matter rests. Egeus, who does not reply, who never speaks again, is in this play of many marriages, odd man out, having lost a daughter and not gained a bride. That, perhaps, is the price he must pay for his initial irrationality; he is not even admitted to the festivities of the last act of the play.
In contrast to Shylock and Egeus, whose daughters wholly escape their control, are Lord Capulet and Brabantio, who bear direct and incontrovertible responsibility for the deaths of their daughters—fates all but preferable to their freedom. Brabantio's social motivation has already been mentioned; it is shared by Capulet though in Romeo and Juliet, of course, there is no question of miscegenation. When Paris first presents his suit for Juliet to her father, Capulet replies,
Earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she;
She is the hopeful lady of my earth.
But woo her, gentle Paris, get her heart;
My will to her consent is but a part.
An she agree, within her scope of choice
Lies my consent and fair according voice.
It is such a moving answer, telling us that Capulet has lost other children and suggesting that therefore the congruence of his and Juliet's wills matters greatly to him—he would not force upon her his selection of a husband—that one regrets it is untrue. When Romeo is banished from Verona for killing Tybalt, Juliet grieves over the exile of her new husband, and ironically Capulet mistakes the death of Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, as the occasion of her grief. Therefore, he is more amenable to the renewal of Paris' suit:
Things have fall'n out, sir, so unluckily
That we have had no time to move our daughter.
Look you, she loved her kinsman Tybalt dearly,
And so did I. Well, we were born to die.
Paris is willing to postpone his suits; but Capulet, thinking that marriage will alleviate Juliet's sorrow, presumes to offer her to Paris without her consent:
Sir Paris, I will make a desperate tender
Of my child's love. I think she will be ruled
In all respects by me; nay more, I doubt it not.
Capulet does have some sense of propriety, though, and is at first reluctant to have the funeral baked meats too ostentatiously furnish forth the marriage tables. About a date for the wedding, he says,
Well, Wednesday is too soon.
A Thursday let it be—a Thursday, tell her,
She shall be married to this noble earl.
Will you be ready? Do you like this haste?
We'll keep no great ado—a friend or two;
For mark you, Tybalt being slain so late,
It may be thought we held him carelessly,
Being our kinsman, if we revel much.
Therefore we'll have some half a dozen friends,
And there an end.
So far Capulet sounds like a man eager to do the very best, even at the risk of raised eyebrows, for his daughter.
Though he cannot know it, his decision puts Juliet into a bind. Already wed to Romeo, she could not very well marry Paris even if she had any feeling for him. When her mother informs her of the forthcoming wedding, Juliet protests with a convincing dissimulation of her feelings:
Now by Saint Peter's Church, and Peter too,
He shall not make me there a joyful bride!
I wonder at this haste, that I must wed
Ere he that should be husband comes to woo.
This emphasis on Paris' romantic dereliction reminds us of Capulet's earlier instructions to him, which he has now set aside, that he must woo and win her. Juliet continues,
I pray you tell my lord and father, madam,
I will not marry yet; and when I do, I swear
It shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate,
Rather than Paris. These are news indeed!
Capulet enters and learns from his wife of Juliet's obstinancy. He is enraged:
Doth she not give us thanks?
Is she not proud? Doth she not count her blest,
Unworthy as she is, that we have wrought
So worthy a gentleman to be her bride?
The reader's sympathy here cannot but be with Juliet, and not alone because he knows that she is married and understands the intensity of her and Romeo's feelings for each other. It is true in Shakespeare, as in life, that daughters legitimately "owe" their parents something for care and affection during their upbringing, however difficult this "something" is to define; but it is also true, at least in Shakespeare, that in the very moment of reminding their daughters of their debts, the fathers lose all right to have them repaid, for it is as if they have made their daughters' later submission to their wills the condition, as it were, of their earlier affection: because you will do what I tell you later on, they say in effect, I will care for you now. In thus being conditional, the early affection becomes spurious, and thus in our judgment releases the daughter from her obligations, though she will try to repay them. Capulet, like Lear, sees the beloved daughter, in her disobedience, as an unwarranted curse:
Wife, we scarce thought us blest
That God had lent us but this only child;
But now I see this one is one too much,
And that we have a curse in having her.
Out on her, hilding!
He would turn out his daughter rather than have her not go to the man of his choosing, the surrogate self through whose agency he retains his daughter as child and symbolically possesses her as bride. He is strengthened in his determination that Juliet wed Paris or pay a dear penalty:
Thursday is near; lay hand on heart, advise:
As you be mine, I'll give you to my friend;
And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,
For, by my soul, I'll ne'er acknowledge thee,
Nor what is mine shall never do thee good.
Trust to't. Bethink you. I'll not be forsworn.
Although counseled by the Nurse to go ahead and marry Paris, Juliet decides to seek the advice of Friar Laurence.
One could be more charitable to Capulet if one had the conviction that his actions, however mistaken, were genuinely and entirely directed by his sense of what is best for his daughter. In fact, however, he is motivated by the end of personal advancement, the promise of rising in the Veronese social hierarchy. For though the Capulets, like the Montagues, may be a grand family of Verona, Paris, like Mercutio a kinsman of Prince Escalus, is royalty, and it is to this exalted station that Capulet aspires, and for the attainment of which he will happily sacrifice Juliet. When he first sets the wedding date, he envisions a discreet affair to be attended by "some half a dozen friends." Sober reflection suggests, to the contrary, that Tybalt or no Tybalt the wedding should be a magnificent event, celebrating his ascendency in the social stratosphere. He instructs a servant
So many guests invite as here are writ,
and we imagine him handing the servant a very long list indeed, for he then says to another servant,
Sirrah, go hire me twenty cunning cooks.
One cannot imagine that the greatest opulence of the Renaissance required twenty cooks to cater to half a dozen guests. For her part, Juliet now pretends submission to Capulet's will, since she has learned from Friar Laurence how to be reunited with Romeo.
The causes of the tragedy that befalls this "pair of starcrossed lovers" are many: the very fact of their feuding families; the chance encounter of Mercutio and Tybalt in 3.1; Tybalt's general irascibility; the heat of the day; Romeo's clumsiness in separating Mercutio and Tybalt; his subsequent repudiation of his action as that of a coward made effeminate by beauty; the quarantine that prevents Friar John from delivering the letter; Juliet's bad luck in not awakening a few minutes earlier than she does. All of these, and others, add up to the conventional estimation of Romeo and Juliet as young lovers damned by fate. And so they are, perhaps, but their tragedy is not without human direction, for which no one deserves more blame than Lord Capulet. Were it not for his insistence that Juliet marry the man of his choosing at the time of his choosing for his own social advancement, there would be no sleeping draught, no letter to Romeo, no churchyard in Verona. It is he alone who complicates the banishment of Romeo and the grief of Juliet with the urgency of time; except for his insistence on the Thursday wedding, there would simply be no hurry to resolve problems lest happiness be lost forever. Rather than surrender his claims upon his daughter, Capulet would kill her, and he does.
If Capulet is a man eager to rise on the social scale, Brabantio is one who complacently enjoys the best position there is. He is a wealthy and respected man, a Venetian senator; it is only the extraordinary fact of Desdemona's marriage to Othello that forces us to see him more as a father, an individual, than a public official, one of a group. When Iago and Roderigo start shouting outside his window about thieves, he asks in dismay,
What tell'st thou me of robbing? This is Venice;
My house is not a grange.
Venice is inviolable; some things just do not happen there. There are no robberies, no social instability, no disobedient daughters, no preference of citizens for less privileged outsiders. But there is a single hint that Brabantio intuits the fragility of the system. When Roderigo tells him that his daughter is transported "to the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor," Brabantio says, unexpectedly, "This accident is not unlike my dream" (141), perhaps suggesting that on some unconscious level he has anticipated what he now abominates: Desdemona's preference for a black man over "The wealthy curlèd darlings of our nation" (1.2.68), a designation whose irony Brabantio cannot appreciate.
Shattering the still of a Venetian evening, the unthinkable has happened: the beautiful, virtuous, eminently desirable daughter's exogamous union with a black man. But Othello cannot get away with his theft, Brabantio thinks:
The Duke himself,
Or any of my brothers of the state,
Cannot but feel this wrong as 'twere their own;
For if such actions may have passage free,
Bondslaves and pagans shall our statesmen be.
In the eyes of a Venetian, a man's origins cling to him; having once been both bondslave and pagan, Othello, now neither, is not allowed to transcend adversity. That the other senators and the Duke would normally "feel this wrong as 'twere their own" appears likely; the Duke calls the elopement a "mangled matter" (1.3.173) and tells Brabantio,
The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief,
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.
The very sententiousness of the couplet, as often in Shakespeare, militates against its practical good sense, and the metaphor implies the Duke's acceptance of the label of robbery which had been applied at one time or another by Brabantio, Iago, and Roderigo.
Nevertheless, the Duke and the other senators have a much larger worry at hand: the purposed Turkish invasion of Rhodes or Cyprus. Therefore, when they have ascertained that Desdemona was a perfectly willing party to the courtship, a girl upon whom Othello used no enchantment, they are constrained to ignore the dangerous precedent of exogamy because, as Othello well knows, they need him. So Brabantio is frustrated in his desire to keep his daughter for one recognizably of his own kind; but he is unforgiving and in his last speech in the play says bitterly,
Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:
She has deceived her father, and may thee.
The words are the father's sentence of death upon his daughter, for they are heard not only by Othello, Desdemona, Roderigo, the Duke, and the senators, but also by Iago, who will tell Othello much later,
She did deceive her father, marrying you;
And when she seemed to shake and fear your looks,
She loved them most.
Iago is stating as actuality what Brabantio had advanced as mere possibility, but the later statement gains authority from the former. Othello believes he does not see what is obvious to everyone else. Brabantio was wrong, of course, but it is interesting that his phraseology—"She has deceiv'd her father, and may thee"—particularly as it is echoed by Iago, tends to make equivalent the deception of a father and the deception of a husband; since the second must be a matter of sexual betrayal, the first becomes that as well. Ironically, Othello's murder of Desdemona, insofar as it is retribution for something she has really done, punishes her for the betrayal of her father. Since Brabantio's words are part of the stimulus to which Othello responds, he becomes a partner in the killing of his daughter for her sexual infidelity to him. . . . .
4 See Plato, Phaedrus, 230d.
5Ovid's "Metamorphoses": The Arthur Goldin Translation (1567), ed. John Frederick Nims (New York: Macmillan, 1965).
6 The New Arden edition of The Merchant of Venice, ed. John Russell Brown (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1955), 3.2.63 ç [p. 80].
7 On the sexual double-entendíes of this speech, see William H. Matchett, "Shylock, Iago, and Sir Thomas More," PMLA, 92 (March 1977), p. 219. For other such uses in Shakespeare, see the entry on "Stones" in the Glossary of E.A.M. Colman, The Dramatic Use of Bawdy in Shakespeare (London: Longman, 1974), p. 216.
8 See, for example, Mark Van Doren's reference to Lysander as "one of the two nonentities who are [A Midsummer Night's Dream's) heroes." Shakespeare (New York: Henry Holt, 1939; Doubleday Anchor edition, n.d.), p. 61.
Diane Elizabeth Dreher (essay date 1986)
SOURCE: "Dominated Daughters," in Domination and Defiance: Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare, The University Press of Kentucky, 1986, pp. 76-95.
[In this essay, Dreher discusses the tragic fates of Ophelia, Hero, and Desdemona maintaining that all three women are victims of patriarchal oppression],
Shakespeare offers three examples of young women dominated by patriarchal expectations. Ophelia, Hero, and Desdemona are victimized by the traditional power structure that identifies women exclusively as childbearers, insisting on a rigid model of chastity to ensure the continuity of pure patrilineal succession. This requirement leaves women highly vulnerable. What matters is not that they are modest, chaste, and obedient, but that men perceive them as such.1 Imprisoned in their passive situation, women cannot actively affirm or defend their honor. The more they seek to be good women, conforming to traditional expectations, the more they are victimized. Politically and psychologically, these dominated daughters remain children in their innocence, obedience, and submission to authority. Because the passive feminine ideal denies them their autonomy, they...
(The entire section is 25456 words.)
John A. Hart (essay date 1972)
SOURCE: "Father-Daughter as Device in Shakespeare's Romantic Comedies," in Carnegie Series in English, No. 12, 1972, pp. 51-62.
[In the essay below, Hart assesses the function of the father-daughter device in Shakespeare's romantic comedies and the varied problems that arise from that relationship.]
Father and daughter relationships recur throughout Shakespeare's romantic comedies. He takes a common and a simple family relationship, recognizable immediately to his audience as emotionally powerful, and suggests variations upon that relationship until he has worked the vein as thoroughly as he can within that genre....
(The entire section is 17244 words.)
William B. Bache (essay date 1975)
SOURCE: "Lear as Old Man-Father-King," in CLA Journal Vol. XIX, No. 1, September, 1975, pp. 1-9.
[In the following essay, Bache chronicles Lear's growth throughout the play, from his desire for a son to his acceptance of his daughter.]
One of the genuine pleasures of reading Shakespeare comes from the vivid glimpses he gives us into the felt life of a play; that is, into the human life rendered by a play. If, however, we are not careful, Shakespeare's fine touches about human beings and their behavior trick us into making the romantic mistake of believing that these characters really lived. For Shakespeare...
(The entire section is 17521 words.)
Richard P. Wheeler (essay date 1974-75)
SOURCE: "The King and the Physician's Daughter: All's Well That Ends Well and the Late Romances," in Comparative Drama, Vol. 8, No. 4, Winter, 1974-75, pp. 311-27.
[In this essay, Wheeler contends that, unlike the festive comedies, All's Well That Ends Well "presents an action in which parental figures are closely and actively involved in the steps that lead to marriage. "]
In his now classic formulation of "The Argument of Comedy," Northrop Frye called attention to the unusual turn Shakespeare gives the typical comic pattern in All's Well that Ends Well—and noted the difficulties...
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Blechner, Mark J. "King Lear, King Leir, and Incest Wishes." American Imago 45, No. 3 (Fall 1988); 309-25.
Analyzes the changes Shakespeare made to the source of King Lear in order to demonstrate his interest in the father-daughter incest motif.
Coursen, H. R. "Lear and Cordelia." Cahiers Elisabethains 40 (October 1991): 11-20.
Reviews several productions of King Lear that exist on tape, focusing in particular upon the relationship between Lear and Cordelia.
Godard, Barbara. "Caliban's Revolt: The Discourse of the (M)Other." In Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Margaret Laurence, edited by Colin Nicholson....
(The entire section is 537 words.)