Rule a Wife and Have a Wife Further Critical Evaluation of the Work - Essay

John Fletcher

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

RULE A WIFE AND HAVE A WIFE is an assured piece of work by a mature craftsman of comedy. A popular play up to our own century, it succeeds through a well-paced and smoothly functioning plot that allows the humor to arise out of the basic situation rather than from farce, witty lines, or an overabundance of puns. Fletcher’s knitting together of main plot and subplot is very skillful; the question of who owns and commands the elaborately furnished town house (which comes to serve as a symbol of the wealth and power all strive for) generates much of the later action of the play.

But more interesting to us today, perhaps, than the comic machinations are the attitudes and values common to the age that the work reveals. Most obvious of these is the “taming of the shrew” motif expressed by the title and by the major action. Margarita is a comic figure because she does not behave the way a woman is supposed to behave; not only does she enjoy the company and embraces of numerous men, but, more reprehensibly, she attempts to “rule” them with her ascendant will. This situation is corrected by Leon, an indigent gentleman who, having cheated Margarita out of control of her fortune by marrying her under false pretenses, finally gets her to kneel contritely before him and humbly beg his pardon for “my base self, disobedience, my wantonness, my stubbornness.” The socially approved form of obedience, that is, man over women, has been re-established (and at the same time, presumably, Margarita’s insatiable lusts have somehow been dissolved by her husband’s assertive self-righteousness).