Rule a Wife and Have a Wife

by John Fletcher

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

This comedy of manners is closely related to William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in its theme of gender-based disagreements about the ideal marriage. When they embark on courtship and marriage, the characters seem self-centered and immature; they are interested in such things as making a wealthy match and maintaining personal independence after marriage. The underlying theme is that people must adjust to each other in order to make a marriage work. Both male and female characters who believe that they should be the dominant partner in their marriage end up seeing things from their spouse’s perspective. Nevertheless, the theme of male dominance as socially preferable underlies the direction of the changes that the playwright portrays as positive. More generally, as it is a comedy, the theme of deception runs through the play as the characters continually deceive each other and keep secrets, largely for humorous effect.

Leon and Margarita are one couple who embody these themes. Margarita, who is wealthy, wants to get married but also to maintain her independence. She thinks that a dim, malleable husband would be perfect because she could have lovers and he would be none the wiser. Leon is actually a decent, smart young man but he plays the fool in order to entice her. Altea, Margarita’s friend, encourages her interest in Leon, ostensibly because she supports her plan to dominate her husband. In reality, Altea is deceiving her friend by keeping Leon’s true character hidden and, even more so, by not admitting that Leon is her brother. When it turns out that Leon is worthy of her respect, Margarita consents to being a more conventionally subservient wife.

Michael and Estifania are another couple who carry out these themes, but in a slightly different way. Estifania, who is a maid, pretends to be wealthy and makes herself mysterious by going around in a veil. Michael finds her alluring and is impressed when he learns that she lives in a big fancy house. It does not occur to him that he is being played, as his goal is to marry a wealthy woman. Although neither becomes wealthy, their marriage ends up fairly equal, and they benefit from having helped the other couple work things out.

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