Love and Romance
Love and Romance
In Shakespeare's plays, love and romance are often treated in ambiguous ways. Romantic love frequently ends in death, as in the tragedies, but such love may be presented in an idealized manner, shown to be courageous and unconditional. In Shakespeare's romantic comedies, the traditional comic ending featuring one or more marriages is often tempered by a more serious note, which questions the finality of that ending. Additionally, the so-called "romantic" comedies may feature a certain degree of tension between romantic and antiromantic elements. Marriage—typically viewed as the goal of romantic love—is also treated ambiguously by Shakespeare. In many of Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies, marriages are frequently disrupted by the husband's usually irrational fear of being cuckolded. Despite the taint on marriage by the specter of cuckoldry or by other subversions, marriage nevertheless occupies a central role in Shakespeare's work.
Evelyn Gajowski (1992) examines the qualities shared by Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), Desdemona (Othello), and Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra), maintaining that all three women give themselves freely to their beloveds without expecting or demanding any reciprocal emotion. Gajowski notes that the women, like the speaker in Shakespeare's sonnets, possess "the courage to love despite awareness of the vicissitudes of human existence." The romantic comedies treat love a bit differently than these tragedies. R. S. White (1981) demonstrates the way in which the finality of comic endings is often questioned in Shakespeare's romantic comedies. In Love's Labour's Lost, for example, the courtships of the couples are postponed when a death is announced; the men are required by their beloveds to undergo a period of self-examination before the relationships may resume. Similarly, Richard A. Levin (1985) observes that in Shakespeare's mature comedies, romantic elements are challenged by "antiromantic" elements. In these works, the conflict between love and fortune is often emphasized, Levin notes. Fortune—as either money or social status—is a "constant temptation" to lovers in these plays. While marriage is usually seen as the happy consummation of romantic love, it is often viewed in less-than-optimistic terms, many critics assert. B. J. Pendlebury (1975) maintains that while the early plays do portray marriage in an optimistic manner, the later plays' treatment of marriage often focuses on the male fear of being deceived by an adulterous wife. Coppélia Kahn (1981) offers a similar assessment, but also notes that even in many of the earlier plays, the threat of cuckoldry "lurks in the wings." Such a fear of cuckoldry stems from a variety of factors, Kahn explains, including the patriarchal marriage itself, where women are viewed as the sexual property of their husbands, and the double standard that permits husbands to have extramarital sex, but makes the perception of the husband's virility dependent on his wife's chastity. Other critics analyze the relevancy of Elizabethan marriage laws and customs to Shakespeare's treatment of matrimony. Ann Jennalie Cook (1991) offers a detailed discussion of Elizabethan betrothal contracts, elopements, annulments, and divorces. Cook highlights the social, legal, and economic punishments exacted for participating in unsanctioned behavior related to betrothals and marriages and then explores Shakespeare's representation of such irregular behavior in his plays. In conclusion, Cook comments that as Shakespeare treats this type of behavior in both negative and positive ways, there is no easy way to assess his own opinions on the matter. Similarly, Margaret Loftus Ranald (1979) demonstrates how Elizabethan issues such as betrothals, contracts, premarital intercourse, impediments to marriage, and the marriage ceremony itself are examined by Shakespeare in many plays in a variety of ways. Ranald observes that marriages form the conclusion to every comedy and typically emphasize social harmony; that marriage is treated both humorously and tragically in Shakespeare's poems; that in the tragedies, the subversion of marital relationships results in some form of disaster; and that in the last plays, Shakespeare places less of an emphasis on the particulars of marital law and instead celebrates "the kind of virtuous love that ends in marriage."
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...
(The entire section is 20382 words.)
Evelyn Gajowski (essay date 1992)
SOURCE: "Human Affiliation and the Wedge of Gender," in The Art of Loving: Female Subjectivity and Male Discursive Traditions in Shakespeare's Tragedies, University of Delaware Press, 1992, pp. 120-26.
[In the following essay, Gajowski argues that in Shakespeare's love tragedies, Shakespeare emphasizes the humanity common among male and female characters, despite culturally enforced conceptions of gender roles. Gajowski focuses on the characteristics of the female protagonists in these plays and the nature of their love for the male protagonists.]
Only connect . . .
—E. M. Forster, Howards End
The love tragedies offer Shakespeare the opportunity to explore in gender relationships the paradox of men and women as distinct from one another in their masculinity and femininity, yet connected to one another in their common humanity. And he insists on the common humanity connecting the sexes despite the wedge driven between them by cultural constructions of gender. "The problem appears to be one of construction," as psychoanalyst Carol Gilligan puts it, "an issue of judgment rather than truth" (1982, 171). To be a full human being, Shakespeare intimates, is to be a relational, rather than an autonomous being; yet he gives unblinking attention to the excruciating vulnerability involved in doing so. When he...
(The entire section is 3210 words.)
Courtship And Marriage
B. J. Pendlebury (essay date 1975)
SOURCE: "Happy Ever After: Some Aspects of Marriage in Shakespeare's Plays," in Contemporary Review, Vol. 227, No. 1319, December, 1975, pp. 324-28.
[In the following essay, Pendlebury examines the development of Shakespeare's treatment of marriage in his plays, noting that in the early comedies, the prospect of marriage is of primary significance and is represented in an optimistic manner, whereas in the later plays, Shakespeare's tone regarding marriage shifts to a more pessimistic one.]
Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage! So says Feste in Twelfth Night. Now, clearly we must not attribute to Shakespeare himself the view expressed in a flippant remark by a professional jester. Indeed, we cannot safely assume that Shakespeare personally endorsed the judgments of any one of his characters. However carefully we scrutinise particular plays, we can never say with confidence: 'This is what Shakespeare thought about marriage'. Nevertheless, it is interesting to examine those plays that are particularly concerned with marriage and to try to see what assumptions underlie both speeches and actions.
If we consider first the early comedies, we cannot help noticing that the prospect of marriage is frequently of central importance. Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About...
(The entire section is 32677 words.)
Cheatham, George. "Imagination, Madness, and Magic: The Taming of the Shrew as Romantic Comedy." Iowa State Journal of Research 59, No. 3 (February 1985): 221-32.
Argues that The Taming of the Shrew resembles Shakespeare's later comedies, like A Midsummer Night's Dream, in that it employs the metaphors of role-playing, madness, and magic to examine the transformative power of love.
Kahn, Coppélia. "'The Savage Yoke': Cuckoldry and Marriage." In Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare, pp. 119-50. University of California Press, 1981.
Analyzes the theme of the married man as cuckold in Shakespeare's plays. Kahn first reviews the motifs associated with cuckoldry in Shakespeare's work and then studies cuckoldry as a "male fantasy of female betrayal" in many of the plays.
Leggati, Alexander. Shakespeare's Comedy of Love. London: Methuen, 1974, 272 p.
Studies the "internal variety" in Shakespeare's romantic comedies (The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, Love's Labour's Lost, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Twelfth Night), focusing on the tension within each play between variances of style or dramatic idiom. Maintains that...
(The entire section is 652 words.)