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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.


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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
shall carry
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.

(Othello, 13.180-89)

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
 more virtuous
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.

(Epilogue, 15-16)

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
 the thief;
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
 precious stones.
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 fail to resolve the crisis of intimacy, fail to become fully adult. By depicting their suffering, Shakespeare repudiates the traditional stereotype as confining and destructive, arresting young women in their growth into healthy adulthood, and in some instances even depriving them of their lives.

Ophelia: Fearful Domination

Traditionally, critics have seen Ophelia as a "pathetically weak character"2 She has been alternately pitied and condemned for her helplessness and domination by her father. A.C. Bradley saw her as childlike, "so near childhood that old affections still have the strongest hold,"3 Critics have emphasized her innocence and dependence. "She has never been woman enough to have a mind apart from [her father]."4 She is "young and sweet and also very passive," "pretty but ineffectual," "a timid conventional girl, too fragile a reed for a man to lean upon."5 "Like other simple-minded daughters who lack the strength of mind to rely on themselves," she has been characterized as "a puppet in her father's hands" and "a doll without intellect."6

Yet while their observations are valid from one point of view, the great majority of Ophelia's critics have been "Hamlet-critics," perceiving her as he perceives her, through their regret that she does not fulfill the needs and expectations of the tormented prince of Denmark. A feminist analysis of Ophelia's behavior demonstrates that she is not the simpleminded creature she seems. Traditional readings of her character have been as superficial as nineteenth-century productions, which portrayed her as a simple, pretty girl of flowers whose mad scenes were artfully sung and danced. As Helena Faucit realized and dared to play her to a stunned audience in 1844-45, Ophelia actually does go mad.7 There is pain and struggle beneath that sweet surface. Her misfortune merits not only our pity but our censure of traditional mores that make women repress themselves and behave like automatons.

Contrary to prevailing opinion, Ophelia is more than a simple girl, living in "a world of dumb ideas and feelings."8 The pity of it is that Ophelia does think and feel. A careful examination of the text in I.iii reveals that she loves Hamlet and thinks for herself, but is forced to repress all this at her father's command, conforming to the stifling patriarchal concept of female behavior that subordinates women to their "honor," their procreative function in male society.

Torn between what she feels and what she is told to be, Ophelia is tormented by the crisis of identity. As one critic pointed out long ago, "she is not aware of the nature of her own feelings; they are prematurely developed in their full force before she has strength to bear them."9 Caught in adolescent uncertainty between childhood and adulthood, she cannot enter the stage of intimacy and adult commitment because she does not yet know who she is. Carol Gilligan has pointed to the difficulties young women have in individuation. Raised with an emphasis on empathy rather than autonomy, girls tend to subordinate their own needs to those of others. Ophelia experiences severe role confusion in which her personal feelings are suppressed in favor of external expectations.10

At the beginning of the play, Ophelia is a healthy young woman with romantic feelings and a normal level of sexual awareness. This is apparent in her dismay at Laertes's warning about Hamlet; her comprehension of Hamlet's sexual innuendoes; and, finally, the sexual references that rise to the surface in her madness. As her initial liveliness in I.iii indicates, she is affectionate, expressive, ingenuous, as natural as the flowers she later embraces. In this scene, however, she comes face to face with that static and oppressive female virtue: chastity.

Both her brother and her father warn her repeatedly to defend her honor, her virginity, the fragile basis for woman's respectability and personal value in patriarchal society. They have defined her in the traditional role of nurturer and caretaker, while simultaneously devaluing that role, subordinating care to masculine power.11 Their obsession with female chastity and the accompanying double standard reflect the patriarchal concern for legitimate issue, the demand that young women be presented as chaste vessels by their fathers to future husbands, sacrificing personal identity to their function as childbearers. Women in this sense are "womb men," reduced to walking repositories for the male seed. In order to perform their sacred function, they must remain clean, chaste, and hermetically sealed until the marriage act, which ensures the continuity of patrilineal succession for another generation. Then their husbands must see that they remain pure. It is not only Hamlet, Laertes, and Polonius who are acutely concerned with woman's chastity. The issue looms large in Othello, and the preponderance of cuckold jokes among the men, even in Shakespeare's comedies, reveals their concern with legitimate issue, their underlying fears and suspicions of female sexuality.

The patriarchy upholds the traditional ideal of the sweet, innocent, and fundamentally passive young woman who obeys her father and elder brother. Their duty is to defend her honor that she may procreate only within patriarchal bounds. To a great extent, woman's reproductive function has led to her domination. The ideal of feminine virtue is static—the preservation of her chastity—while masculine virtue is dynamic, active, developmental. Men may add honor to their names by noble deeds and accomplishments, while women may only defend the small shred of honor they have, which once gone is irrevocably lost.

In his protective, masculine role, Laertes confronts his sister and warns her about the danger in her love for Hamlet:

Then weigh what loss your honour may sustain,
If with too credent ear you list his songs,
Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open
To his unmast'red importunity.
Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister.


His fearful warning later echoes in Ophelia's ears when she confronts an impassioned Hamlet in her closet. Her father warns her more abruptly: "You do not understand yourself so clearly / As it behoves my daughter and your honour" (I.iii.97-98). She is his child, his property, a vessel of procreation, no more but so. As the play progresses, Shakespeare shows us Ophelia's acceptance of this role and the tragic consequences.

At the beginning of I.iii, she is still the young and spirited girl Hamlet has loved. When Laertes maligns Hamlet's motives, calling his courtship but "a fashion and a toy in blood," Ophelia is stunned and hurt, responding, "No more but so?" (10), for she had believed in Hamlet's love. She listens to her brother's advice but knows him well enough to ask that he practice the restraint he preaches, denouncing the operative double standard and showing herself a perceptive, spirited young woman. To the young fashion plate Polonius later suspects of "drabbing" in Paris, Ophelia adds:

But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.


Ophelia realizes that not all male authority figures practice what they preach. Seeing beneath appearances, she recognizes the ugly reality of hypocrisy. Although young and inexperienced, Ophelia most assuredly is not simple. She does not lack intellect, nor does she automatically take everything at face value.

But when Polonius adds his lengthy warning in the same scene, Ophelia begins to doubt herself. Her brother, then her father, has frightened and insulted her about her love for Hamlet. The two authority figures in her young life, they undermine her trust in love, making her doubt Hamlet's intentions and her own awakening sexual feelings. What had once seemed so wonderful becomes progressively more frightening. Her protestations that Hamlet has "importun'd [her] with love / In honourable fashion" and sworn to her "with almost all the holy vows of heaven" (110, 113) are met by the sordid cynicism of Polonius. As Iago poisons the mind of Othello, so do Laertes and Polonius poison Ophelia's mind, presenting a view of human sexuality that is gross, animalistic, degrading, and terrifying.12 Hamlet's vows, they tell her, are merely a means to satisfy his lust, "springes to catch woodcocks" (116), and she has stupidly believed him, made herself his helpless prey and risked losing her honor, her very identity in patriarchal society. The image of courtship Polonius paints for her is nothing less than calculated rape.

Her dream of love lies shattered at her feet; she tells Polonius, "I do not know, my lord, what I should think" (104). According to Gilligan, moral development in women "proceeds from an initial concern with survival to a focus on goodness and finally to a reflective understanding of care."13 Ophelia is concerned with survival in what seems a brutal, hostile world. Frightened and disillusioned, she seeks safety in the passive role assigned to women for generations. Her father tells her to stay away from the danger that Hamlet represents, and she submits: "I shall obey, my lord" (136). Her submission is not only a surrender to convention, but an act of self-preservation by a young woman for whom sexuality has become a frightening animalistic threat. Ophelia succumbs to severe security anxiety.14 Her ensuing actions reflect a compulsive defense of her chastity in a world that appears blatantly brutal and aggressive. Ophelia's fearful withdrawal and subsequent deterioration represent an implicit accusation of a society that defines men as active sexual aggressors, condoning their promiscuity while valuing women only for their chastity which must be defended at all costs. Retreating behind the false self the patriarchy has created for her, Ophelia represses her feelings and obliterates her own reality, collapsing into a schizoid divided self and moral confusion. As R. D. Laing wrote of her: "there is no one there. She is not a person. There is no integral selfhood expressed through her actions or utterances. Incomprehensible statements are said by nothing. She has already died."15

Ophelia has been condemned for letting her father dominate her, for failing to "observe the fundamental responsibilities that hold together an existence."16 But let us consider the situation from her point of view. As a young woman, she is, first of all, more inclined to defer to the wishes of others than to follow her own feelings.17 Ophelia errs in trusting her father, but she is not the only person in the play who has taken a parent at face value. Hamlet failed to recognize his mother's moral weakness until her marriage to Claudius. Furthermore, reverence for one's parents was expected of Renaissance youth. As Harley Granville-Barker emphasized, "we may call her docility a fault, when, as she is bid, she shuts herself away from Hamlet; but how not to trust to her brother's care for her and her father's wisdom?"18 Like Othello, Ophelia errs in trusting the wrong moral guide: in his case a friend who had shared dangers on the battlefield, in hers a father to whom convention bound her duty and obedience. Polonius's warning, seconded by her brother's, gains greater credibility. But most significant, her moral guides have not only told her how to behave; they have redefined her entire universe, inculcating in Ophelia a view of human sexuality as nasty and brutish as that which infects Othello. Ophelia sees herself in a world in which sexuality transforms human beings into beasts, with men the predators and women their prey.

If the play had offered any moral alternative, she might have been able to think more clearly and trust her love. Romantic heroines in Shakespeare's comedies defy corrupt patriarchal authority, think for themselves, and affirm their love because their moral guides or close friends uphold a nobler view of human nature. Rosalind has Celia's friendship; Portia, Nerissa's. Hermia has Helena's friendship and the example of Duke Theseus in love. Even Jessica, flawed as she is, finds a moral alternative to her father's values in Christianity and later in Portia herself. Juliet has the moral influence of the friar, who sees her marriage to Romeo as a means to greater harmony. Even the isolated and tormented Hamlet finds a friend in Horatio. But Ophelia has no one: no friar, no friend, not even a positive role model in Gertrude, the only other woman in the play. Everthing around Ophelia only confirms her father's words. Her next experience with Hamlet is a case in point. When she sees him in II.i, she runs in to her father crying, "O, lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted" (75). After she concludes her description of the disheveled Hamlet, Polonius asks, "Mad for thy love?" and her answer, "My lord, I do not know; / But truly, I do fear it" (85-86), reflects her fear and confusion. No longer a romantic dream, love has become a violent and fearful thing. We know that Hamlet has confronted his father's ghost in the previous scene and that either this or his antic disposition explains his behavior. But Ophelia does not know this. The very personification of love melancholy, Hamlet rushes into her chamber in frantic disarray, grabs her by the wrist, holds her close, and stares into her eyes. He finally releases her with a sigh and backs out of the room, his eyes still riveted upon her. During all this time, not a word is exchanged. In this unfortunate encounter, Ophelia fails to give Hamlet the reassurance he seeks and confirms his suspicions about women. But for Ophelia, Hamlet's actions cannot fail to confirm what her father and brother have told her: that men's sexual passions are fearful things, transforming them into beasts. Terrified—Is he here to rape her?—she is unable to speak a word to him and runs to her father for protection.

In III.i not only Polonius but also the king and queen reinforce for Ophelia the importance of obeying her father to rescue Hamlet from the madness her love has driven him to. She succumbs to convention, becoming a puppet in their hands. But she plays her role awkwardly, revealing her inner conflict. She is understandably nervous when confronted with the violent effects of love melancholy, and her actions contradict her father's plan. Polonius has arranged this as a chance meeting with Hamlet, handing her a prayer book as a prop to ponder as she waits. But Ophelia has brought with her all Hamlet's "remembrances," and since Polonius fails to mention these, we are to assume that this is her idea. She returns the gifts with what has been called the "completely inappropriate little maxim":19 "Take these again; for to the noble mind /Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind" (100-101). To Hamlet, the gifts reveal that the encounter is not chance but contrivance, and the maxim makes no sense, for she has rejected him. From Ophelia's point of view, however, the maxim is quite appropriate: he had given her these gifts and promises of honorable love when he had really intended to seduce her. The prince has been unkind indeed; Ophelia feels betrayed and disillusioned. Then, in confirmation of her fears, Hamlet torments her verbally, declaring, then denying, his love. Her answer to his "I did love you once" reveals her disillusionment: "Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so" (116-17). In these lines she denies the reality of her previous perceptions; Hamlet never loved her. He had only sought to use her. This, too, he seems to confirm as he responds, "You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not." She answers, "I was the more deceived" (118-21). Heartbroken, Ophelia hears the man she loves denounce her, insult her, and fall into wild ravings, the sexual nausea in his words reinforcing and confirming her own.

Her speech at the end of this encounter expresses her guilt, dejection, and despair. As Hamlet exits, raving at her, she laments:

O, what a noble mind is here o'er-thrown!

And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jungled, out of time and harsh;
That unmatch'd form and feature of his blown youth
Blasted with ecstacy: O, woe is me,
T'have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

[III.i.158, 163-69]

In her misery, she loves him still. This passage resonates with recognition. Rejected by her love, taken in by his "music vows," and guilty by complicity in the love that drove him to madness, she regrets what she has been and done. The devastated and emotionally exhausted Ophelia now perceives love as a poisonous dream, which attracts like honey but transforms men to beasts. Hurt, disillusioned, and troubled by her own sexual feelings, she is ashamed that her beauty has awakened such appetites in Hamlet. Claudius may not believe love has caused Hamlet's madness, but Ophelia most certainly does.

Hamlet's gross language during the play scene reinforces her impression of his lust. Insulted and humiliated by his sexual innuendoes, she keeps up a brave front, responding to him with terse formality:

No, my lord . . .
Ay, my lord . . .
I think nothing, my lord . . .
What is, my lord? . . .
You are merry, my lord . . .
Ay, my lord.


Stunned into a fear of her lover and a childlike dependency on her father, Ophelia suddenly has them both removed, and even her brother is out of the country. She collapses into madness because she knows not where to turn for guidance. As one critic explained, "she was like a tender vine, growing first to the trellis of filial piety and then to that of romantic love. When these two are removed and she is left unsupported, she cannot stand alone, and falls."21 But there is more to it. Interspersed between her songs of unfaithful lovers and dirges for dead fathers, we find this telling admission: "They say the owl was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know/What we are, but know not what we may be" (IV.v.41-43). This fragile flower has not only been deprived of her props, she also feels guilt and complicity in her father's death. What emerges here is the devastating awareness of her own repressed sexuality, the shock of "what may be" in herself combined with the horrible transformations wrought by romantic love. Hamlet has desired her and she has desired him as well, loved the man who late killed her father, and, most horribly, it was her love that drove him mad. Distributing her flowers, she gives both Gertrude and herself rue, emblematic of repentance and regret.22 In her madness, her repressed sexuality finally breaks through the conventional false self of enforced modesty, chastity, and decorum.23 In addition to the imagery in her risqué songs, Elizabethans would have recognized the flowers she clutched to herself when she drowned as definite phallic symbols, indicative of her repressed longings.24

The symbolism in her drowning is itself an emblem of the inner conflict which drove her to madness. She drowns in her "fantastic garlands," woven of buttercups, daisies, nettles, and long purples, flowers that represent her innocence, pain, and sexuality, woven together here in madness as she had been unable to do in her life. Unable to combine her conflicting fears and desires into an integrated sense of self, she drowns. Encircled by this tangle of discordant meanings, surrounded by water—symbol of the unconscious25—gradually pulled down by her clothes, that external self which finally became too heavy to bear her up any longer, she slips beneath the surface, into madness, into death.

Hero: Slandered Innocence

Like Ophelia, Hero in Much Ado has been both praised and criticized for her innocence. Her passive vulnerability has inspired pity in some and boredom in others. According to William Hazlitt, Hero "leaves an indelible impression on the mind by her beauty, her tenderness, and the hard trial of her love." Others have called her "as pure and tender as a flower" or "rather a boring girl."26 In two modern studies she has been characterized as "shadowy and silent," an ineffective heroine who lacks credibility.27 All have found her mild and quiet, and "vulnerably passive."28

Hero is numinous, archetypal in her innocence, the silent woman of legend and the chaste and obedient Renaissance ideal. So silent is she that the majority of critics accord her only a passing reference, giving their attention instead to the more dynamic Beatrice, Benedick, and Claudio. In critical studies as in the play itself, Hero's role is silent and symbolic. "Throughout the courtship, misunderstandings and all, Hero herself has hardly anything to say: she is essentially a figure in the pattern whose chief dramatic function is to stand there and look beautiful."29 In her silence and modesty, she exemplifies the perfect Renaissance woman. As an individual, she is conspicuous by her absence. This can be better understood by noting exactly how her character functions in the text. In I.i she is present during the opening scenes but has only 1 line to Beatrice's 45. For more than 150 lines Hero simply stands there in silence. Even when her father introduces her to Don Pedro at line 103, she speaks not a word but probably curtsies dutifully. In II.i, during which she is told by her father of Don Pedro's presumed intentions, is courted by him, and agrees to help trick Beatrice into realizing that she loves Benedick, she has only 8 lines to Beatrice's 97.

Claudio falls in love with her image. In I.i he refers to her as "a modest young lady," "the sweetest lady that ever I looked on" (164,189), and determines to marry her. She is his silent goddess, his anima symbol, and the image of his dreams.30 Unlike Beatrice, she has revealed no individuality to obscure the pure abstraction he desires in her.

The model young woman, Hero listens in silent and modest obedience to her father's instructions about her marriage in a manner Juan Luis Vives would have applauded.31 Her silent figure stands looking on while her father and uncle discuss her future and Beatrice dazzles with her witty exposition on marriage. All the while, Hero speaks not a single word:

Antonio. [To Hero] Well, niece, I trust you will be ruled by your father.

Beatrice. Yes, faith; it is my counsin's duty to make curtsy and say "Father, as it please you." But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say "Father, as it please me."

Leonato. Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.

Beatrice. Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? To make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I'll none; Adam's sons are my brethren; and truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.

Leonato. Daughter, remember what I told you: if the prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer.

Beatrice. The fault will be in the music, cousin, if you be not wooed in good time.


If Beatrice is the dynamic rebel who rejects the traditional woman's role, Hero is the archetypal good woman who follows it to the letter. She is "the embodiment of the courtly concept of ideal daughter and bride. Emblem of the sheltered life—crowned by beauty, modesty, and chastity—she is bred from birth for a noble alliance which will add luster to her lineage."32 Psychologically, her character follows Erikson's description of traditional female development. She "holds her identity in abeyance as she prepares to attract the man by whose name she will be known, by whose status she will be defined, the man who will rescue her from emptiness and loneliness by filling 'the inner space.'"33 But her obedience and archetypal purity avail her little. No matter how good or innocent she is, she cannot influence her fate. Her identity depends upon men's perceptions of her, and the illusion of doubt can quickly sully even the most virtuous reputation, leaving her no defense.

In III.i, a scene without male authority figures, Hero has a suprising 76 lines. Plotting with the other women to trick Beatrice into realizing that she loves Benedick, Hero is spirited, gregarious, and much more verbal. Apparently, she is not naturally shy or phlegmatic; her silence at other times merely reflects her breeding as a lady. Before men she is silent and deferential, while with her cousin and other women she may relax and be more herself. In III.iv, we see her again interacting with women. Dressing for the wedding, she exchanges witty banter in some 14 lines, although troubled by nervousness and forboding.

In IV.i, when exposed to public scandal in the church, she courageously affirms her innocence:

Hero. O, God defend me! How am I beset!
What kind of catechising call you this?
Claudio. To make you answer truly to your name.
Hero. Is it not Hero? Who can blot that name
With any just reproach?
Claudio. Marry, that can Hero;
Hero itself can blot out Hero's virtue.
What man was he talk'd with you yesternight
Out at your window betwixt twelve and one?
Now, if you are a maid, answer to this.
Hero. I talk'd with no man at that hour, my lord.
Don Pedro. Why, then you are no maiden.


Not only has she been betrayed; she is powerless to exonerate herself. Regardless of what she says or does, she cannot actively prove her innocence. The staged deception of the night before has soiled the image of her chastity. Because of the dualism implicit in men's perception of women, when the shadow of doubt clouds her radiant image, she ceases to be a virgin in their eyes and automatically becomes a whore. Hero's protestations of innocence, like Desdemona's, are seen only as further proof of her guilt. Don Pedro then describes the shameful encounter at her window—as we know, an illusion. But one illusion can destroy her, so fragile is a woman's honor, so tenuous her position in man's world. Unless she is beyond suspicion, she becomes a tainted outcast.

Claudio's repudiation of her in the church may seem unduly rash, but he barely knows her. Far more shocking is her father's rejection. How quickly Leonato believes the slander about his child. Apparently, all those years in which Hero was the model daughter—chaste, silent, obedient, and submissive—have not enabled him to trust in her character.34 Leonato sinks into anger and despair, and only Beatrice rallies to Hero's defense.

In her study The Slandered Woman in Shakespeare, Joyce Sexton pointed out how Hero's predicament illustrates the insidious nature of slander, an attack for which woman has no defense.35 She cannot actively regain her honor and good name with noble deeds like a courtier who has fallen out of favor. Because of their procreative function as chaste mothers in patriarchal society, women cannot earn or acquire more honor; all they can do is behave according to patriarchal expectations. Hero is trapped by the traditional concept of virtuous womanhood, which is untenable and unhealthy. As Gilligan observed, "the notion that virtue for women lies in self-sacrifice has complicated the course of woman's development by pitting the moral issue of goodness against the adult questions of responsibility.36 This play demonstrates how easily woman's passive virtue comes to naught and how helpless she is to defend it.

Hero's restoration, like her repudiation, is not contingent upon her actions. As a traditional woman, her identity depends upon men's perceptions of her. Fortunately, a man, Borachio, confesses, redeeming her tarnished reputation. In V.i, when Claudio discovers that Hero has been unjustly slandered, his words reveal just what she means to him: "Sweet Hero! now thy image doth appear / In the rare sembalance that I lov'd it first" (259-60). It is only her image that he loves. In V.iv the repentant Claudio receives at her father's hand another Hero. Now ceremoniously transferred from father to husband, Hero lifts her veil and reveals herself, revived, restored to life and honor. But so fragile is her identity in patriarchal society that when she fails to match men's dreams of perfection, she becomes a victim of their deepest fears and doubts. Implicit here is Shakespeare's criticism of the traditional feminine stereotype as a static and passive ideal, which represses women and makes them far too vulnerable to the oft-observed antinomy between appearance and reality.

Desdemona: Love's Sweet Victim

Alternately canonized and criticized for loving Othello, Desdemona has been praised for her devotion and censured for her sexuality, described as deceptive, proud, and manipulative or as helplessly passive. She is herself a tragic paradox. A spirited, courageous young woman, Desdemona is moved by the depth of her love to conform to a static and fatal ideal of feminine behavior. Among those critics for whom she shines as a saintly ideal, Irving Ribner said that "in the perfection of her love Desdemona reflects the love of Christ for man," and G. Wilson Knight found her a "divinity comparable with Dante's Beatrice."37 Yet W.H. Auden observed "One cannot but share Iago's doubts as to the durability of the marriage," predicting that "given a few more years of Othello and of Emilia's influence and she might well, one feels, have taken a lover." Jan Kott, too, found her strong sexuality disturbing: "Of all Shakespeare's female characters she is the most sensuous. . . . Desdemona is faithful but must have something of a slut in her."38

Beyond a doubt, Desdemona is affectionate and sensual, but this does not make her a slut any more than the absence of sexuality would sanctify her. Too often her critics themselves have fallen victim to the virgin-whore complex, the false dilemma that dominates the perception of women in traditional society. A few critics have recognized the simple fact that Desdemona is both a virtuous and a passionate woman.39

The elopement has been cited as proof of her courage or evidence of her deceptive nature: "a measure of her determination to have a life that seems to offer the promise of excitement denied her as a sheltered Venetian senator's daughter"; "her deception of her own father makes an unpleasant impression." We may laugh at Thomas Rymer's oversimplified reading of the play as "a caution to all Maidens of Quality how, without their Parents consent, they run away with Blackamoors" and "a warning to all good Wives, that they look well to their Linnen."40 Desdemona's critics range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Predominantly male, they have seen her as either willful and manipulative or helplessly passive: "a determined young woman . . . eager to get her own way;" her advocacy for Cassio demonstrating her desire to dominate Othello, revealing a strong case of penis envy."41 Arthur Kirsch saw her advocacy as concern for her husband, realizing that his continued alienation from Cassio was "unnatural and injurious to them both," while Auden called this merely another demonstration of her pride: "In continuing to badger Othello, she betrays a desire to prove to herself and to Cassio that she can make her husband do as she pleases." Bradley, by contrast, found her "helplessly passive," an innocent, loving martyr:

Desdemona is helplessly passive. She can do nothing whatever. She cannot retaliate even in speech; no, not even in silent feeling. And the chief reason of her helplessness only makes the sight of her suffering more exquisitely painful. She is helpless because her nature is infinitely sweet and her love absolute. . . . Desdemona's suffering is like that of the most loving of dumb creatures tortured without cause by the being he adores.

In a similar vein, Bernard McElroy wrote, "The inner beauty and selflessness of her character are exactly what render her most vulnerable to the fate that overtakes her." As Carol Thomas Neely observed, for traditional critics, "the source of her sainthood seems a passivity verging on catatonia."42

The history of Desdemona on the stage parallels these changing critical estimations. Until Fanny Kemble, Helena Faucit, and Ellen Terry endowed her with a new dynamism, Desdemona was portrayed as a pathetic girl, not a tragic heroine. In the nineteenth century her part was diminished by extensive cuts, and William Charles Macready tried to dissuade Fanny Kemble from playing it, arguing that this was no part for a great actress. Kemble persevered, creating a Desdemona who was softly feminine but also forthright and courageous. Her Desdemona, like Helena Faucit's, fought for her life in the final scene. According to Ellen Terry, most people believed that Desdemona was "a ninny, a pathetic figure," that "an actress of the dolly type, a pretty young thing with a vapid, innocent expression, is well suited to the part," but she felt that Desdemona was "a woman of strong character," requiring the talents of a great tragic actress.43

As these actresses recognized, Desdemona is a young woman who transcends any stereotype. In her courage and compassion, she is androgynous; in her boundless love and goodness she sees beyond the artificial divisions of the patriarchal hierarchy. Like Hamlet, she values people, not for their social rank, but for themselves. She has been praised for "a man's courage . . . an extreme example of that union of feminine and masculine qualities that Shakespeare plainly held essential for either the perfect man or the perfect woman."44 Her "downright violence and storm of fortunes" demonstrate her courage and defiance of convention as well as the strength of her love (I.iii.250). She loved Othello "for the dangers [he] had pass'd," recognizing in his bold spirit a counterpart to her own, longing for adventure denied by her confining role as a Venetian senator's daughter. Othello "lov'd her that she did pity them," her feminine compassion equal to her masculine courage (I.iii. 167-68).

She is by nature unconventional, a sensuous and virtuous woman in a culture that prized a cold, chaste ideal. Dynamic and courageous when the traditional feminine norm was passivity, she transcends patriarchal order and degree, reaching out in loving kindness to all. Desdemona behaved with daughterly decorum in her father's house but revealed her assertiveness and magnanimity in her love for Othello. Her enthusiastic and affectionate nature are evident in Othello's description of their courtship, especially in the Folio version. This apparently docile maiden would rush from her household chores to "devour" his stories "with a greedy ear," (I.iii. 150,149). She was fascinated by this man of men and the adventurous life he led. So far was she from Brabantio's conventional "maiden never bold" (94) that she gave Othello for his pains "a world of kisses," (159) in the Folio reading far more assertive than the Quarto's "sighs."45

It is magnanimous woman who stands resolutely before her father and the duke in council, declaring her love for which she had defied all convention. But this young woman now places her love into the traditional perspective, speaking of her "divided duty" between father and husband in which filial obedience is transferred from one authority figure to the next. As one critic has observed, "Desdemona's description of the transfer of her feelings from her father to her husband, with its invocation of her own mother as her example, touches in almost archetypal terms upon the psychological process by which a girl becomes a woman and a wife."46 Othello inherits the father's title, "my lord":

My noble father,
. . . you are the lord of duty;

I am hitherto your daughter: but here's my husband,
And so much duty as my mother show'd
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.

[I.iii. 180-89]

In her elopement, Desdemona "successfully defies the Father," Brabantio himself and "the symbol of Authority and Force" he represents. Harold Goddard contrasts her to the submissive Ophelia and Hamlet, who fail to break free from paternal authority.47 True, her love liberates her long enough to elope with Othello, but in her concept of marriage she again succumbs to the yoke of convention, adopting the traditional role inherited from her mother, a relationship in which the wife becomes her husband's submissive, obedient subject.48 She fails to make the psychological transition to adulthood, conforming to Vives's injunction that "the woman is as daughter unto her husband."49 As Gilligan would explain it, Desdemona's moral development is arrested at the level of altruistic self-denial. Her every action reflects a desire to demonstrate goodness over selfishness.50 Denying her own authority, she submits to the traditional pattern, ironically out of her deep love for Othello and her desire to be the perfect wife. As she declares, "My heart's subdu'd / Even to the very quality of my lord" (I.iii.251-52).

Critics have found an echo of the traditional father-daughter relationship, pointing to Othello's age, which makes him a father surrogate, and noting that he was her father's friend before the elopement.51 Some psychological critics have seen her choice of him as motivated by an Oedipus complex, in which she sought either to marry someone like her father or to punish her father for being faithless to her in childhood. They explain her subsequent passive behavior as "moral masochism," motivated by guilt for her incestuous urgings.52 But one need not resort to incest and Oedipus complexes to explain Desdemona's behavior. We have seen in her love for Othello a highly idealistic strain as well as a passionate attachment, an almost religious fervor and dedication. All her young life she had longed for a heroic mission, a cause. Because she is a woman, unable to pursue, her heroic ideals, she finds her cause in loving Othello, subordinating herself in her role as his wife, even as he subordinates his ego to the demands of war. It is not only Othello who "agnize[s] / A natural and prompt alacrity ... in hardness" (I.iii.232-34). Desdemona, as well, longs for heroic commitment and sacrifice. Given the limits of her culture, she can find this only indirectly, some would say masochistically, by devoting herself to Othello.53

Thus we have the paradox that explains Desdemona's contradictory image. She is courageous, heroic, passive, and vulnerable. She is both extremes because of her love, which makes of her an oxymoronic "excellent wretch" (III.iii.90). On the altar of holy love she sacrifices her dynamic self to the image of her dreams, becoming not a "moth of peace" (I.ii.257) but an equally diminished shadow of herself. As she rejects the "wealthy curled darlings" (I.ii.68) of Venice, leaving her father and embracing the man of her dreams, it would seem that she has resolved for herself the crisis of identity. But in her marriage she does not commit herself with the dynamic energy that flourished in her courtship and elopement. She chooses a new identity, a controlled, ever modest and obedient self, not Desdemona but the model wife, because this is what she feels Othello deserves. She becomes a victim of the convention she embraces, a neurotic self-effacement amounting to slow suicide.54 She, too, loves "not wisely, but too well" (V.ii.344), affirming a static ideal, a polished surface of behavior that will not withstand the tempests her marriage faces on Cyprus.

. . . [The] relation of a traditional Renaissance wife to her husband was like that of an obedient child. Although some critics censure Desdemona for failing in her wifely role, I would argue that her tragic fate stems from slavish conformity, an excess of altruism to which she sacrifices her own being.55 After marriage, Desdemona conforms to the traditional norm for feminine behavior, as expressed by William Gouge.56 This norm involves: "1 Acknowledgement of an husband's superioritie" and "2 A due esteeme of her owne husband to be the best for her, and worthy of honour on her part." Desdemona announces that her "heart's subdu'd / Even to the very quality of my lord" (I.iii.251-52), and in III.iv she berates herself for chiding him, even in her thoughts. Other wifely attributes are "3 An inward wive-like feare," "4 An outward reverend cariage towards her husband which consisteth in a wive-like sobrietie, mildnesse, curtesie, and modestie in appareil," and "5 Reverend speech to, and of her husband." Desdemona is gracious, poised, and respectful in her actions and speech. She refuses to speak ill of Othello after his shameful behavior in III.iv and when he strikes her in IV.i. In the former scene, she attributes his behavior to state business; in IV.ii she confesses to Emilia and Iago that she knows not what she has done to displease him but loves him still and ever will. Even when Othello comes to murder her, she behaves toward him with traditional wifely reverence.

Gouge lists "Obedience" as requirement 6. "Whate'er you be, I am obedient," Desdemona says in III.iii.89, choosing to follow his command rather than think for herself. This is also evident in her obedient departures at his command in III.iii and IV.i, and her coming at his bidding in IV.ii. Even in his jealous rages, she addresses him with love and respect. Gouge's requirement 7 is "Forbearing to doe without or against her husbands consent, such things as he hath power to order, as, to dispose and order the common goods of the familie, and the allowance for it, as children, servants, cattell, guests, journies, &c." Although some would criticize her for asking to accompany Othello to Cyprus, this request does not reflect willfulness on her part so much as an eagerness to begin married life. Most important, in asking this she does not go against Othello's wishes. Gouge also recommends "8 A ready yeelding to what her husband would have done. This manifested by her willingnesse to dwell where he will, to come when he calls, and to doe what he requireth." So attentive is Desdemona to Othello's desires and welfare that she does not even notice when she drops her hankerchief in III.iii, for she is concerned about his headache. She comes dutifully when he calls, bears his torments before Lodovico in IV.i, and seeks in every way to please him, even dismissing Emilia and retiring when her forebodings are apparent in the willow song.

Requirement 9 is "A patient bearing of any reproofe, and a ready redressing of that for which she is justly reproved." Desdemona patiently bears Othello's reproofs, although she cannot understand them and admits herself "a child to chiding" (IV.ii.114). She criticizes herself as an "unhandsome warrior" (III.iv.151) and tells Emilia that her "love doth so approve him, / That even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns . . . have grace and favour in them" (IV.iii. 19-21). Gouge also recommends "10 Contentment with her husbands present estate." Desdemona loves Othello for the dangers he has passed and accompanies him to the wars. Moreover, she even accepts his present mental state:

And ever will—though he do shake me off
To beggarly divorcement—love him dearly,
Comfort forswear me! Unkindness may do much;
And his unkindness may defeat my life,
But never taint my love.

[IV.ii. 157-61]

Gouge's final requirements are "11 Such a subjection as may stand with her subjection to Christ" and "12 Such a subjection as the Church yeeldeth to Christ, which is sincere, pure, cheerefull, constant, for conscience sake."57 Desdemona's undying love for her husband is apparent even in her death, when she speaks not to accuse but to protect him. Her last words are: "Commend me to my kind lord: O, farewell" (Vii. 125). In her devotion, she becomes once again "the sweet and submissive being of her girlhood," adopting the pattern of neurotic compliance traditionally praised in women.58

Othello is the bleakest of tragedies, for although these two people love each other dearly, their love is not enough. They fail because they do not know who they are. Othello knows only what it means to be a soldier, a heroic leader who makes decisions on the battlefield, in an instant discerning friend from foe and taking violent action. Like Coriolanus, he is one of Shakespeare's warrior heroes who calls the heroic ideal into question. The same behavior that makes him a hero on the battlefield only destroys him in peacetime. Desdemona knows how to be a dutiful daughter, the traditional role she rejects in courageously following Othello and her heroic dreams. Her short-lived self-affirmation in love, however, turns to bondage in marriage. In I.iii she acknowledges the ritual transfer that makes her not her father's but her husband's chattel, surrendering her dynamic self for the passive feminine ideal. Both Othello and Desdemona err in conforming to traditional male and female stereotypes, adopting personal behavior which prevents real intimacy and trust. Desdemona's chastity becomes more important to both of them than Desdemona herself. Othello kills her and she sacrifices herself to affirm the traditional ideal. As we have seen in considering Hero, nothing the traditional woman can do will alter men's misperceptions of her. In the world of traditional male-female roles, males act and females react. Desdemona cannot change Othello's perceptions. Her loving unselfishness becomes compulsive compliance which actually prevents her from defending herself.59

Iago's assessment of Desdemona is correct. She attempts to please everyone, fulfilling the role of the good woman. She: "is of so free, so kind, so apt, so blessed a disposition, she holds it a vice in her goodness not to do more than she is requested" (II.iii.325-28). Desdemona's error is that of the traditional woman who lives for others, choosing goodness over selfishness.60 In attempting to nurture everyone around her, she fails herself. She pleads eloquently to the duke about her love for Othello. In her boundless empathy, she pleads for Cassio, but characteristically woman, she cannot plead for herself. Unable to speak in her own behalf, Desdemona "becomes practically monosyllabic."61

Even her lie about the handkerchief can be explained as altruism. She subordinates truth to the main priority in her life, pleasing her husband. Gilligan notes how often excessively altruistic women will compromise truth to avoid hurting others. Desdemona knows the handkerchief is missing but intends to find it again without troubling Othello.62 Emilia does not mean to hurt anyone either. She takes the handkerchief to please her own husband and had meant to return it once the work was taken out. But these small dissimulations combine in a fatal pattern.

Enslaved by the traditional ideal that not only dominates her behavior but distorts her perceptions, Desdemona sinks into passivity until in IV.ii.98 she tells Emilia she is "half asleep" in shock. Attempting to conform to "what should be," she fails to see "what is," refusing to recognize Othello's jealousy and the danger it represents. The traditional norms have given her no means of defending herself. She is told only to bear chiding with all patience and obedience, and so she does. The idealism and all-consuming nature of her love lead her into a closed-image syndrome not uncommon among battered wives: she refuses to believe all this is happening. Othello cannot really be jealous; she never gave him cause. Every shock to her system is met with a new denial, a new affirmation of her innocence and obedience in the role of perfect wife.63 Her inability to accept Othello's jealousy is compounded by her previously sheltered life, which did not prepare her for anything like this. In loving Othello, she has risked everything, given up home, father, and country. Her identity as Othello's wife has become her only identity; her belief system at this point will not tolerate his rejection, which would make her a nonentity and turn her world to chaos.

A significant line early in the play is Othello's response to the street brawl: "Are we turn'd Turks, and to ourselves do that / Which heaven hath forbid the Ottomites?" (II.iii. 170-71). Are we, he asks, our own worst enemies? His accusation holds true for all the principal characters in the play. Iago betrays his humanity in his murderous revenge. Cassio betrays himself by drinking to excess. Othello loses his faith in Desdemona's love, betrayed by his own insecurities. In his anagnorisis he acknowledges this, executing justice upon himself as he had done to the "turban'd Turk," arch enemy of the Venetian state (V.ii.353). Desdemona, too, has been an enemy to herself in slavishly following the traditional ideal of female behavior, which undermines her self-esteem.64 Her unselfish devotion to Othello makes her a martyr to love. Desdemona's last words have been read many ways: a final act of loving kindness, a benevolent lie to protect Othello. As Emilia asks her who has done this deed and Desdemona answers, "Nobody; I myself (V.ii. 124-25), there is surely some truth in her admission. She dies upholding the impossible standard of the good woman, impossible because even though she was innocent and chaste, the man she loved failed to perceive her so.

Like Ophelia and Hero, Desdemona is in her own way a dominated daughter, a dominated woman in a patriarchal society that will not allow women to grow up, to assert themselves in their adult lives, or even to act in their own defense.65 In her attempt to be a good wife, she loses her vitality and self-confidence, drawing her identity from her husband's perceptions. Despite her forebodings, she lies in bed waiting for him in V.ii. And as he murders her, she becomes the ultimate embodiment of the feminine ideal: silent, cold, and chaste, as beautiful as a marble statue: "Cold, cold, my girl! / Even like thy chastity" (V.ii.275-76). The element of necrophilia in Othello's adoration of her sleeping form is no accident ("Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee / And love thee after" [18-19]). Carried to its logical extreme, the traditional ideal represents a woman's denial of her thoughts and desires, her very essence, an ultimate obliteration of the self. In her death, Desdemona finally becomes the "perfect" Renaissance woman.


1 In "Images of Women in Shakespeare's Plays," Southern Humanities Review 11 (1977): 145-50, Barbara A. Mowat describes the double image of Shakespeare's women, contrasting the way they are seen by their men with the way the audience perceives them.

2 Carol Jones Carlisle, Shakespeare from the Greenroom (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1969), pp. 143-44.

3 Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1969), pp. 135-36.

4 Agnes Mure MacKenzie, The Women in Shakespeare's Plays (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1924), p. 218.

5 Norman N. Holland, The Shakespearean Imagination (New York: Macmillan, 1964), p. 167; Bernard McElroy, Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1973), p. 75; E.K. Chambers, Shakespeare: A Survey (New York: Hill and Wang, 1958), p. 187. Like Kenneth Muir, in Shakespeare's Tragic Sequence (London: Hutchinson Univ. Library, 1972), p. 83, I reject the view that Ophelia is "sophisticated and Hamlet's cast-off mistress." This view has been expounded by Jan Kott in Shakespeare Our Contemporary, trans. Boleslaw Taborski (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1966), p. 86.

6 G. B. Harrison, Shakespeare's Tragedies (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951), p. 101; Rosalie L. Colie, Shakespeare's Living Art (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1974), p. 219; John Masefield, quoted in Shakespeare's Critics, ed. A.M. Eastman and G. B. Harrison (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1964), p. 180.

7 Carlisle, Shakespeare from the Greenroom, pp. 136-37.

8 George Gordon, Shakespearian Comedy (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1944), p. 56.

9 Anna Jameson, Shakespeare's Heroines (New York: Burt, 1948), p. 139.

10 Gilligan, In a Different Voice (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1982), p. 8. Erikson, in Identity, Youth and Crisis (New York: W.W. Norton, 1968), p. 87, explains that in adolescent role confusion "the young person counterpoints rather than synthesizes his sexual, ethnic, occupational, and typological alternatives and is often driven to decide definitely and totally for one side or the other."

11 See Gilligan, Different Voice, p. 17.

12 Lynda Boose noted that Laertes poisons Ophelia's mind with a "quite obscene picture of sex presented through images of military bombardment and young flowers being stroked to death," in "The Fashionable Poloniuses," Hamlet Studies 1 (1980): 77.

13 Gilligan, Different Voice, p. 105.

14 Her symptoms parallel those described by Horney in New Ways, p. 84. Irving Ribner in Patterns in Shakespearean Tragedy (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1960), p. 88, believes that Ophelia's "obedience to her father causes her to see love as madness and lust, to reject her fellow man in Hamlet," while I would reverse the cause and effect: her terror at the picture of sexuality Polonius presents causes her to retreat into conventionality.

15 Laing, The Divided Self (London: Tavistock, 1960), p. 195.

16 Thomas McFarland, Tragic Meanings in Shakespeare (New York: Random House, 1966), p. 47.

17 Gilligan, Different Voice, p. 16.

18 Granville-Barker, Prefaces to Shakespeare (London: Batsford, 1947), 1:212.

19 Boose, "Fashionable Poloniuses," pp. 75-76.

20 As Granville-Barker has noted in Prefaces 1:215, she seeks to deal politely with his public humiliation of her.

21 Herman Harrell Horne, Shakespeare's Philosophy of Love (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards and Broughton, 1945), p. 104.

22 Craig and Bevington, Complete Works of Shakespeare, p. 933n. See also Bridget Geliert Lyons, "The Iconography of Ophelia," ELH 44 (1977): 69.

23 According to Dr. Ira S. Wile, in "Some Shakespearean Characters in the Light of Present Day Psychologies," Psychological Quarterly 16 (1942): 62-90, quoted in Holland, Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare, p. 198, "her obscene language is not unknown in wards of mental hospitals—she is a victim of mania."

24 Charlotte Otten, in "Ophelia's 'Long Purples,'" Shakespeare Quarterly 30 (1979): 397-402, presents evidence from Renaissance herbals identifying the "long purples" as Orchis Serapias or Satyrion Royall, both associated with the male sex organ by their names, legends, and physical descriptions.

25 M. Esther Harding, The 'I' and the 'Not-Ã (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1965), p. 171.

26 William Hazlitt (1817), Georg Brandes (1895), and Â.A. Young (1965), quoted in Shakespeare: "Much Ado About Nothing" and "As You Like It": A Casebook, ed. John Russell Brown (London: Macmillan, 1979), pp. 30-31, 42, and 228.

27 Donald Stauffer, "Words and Actions," in Brown, Casebook, p. 87; and Paul and Miriam Mueschke, "Illusion and Metamorphosis," in Brown, Casebook, p. 130.

28 Mueschke and Mueschke, "Illusion," p. 135; see also Arthur Kirsch, Shakespeare and the Experience of Love (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981), p. 54.

29 Alexander Leggati, Shakespeare 's Comedy of Love (London: Methuen, 1974), p. 155.

30 Jung, "Marriage as a Psychological Relationship," 198.

31 Vives, Instruction, p. 54.

32 Mueschke and Mueschke, "Illusion," p. 135.

33 Erikson, as described by Gilligan in Different Voice, p. 98; see Erikson, Identity, p. 266.

34 Elmer Edgar Stoll in Othello (1915; New York: Gordian Press, 1967), p. 9, paralleled Othello's sudden loss of faith in Desdemona with the behavior of Leonato, who acts "as if he cherished a grudge against" his daughter. Barbara Mowat, in "Images," provides a more specific definition of this "grudge": "the fathers of Hero and Desdemona must listen as their daughters—seemingly so chaste, so perfect—are described in animalistic sexual terms: . . . Both fathers, confronted with the vision of the sweet girl-child turned lecherous animal, lash out at their own daughters and at the treachery, the terrible lust of all women" (p. 152).

35 Sexton, The Slandered Woman in Shakespeare (Victoria, B.C.: English Literary Studies, 1978), pp. 39-44. In 1613 Shakespeare himself had some direct experience with the question of slander when his daughter Susannah brought action for defamation against John Lane, who had accused her of lewd conduct and adultery, as W. Nicholas Knight pointed out in "Patrimony and Shakespeare's Daughters," Hartford Studies in Literature 9 (1977): 181-82.

36 Gilligan, Different Voice, p. 132.

37 Ribner, Patterns, p. 94; Knight, The Wheel of Fire (New York: Meridian Books, 1930), p. 249.

38 Auden, The Dyer's Hand (New York: Random House, 1962), p. 269; Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary, p. 118.

39 S.N. Garner, "Shakespeare's Desdemona," Shakespeare Studies 9 (1976): 235; R.N. Hallstead, "Idolatrous Love," Shakespeare Quarterly 19 (1968): 107; Marvin Rosenberg, The Masks of Othello (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1961), p. 209; Kirsch, Experience of Love, p. 15; W.D. Adamson, "Unpinned or Undone?: Desdemona's Critics and the Problem of Sexual Innocence," Shakespeare Studies 13 (1980): 179-80.

40 Garner, "Shakespeare's Desdemona," 243; Auden, Dyer's Hand, p. 268; Rymer, quoted in Eastman and Harrison, Shakespeare's Critics, p. 13.

41 Harrison, Shakespeare's Tragedies, p. 143; Robert Dickes, "Desdemona: An Innocent Victim," American Imago 27 (1970): 286.

42 Kirsch, Experience of Love, p. 17; Auden, Dyer's Hand, p. 269; Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, p. 150; McElroy, Mature Tragedies, p. 135; Neely, "Women and Men in Othello: 'what should such a fool / Do with so good a woman?' " Shakespeare Studies 10 (1977): 133.

43 Rosenberg, Masks, pp. 135-37, 139.

44 Harold C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 469-70.

45 See Garner, "Shakespeare's Desdemona," pp. 239, 236.

46 Kirsch, Experience of Love, p. 14. See Jung, "Theory of Psychoanalysis," pp. 168-74.

47 Goddard, Meaning of Shakespeare, p. 457.

48 As Nancy Friday observed in My Mother/My Self (New York: Dell, 1977), pp. 22-23, many women unconsciously imitate their mothers in their marriages, no matter how independent and assertive they have been.

49 Vives, Instruction, sig. 68v.

50 Gilligan, pp. 105, 87. See also Gayle Greene, " 'This That You Call Love': Sexual and Social Tragedy in Othello," Journal of Women's Studies in Literature 1 (1979): 25; and MacKenzie, Women, p. 253, both of whom note her filial deference to him as expressed in her addressing him as "my lord." See also Harding, Way of All Women, p. 153, for a psychological discussion of father transference.

51 MacFarland, Tragic Meanings, pp. 64-65; Kirsch, Experience of Love, p. 14; Stephen Reid, "Desdemona's Guilt," American Imago 27 (1970): 259.

52 See Dickes, "Desdemona," pp. 281-96; Reid, "Desdemona's Guilt," pp. 259, 281.

53 Carlisle, in Shakespeare from the Greenroom, p. 248, notes "a certain Joan-of-Arc quality in her nature." Horney, in New Ways, p. 113, and Deutsch, in Psychology of Women, p. 273, explained how traditional cultural norms predispose virtuous women to masochism.

54 Horney, Neurosis, p. 221.

55 Both Pitt, in Shakespeare's Women, pp. 50-51, and Harold Skulsky, in Spirits Finely Touched (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1976), pp. 240-41, find Desdemona excessively willful, while I see her behavior as a slavish attempt to conform to the contemporary image of the good wife.

56 Both Leonora Leet Brodwin, Elizabethan Love Tragedy (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1971), p. 213, and Martha Andreson-Thom, "Thinking about Women and Their Prosperous Art." Shakespeare Studies 11 (1978): 264, see Desdemona's conformity to tradition beginning when she feels she has lost Othello's love. I see it originating in her very definition of marriage.

57 Gouge, Of Domesticali Duties, sig. Alv.

58 Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, p. 171. See Horney, Inner Conflicts, pp. 58-59, and The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (New York: W.W. Norton, 1937), p. 140.

59 See Horney, Inner Conflicts, pp. 121-22, for a discussion of compulsive compliance.

60 Gilligan, Different Voice, p. 132.

61 Inga-Stina Ewbank, "Shakespeare's Portrayal of Women," in Shakespeare: Pattern of Excelling Nature, ed. David Bevington and Jay L. Halio (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1978), p. 224.

62 Gilligan, Different Voice, p. 65. See also Lynda Elizabeth Boose, "Othello's Handkerchief," English Literary Renaissance 5 (1975): 360-74, for a discussion of its symbolic significance. Desdemona's motives in concealing the handkerchief's loss have been variously interpreted as fear by Garner, "Shakespeare's Desdemona," p. 246, and MacKenzie, Women, p. 258. Robert B. Heilman, in Magic in the Web (1956; Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977), p. 200, argues that Desdemona "knows" the handkerchief is missing but does not really believe this, hoping for some miracle to recover it in an irrational combination of belief and hope.

63 See Horney, New Ways, pp. 271-72; and Garner, pp. 246-47.

64 M.D. Faber, "Two Studies in Self-Aggression in Shakespearean Tragedy," Literature and Psychology 14 (1964): 85-87; see also Gilligan, Different Voice, p. 87.

65 As Edward Snow, "Sexual Anxiety," pp. 407-8, maintains, "the tragedy of the play .. . is the inability of Desdemona to escape or triumph over restraints and Oedipal prohibitions that domesticate women to the conventional male order of things." See also Deutsch, Psychology of Women, p. 240; Horney, New Ways, p. 113.

Kirby Farrell (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "Love, Death, and Patriarchy in Romeo and Juliet," in Play, Death, and Heroism in Shakespeare, The University of North Carolina Press, 1989, pp. 131-47.

[Here, Farrell asserts that the intense fear of death among the characters in Romeo and Juliet reflects the breakdown of the patriarchal structure of Verona as well as its ability to inspire fantasies of immortality.]

Recent criticism has tended to depict patriarchy primarily as an authoritarian institution for the regulation of society.1 Where Elizabethan theorists praised the system for its order, we now have difficulty seeing beyond its flagrant injustices and limitations, especially its misogyny. Yet repression is not the whole picture. What made patriarchy tolerable, even valuable, to so many Elizabethans? No one in Shakespeare's Verona, for example, openly rebels against its patriarchs. Like Romeo, Juliet blames fate that she "must love a loathed enemy" (1.5.141); she desperately tries to placate her father with "chopt-logic" (3.5.149). For all their touchiness about being thought slaves, even the servants identify with—are willing to fight for—their houses. Why would individuals consistently subordinate their own desires to the will of a patriarch?2

The answer I read from the play is that like religion, patriarchy systematized heroic fantasies of immortality. Anxiety about death pervades Romeo and Juliet. The word "death" itself shows up more often here than in any other work in the canon. In the lyrical balcony scene (2.2.53-78) no less than the ominous Prologue, love is "death-mark'd." Even before Romeo's first glimpse of Juliet, as he laments Rosaline's vow of chastity, he plays at being dead: "in that vow / Do I live dead that live to tell it now" (1.1.223-24). Even then he worries that "untimely death" will overtake him (1.4.111). This "Black and portentous" dread, I shall be arguing, dramatizes the breakdown in Verona of patriarchy's ability to control people's anxiety about death, and unconsciously anticipates the dangerous consequences of that breakdown.

Patriarchy evolved from ancient systems of social order based on heroic dominance.3 In Roman law a male child of any age "remained under the authority of his father and did not become a Roman in the full sense of the word, a paterfamilias, until the father's death. More than that, the youth's father was his natural judge and could privately sentence him to death" (Veyne, p. 27). The early Roman paterfamilias not only ruled over the family, but was priest of the family ancestor cult. In various ways this access to superhuman power persisted into the Renaissance.

Like Christianity, whose priestly fathers commonly exercised worldly as well as spiritual influence, patriarchy associated the father with the king and God: he created and validated his child's personality. As Duke Theseus formulates it to a daughter as disobedient in love as Juliet:

To you your father should be as a god;
One that compos'd 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.

[MND 1.1.47-51]

Ultimately the patriarch guaranteed the psychic life of all who depended upon him. The father may be invested with maternal nurturance: "Where should the frighted child hide his head, but in the bosom of his loving father?"4 Tasso reveals the underlying premise when he reports that he confided in his patron "not as we trust in man, but as we trust in God. It appeared to me that, so long as I was under his protection, fortune and death had no power over me" (Bradbrook 1980, p.73).

In early modern England, "in spite of all the subordination, the exploitation and the obliteration of those who were young, or feminine, or in service, everyone belonged in .. . a family group," a circle of affection, but also a likely scene of hatred (Laslett, p. 5). Patriarchal dominance was supposed to stabilize the family.

By subsuming the personalities of those dependent on him, a father or master reconciled or if need be overrode their conflicts. His strength energized the entire family and his purpose gave it meaning. In this perspective patriarchy was a means of consolidating diverse wills into one extraordinary will and generating a communal feeling—in effect, a spell—of immortality.

The potency of that spell derived from dread as well as devotion. A patriarch could annihilate as well as make men. The prince acts to rein in his "Rebellious subjects" by threatening their lives (1.1.97). Old Capulet curses the uncooperative Juliet: "hang, beg, starve, die in the streets" (3.5.192). Servants joke anxiously about the gallows. More than mere discipline is at stake here, since one who can command death may seem to transcend it. Symbolically the patriarch appropriated the role of death himself, subjecting it to human rules. By being perfectly obedient one could hope to placate if not control death. Even unconscious anxiety about a rejection akin to death must have reinforced identification with the father.

In a system such as ancient Rome's, where "famulus" or family also meant "slave" or "servant," only selfeffacement brought a share of the father's power and security. In theory, either one identified with one's master and vicariously shared his glory by lording it over inferiors, or one was dominated. Hating to be thought slaves (1.1.13) but also fearful of the executioner (5), the Capulet servants associate aggression on the master's behalf with escape from the nullity of servitude. Yet their inferiority is the creation of masters and produces volatile ambivalence in them. They summarize their situation with an ambiguity too dangerous to be consciously faced: "The quarrel is between our masters, and us their men" (19-20)—that is, not merely between houses but between masters and servants as well.

In seeking to dominate, the servants act out the submerged values of their masters. Since patriarchy is founded upon the promise of security to dependents such as women, Sampson imagines humiliating his enemy by violating his women. Likewise, he appropriates the patriarch's role as judge when he fantasizes, "I will be civil with the maids—I will cut off their heads" or maidenheads (21-23), equating rape with execution. By contrast, Romeo acts out patriarchy's benevolent generativity when he first approaches Juliet, assigning her an identity (the sun) and commanding her to arise and claim her rightful place in the order of things (2.2.3-9). These examples reflect a paradox that becomes increasingly significant the deeper we look into the play's imaginative world: that even those who seemingly oppose patriarchy internalize patriarchal values.

The marriage Old Capulet would make for his daughter helps to explain the submissiveness of dependents. By meekly wedding the paternally sanctioned Paris, making him a patriarch in his own right, Juliet would fulfill her father's will and transform herself. Lady Capulet fetishizes Paris as a book of spellbinding value that "in many's eyes doth share the glory" (91). Marrying him, Juliet too would be glorified, sharing in "all that he doth possess, / By having him, making [herself] no less" (1.3.93-94). With its connotations of worship, "glory" exactly expresses the religious assumptions underlying the patriarchal system. Compelling admiration from others, Juliet's marriage would exalt her and by extension her parents. For a dependent deference can be a means to vicarious triumph.

In Verona, however, patriarchy is under stress. The prince envisions himself protecting the city's "ancient citizens" from the turmoil of "rebellious subjects" (1.1.82, 97). A servant's spiteful taunts can provoke a full-scale brawl in the streets. At the same time romance has begun to rival patriarchy as an alternative mode of devotion and deliverance. As a result, the father's demand at least for deference, at most for total self-sacrifice, sets off a violent chain of events. Social patterns and preoccupations inherent in the patriarchal system create conflicts that make rebellion inevitable. . . .

For all their lyrical tenderness, Romeo and Juliet create their love out of the tragically conflicting materials of their own culture. In Romeo's shifting passion, for instance, the Chorus implies a struggle to inherit a father's position: "Now old desire doth in his deathbed lie, / And young affection gapes to be his heir" (2.Pro. 1-2). The lovers attempt to evade the world of the feud, yet in making love they unwittingly act out patriarchal and Christian forms. Construing love as worship, substituting the beloved for father and God, they seek apotheosis in each other.

In an imaginative world where children grow up transfixed in the aura of a protective lord or else face nullity, it is understandable that love may reproduce in a beloved the engulfing, life-giving power of godlike parents. Insofar as the polarization of power in Verona requires either continual submission or the devious homicidal assertiveness of the feud, love's mutual worship answers profound needs. For if individuals become disenchanted with absolute security and heroic aggression, as Romeo and Juliet do, they need alternative convictions to sustain them. Love is therefore counterphobic not only as any system of immortality must be, but also as a defence against the anxious demands of an ideology whose spell is no longer wholly efficacious. Mercutio makes the point in a wisecrack about play-death. Having lost Romeo after the Capulets' party, Mercutio jokes that "The ape is dead," and invokes Rosaline's "quivering thigh" to resurrect him (2.1.15-21). The jibe reduces Romeo to a mindless animal who can only "ape" autonomy in sexual arousal.

Romeo envisions Juliet as a supernatural being, a masculine "bright angel" and "winged messenger of heaven" who overmasters awestruck "mortals" so that they "fall back and gaze on him" (2.2.26-32). At the same time, as in the gender of the angel, Romeo's vision expresses the infantile wish to be chosen by, and identified with, a majestic father. His imagination finds fulfillment in the paradox of empowering self-effacement at the heart of patriarchy. The fantasy's completion comes in Romeo's dream that Juliet has awakened him from death and ordained him an emperor, the paramount patriarchal role (5.1.9).

Juliet participates in the same fantasy when she equates orgasm and immortality in her cry,

Give me my Romeo; and when I [Q4: he] shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night.


Like "all the world," Juliet will be subsumed as a worshipper in Romeo's apotheosis. If his transformation into stars alludes to Caesar's apotheosis as a "goodly shyning starre" in Ovid, as one editor has suggested,8 then Juliet is envisioning an analogue to Romeo's dream that sexual love (her kiss) can revive him from death to become an emperor. By "dying" through sexuality "are happy mothers made" (1.2.12). By the same means, reciprocally, may a woman make a youth an immortal lord. In its imagination of power this fantasy is profoundly patriarchal. Like Romeo's vision of the angel, however, this celebration of all the world absorbed in the face of heaven also suggests a worshipful infant's concentration upon the all-important, life-giving face of a parent.

The lovers' mutual worship expresses a generosity, subverted or repressed elsewhere in Verona, that balances their self-destructiveness.9 In their lovemaking Romeo and Juliet repeatedly fantasize that death-like self-effacement leads to apotheosis. Repudiating their own names (2.2.34-57), loving in darkness, they try to be invisible in hopes of escaping patriarchal control. They imagine innocent self-nullification that excuses their actual defiance of their fathers even as each casts the beloved in the role of life-giving lord.10 When Juliet wishes Romeo were her pet bird, a "poor prisoner" (179) whose liberty she would be "loving jealous of (181), Romeo eagerly assents. Yet Juliet declines to dominate him, protesting that "I should kill thee with much cherishing" (183).

Finally, however, the lovers' behavior is equivocal, and that doubleness makes their self-effacement perilous. Confronted by Tybalt after his secret marriage, Romeo tries to play possum, placating him. Yet his passivity allows Tybalt to use him as a screen, thrusting under his arm to kill Mercutio (3.1.103). Immediately guilt and anger overwhelm Romeo. Released, his will now turns against Juliet—"Thy beauty hath made me effeminate," he cries, "And . . . soft'ned valor's steel" (3.1.113-15)—and then, murderously, he turns against Tybalt.

In this crisis actual uncontrollable death breaks the spell of symbolic immortality, and the underlying patriarchal structure asserts itself. Defeated by Tybalt's "triumph" (122), called a "wretched boy" (130), Romeo feels overwhelmed by "black fate" (119). In reaction he tries to reassert heroic control over death by levying a death sentence on Tybalt (129). Rebelling—against the emasculating "angel" Juliet as well as the would-be master Tybalt—Romeo discharges his rage at a rival "son" and alter ego. In the complex of motives that produces the lovers' suicides this process is important. For there the part of the self that identifies with the patriarch and demands mastery finally punishes with death part of the self that for the sake of love would forgive enemies and forego worldly power in hopes of deferred rewards. The internalized father slays the weakening child.

Because the basic patriarchal structure governs even rebellion, desires for autonomy tend to call up opposite roles organized around fantasies of death and omnipotence. This split appears everywhere in Verona. When Gregory and Sampson jest about breaking the law, they promptly fantasize about slavery and execution,11 and then in reaction about their slaughter of enemies. Similarly, the Juliet who would make Romeo outshine Caesar is also the paralyzed child who helplessly hears her parents wish her dead. If she cannot have Romeo, she vows, then "My grave is like to be my wedding-bed" (1.5.135). Protesting the ultimatum to marry Paris, she cries out to the friar:

. . . hide me nightly in a charnel-house,
O'ercovered quite with dead men's rattling bones,
With reeky shanks and yellow [chapless] skulls;
Or bid me go into a new-made grave,
And hide me with a dead man in his [shroud]—


Juliet's brave challenge masks a fantasy of punishing her own unconscious rage at her father, and guilt at her lover's murder of her kinsman. Lying with slain males like a child ("hide me .. . in his shroud") and a submissive paramour,12 she would be magically undoing death with sexual fertility as in patriarchally conceived marriage. The idea of playing dead promises to resolve conflicts on more levels than she or the Friar realizes.

Exposed in his rebellion by the murder of Tybalt, the Romeo who would be an emperor (5.1.6-9) similarly abases himself, feeling himself put to death by the mere word "banishment" with which the friar, like a patriarchal judge, "cut'st my head off (3.3.21-23). Taunted as a slave by Tybalt (1.5.55), Romeo goes to his doom in grandiose defiance of slavery, vowing to "shake [off] the yoke of inauspicious stars / From this world-wearied flesh" (5.3.111). Death and omnipotence are two faces of the same fantasy. Their dissociation contributes to the irrational violence of the feud as well as to the lovers' "mad scenes"—Romeo's tantrum on the floor of the friar's cell and Juliet's near-hallucinatory collapse as she dispatches herself with the sleeping potion.

As it happens, we can glimpse the origins of this polarization of the self in Romeo and Juliet. Headed toward the Capulets' ball, Romeo worries about "some vile forfeit of untimely death" that may overtake him before he can redeem the "despised life clos'd in my breast" through some heroic act (1.4.106-13). His imagery implies that he has mortgaged his life and will lose it since the term will "expire" before he can pay. Punning, he fears an "untimely debt" as well as "death," one that will "forfeit" his "despised life."13 A sense of guilty inadequacy makes him expect the punishment of death or foreclosure.

In patriarchy, however, the child owes the godlike father a death inasmuch as he or she holds life at the father's will. In Theseus's summary of the doctrine, the child is "imprinted" by the father and is "within his power / To leave the figure or disfigure if (MND 1.1.50-51). What is more, the child owes a debt of obedience or self-effacement, in which guilty wishes for autonomy are repressed in a symbolic death. Where patriarchy splits into the roles of the father who is a judge and the son who is a warrior, the son additionally owes this conscience figure a debt of heroic glory that may have to be paid by risking his life. Such a debt produces the self-hate in Romeo's "despised life" and helps to explain his desperate reassertion of lost "valor" in the murder of Tybalt.

Juliet's behavior also reveals an underlying psychic debt. The origin of this debt surfaces in the Nurse's account of Juliet's weaning (1.3.16-57). Though physically capable, the child angrily resisted her own independence. On the previous day her first efforts at autonomy had led to a fall that brought not parental support and further self-assertion, but a queasy joke from a surrogate father—the Nurse's husband—that a woman lives to fall. "Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit." Yet Juliet's fall implies a threat of death, especially for a child whose alter ego Susan (the Nurse's daughter) is "with God" (19).

In falling Juliet gave her "brow" "a perilous knock": the same injury she imagines inflicting on herself on waking in the monument. Trapped in the suffocating family tomb—within objectified patriarchy itself—she fears being overcome by guilty rage and dashing out her brain, seat of the self and forbidden autonomy. Moreover, she would punish herself by means of a "great kinsman's bone" (4.3.53), metonymie parental force. As in the weaning anecdote, a venture toward autonomy produces in her mental life a fall toward death, then trauma.

The Nurse's husband's joke proposes a patriarchal solution to the fall toward death. A "fall backwards" into sexually submissive marriage and motherhood will rescue the child from the terrifying "fall" toward autonomy at the cost of being able—in the joke, literally—to stand on her own two feet. Juliet consents to pay a debt/death through a marriage that will at once efface and exalt her. Girls must "fall" sexually to be redeemed by a new lord and win posterity for the family and themselves, even as young males must be willing to fall in battle to win immortalizing glory.

In this imperative of self-sacrifice lies the germ of the idea of a play-death such as Juliet acts out with the friar's potion. Her fall in a death-counterfeiting sleep would appease an outraged parental judge and lead to a resurrection from the family tomb with the banished Romeo. Making Verona new in amity, Juliet would be fulfilling a patriarchal fantasy comparable to Romeo's dream of love's resurrecting him as an emperor (5.1.6-9). The play emphasizes the pervasiveness of this fantasy in Verona. Engineering Juliet's resurrection, the friar takes a god-like role, planning literally to raise her from the grave. Uniting the lovers, aspiring to atone all Verona, he parodies Capulet's marriage plans, implicitly correcting them, as if to prove himself "the best father of Verona's welfare" (Brenner, p. 52)—one more form of patriarchal rivalry.

Reconstituting patriarchal forms to serve their own desires for autonomy, the lovers never openly defy their parents. Yet with the wish for autonomy comes a veiled recognition of the suffocating claims their parents make on them. The parents' will to subsume their children's identities comes unconsciously to seem to the lovers like cannibalism. The monument that embodies her family in Verona becomes to Juliet an imprisoning mouth (4.3.33-34) and to Romeo a devouring "maw," womb, and mouth (5.3.45-47). Just as the mother becomes an expression of the father's will, and the father expresses ideologically the life-giving and potentially life-withholding generativity of the mother, so the tomb conflates the parents into one ravenous orifice.

As in Lear's fantasy of the savage who "makes his generation messes / To gorge his appetite" (1.1.116-18), the threat is not merely of parental wrath or incestuous desire, but also of cannibalistic self-aggrandizement, a frantic hunger to incorporate more and more life in order to overcome death. Such aggrandizement is the more terrible for being sharply felt by the child and yet invisible. In effect, the lovers fear an infantile voracity such as a once-subsumed child, having at last come to dominate, might release against its own offspring.14 Since monuments objectify a claim to transcend annihilating time, the "hungry" tomb expresses patriarchy's deepest and most primitive drive, the drive for survival.

We need to remember that the father's claims to mastery over death are corroborated in his role as judge and even executioner. . . . [The] father is always potentially Death himself. In this respect the prince's struggle to contain the feud is a struggle—echoed in the world outside the Elizabethan theater—to reserve for a supreme patriarch the right to command death.

At its most benign this power thrillingly confirms the lord's generosity. By conspicuously sparing the child's life, the father (or monarch) makes the love between them incalculably valuable. And so in his amorous surrender to Juliet, Romeo exults, "O dear account! my life is in my foe's debt" (1.5.18). At its most terrifying, internalized by the child, such power generates intolerable insecurity, as in Romeo's dread of the hostile stars and his suicidal sense of doom.15

From this standpoint the lovers' suicides reflect the dynamics of patriarchal control. To master her fate, Juliet would play a lordly role as Cleopatra does to escape Caesar: "myself have power to die" (3.5.242). Yet unconsciously, the introjected imperatives of the parental judge can make suicide a form of execution in which an alienated conscience destroys a rebellious self, as in Juliet's vision of herself dashing out her own brain with an ancestral bone, the reified will of the father. Likewise Romeo's conscience punishes him with suicidal self-hatred. Banished for his defiance, he "[falls] upon the ground . . . / Taking the measure of an unmade grave" (3.3.69-70). Angry at Juliet for his own defiance in slaying Tybalt (3.1.113-15), he turns his anger against himself, fantasizing that his own name has murdered her (102-5). With Juliet he calls down punishment on himself as Elizabethan noblemen routinely did in speeches from the scaffold professing love for the queen: "let me be put to death. / I am content, so thou wilt have it so" (3.5.17-18). And: "Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so" (24). Ambiguously, however, Juliet is also "my soul" (25), so that this execution too is internalized.

As patriarchy's internal conflicts become intolerable, its radical connection with death threatens to surface in consciousness, most insidiously in the personification of death by parent and child. Old Capulet envisions death as a young, rivalrous inheritor who has "lain with" Juliet and usurped his control over her (4.5.36). His description of his adversary of course exactly fits Romeo. In the Capulets' monument, in turn, Romeo also conceives death as a rival: a warrior-king whose "pale flag" has not yet fully "conquered" Juliet (5.3.93-96). Then the rival becomes an "amorous . . . lean abhorred monster" who will make Juliet his "paramour." Romeo imagines Juliet sexually enslaved in the "palace" of a "monster" who is also a warrior-king.16

This fantasy projects the long-denied dark side of the patriarchal forms in which the lovers have construed each other. Romeo dissociates from himself as Death the part of him that would be made an emperor by Juliet's kiss. In this final moment of tenderness he rejects the devouring triumphalism latent in all patriarchy. He repudiates the Death that "hath suck'd the honey" of Juliet's breath. Otherwise, loving such an emperor-Romeo, Juliet would be submitting to rape like the women Sampson fancies "ever thrust to the wall" (1.1.16). Sampson identifies with patriarchal tyranny the same tyranny that Romeo at last projects upon death and vows to resist to the end of time.

Romeo then kisses his beloved to seal "a dateless bargain to engrossing death" (5.3.115). "Engrossing" readily applies to patriarchal hegemony and competitiveness. In addition, such greedy possession calls to mind not only Romeo's imagery of the self held in forfeit, but also his vision of the tomb as a "detestable maw," a "womb of death" (45). The metaphors place the young in an engulfing parental womb that should grant, not swallow, life. The womb and the sexually enslaving monster express the parents whom the lovers love and fear and also, unknowingly, hate.17 The spatial arrangement of Verona onstage reinforces this conflation since the monster holds Juliet in a "palace" that is in fact the Capulet monument and also, in the Elizabethan playhouse, the Capulets' house with its fortresslike walls (Gibbons, p. 74). Juliet's balcony and the lovers' first bedchamber are virtually present in Death's stronghold, as Juliet inadvertently warns Romeo: "the place [is] death, considering who thou art" (2.2.64). Just as Juliet has associated her lover with patriarchal stars (3.2.22) and a "gorgeous palace" (85), so she impulsively fantasizes about sexual violation by a patriarchal death such as Romeo imagines: "I'll to my wedding bed, / And death, not Romeo take my maidenhead" (137).18

Giving his own life with chivalric valor to rescue Juliet from a monster, Romeo finally plays out the warrior's debt of the son to his father. Even as he sacrifices himself in part for patriarchal values, he would "shake the yoke of inauspicious stars" (5.3.111) in a final repudiation of the fathers. It is the fatal paradox at the heart of patriarchy: that rebellion against a myth, insidiously encompassed by that myth, serves the myth. In taking his own life to defend Juliet's sexuality against the rival warrior-king Death, Romeo gives sublime new life—eschatological life—to Verona's feud.

At the close of the play, in the funerary statues the fathers decree, benevolence takes disturbing forms. Still thinking in terms of demands, Capulet vows: "This is my daughter's jointure, for no more / Can I demand." To which Montague replies: "But I can give thee more." Whereupon he boasts that he will make Juliet the golden cynosure of all true lovers: "There shall no figure at such a rate be set / As that of true and faithful Juliet" (296-304). The fathers' economic vocabulary and competition call to mind the psychic debts felt by the children, and the ominous economic term "engrossing" (115) that Romeo associates with death.19

Now that marriage and the sword have failed, the fathers would reconstitute their conviction of immortality by recreating their children as holy martyrs to love, "Poor sacrifices of our enmity!" (5.3.304). As icons the children will be fabricated into exemplary types. Yet there must be a difference between the golden statues and the poignant individuals we have seen. That difference is of course the basis of the play's critique of patriarchy. And in the end that difference also measures the dramatist's need to honor the structure of power outside the Globe Theater and no doubt in his own upbringing, while also enacting onstage—and in the sympathies the play evokes—a challenge to that power.

Audiences have often interpreted that challenge as a justification of romantic exaltation, even as various critics have taken it to legitimate the lovers' aspirations to autonomy. By contrast, at least one historian maintains that the original Globe audience would have felt obliged to condemn the play's disobedient children (Stone 1977). If we understand patriarchy as a system of beliefs evolved to control poisonous anxiety about death, however, these contradictory responses to the play appear in a new light. Seizing on a limited truth, each tries to protect the illusion of security at stake in the play, either by revaluing the social order (for example, by postulating its reform through love) or, more often, by repudiating patriarchal values on behalf of a substitute system of beliefs. Like the voices onstage, we too need to fortify ourselves against the prospect of annihilation.20

Given the danger of offending an audience, especially an audience of Elizabethan patriarchs, the play does not forcibly disenchant its myths. Instead it creates conditions in which imagination might discover itself as a tissue of beliefs. Such a recognition would momentarily at least turn the imagination against itself, showing the triumphal verities onstage and off to be as compulsive and insubstantial as dreams. In such a moment of alienation the self could begin to appreciate its dependency, even (to echo Sampson and Gregory) its enslavement. In that dizzying moment, that is, lies the possibility of change and perhaps a new ground for heroic values.

Recognition that people live by strategic fictions such as patriarchy opens up everything for negotiation and therefore provides a basis for consensual relationships and, not incidentally, the artist's own creativity. Disconnected from underlying physical forces and appetites, by contrast, a cultural fiction may be a terrifying illusion, a candle lighting fools the way to dusty death. If disenchanted, Shakespeare saw, human behavior may reduce to a fierce appetite for domination and nurture tenuously held in check by ruthless strategy: in Verona a feud, or in the imagery of the history plays a struggle between a king and ravenous wolves.

Hence Shakespeare's equivocation. Like Queen Elizabeth's regime, which revived old forms such as chivalry to disguise its innovations, he survived public life in a world of homicidal religious and political rivalry by honoring venerable cultural forms while recreating them. In one sense his genius lay in devising ways of making disenchantment healthy. His own Romeo and Juliet appears simply to echo Brooke's familiar, lifeless Romeus, although in fact it functions as a sort of pun on Brooke's story, producing a new meaning. Such a quibbling imaginative stance permitted devious self-assertion in the ostensible service of deference.

Although Romeo and Juliet seems to me deeply disenchanted at its core, it dramatizes the imagination's resilience in the face of annihilation. As London and Shakespeare himself survived a devastating plague in the early 1590s (a catastrophe echoed in 5.2.8-12), so the play registers the shock of mortality to a privileged system of belief. The final lines show Verona turning blasted life into art ("never was a story of more woe" [5.3.309]), as Shakespeare himself, having sensed the darkness beyond the bright dreams of culture, would go on generating fictions that engaged that darkness, including the flagrantly dreamlike late romances. In this perspective, like the lovers striving to recreate themselves in the starry gloom, the play probes the origins of belief and creativity, reshaping its anxiously conventionalized source story as that story began to reveal the dread and aspiration which are its hidden motive energy.


1 One justly influential study finds that many of Shakespeare's plays "reveal the high cost of patriarchal values; the men who uphold them atrophy, and the women, whether resistant or acquiescent, die." See The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Carolyn R. S. Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980), pp. 5-6. Also see Kahn, Man's Estate, pp. 82-104. Peter Erickson's Patriarchal Structures is also primarily concerned with the representation of gender and its political implications. More disposed to see patriarchy as a comprehensive social system is Marianne L. Novy, Love's Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), esp. chap. 3. Debora Shuger ("Reflections of the Father") persuasively complicates the prevailing stereotypes of the coercive patriarch.

2 Cf. Lenz, Greene, and Neely, The Woman's Part: "Although women may strive to resist or correct the perversions of patriarchy, they do not succeed in altering that order nor do they withdraw their allegiance from it" (p. 6).

3 "At the beginning of the world," Machiavelli theorized in the Discourses, "the inhabitants were few in number, and lived for a time dispersed like beasts. As the human race increased, the necessity for uniting themselves for defence made itself felt; the better to attain this object, they chose the strongest and most courageous from amongst themselves and placed him at their head, promising to obey him" (Schochet, Patriarchalism, p. 29). Schochet surveys patriarchal political theory in the Tudor period, pp.37-53.

4 Richard Hooker, The Works of Richard Hooker, ed. John Keeble, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1888; reprint, New York, 1970), 3: 652 (cited in Shuger, "Reflections of the Father")

8 See Brian Gibbon's Arden edition of the play, p. 170n. The allusion to orgasmic dying could be strengthened even further by recalling the Lord's promise to Abraham that his immortality would be in infinite progeny: "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be" (Gen. 15.5).

9 Edward A. Snow discriminates two distinct modes of desire in the lovers, "exquisitely fitted to each other, but rarely meeting in the same phenomenological universe" (p. 178). Where Juliet "experiences genesis and gestation, Romeo is haunted by a sense of emptiness and unreality." His love "remains to some extent an attempt to escape from a reality he finds oppressive." See "Language and Sexual Difference in Romeo and Juliet," in Erickson and Kahn, Shakespeare's "Rough Magic," p. 179.

10 Juliet's invocation of Phaeton suggests an unconscious appreciation of the perils of the lovers' usurpation of patriarchal reins (3.2.1-4).

11 Since a slave must at least pretend to replace his own extirpated will with his master's, slavery can be seen as a form of playing dead in order to survive. I examine the servants' behavior in Shakespeare's Creation, pp. 120-21.

12 Cf. Juliet's "O'ercovered" and "your daughter cover'd with a Barbary horse" in Othello (1.1.111).

13 Romeo has mortgaged his life to "Some consequence yet hanging in the stars," and the stars themselves are associated with fathers, as Harold C. Goddard says in The Meaning of Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951),1:119. Cf. the indebtedness to a father associated with mourning in, e.g., Twelfth Night and Love's Labors Lost. Erickson notes Prince Hal's sense of guilt toward paternal figures (Patriarchal Structures, p. 46), and directly links Henry V to Hamlet in their common dilemma of indebtedness to fathers (pp. 63-72).

14 I am assuming that the child has perceived the mother's own identification with the father, although in the earliest years of life the mother must have been experienced as the omnipotent and subsuming force. In an adult's unconscious, in varying ways and degrees, father and mother seem likely to have been fused. In a relevant historical context John Demos provides a useful assessment of infantile fantasies about the mother. See Entertaining Satan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 200-206.

15 "Romeo tends to hypostatize feelings. . . . When he does imagine himself in the world rather than 'looking on' [1.4.38], it is usually by picturing himself as an object in space that is 'moved' by external forces. . . . [His] favorite metaphor is the sea-journey, with himself more often the ship than the pilot" (Snow, "Language and Sexual Difference," p. 171).

16 "When Shakespeare makes Romeo wonder whether death keeps Juliet as his paramour .. . his words are a variation on a common notion" (Spencer, Death and Elizabethan Tragedy, p. 77). The "monster" Death is based on conventional imagery of the skeleton (pp. 72-77). In the play as well as in the social world from which it derives, however, that imagery is also profoundly patriarchal.

17 A fourteenth-century English poem, "Death and Life," makes Death a devouring woman with "a marvelous mouth full of long tushes, / & the neb of her nose to her navell hanged" (quoted in Spencer, Death and Elizabethan Tragedy, p. 29). "Tushes" evoke the boaras-death in Venus and Adonis. The condensation of family relationships in Romeo's fantasy about death prefigures the patterns of incest and intimate strife that shadow the major tragedies and the late romances. The Capulets' monument laden with the bodies of slain suitors may anticipate the opening of Pericles, for example, where the palace of the incestuous tyrant Antiochus displays the severed heads of suitors who have failed to release his daughter from his thrall by answering a riddle about a devouring monster.

18 Cf. also Juliet's vision of lying "o'ercovered" by dead men in a charnel house (4.1.85).

19 Their own aggression exposed, the fathers behave like patriarchal sons insofar as they compulsively imagine a debt of mourning—cf. Chapters 3 and 4—that their gold statues can pay or expiate.

20 The criticism of Romeo and Juliet readily reveals the compulsion to console for death. In Coming of Age in Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1981) Marjorie Garber vows that "although Juliet will die young, her experiences with love, sex, pain, and loss are enough for a lifetime of adulthood" (p. 37). Cf. this Tennysonian straw ("it is better to have lived and loved than not to have lived at all") with John Lawlor's wishful encomium .. . : "It is essential . . . that we see [Romeo] grow .. . to a final maturity which outsoars all else in the play" (p. 133). Even Coppélia Kahn tries to give the lovers' force of will a quasireligious vitality: "their love-death is not merely fated; it is willed. It is the lovers' triumphant assertion over the impoverished and destructive world that has kept them apart" (Kahn, Man's Estate, p. 103).

Comedies And Romances

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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. He begins with father-daughter as a device for expounding plot in the early comedies, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night's Dream; he develops it as a complicated contrast of ideal positions in The Merchant of Venice; and then in the later comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, he uses it to reflect upon and undercut the positions presented in The Merchant of Venice.

In The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew, father-daughter is purely plot device. In the former, conflict between the two is perfectly clear: the Duke of Milan wants his daughter Silvia to marry Thurio, an unattractive but wealthy suitor. She will have none of him; instead she loves Valentine and follows him into banishment, entirely against her father's wishes. At the end, in as sudden a flip-flop as Shakespeare ever presents, the Duke rejects Thurio as a coward and is completely won over to Silvia's choice. Father and daughter do not confront each other over their differences; the conflict becomes the cause for romantic and dramatic scenes rather than the occasion of them. It thus remains simply a device (one of several) for helping to keep the plot alive.

In The Taming of the Shrew, the relationship becomes a kind of framework within which the plot moves. Baptista is firm in his stand that his elder daughter Katherine should be given the chance to marry before her sister Bianca, even though the younger has all the suitors. There is in him a loyalty and a sense of propriety which neither the fractiousness of Kate nor the simpering hypocrisy of Bianca can change. In turn, they feel the authority behind their father's position, however much they chafe under it. The decree of the father is an accepted and unchanged thing upon which the real action of the play—the wooing of the girls—hinges.

At first glance the relationship between Egeus and Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream seems the same as the Duke of Milan's and Silvia's. Egeus wants his daughter to marry Demetrius; she will have no one but Lysander. But there are many ways in which variation is introduced. Egeus and Hermia face each other before a higher authority, Theseus, where the dispute is presented for decision. In this way the arguments for either side are given context, which they had not had in the earlier play. Egeus' argument is that Lysander has "filched my daughter's heart, Turned her obedience, which is due to me, To stubborn harshness" (I, i, 36-38). He implies some kind of underhandedness, some razzle-dazzle, some magic, which is the source of her behaviour. Hermia's resolution seems equally headlong and foolish. She will sacrifice everything, even her life, if she can not marry Lysander. Their plans for elopement take full account of the romance of a moonlit night and of the trials that true love will inevitably encounter but have no thought at all of her father's feelings or their own position in Athens or the harsh threats just made by Theseus.

Theseus' judgement of the case is more objective, less impassioned than either of these. In essence, he suggests that wise fathers must choose husbands for obedient daughters. When Hermia says, "I would my father looked but with my eyes," he replies, "Rather your eyes must with his judgement look" (I, i, 56-57). And his case is demonstrated by his description of the father-daughter relationship:

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.

(I, i, 47-51)

In the world of Theseus, which is a world of reason and law, the father is a more reliable selector of a husband for his daughter than she is. The father has concern, love, maturity, and sense to guide him, whereas the daughter has only her emotions, her love, to rely on.

The difficulty of Theseus' position is that it assumes wisdom in the father. It is not clear that Egeus has any such wisdom. The young man he chooses is no better nor worse than the one Hermia chooses. What is emphasized is the likeness, the indistinguishableness, in fact, between them. The family background, the abilities, the confusion, the behavior in the wood—all are comparable. Egeus' superior judgement is not manifest in the way the young men behave.

Yet Hermia's defiant insistence on her own choice in love does not seem much more worthy. In the wood, there are no fathers, there is no reason and law, only imagination, magic, and irrationality; but the madness among the lovers demonstrates that they are not able to choose wisely if left to themselves. Eventually, since they have help from Oberon's magic, and since Theseus, when he finds the lovers happily paired off, overrules Egeus' objections and his own former position, the conflict between father and daughter is muted and disappears. Yet the dream of that conflict lingers, for somewhere underneath all the laughter at Bottom and his company of players lies the unnoticed reminder that this playlet is the story of Pyramus and Thisbe who defy their fathers' wishes and come to grief. The conflict of father and daughter is not resolved, only shunted aside. In the final analysis, it becomes a device for furthering the action, just as Baptista's insistence on the order of his daughter's marrying had been.

With The Merchant of Venice, the function of the father-daughter device changes. We find two situations contrasting with one another, both involving the wishes of daughters to marry and the attitudes their fathers have towards those wishes. Because of the contrast, the device may be said to deal not so much with plot as with the essential dramatic structure of the play. For the relationship between each father and daughter determines the nature of the love each girl finds and establishes each love as opposite to the other.

Jessica's break from her father Shylock is much sharper than Hermia's had been in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Whereas Hermia and Lysander presumably have tried to persuade Egeus, Jessica's elopement comes like a thunderclap to Shylock. It is with a hated Christian; it is carried out with the help and knowledge of Lorenzo's friends (as Shylock sees it, probably of most of Venice); it involves her masquerading as a boy and attending the same feast her father is attending; it includes taking as many valuables from her father as she can carry. The whole incident is a monstrous insult to him, treated light-heartedly by Lorenzo and as a great joke by his friends. For the most part, Jessica echoes this cavalier attitude, yet her shame at dressing as a boy may carry with it some residue of uneasiness at the way she is treating her father. Two statements, the first words we hear her speak and her last words in her father's house suggest some possible shades of remorse or at least regret. The first of these seems like an irrelevant comment to Launcelot Gobbo: "I am sorry thou wilt leave my father so" (II, iii, 1). She is more interested in the life the young servant provides around the house than she is concerned for her father's loneliness; but it suggests a dimension of her thought, for she is already making her own plans to leave. The other statement is a repetition of her father's final words to her. He has said, ".. . shut doors after you. Fast bind, fast find" (II, v, 53-54), words which she echoes as she leaves the house: "I will make fast the doors, and gild myself With some more ducats, and be with you straight" (II, vi, 49-50). The mixture of obedience and defiance suggests at least a little confusion on her part.

We must not overdo her concern for her father. But we can justly consider what her elopement means to him. He is so isolated from Jessica, so unlike her in nature and feeling, so little aware of her as a person, that we tend to feel that he deserves the heartache her elopement brings to him. Yet the lack of concern arises simply from his complete conviction that she is the girl he thinks her to be. When he speaks his foreboding to her, when he orders her to "Lock up my doors . . . Let not the sound of shallow foppery enter My sober house" (II, v, 29, 35-36), he is expressing an attitude towards the Venetians which he expects her to share. Whatever we read into their relationship, whether Shylock is to be considered villain or persecuted alien, the failure of understanding and feeling between father and daughter, except at some uncommunicable and unrealized level, stands out. And the fact of this failure helps to define the nature of the love between Lorenzo and Jessica as we observe it in Belmont later on.

When Bassanio and Gratiano and later Portia and Nerissa rush away to Venice, Lorenzo and Jessica are left in charge in Belmont. "Lorenzo," Portia says,

I commit into your hands
The husbandry and manage of my house
Until my lord's return.

(III, iv, 24-26)

The husbandry and manage of the house are very undemanding. Lorenzo orders dinner and music, contemplates going inside to greet the returning owners ceremoniously, and then gives up the idea and remains out in the night with Jessica; that is complete inventory of his "manage of the house." Yet his jesting chatter with Launcelot Gobbo and the love-talk with Jessica are significant pointers to the kind of love he knows, although they are not essential to the action. Launcelot is brazen and outspoken in his jests. He delays the serving of dinner; he makes a joking accusation that Jessica ought not to have become a Christian because it "will raise the price of hogs" (III, v, 26); he dismisses with a flip remark the counter accusation of Lorenzo that he is guilty of "getting-up of the Negro's belly" (III, v, 41-42). In the midst of these jests there is an aura of permissiveness, of carelessness between master and servant, which in turn suggests little interest or talent for the "manage of the house."

In fact, Lorenzo and Jessica are completely absorbed in each other. In the outdoors of Belmont they reveal their love in several ways. They have a kinship with great lovers of the past; their understanding enables them to give a choral response when they speak of the beautiful night; they use language for play rather than for serious communication, mockingly accusing each other of faithlessness; they are mutually able to reach out to feel the harmony of the music of the spheres and to feel the Tightness of themselves in relation to the music of the musicians. Private understanding, beauty, music, harmony: these are the qualities which define the kind of love Lorenzo and Jessica experience. Any man who has no music in himself is not to be trusted. Yet their love has its limitations. The lovers whose names are so beautifully dropped by them—Troilus and Cressida, Pyramus and Thisbe, Aeneas and Dido, Jason and Medea—are finally tragic lovers, having rebelled in one way or another against parents or society or the state or all three. And the love of Lorenzo and Jessica is carefully kept out of any social context. They simply yield authority to Bassanio and Portia, content to live in their own dream, scarcely aware of the strange, alienated, obsessed father with whom we as audience have had so much to do. Their love has become a love of a special and ideal kind.

The love between Bassanio and Portia stands in complete contrast. There are very formal and strict requirements imposed by Portia's father for wooing her. And although her father is dead, she accepts the conditions and will abide by them: "If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as chaste as Diana unless I be obtained by the manner of my father's will" (I, ii, 116-118). She seems to run a great risk in keeping her resolution. A whole catalogue of silly suitors makes itself available to her; and although they will not all go through with the conditions necessary for choosing, two suitors try to choose correctly and fail. Both suitors—Morocco and Arragon—are unacceptable to Portia, as we learn from her relief at their failure. But it is clear that she means to abide by the terms given; if the "wrong" man chooses correctly, he wins.

At the same time, the means are perfectly safe. Portia's father, setting these bonds on her at his death, knows exactly what he is doing. The man who chooses the lead casket will possess the qualities which are perfect for her and he will be the kind of man whom she will love, will always have loved. When Theseus pronounces to Hermia the words, "Rather your eyes must with his judgement look" he is in fact saying what Portia enacts. Though her father has died, though she has committed herself to conditions which theoretically endanger her happiness, yet her father's judgment is certain and trustworthy. The risk is great but Portia lives by it and triumphs.

She has won what Jessica has abandoned: social context for her relationship with her husband. This contrast between the girls is reinforced upon Portia's return to Belmont in Act V. Jessica is bathing in the beauty of the moonlight, she is enthralled by the music she hears. For Portia, however, reactions to moon and music are opposite to this. When she enters, the moon has gone; what is apparent to her is the little candle burning in her hall. Furthermore, she regards the music as sweet but not necessarily as always so: "Nothing is good, I see, without respect. . . . How many things by season seasoned are To their right praise and true perfection!" (V, i, 99, 107-108). If she is good and right, then the music is fine; but it does not depend on whether she has music in herself. It was like that when Bassanio was choosing: music did not determine but depended on his choice.

Let music sound while he doth make his choice,
Then, if he lose, he makes a swanlike end,
Fading in music. .. . He may win,
And what is music then? Then music is
Even as the flourish when true subjects bow
To a new-crowned monarch.

(III, ii, 43-45, 47-50)

She turns off the moon by entering; she stops the music that has been enchanting Lorenzo and Jessica. All actions turn toward her, seem almost to depend on her. She becomes again the center of the Belmont world and all things are subordinated to her and to her command. So the public Portia regains her husband and he his public reward.

Yet she and Bassanio lack the private understanding and intimacy exhibited so clearly by Lorenzo and Jessica. To Bassanio, she has always been the public Portia. When he first describes her to Antonio, it is Portia the valued prize he is thinking of:

her sunny locks
Hang on her temples like a golden fleece,
Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchos' strond,
And many Jasons come in quest of her.

(I, i, 169-172)

He knows how to win her, by ignoring "ornament" and considering the inner qualities of the caskets; but when he wins her, it is the beauteous exterior which he is aware of, the "official" Portia. He admires the perfection of the picture he finds in the lead casket but finds that "this shadow Doth limp behind the substance" (III, ii, 129-130), that is, Portia herself. Though she is seen by Bassanio in this way, Portia is far from being mere facade. We hear her shrewd and witty comments on her suitors, we feel excitement at the approach of Bassanio and her dismay at the thought that he might choose incorrectly, we understand her attempt to communicate a sense of her girlhood and her inexperience to him:

But the full sum of me
Is sum of something which, to term in gross,
Is an unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpracticed,
Happy in this, she is not yet so old
But she may learn. Happier than this,
She is not bred so dull but she can learn.

(III, ii, 159-164)

The latter part of the play demonstrates that he does not know her in the way Lorenzo knows Jessica. When she appears as a lawyer in the court of Venice, there is no recognition at all, nor afterwards when he gives her ring to the lawyer. In fact, the whole episode of the rings reinforces this. Though the end of the story deals amusingly with the problem, both Bassanio and Portia realize that he is able to recognize the Lady of Belmont but not the girl he married. The potential is there, we know. Portia has revealed herself to be a charming and fascinating woman; Bassanio, by the wisdom he shows in choosing the least ornamental casket, has demonstrated his capacity to look beyond the surface. He simply has not yet had the time to get to know her well.

Thus, each pair of lovers suggests a different kind of love. Portia and Bassanio are perfect in their social compatibility, Jessica and Lorenzo are perfect in their intimacy and understanding. In the context of the play, both love relationships arise out of the relationships of the daughter with the father. Shylock, defied by Jessica, makes impossible a love which is socially responsible; the love of Lorenzo and Jessica must be built on their own intimacy and understanding. The Duke, obeyed by Portia, makes possible a love which is publicly and socially responsible; but the love which Bassanio and Portia have has not yet had time to achieve intimacy and understanding. Each love seems an ideal, a kind of perfection of what it is, but limited to what it is.

Yet Shakespeare asks us to pause as he puts forward the father and daughter of Much Ado About Nothing; and he does this in two ways, one of these incidental and digressive and the other basic to the play. First of all, in a way which is incidental and causal and obviously a mistake or an earlier version or the fault of the printers, he makes us consider the absence of mothers in these plays. He raises the question which no one has ever been able to answer: whatever happened to Innogen?

She is advertised as entering with her husband Leonato and his household at the beginning of Much Ado About Nothing; she is also said to appear at the beginning of Act II with her husband and others among her family and guests. She is never given a line to say; she is never spoken to by any of the characters; she is never spoken about by any of them either. Occasions arise in the course of the action which might well demand her attention: her daughter Hero is wooed by a highly eligible Claudio; their marriage is arranged with the dispatch of a young man who knows what he wants; the bride is dressed for the church ceremony (will ever a mother be kept silent on such an occasion?); Hero is then denounced in public as faithless by her intended and falls into a faint, only to be denounced further by her father when she returns to consciousness. On any or all of these occasions, a mother would attend to and probably support her daughter in her joys and sorrows. But Innogen is nowhere to be found. Editors in shame and embarrassment have relegated her to a couple of footnotes and they uniformly mumble that Shakespeare left her out of the final version of the play but forgot to strike her name from the stage directions.

And indeed it may be so. For we can imagine the impulses which prompted Shakespeare both to put in a wife to Leonato and to take out a mother to Hero. For Leonato, so deferential in his behavior toward outside authority as it is represented in Don Pedro, is commanding where he can be in his family. His niece Beatrice he can control very little, nor does he show much inclination to try. But his daughter Hero he will direct and order about, for her own good, naturally:

Daughter, remember what I told you. If the Prince do solicit
you in that kind, you know your answer.

(II, i, 69-71)

His role as petty tyrant would be reinforced and supported by having a timid, quiet, subservient wife. It would suggest that his word was law within his immediate family, however reliant he was on others' opinion outside that family.

But such reinforcement would not do much for the relationship between Innogen and Hero. The scene at the church would be even more awkward than it is, if both father and mother rejected their child. It is one thing to have the foolish Leonato side with the Prince against his daughter and accuse her of loose behavior. But it would be quite another to have her mother, either out of fear of Leonato or out of a comparable lack of trust in Hero, join in the accusation. And if she sided with her daughter against her husband, the picture of the happy little family doing Leonato's every bidding would be destroyed. On some such grounds, the character of Innogen may have been abandoned.

And in fact, the conceivable functions she might have in the play have been filled by other characters. Where Leonato needs support in his foolishness, it is supplied by the old man Antonio, his brother, who can be a confidant and a strong backer of Leonato's and at the same time intensify the tendencies toward folly exhibited by Leonato. He is the first to announce to his brother the Prince's plan to woo Hero; he behaves foolishly during the dance, trying to conceal his identity while Ursula mocks his age; after the church scene he appears to comfort his brother and then to outchallenge him in the quarrel with Pedro and Claudio. As part of the final reconciliation, he plays the father of a child much like Hero, who is to become Claudio's bride instead. Antonio provides support for Leonato such as Innogen might give, but he offers a dimension of humor that would not be appropriate in her.

The other function imagined for her, that of supporting her daughter when she is slandered, is more than made up for by Beatrice and the Friar. Beatrice has from the beginning established her own independence of her uncle Leonato. She would never think of marrying on his mere recommendation and she tries to persuade her cousin to be as free in her choosing. Though she is courteous and mannerly, her basic choices are going to be her own. It is easy, then, for her to insist on Hero's innocence and to utter her indignation at the accusations made by Claudio and Pedro. She does not accuse her uncle of being a dupe for believing Claudio and not Hero; she is silent through most of the accusation scene. But her belief in Hero is never shaken and her fury at the accusers is unbounded. She is so powerful a spokesman that she needs no other character to express injustice; and Innogen's expression of the same position might be complicated by the loyalty expected toward her husband, which could in effect cause her to be silent.

The Friar also is important in clearing Hero's name and regaining her father's respect for her. He thinks of the device of declaring Hero dead, which is supposed to soften her accusers (and doesn't), but far more importantly he represents a voice to which Leonato can attend. Leonato, being the man that he is, needs to rely on an outside authority to do his thinking for him. He falls in with Pedro's proposal of Claudio as husband for Hero; he believes the accusation which Claudio makes against his daughter; and now Friar Francis persuades him of the innocence of his daughter, a conclusion which he would have difficulty coming to by himself. To imagine Innogen performing such a function would be to reconceive the kind of character Leonato is and to inject into the play a complicated marital problem that might well overshadow the rest of the action.

By positing the dramatic functions that might be performed by Innogen and by seeing how much more satisfactorily they have been taken care of by characters already in the play, we can see why Innogen seems to have been dropped from the play by Shakespeare. But the dropping of Innogen reinforces the use of the father-daughter device in the other romantic comedies I have discussed. The conflict between the "wise" father and the "emotional" daughter is simply and straightforwardly presented in each of them without the inevitable complications which a mother would introduce. And the very simplicity of the device makes it possible to resolve the conflict in a number of different, satisfactory, comic ways, culminating in the two detailed instances of The Merchant of Venice. Having made the Duke and his daughter Portia emerge as triumphant instances of a happy combination of father and daughter, Shakespeare proceeds to render their success ideal and improbable by the relationship suggested in the next three romantic comedies—Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night.

What happens, for instance, if you have a daughter who is a model from her father's point of view, only the father lacks the wisdom of a Duke of Belmont? What happens is what we find in the qualities and relationship of Leonato and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing.

Leonato is interested in providing for his daughter's future, but he has no such wisdom as the Duke of Belmont. He can look for a suitable son-in-law among the titled, among the favorites of the titled, among the exteriorly attractive; but he knows nothing about the interior qualities and he lacks any means of finding out. He will rejoice if Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, is rumored seeking his daughter's hand; but he will be if it is Claudio, the Prince's protege, instead. He expects and finds an obedient response from his daughter, Hero; and she is just as compliant as ever Portia is. But the deep feeling Portia has for Bassanio is missing. She makes no protest when her father mistakenly prepares her for Pedro's wooing; she exhibits none of Portia's excitement when she accepts Claudio (although she is described as whispering in his ear); she agrees to re-accept Claudio after he has so shamefully disgraced her. There is a passivity in Hero that is a reduction to absurdity of Portia's loyalty to her father; there is a fawning before authority in Leonato that suggests that not every father has the judgment to decide properly for his daughter. The whole argument for wise fathers that had been demonstrated brilliantly in The Merchant of Venice comes crashing down in Much Ado About Nothing. In a world where facade means everything, where feeling is only tentatively and timidly present, the father and daughter roles can lead to tragedy and disgrace. The scene in the church epitomizes their pitiful dilemma. Hero, whose private feelings are either absent or never known, is condemned publicly as unfaithful by her lover. Leonato, who has placed so much reliance on the infallibility of the great Pedro and the youthful Claudio, can only join in their condemnation. Both father and daughter are helpless before the mistake, and they must be rescued by others with more resources than they. Leonato and Hero represent the bankruptcy of the "wise" father and the "obedient" daughter.

Beatrice has no father and is far better off for it. She and Benedick have a private feeling for each other which must be reconciled to their public selves by the agency of Pedro's plot to bring them together. In a sense, they are like Jessica and Lorenzo but they have no father to consider.

Rosalind and Orlando in As You Like It are rather like this too. Rosalind has a father for whom she mourns, when she is in Frederick's court. But when she is in the Forest of Arden, the whole world changes for everyone. She becomes not Rosalind but Ganymede playing Rosalind, and Ganymede has no father. She and Orlando can articulate private love games at their leisure, as earlier private lovers could not. Lorenzo and Jessica have their moment, but they must yield to Bassanio and Portia; Benedick and Beatrice scarcely can admit even to each other the depth of their feeling, for depth of feeling is a subject for mockery in the world of Much Ado About Nothing. But in a world where there is no clock and there are no jobs or duties, and the fool is not a fool but a courtier and a lover, and the Duke is without a dukedom, and there is no possession, and the world ages with the deliberate slowness of Nature's moving, in such a world, love can be free and delightful and playful and serene. And fathers (both Rosalind's and Celia's) are forgotten about until the end when reunion takes place and seriousness in life and love resumes its role and the father and his daughter and her husband all prepare to leave the Forest.

Thus, after the triumph of the father in the Belmont world of The Merchant of Venice, he is given his comeuppance in the next two plays. The last of the romantic comedies, Twelfth Night, removes fathers altogether. Olivia's has died over a year before and Viola's long ago. The chief quality of Illyria is instability, whether from over-emotionalism (like the Duke's) or pleasureseeking (like Sir Toby's), or puffed-up ambition (like Malvolio's). Both Olivia and Viola share in this instability, Olivia by falling in love with a girl dressed as a boy and marrying that girl's twin without knowing any better, Viola by falling in love with a Duke who doesn't know how he feels or who his love is. A steadying hand is absent. Toby, who is "consanguineous" to Olivia, assumes neither responsibility nor concern for Olivia's future, so busy is he about his fooling and his drinking; Malvolio, who would like to assume both responsibility and sovereignty, lacks the respect of anyone in Olivia's household, though he has her affection. The implication is that a wise father would have made a difference for both daughters, and that his absence places a greater burden on fortuitous circumstances to produce a happy ending.

The romantic comedies have other relationships which are explored in some such sequence—ruler and subject, master and servant, wise fool and foolish wit—but none with more delicate balance than the device of father and daughter and the varied problems arising from that relationship.

Charles Frey (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Imperiled and Chastening Daughters of Romance," in South Atlantic Bulletin, Vol. XLIII, No. 4, November, 1978, pp. 125-40.

[In the essay below, Frey examines the complex and timeless responses of daughters to familial pressures.]

Shakespeare's plays often open with generational conflicts that point up distressing consequences of patriarchy: fathers and husbands treating children and wives as mere property or appurtenances of themselves (for example, Duke of Milan in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Egeus in A Midsummer Night's Dream, fathers and husbands in The Taming of the Shrew and The Merry Wives of Windsor, the Capulets, Lear, Brabantio), children greedy for patrimony (Oliver in As You Like It, various characters in the Histories, and in Lear Edmund, Goneril, and Regan), or "lovers" greedy for dowry (suitors of Kate, and Portia, and Anne Fenton, Angelo in Measure for Measure, Burgundy in Lear). The elder generation often adheres, moreover, to a code of revenge or war in which it seeks to over-involve the younger generation (Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, I Henry IV, Hamlet, Lear), so that the procreative process becomes interrupted by misdefinitions of roles or unfortunate expectations of family loyalty and "inheritance." Sons, in particular, become tragic losers in this patriarchal overdetermination of loyalties, because they are, typically, used up in fighting feuds of their fathers; the desire for primogenitural progeny becomes thwarted when the male line is forfeited in parental wars. The particular conflict between values of war (or protection of family) and love (or extension of family) shows up most clearly in tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. In Lear, Othello, and Macbeth, plays shot through with sexual and familial confusion and unwholesomeness, we see the impotence of an authoritarian, martial, aggressive, hierarchical male to enter reciprocal, fruitful relations with women or to foster life or line.

Given such often-disastrous results generated by the system of near-absolute male authority, a major issue in Shakespeare's plays often becomes: What part may women play simply to survive, and then, beyond that, what part may women play to right at least some of the wrongs of patriarchy? In what follows, I shall examine Shakespeare's evolving depictions of daughters' responses to the familial pressures outlined here. I shall consider particularly the plights and flights of daughters in Shakespeare's later plays, daughters who respond to expectations of love and matrimony in surprisingly contradictory, complex, and modern, or perhaps timeless, ways.

To say, initially, that Shakespeare's women are to some degree victims of patriarchy is not to say that, among the range of Shakespeare's characters, one finds a dearth of spirited, sensitive, knowing, remarkably impressive women; one has but to think of Rosalind or Beatrice or Viola or Helena, or of Cordelia, Cleopatra, and Imogen. Such women manage to assert themselves, however in spite of the odds against them, as heroic exceptions to the more general rule of depressing male domination. Think of how often and how keenly Shakespeare concentrates, to take the most significant theme, upon the perversity of fathers' claims to direct their daughters' destinies in marriage. We hear throughout the plays of proprietary acts and attitudes taken by fathers in regard to or rather disregard of their daughters:

I beg the ancient privilege of Athens:
As she is mine, I may dispose of her;
Which shall be either to this gentleman,
Or to her death. . . .

(MND 1.1.41)

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?

(Rom. 3.4.20)

This is for all:
I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth
Have you so slander any moment leisure
As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet.
Look to 't, I charge you. Come your ways.

(Ham. 1.3.131)

Thou must to thy father, and be gone from Troilus.1

(Tro. 4.2.91)

To the father's combined claims of legal and emotional interest in the daughter's marriage choice, the Elizabethans were, obviously, well-attuned. So intense, moreover, is the emotional investment of Shakespeare's fathers in their daughters' love that the thwarting of the fathers' expectations often brings forth imprecations and diatribes of surpassing bitterness:

I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!

(MV 3.1.87)

Do not live, Hero, do not ope thine eyes,
For did I think thou wouldst not quickly die,
Thought I thy spirits were stronger than thy shames,
Myself would, on the rearward of reproaches,
Strike at thy life.

(Ado. 4.1.123)

Look to't, think on't, I do not use to jest.
Thursday is near, lay hand on heart, advise.
And 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.

(Rom. 3.5.189)

The barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbor'd, pitied, and reliev'd,
As thou my soemetime daughter.

(Lr. 1.1.116)

Examples of such bitterness could be multiplied from other plays, and such multiplication would merely serve to support one's natural response and question: Why? Why do Shakespeare's fathers often hate their daughters so ambitiously, with a hate that borders on disintegration and madness? Part of the answer lies, no doubt, in the special relations between father and only or best-loved daughter. More important, I submit, is the concomitant absence, at least in the plays quoted above, of any sons.

Some of the fathers mention their reliance upon their daughters for comfort and security in old age. Thus the Duke in The Two Gentlemen of Verona says: "I thought the remnant of mine age / Should have been cherish'd by her child-like duty" (3.1.74), and Lear says, "I lov'd her most, and thought to set my rest / On her kind nursery" (1.1.123). Such considerations—of emotional and economic security and of political control and generational extension of line—help to dictate the father's interest in choice of the daughter's marriage partner. An absence of any sons not only may make plain the father's need for the daughter's support and thus for a congenial son-in-law, it also may turn the son-in-law into substitute son, the inheritor of family power and values. When the daughter chooses radically against her father's will, she effectively shuts him off from patriarchal domination of the son-in-law and consequent son-like extension of his power and values. In the earlier comedies, the daughter's choice does not really extend beyond the father's range. Who can tell a Lysander from a Demetrius? When the choice does extend vastly beyond the father's range, as in the case of Jessica and Shylock, the results, for the father at least, are tragic.

In the earlier comedies, the society with which we are presented at the opening does not need fundamental revision, and the daughter's choice of a partner, even if against her father's will, serves eventually to confirm existing values. In tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and Lear, where the order existing at the outset is often superficial, narrow, or grown archaic, the daughter marries far beyond her father's range, marries someone who challenges his sociopolitical security. Romeo's family is the age-old enemy of Juliet's family; Brabantio finds Othello repugnant as a son-in-law; France is inevitably under suspicion as rival or enemy of Lear's England, which he indeed invades later in the play. Fathers such as Capulet (though he may be on the brink of giving up the feud), Brabantio, and Lear cannot or will not think to extend their lines, given these special circumstances, through their daughters. Yet they have little alternative. Dreams they might have of patrilineal extension are shattered by their daughters' choice of marriage partners. Their resultant rage may be better understood in this light, as may its terrible consequences.

Terrible as the consequences are in terms of individual deaths, the revolts in the tragedies of daughters against their fathers' wills become essential elements in the whole process of loss and at least partial redemption that marks the tragic catharsis.2 In Shakespeare's tragedies, as in his comedies, a daughter who defines herself against her father, who takes a husband, as it were, in spite of him, usually becomes associated with regenerative forces and outcomes. Where the problem, or part of it, is to break the death-dealing feud or prejudice of the father, the daughter manages to help, but in the tragedies she helps in a way that costs very dearly. Viewed in the most basic terms of patriarchal expectations, tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet portray fathers who employ sons to carry on their concerns, to enforce their continuing image in patrilineal succession but also to fight in the fathers' feuds. Where sons are denied to such patriarchal fathers, they may become resentful or seek substitutes. Macbeth may be analyzed usefully from this perspective. Macbeth, whose ambition to be king is threatened by Duncan's election of his son as successor, does manage to become king, but he himself has no son and remains threatened not only by Malcolm but by Banquo's line, prophesied to succeed to the throne. Macbeth becomes cast in the role of one who kills the sons of others. Unable to reach Malcolm, he attempts through hired killers to murder Banquo's son (as well as Banquo) and almost succeeds. His killers do kill, onstage, Macduff's son, and, finally, we see Macbeth himself hack down, near the end of the play, Siward's son, "Young Siward." The most significant fact about Macduff, who at last kills Macbeth, is that Macduff is "not of woman born," as if only such a person could get around Macbeth's malevolence against issue. Lear, too, has no son, but our first glimpse of him is in the act of arranging to acquire appropriate sons-in-law. He thinks to extend his line through daughters. Two of them, however, turn out to be his enemies, and the third marries France who becomes Britain's enemy, albeit in a war of "liberation." Still, as in Romeo and Juliet, the daughter's choice of a husband who is independent of her father's influence proves a catalyst, though a bitter one, for the changes necessary to a revitalization of the home society. Thus the tragedies rather insistently criticize the patriarch's attempt to manipulate sons or sons-in-law for his own interest.

In the Romances, these themes intensify. Here problems of sons as tragic victims of their fathers' feuds are largely eliminated (save, possibly, for the example of Mamillius in The Winter's Tale). In Pericles, Cymbeline, Winter's Tale, and Tempest, such sons are non-existent, lost, or killed, and only daughters are looked to for continuation of the central family. Pericles, Cymbeline, Leontes, and Prospero all have enmities in which they could tragically involve any sons of theirs, but when each such son appears to be eliminated (together with the wives of the fathers), then the relation between each father and his sole daughter becomes central. The function of each daughter is not to represent, as a son might, the father in the father's battles but rather to leave home, travel widely, perhaps marry the son of her father's chief enemy (as in Winter's Tale and Tempest), and return home to instill virtues of forgiveness and the lesson of pardon in the father. The solution for patriarchal overcontrol and quasi-incestuous inwardness thus seems to be a dramatic destruction of the progenitive center and an explosion outward through time and space that leads to regroupings at the end and visions of a wide incorporative harmony.

It seems apparent that Shakespeare in these four Romances celebrates a view of women as protectors and givers of life in a very special sense. Daughters such as Imogen, Perdita, and Miranda not only marry in ways that heal enmities but also they prove their love viable in settings that harbor lustful or permissive appetites, that is, they encounter in "nature" a rapacious Cloten or Caliban or a bawdy Autolycus but they remain chaste and eventually chasten the appetites of their true lovers. Marina, of course, chastens even the brothel. Often we see these daughters, moreover, rising from sleep and seeming death, as if to prove their miraculous power to awaken fresh life.

In all the Romances (as in other Shakespearean plays), lesser characters may be seen as representing in part components within the psyche of a central character. Each father—Pericles, Cymbeline, Leontes, Prospero—works out his emotional maturation partly through recognition of his daughter as she embodies life's powers to renew itself rhythmically and human powers to order and delay acting upon desires that else might confuse and blight themselves. Recognition of this sort is not easily won, however, and the Romances are notable for their repeated images of fathers trying to dominate their daughters as well as to learn from them. In Pericles, Antiochus commits incest with his daughter. Cymbeline berates Imogen and orders her locked in her chamber. Prospero admonishes Miranda to listen and to obey. In the instant before recognizing his daughter, Pericles pushes her back. Leontes, too, makes menacing gestures at the infant Perdita whom he denies is his, and later, still not knowing her, he makes in her direction a kind of romantic overture (5.1.223). All of the Romance fathers and daughters passionately interact, and it may be that dynamic which helps necessitate in psychic terms the far journey of each daughter away from home and her taking a husband in each case so clearly set apart from her father.

Despite these apparently happy solutions to problems of patriarchal domination, and though the Romance have witnessed in our supposedly liberated age a mounting tide of enthusiasm, they may be more patriarchal and patrilineal in perspective than Shakespearean interpreters have yet cared or dared to recognize. To ask the following question is to ask, in some respects, how many children had Lady Macbeth, but still: Is not the engendering of a daughter in each Romance taken implicitly as a guilty act which signals the impotence of the father or his receipt of divine displeasure? Else why should he have lost or in the course of the play lose wife and any sons he may have had? Kings need sons. When they produce daughters, in a patrilineal society, they do less than the optimum to further a secure succession. When their sons die or they produce a daughter or daughters alone, they become as vulnerable as Henry the Eighth who says, according to Shakespeare (2.4.187):

First, methought
I stood not in the smile of heaven, who had
Commanded nature, that my lady's womb,
If it conceiv'd a male-child by me, should
Do no more offices of life to't than
The grave does to th' dead; for her male issue
Or died where they were made, or shortly after
This world had air'd them. Hence I took a thought
This was a judgment on me, that my kingdom
(Well worthy the best heir o' th' world) should not
Be gladded in't by me. Then follows, that
I weigh'd the danger which my realms stood in
By this my issue's fail, and that gave to me
Many a groaning throe.

In Pericles, Cymbeline, Winter's Tale, and Tempest, each leader of the state is threatened with like "issue's fail." The plays might seem to strike at patriarchal chains when they take up the device of extending a family not through sons but through a daughter's adventure in finding a son-in-law. Through this infusion of fresh male blood, the plays seem to say, a king can more truly revitalize his kingdom. And, given the English experience with Henry the Eighth and his children, the pattern of the saving daughter might well be regarded as much more than an anomolous and irrelevant residue of folktale origins of the Romances. Shakespeare could be saying, in the style of Lear's Edmund, "Now, gods, stand up for daughters!" Still, assuming that Shakespeare (who himself lost a son and, judging from the terms of his Will, looked wistfully to his daughters for continuance of his line) has raised in the Romances a kind or argument for daughters otherwise demeaned by patriarchalism, are not the daughters exalted more as potential wives and father-comforters than as persons in their own right? Marina, Imogen, Perdita, and Miranda are, to be sure, spirited and, at times, independent. Consider Marina speaking to Boult in the bawdy-house:

Thou art the damned dook-keeper to every
Custrel that comes inquiring for his Tib.
To the choleric fisting of every rogue
Thy ear is liable; thy food is such
As hath been belch'd on by infected lungs.

(Per. 4.6.165)

Or Imogen speaking of Posthumus and Cloten:

I would they were in Afric both together,
Myself by with a needle, that I might prick
The goer-back.

(Cym. 1.1.167)

Or Perdita:

I was about to speak, and tell him plainly
The self-same sun that shines upon his court
Hides not his visage from our cottage, but
Looks on alike. Will't please you, sir, be gone?
I told you what would come of this.

(WT 4.4.443)

Or Miranda: calling Caliban "abhorred slave" to his face, breaking her father's command that she not tell her name to Ferdinand, and accusing Ferdinand of false play at chess. Despite such displays, however, the chief function of the daughter in each Romance is to bring home a husband and to teach or permit her father a new found love and forgiveness made possible and believable amid the restored patriarchal security. At the end of each Romance, the daughter's father explicitly rejoices over the presence of his son-in-law. Pericles says to his wife: "Thaisa, / This prince, the fair-betrothed of your daughter, / Shall marry her at Pentapolis" (5.3.70). Cymbeline says: "We'll learn our freeness of a son-in-law: / Pardon's the word to all" (5.5.421). Leontes' last act is to introduce Florizel to Hermione: "This' your son-in-law, / And son unto the King, whom heavens directing / Is troth-plight to your daughter" (5.3.149). Prospero tells Alonso of his "hope to see the nuptial / Of these our dear-belov'd solemnized" (5.1.309).

In terms of what their worlds and plays obviously expect of them, Shakespeare's daughters of Romance have done well, and Shakespeare has, in a sense, "solved" problems of over-controlling fathers and over-rebellious daughters that appeared in tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and Lear. In place of patrilineal succession, we have a new procreative process in which direct male issue are bypassed—perhaps as too competitive, aggressive, promiscuous, or deathdealing—in favor of virginal daughters who promise to win reinvigoration of the family through outside stock which is now more readily accepted by the fathers than it was before. The daughters themselves, however, are hardly permitted the alternative of not choosing a mate. To do so would be unthinkable. They must take mates to save and extend the families of their fathers, their fathers who remain so much in evidence. After working out this "solution" in the Romances, Shakespeare went on, nonetheless, to consider the matter further (as was his custom) and even to question the solution.

In Henry VIII, we find the familiar Romance patterns of ostracized queen, restorative daughter, and great hopes for the younger generation, but now the daughter, Elizabeth, becomes exalted in virginal radiance (5.4.32):

Good grows with her;
In her days every man shall eat in safety
Under his own vine what he plants, and sing
The merry songs of peace to all his neighbors.
God shall be truly known, and those about her
From her shall read the perfect ways of honor,
And by those claim their greatness, not by blood.
Nor shall this peace sleep with her; but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new create another heir
As great in admiration as herself,
So shall she leave her blessedness to one
(When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness)
Who from the sacred ashes of her honor
Shall star-like rise as great in fame as she was,
And so stand fix'd.

If we compare Elizabeth to the heroines of the preceding four Romances, we find that the Romance pattern is transcended. Though the father's search for male issue remains important, is never more important than here, the daughter need now elect no husband to fulfill her function. She becomes herself a "pattern to all princes," and this, it seems stressed, is "not by blood" but by "honor," meaning, among other things, her sexual purity. Cranmer continues (5.4.59):

Would I had known no more! but she must die,
She must, the saints must have her; yet a virgin,
A most unspotted lily shall she pass
To the ground, and all the world shall mourn her.

Praise of woman beyond or even in opposition to the supposed virtues of marriage and childbearing seems to be Shakespeare's purpose not only in his depiction of Elizabeth but also in his treatment of Katherine in Henry VIII. Katherine, who "failed" to give Henry the male issue he so desperately wanted, follows the lead of Buckingham and Wolsey by converting her secular fall into spiritual ascent. On her sickbed, she learns to forgive Wolsey; mediatating on "celestial harmony," she falls asleep and sees a heavenly vision that promises "eternal happiness." She asks that, when she is dead, she be used with "honor" and strewn with "maiden flowers." All this fits the general tenor of the play as it suggests the vanity of earthly pageantries, the paltriness of bodily appetites, and the insufficiency of love's whole enterprise. Reminiscent of The Tempest, and reaching perhaps beyond, is the strange power of Henry VIII to associate bodily and earthly life, especially in the getting of children, as somehow inconsequential, even petty. In its revelation of brave but diaphanous masques, of vain attempts to solidify the stage and state of earthly shows, the play is like a great finger pointing heavenward. Miranda's admirable chastity evolves toward Elizabeth's sacred virginity.

In The Two Noble Kinsmen, Shakespeare makes his heroine, from the outset, one of Diana's great devotees.3 Emilia describes her affection for a childhood companion in these terms (1.3.66):

The flow'r that I would pluck
And put between my breasts (O then but beginning
To swell about the blossom), she would long
Till she had such another, and commit it
To the like innocent cradle, where phoenix-like
They died in perfume. On my head no toy
But was her pattern, her affections (pretty,
Though happily her careless wear) I followed
For my most serious decking. Had mine ear
Stol'n some new air, or at adventure humm'd one
From musical coinage, why it was a note
Whereon her spirits would sojourn (rather dwell on)
And sing it in her slumbers. This rehearsal
(Which, ev'ry innocent wots well, comes in
Like old importment's bastard) has this end,
That the true love 'tween maid and maid may be
More than in six dividual.

Asked later to choose as husband either Arcite or Palamon, Emilia decides, momentarily, that her "virgin's faith has fled" (4.2.46), she loves them both, but, still later, when the two kinsmen are about to fight for her hand, she prays at the altar of Diana (5.1.137):

O sacred, shadowy, cold, and constant queen,
Abandoner of revels, mute, contemplative,
Sweet, solitary, white as chaste, and pure
As wind-fann'd snow, who to thy female knights
Allow'st no more blood than will make a blush,
Which is their order's robe: I here, thy priest,
Am humbled 'fore thine altar. O, vouchsafe,
With that rare green eye—which never yet
Beheld thing maculate—look on thy virgin,
And, sacred silver mistress, lend thine ear
(Which nev'r heard scurril term, into whose port
Ne'er ent'red wanton sound) to my petition,
Season'd with holy fear. This is my last
Of vestal office; I am bride-habited,
But maiden-hearted.

We could say that Shakespeare simply took his plays and themes in no special order, as they came to him. The evolution of his heroines toward virgin faith would remain, nonetheless, to be accounted for. The entire action and atmosphere of The Two Noble Kinsmen help account for Emilia's lack of love. Arcite and Palamon are made to seem simple-minded, outer-directed followers of Mars and Venus, respectively, but the best exposure of the post-Romance attitude occurs in two prayers which Arcite and Palamon give just before Emilia's. Arcite prays to a Mars of destruction and waste, the "decider / Of dusty and old titles," whose "prize / Must be dragg'd out of blood." Palamon prays to a Venus who commands the rage of love throughout man and woman unkind, whose "yoke / As 'twere a wreath of roses, yet is heavier / Than lead itself, stings more than nettles," who incites gross geriatric lusts, and "whose chase is this world, / And we in herds thy game." Through these debased, decadent visions of chivalric and courtly ideals, Arcite and Palamon develop further Shakespeare's critique of patriarchalism and the potential murderousness and sterility that often accompany its political, social and sexual hierarchies. Small wonder that Emilia, faced with two such votaries, chooses to remain "maiden-hearted."

Shakespeare's post-Romance has moved far beyond the paradigmatic plot of Pericles, Cymbeline, Winter's Tale, and Tempest in which the needs of a society for restoration, needs embodied in its leader, are answered by the restorative instincts of his daughter. For Emilia, as for Elizabeth the Queen, choice of a marriage partner is not dictated by a father's will or by resistance to a father's will. Remote from the dynamics of patripotestal interests, left to her own devices, Emilia displays no sense of familial drive. Lacking in evidence a father, a brother, or other male to define herself against, the daughter tends perhaps to resist marriage or to see it as specially troublesome. Countered over against Emilia, moreover, we find in The Two Noble Kinsmen the earlier filial pattern represented in the Jailer's Daughter whose father wants her to marry her Wooer but who loves her father's prisoner (Palamon) and even frees him from her father's prison. Irony descends again, however, as the Jailer's Daughter loses Palamon and goes mad. In this late stage in his career, Shakespeare enters a specially problematic zone in his conception of our romantic instincts and their functioning.

In the tragedies, Shakespeare's lovers—Juliet, Desdemona, Cleopatra—exercise free and vivid imaginative powers and make real, in some sense, the vigorous wide-embracing males with whom they flee, fight, and die. In the Romances, the daughters no longer display the tragic force of will that finds and loses itself in an all-consuming love. They become subordinated to the pattern of generational renewal prompted by needs of their inescapable fathers. Their husbands, too, are conceived in terms of function rather than given an independence of being. They lack, consequently, the splendid wilfulness and freedom of self-definition possessed by Romeo, Othello, and Antony. Lysimachus, Posthumus Leonatus, Florizel, and Ferdinand become, like the societies they inhabit, chastened and subdued by redemptive responsibilities their betrotheds place upon them. This is a typical pattern in such dramatic Romances as Alcestis, The Beggar's Opera, When We Dead Awaken, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and The Cocktail Party.4 Women are made to undertake journeys that will redeem their families and societies from some version of sterility, but the redemptive journey and return renders both husband and society strangely quiet, meditative, less lusty and more spiritual. For Antony and Cleopatra—and perhaps even for Romeo and Juliet or Othello and Desdemona—one could almost substitute Mars and Venus, their heterosexuality and the vigor of their interchange is so strong, but for Ferdinand and Miranda and other Romance couples one would prefer, at best, Apollo and Diana.

In Shakespeare's post-Romance, Diana appears to win. After the womanizing excesses of Henry the Eighth, the virgin faith and phoenix-project of Elizabeth sound persuasive, and, given the unconvincing, fatuous romanticalities of Arcite and Palamon, Emilia's chaste reserve appears appropriate. But societies are not renewed by chaste reserve, and Shakespeare, whose great subject has always been the renewal of family and society, is unlikely to settle, finally, for so sterile a solution. Emilia is made, at the end, to accept Palamon, the devotee to Venus, and, though the ending is hardly celebratory in tone, what makes the union of Palamon and Emilia acceptable, I submit, is the preceding incident of the Jailer's Daughter. Her idealizing eagerness for Palamon in part subjects him to ironic scrutiny but also in part marks the preservation in the play of an essential, sincere, and effective romantic imagination. That is, in the Jailer's Daughter and, through her in Palamon, we see that a creative passion of this romantic or romance-ic sort must be heeded and welcomed. The Jailer, Doctor, and Wooer give in to the Daughter, humor her passion, and try their best to shape her world to her liking. She responds well and takes the Wooer for Palamon. The Doctor promises, convincingly, that by these means the Daughter will in three or four days become "right again."

The Two Noble Kinsmen, then, simultaneously attacks and defends romantic imagination, attacks the moribund mythologising of Arcite and Palamon as embodied in their prayers to Mars and Venus, purges their conception of humanity as passive and powerless before secret forces of hate and love raging in the blood, even to senility. The play first substitutes Emilia set on contemplative purity and blamelessness, praying to her sacred mistress, Diana, the "constant queen, / Abandoner of revels." Then the play celebrates more positively and warmly the laughable but vital madness of the Jailer's Daughter who makes the world try to create her imagined love before her eyes. Love is thus purged and renewed. The perverse and uncreative passions must yield to shadowy cold "Diana." Emilia is never a shining vital heroine. She seems to represent a stage in the development of successively more chaste, virginal heroines away from, say, Cleopatra through the likes of Imogen, Perdita, and Miranda, to Margaret, Elizabeth (as imaged in Henry VIII), and beyond. But Emilia, unlike Elizabeth, does marry. And her marriage is made possible and believable, I suggest, because its aim and function are supported by the warmer eagerness of the Jailer's Daughter toward Palamon and love.

Further investigation into Shakespeare's treatment of these acts and themes might seem foreclosed at this point by the absence of any more plays to contemplate. There are, however, significant links or overlaps between The Two Noble Kinsmen and the Cardenio episode in Don Quixote, the episode upon which, almost certainly, the lost play, Cardenio, attributed to Shakespeare and Fletcher in a significant "blocking entry" of the Stationers' Register and acted by the King's Men in 1613, is based.5 Cardenio falls in love with Lucinda, but Cardenio's friend Ferdinand (who had betrothed himself to Dorothea and jilted her), by a series of stratagems, contrives to marry Lucinda in Cardenio's supposed absence. Lucinda, at any rate, submits to a marriage ceremony with Ferdinand, and Cardenio, who returns just in time to spy upon the ceremony, is so horror-struck that he flees to the wilds where he meets Don Quixote and relates his misfortunes. It turns out that Dorothea, Ferdinand's betrothed, also comes to the wilds. She meets the friends of Don Quixote, and they persuade her to help them humor his madness by pretending to be a damsel in distress whom Don Quixote can aid. After elaborately playing up to Don Quixote's chivalric whims, Dorothea, Cardenio, Sancho Panza, the Barber, and the Curate bring Don Quixote to an inn where, eventually, arrive also Ferdinand and Lucinda. After the inevitable recognition, Lucinda is restored to Cardenio and Dorothea to Ferdinand. . . .

"I saw her first," says Palamon to Arcite (2.2.160) concerning Emilia. Cardenio saw Lucinda first. But both "first" lovers appear to lose out in dramatic fashion to their more active, scheming rivals. In each case the rival's intervention appears institutionally-sanctioned as when Arcite wins the battle at the pillar and is given Emilia by Theseus and, similarly, Ferdinand marries Lucinda in a church ceremony. Then there is the eventual return of the heroine to her first love but not before he is aided in each case by a mad romantic. The Jailer's Daughter frees Palamon and brings him food in the forest; Don Quixote, meeting Cardenio in the wilds, embraces him, gives him food, and vows to serve him. In each case the mad romantic's passionate desire to serve a disconsolate lover is finally gratified by friends who, through impersonations, humor the mad fancies and change the world so as to satisfy their intention.

When Palamon asserts his prior claim to Emilia, saying to Arcite, "You must not love her" (2.2.161), Arcite replies:

I will not, as you do—to worship her
As she is heavenly and a blessed goddess;
I love her as a woman, to enjoy her.
So both may love.

In The Two Noble Kinsmen and the conjectural Cardenio, the first lover is relatively passive, a worshipper of woman rather than an enjoyer. The second lover, more lusty-active, "wins" the woman but has less right and is presented with less sympathetic interiority of love. The mad romantics, the Jailer's Daughter and Don Quixote, intervene and support with intensity of conviction the worth and quest of the first lover. Both Emilia and Lucinda, moreover, are represented as rather passive and shrinking, tossed between extremes of ineffective spiritual esteem from one man and primarily physical lust from another. In each story the development of the main plot lies secretly in the hands, or minds, of the subplot characters—Jailer's Daughter and Don Quixote—who must, as it were, dream the main plot onward, substituting their creative faith, their active idealizing eagerness, for the split love of the main characters.

Both The Two Noble Kinsmen and the Cardenio story are, in one sense, satires. The state of mind that overcomes the impasse of love which is split into effete worship and Mars-like rapacity is a state of mind represented as madness, an unthinkable dedication of unified mind and heart, spirit and flesh. But behind the satire, in each case there lies, I suggest, the secret project of resuscitating the romance-ic spirit. Shakespeare, like Cervantes, may have seen ahead in his very last works to an age of satire looming up on the horizon, but he also honored, as did Cervantes, the unquenchable desire of romantic will to purge and renew itself toward some version, no matter how strangely won, of ongoing and productive love. Ever since All's Well and Measure for Measure, if not before, Shakespeare had honored the beleaguered maiden's often-instinctive retreat to Diana, to the purer precincts of that shadowy Queen, and never was this honor made more telling than in The Two Noble Kinsmen, but Shakespeare made Emilia—wrought even beyond Diana with impossible longings ("Were they metamorphis'd / Both into one," 5.3.84)—yield, finally, to her fated marriage. As Emilia exits hand in hand with Palamon, there linger still the singsong cracked remarks, the deepest hopes and fears of the Jailer's Daughter:

Daugh. We shall have many children. . . .
Wooer. Come, sweet, we'll go to dinner,
And then we'll play at cards.
Daugh. And shall we kiss too?
Wooer. A hundred times.
Daugh. And twenty?
Wooer. Ay, and twenty.
Daugh. And then we'll sleep together?
Doct. Take her offer.
Wooer. Yes, marry, will we.
Daugh. But you shall not hurt me.
Wooer. I will not, sweet.
Daugh. If you do, love, I'll cry.

Shakespeare understood and made vivid, as have few artists before or since, the spirit of the maiden phoenix that flutters up periodically in women, if not in men as well, and he traced with surpassing skill the intricacies of that endless dance where daughters escape and follow, reject and recreate, their once and future fathers.


1 See also, e.g., Wiv. 4.6.23; Oth. 1.3.192; Lr. 1.1.113; Cym. 1.2.131. Quotations are from the Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. B. Evans (Boston; Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

2 One may observe that in a tragedy where a daughter, such as Ophelia, fails to assert herself against her father's dictate, the sense of nature redeemed, of human nature and society revitalized, may be diminished, as when the relatively limited Fortinbras takes over at the end of Hamlet.

3 Just what portion, if any, of The Two Noble Kinsmen John Fletcher may be responsible for is as yet undetermined. Shakespeare is generally credited with the following scenes—1.1-2.1, 3.1, 5.1.34-173, 5.3-5.4—which include the scene introducing the Jailer's Daughter and the addresses of Arcite, Palamon, and Emilia to Mars, Venus, and Diana. Paul Bertram, Shakespeare and the Two Noble Kinsmen (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1965), argues at length that the entire play is by Shakespeare. For present purposes, I treat the play as dominated by Shakespeare's conception and handling.

4 These plays are collected, together with The Tempest, in Dramatic Romance: Plays, Theory, and Criticism, ed., Howard Felperin (New York: Harcourt, 1973). I am indebted to Howard Felperin for this collocation and for thoughts it has fostered.

5 In discussing Cardenio, I refer to the plot of the Cardenio story as contained in the first part of Cervantes' novel, translated by Thomas Shelton in 1612. The Court Chamber Account and Court (Greenwich) Account indicate that Cardenio was presented twice by the King's Men in 1613. E.K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (Oxford: Clarendon, 1930), 2.343. On 9 September 1653, the publisher Humphrey Moseley registered "The History of Cardennio, by Mr. Fletcher and Shakespeare" in the Stationers' Register. See Chambers, 1.538-42. Lewis Theobald published a play, Double Falsehood, in 1728, and alleged that it was based upon manuscripts of a play by Shakespeare that dealt with the Cardenio story. Opinions vary as to whether Theobald really could have adapted or did adapt his play from such a manuscript; see John Frechafer, "Cardenio, by Shakespeare and Fletcher," PMLA, 84 (1969), 501-12, and Harriet C. Frazier, A Babble of Ancestral Voices: Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Theobald (The Hague: Mouton, 1974). Theobald's play excludes Don Quixote.

Cyrus Hoy (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare's Romances," in Shakespeare's Romances Reconsidered, edited by Carol McGinnis Kay and Henry E. Jacobs, The University of Nebraska Press, 1978, pp. 77-90.

[In the following essay, Hoy argues that it was the psychological climate of the late romances which allowed Shakespeare to create an ideal feminine figure in the form of a daughter.]

Behind all the fathers and daughters in Shakespeare's romances are the most affecting father and daughter he ever drew, Lear and Cordelia. Shakespeare's tragedies are the necessary prelude to the romances; the romances are inconceivable without the tragedies; and among the tragedies, King Lear stands out for a number of reasons, not the least of which concerns its protagonist's relation to women. Lear is a father with daughters, not a son with a mother (as in Hamlet or Coriolanus), or a husband with a wife (as in Othello or Macbeth), or a lover with a mistress who is both more and less to him than a wife (as in Antony and Cleopatra). Of all the possible relationships of man and woman, that of father and daughter seems finally to have been the one that moved the dramatist most, for from it he derives the mysterious rhythms of suffering and grace, of loss and restoration, that sound throughout the last four plays. The fates of Pericles and Marina, Cymbeline and Imogen, Leontes and Perdita, Prospero and Miranda, encompass patterns of error and pain and ultimate deliverance which the imagination of the dramatist obviously found comfort in contemplating, and on which all his creative energies were focused in the effort to endow the patterns with formal shape in the romances. With its poignant representation of peace after long suffering which Lear all too briefly attains with Cordelia, King Lear represents the beginning of the imaginative way that will lead to Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest.

Cordelia is not, of course, Lear's only daughter. She has two sisters who are as false as she is true. The finality of the distinction drawn between Cordelia's faith and Goneril and Regan's treachery suggests the degree of idealization that has gone into Cordelia's creation. She is a model of the heights to which human nature can rise when actuated by a rare integrity and selflessness; Goneril and Regan are the more commonplace examples of the depths to which human nature can fall when governed by hypocrisy and greed. The ideal that Cordelia embodies cannot be sustained in the tragic world of King Lear, and one suspects that Shakespeare was attracted to the romance form at least in part for the freedom it gave him to create an atmosphere in which other idolized daughters—Marina, Imogen, Perdita, Miranda—could endure. But the image that Cordelia projects—of idealized virtue closed round by sinister forces—is one that persists into the romances: Marina in the brothel; Imogen at the mercy of sundry nefarious plots hatched by a scheming stepmother, a brutal stepbrother, and a deceived husband; Perdita cast out at birth to whatever chance might befall her. Only Miranda, as the consequence of her father's peculiar powers, lives in anything like security, and even she has been the object of an attempted rape by Caliban. Cordelia's role in the design of King Lear is paradigmatic of that of all the daughters in the last plays: they are distressingly vulnerable to a host of evils, but they are incorruptible, and they all in one way or another redeem the father figure. In King Lear, Cordelia is reconciled with her father, who begs her forgiveness and who is, in effect, restored to life by her ministrations in a memorable scene (IV.vii) which would comprise the play's finale if King Lear were a romance. As it is, the tragedy sweeps on to its catastrophe, but the sort of recognition scene Shakespeare composed for Lear is recapitulated with ever-increasing brilliance in Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale, where it serves as the appropriate occasion for demonstrating the daughter's redemptive powers: the restorations of Marina and Perdita to their fathers serve to restore their fathers to life after prolonged periods of mourning, even as the restoration of Imogen to her father serves to restore him to his senses after a prolonged period of foolish blindness. The finale of The Tempest is differently managed, as we shall see, but the redemptive quality of Miranda is affirmed from the outset of the play. Prospero calls her the cherubin who preserved him when he was exiled from his dukedom (I.ii.152-53).

Fathers and daughters had, of course, been present in Shakespeare's plays since the early years of his career, when old Baptista shrewdly made the marriage of his sweet Bianca dependent on the provision of a husband for his curst Katherina, in The Taming of the Shrew. Usually the fathers in early Shakespeare are the stock figures of romantic comedy, whose daughters decline to marry the suitors of their choice, as Silvia rejects Thurio in favor of Valentine in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, or as Hermia declines Demetrius for Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream, or as Anne Page manages to avoid Dr. Caius and win Fenton in The Merry Wives of Windsor. There is a tragic version of this familiar situation in Romeo and Juliet when old Capulet insists that his daughter, secretly wed to Romeo, should marry Paris. Much Ado About Nothing gives us the pathetic figure of Leonato in his indignation at the shame visited upon Hero his daughter, falsely accused of infidelity on the eve of her marriage; and in As You Like It we have the clever Rosalind following her father into exile in the Forest of Arden. But the relation of father and daughter does not become problematic until, inevitably, in that most problematic of plays, Hamlet, where we are confronted with Ophelia and Polonius. Their one scene together (I.iii) turns on the familiar subject of the man on whom the daughter has placed her love. Since her suitor is Hamlet and a prince, his intentions toward her cannot be honorable because she is not his equal; this is the line that Ophelia's brother has been taking with her when the scene begins, and it is the line that her father continues with her—in even stronger terms—in the last half of the scene, after the brother takes his leave. When she tries to state her belief that Hamlet loves her in honorable fashion, Polonius pours scorn on the notion. The "holy vows" with which the prince has "given countenance" to his declarations of love are, according to Polonius, "springes to catch woodcocks." Because he knows what young men are like, Ophelia is to be guided by his knowledge. She is, to her undoing; among the ballad stanzas that she sings in her madness is one that bears witness to what a forcible impression her father's counsel has made on her imagination: "Young men will do't if they come to't" (IV.v.60). Polonius is Shakespeare's first considerable depiction of the father as an insensitive blunderer who, persuaded of the soundness of his own judgment, is blind and deaf to all signals that he may be wrong, and impervious to the violence he may be doing in the pursuit of his own will. The type will recur in Shakespeare, though daughters will never again be as docile as Ophelia.

The next daughter whom Shakespeare drew was Desdemona, whose gentle modesty exists side by side with an independence of will and a courage to follow where love leads that surprise and disconcert her father. When she is brought into the council chamber before Othello and Brabantio, she enunciates with great clarity and force a principle of duty which places her directly in the tradition shared by daughters in the later plays:

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 husband;
And so much duty as my mother show'd
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor, my lord.

(I.iii. 180-89)

This is the position on which Cordelia will take her stand in King Lear:

Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, lov'd me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Happily, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.


One must resist any tendency to oversimplify tragic actions as profoundly subtle as those which comprise the plots of Othello and King Lear, but in both instances the daughter's role as victim of the tragedy is unmistakably clear, and the father's share in contributing to her victimization is delicately but firmly woven into the tragic pattern. When Brabantio, Desdemona's father, says to Othello: "Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see;/ She has deceiv'd her father, and may thee" (I.iii.292-93), he is sowing a seed of suspicion that will later, under Iago's nurture, come to monstrous flower in the husband's imagination. And Lear's rejection of Cordelia is a piece of monumental folly that leads to his destruction and to hers. She is his youngest and most loved daughter, and he has no more expected to be crossed by her than Brabantio has expected his daughter to elope with a Moor. As for the daughters themselves, they leave the fathers whom they have had to disappoint in order to be themselves, and they attempt to make new lives for themselves elsewhere. But they have been enmeshed in a fate that will not finally permit this escape. Since, for purposes of the tragedy, Desdemona is first and foremost Othello's wife and only secondarily Brabantio's daughter, the implications of her death are significantly different from those which surround the murder of Cordelia, who for dramatic purposes is primarily Lear's daughter and only secondarily the wife of the King of France. The tragic spectacle which ends each play makes this clear:

Desdemona dead in the arms of her husband, Cordelia dead in the arms of her father. For all her declaration—in her speech defining her duty—to the effect that she shall never marry like her sisters, to love her father all, Cordelia after her marriage does in fact continue to love her father all; she leaves her husband to return to her father and to go about his business, and finally to die for him. Offstage, in the background to the closing scene of Othello, there is a dead father to Desdemona, brought to his grave through grief at her marriage, but we are concerned with him only in the moment when we hear Gradano say that he is glad Brabantio is not alive to know of his daughter's murder (V.ii.204 ff.). For the marriage bed loaded with the corpses of Othello and Desdemona, the end of King Lear gives us Lear with the dead body of Cordelia in his arms, and the sad spectacle is redolent both of a father of sorrows bending over the child who has tried to save him, and a lover bending over the body of a beloved destroyed by forces he himself has unleashed.

All Shakespeare's work from Lear to the end of his career seems to be generated by the tension between two powerful imaginative efforts: on the one hand, to free the self from bondage to the kind of female monsters most horrifically embodied in Goneril and Regan, and on the other hand to replace the sense of female monstrosity with a sense of female purity that will have the effect of saving the imagination from despair—of sweetening it, as Lear might say, when he calls to an imaginary apothecary for an ounce of civet. The imagination at work in the romances can still produce some monstrous growths: Dionyzia in Pericles and the stepmother Queen in Cymbeline are further examples of female evil. But the romances also give us two memorable examples of women, Imogen and Hermione, who are wronged by unjust masculine suspicions, while giving us as well two extraordinary treatments of the masculine imaginations that have wronged them, namely Posthumus and Leontes, their husbands and fiercest accusers. Prior to the romances, however, all the protagonists of Shakespeare's later tragedies display a need to escape from the domination of women: Lear from Goneril and Regan, Macbeth from Lady Macbeth, Coriolanus from Volumnia, Antony from Cleopatra. The areas of tension differ widely from play to play. The shades of unrelieved evil in which Goneril and Regan are drawn make plausible the fierce tirades which Lear launches against them. There is something almost poignant in Macbeth's recognition that, in his inurement to crime, he has far outdistanced his wife, who once had to urge him to it. Coriolanus resists his mother's tutelage without ever altogether recognizing what it is that has him in its power. Antony knows that he must break his strong Egyptian fetters if he is successfully to fulfill his role as one of the triple pillars of the world, but he never manages to do so.

Lear had given us an idealized figure—Cordelia, with her truth-telling—to counterbalance the vicious sisters, with their glozing lies, but such a figure has disappeared in all the later tragedies, at least in its female embodiment. Vestiges of what she has represented remain, notably in the person of Coriolanus, where Cordelia's refusal to compromise and her expulsion are recapitulated. The expulsion of one who speaks uncomfortable truths—or declines to speak comforting lies—is treated again in the person of Alcibiades in Timon of Athens, a play that is particularly interesting for what it does not contain. The idealized figure of Cordelia is obviously necessary if the imagination (either of Lear or of the dramatist who created him) is to be saved from despair; just how necessary is evident from the example of Timon, who does in fact give way to despair.

Timon of Athens is in all essential respects a womanless play; women appear in only two scenes, and it is not without significance that in their two appearances, they are brought on first (in I.ii) in a masque of Amazons led by Cupid, and later (in IV.iii) as two whores in the company of Alcibiades. The impression of women as mannish whores is a legacy of King Lear, where they have been fully represented as such in the persons of Goneril and Regan; it is the only impression left to the imagination of the dramatist when such an ideal of woman as that represented by Cordelia is no more. Timon the protagonist is neither father nor son, husband nor lover; he is relentlessly, irremediably alone, first in the society of his troops of seeming-friends, then in his distrust, his sense of betrayal, his misanthropy. This is especially noticeable in the dramatic treatment of Alcibiades, that prototype of the male beloved. He offers Timon his friendship, but Timon will have none of it. When in Plutarch we read of how the Athenians covered the faults of Alcibiades "with the best wordes and terms they could, calling them youthfull, and gentlemans sportes,"1 we find ourselves back among the emotional equivocations of Shakespeare's sonnets, for example, number ninetysix, addressed to the poet's young friend and beginning "Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness, / Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport."

But the crucial fact about the role of Alcibiades in Timon of Athens is that he is determinedly kept at arm's length from the protagonist. In the play's desolate world, the idealized image of a Cordelia (destroyed at the end of Lear) is not likely to be revived; and the idealized image of a male beloved, however much it might once have sustained the imagination of the poet-dramatist, seems now to have outlived its usefulness. The imagination of the dramatist—to judge from the world it created in the tragedies that follow King Lear—is not yet capable of reviving the idealized Cordelia in the vigor and purity of Marina and Imogen, Perdita and Miranda; all it can do is dwell on the forces that drive the male protagonists who present themselves to the dramatist's vision, and the forces are all embodied in the female sex. When Shakespeare tries to ignore this fact, as he did in Timon of Athens, he produces a dramatic fragment from which any profound incitement to passion is lacking: an effect without a cause. In the other plays of these years (1605 to around 1607), the imagination considers the possible sensual-erotic bonds that might conceivably tie a man to a woman, and addresses itself in Lady Macbeth, Volumnia, and Cleopatra to the depiction of the woman who will be both wife and mother, who will spur the man on to surpass himself and comfort him when he fails, in whose arms he will be content to die but from whose fierce determination he will also struggle to be free, whose hold on him will in some mysterious way drive him to crime in the eyes of the world.

This is the psychological climate which produces the romances. The dramatist is engaged in a quest to free the imagination from all the shrill mistress-wife-mother figures who have inhabited the late tragedies, and to create in their place an ideal of femininity on whom the imagination can bestow its tenderest sentiments, without the distractions of sexual desire. Thus the need to make the feminine ideal a daughter. Quests are of course native to the romance form, and the dynamics of the four last plays are all directed to the revelation of a radiant young woman whose purity and integrity have the effect of bringing light to the darkness in which fathers are plunged as a consequence of the world's evil or their own folly or both. With their simplicity, courage, and healthy integrity, Marina, Imogen, Perdita, and Miranda move through their plays like redemptive graces. The impression made by these daughters is the more remarkable when we consider that the first of the romances opens with a scene in which we—along with Pericles—suddenly find ourselves in the presence of a father and daughter who are guilty of incest, the ugliest relationship that a father's love for a daughter may imply. Here, at the outset of the romances, we are confronted for just a moment with the disturbing possibilities which it will be a principal endeavor of the dramatist's art to suppress in the plays ahead. Like Pericles, the dramatist gazes at full upon the guilty love of father and daughter, and then flees; but he will never forget what he saw. The romance quest in all the four last plays will be aimed at replacing the guilty passion with a pure affection, with creating an ideal of femininity which the imagination can hover over and cherish without guilt.

The discovery of evil in the King of Antioch's incest with his daughter leaves its mark on the dramatist's treatment of father and daughter relations in everything that follows. This is particularly evident in the treatment of fathers in the romances. Each is a distinct dramatic creation and they are not to be lumped together, but no one who has studied the romances will have failed to notice the wariness with which fathers are treated in their relations with their daughters in the first three plays. For one thing, fathers have remarkably few scenes with their daughters in Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale. Through most of these plays, the daughters are lost to their fathers in one way or another. Pericles' loss of Marina is presumably but one more feature of the pattern of painful adventures—which also includes loss of wife for a season—to which even so good a man as he is subject in this mutable world; his is much the least complicated case of all those on exhibit in the last plays. He has done nothing to deserve separation from his daughter. Nonetheless, they are separated until very late in the play when, sunk in years and grief, he finds her again in a scene which is clearly modeled on Cordelia's restoration to Lear. The parallels are explicit in the "fresh garments" for the long-suffering father and the music that sounds as he recognizes his daughter.

Imogen's relations with Cymbeline are more complex. He presumably loves her, but he seems bent on destroying her, perhaps from that same obscure fear of incest which causes him to try to forbid her marriage to Posthumus, bred like a son in his household. He objects to her marriage with Posthumus as strenuously as Brabantio has objected to the marriage of Desdemona and Othello. Imogen is superbly indifferent to his anger. She tells him:

I beseech you, sir,
Harm not yourself with your vexation,
I am senseless of your wrath; a touch more rare
Subdues all pangs, all fears.


Her father has banished her husband, and that is her one concern. Long before Imogen is literally lost to her father—during that period in the last half of the play when no one but the audience knows of her whereabouts—she has been lost to him in their estrangement. He has a second wife on whom he dotes and who, with her son (the wretched Cloten), has the management of the affairs of his kingdom. Cymbeline's character consists in not seeing. For all his kingly role, he is a cipher, in the play no less than in his realm. This is evident from the long and highly elaborate final scene where the complicated plot is untangled and where the king, who might be expected to have a chief function in bringing the truth to light (as, for example, the Duke does in the final scene of Measure for Measure), is in the demeaning position of having to have everything explained to him. When he is told of the queen's death-bed confession, he is surprised to learn of her wickedness but sees no reason to reproach himself for not having previously suspected it:

Mine eyes
Were not in fault, for she was beautiful;

Mine ears, that heard her flattery, nor my heart,
That thought her like her seeming. It had been vicious
To have mistrusted her . . .

But if he sees no reason to reproach himself, he admits that his daughter might. He continues:

yet, O my daughter,
That it was folly in me, thou mayst say,
And prove it in thy feeling. Heaven mend all!


At what ought to be an emotional high point of the scene—the reunion of father and daughter—even Cymbeline is not so dim as to fail to recognize that he is playing an undignified second-fiddle. He says to Imogen, who is locked in the embrace of Posthumus:

How now, my flesh? my child?
What, mak'st thou me a dullard in this act?
Wilt thou not speak to me?


Only then does Imogen kneel to him and ask his blessing. It is the daughter's reunion with her husband that is the emotional high point of the scene, and the point reinforces what is clear enough in the play as a whole: that Imogen is first a wife and then a daughter. The passion which she arouses is safely and conventionally exhibited in her husband and not in her father, who looks on uncomprehendingly.

The distancing of father from daughter is continued in The Winter's Tale. The estrangement of the two is here the more violent, for Leontes is literally determined to destroy his wife's presumed bastard; he decrees the infant Perdita's exposure to the elements. Her eventual restoration to her father proceeds along significantly different lines in The Winter's Tale from the course it takes in Greene's Pandosto, Shakespeare's source. The denouement of Greene's novel is managed as follows: Fawnia (Perdita) is brought with her beloved Dorastus (Florizel) into the presence of Pandosto (Leontes), and he, not knowing the girl to be his daughter, is promptly enflamed with a lust for her which he seeks to satisfy in a succeeding series of alternating promises and threats. She of course steadfastly refuses him, and when at last her true identity is made known, the incestuous passion he has felt for his daughter causes the already abundant cup of his shame to run over. Greene's novel closes:

but Pandosto, calling to mind how first he betrayed his friend Egistus [Polixenes]; how his jealousy was the cause of Bellaria's death [i.e., the death of Hermione, who in the novel is not restored to life]; that, contrary to the law of nature, he had lusted after his own daughter—moved with these desperate thoughts, he fell in a melancholy fit and, to close up the comedy with a tragical stratagem, he slew himself.2

It required a strong-minded dramatist to resist such a finale as this in 1610-11, the very period when Beaumont and Fletcher were captivating audiences with the exquisite anguish of Arbaces and Penthea, the brother and sister in A King and No King. They struggle against a passion that threatens to be bigger than they are until they are delivered from their incipient shame by the discovery that they are not, in truth, related. But this is a subject which, to the imagination that produced Shakespeare's romances, does not bear conscious thinking on, however powerful a hold it might have exercised on the unconscious workings of that imagination. Shakespeare not only suppressed all reference to a father's incestuous love for his daughter, he declined as well to dramatize the scene in which father and daughter discover each other. In The Winter's Tale the recognition scene takes place offstage and is recounted by three gentlemen. The whole weight of the finale is thus given over to the scene with Hermione's statue, its metamorphosis to the living woman, and her restoration to her husband and daughter. Just as, for dramatic purposes, Imogen makes her principal impression as Posthumus's wife rather than as Cymbeline's daughter, so Leontes is chiefly memorable as Hermione's conscience-stricken husband rather than as Perdita's father.

In each of the first three romances, a scene is carefully furnished with a father and a daughter whose reunion is a prominent feature in the comic resolution of all three plays. The treatment of the relationship, however, seems straitened, as if observed from a distance, and it is never developed in terms exclusively its own. The dramatist seems at pains to keep the full emotional weight of a play from falling on a father and daughter's love. So Pericles and Leontes have wives who are lost and found again, even as their daughters are; and Imogen has a husband and Perdita a beloved who exercise that claim on their duty of which Desdemona and Cordelia have spoken, and which takes precedence over duty to a father. In Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale, the imagination of the dramatist is fascinated with the relation of a father to a daughter; it circles around the subject ever so tentatively; it returns to it repeatedly. But it is only on the fourth return, in The Tempest, that the imagination is prepared to deal with the subject directly, to imagine the hitherto unimaginable, to think the unthinkable.

Among the unthinkable conditions that The Tempest is prepared to set before us (such as getting all one's enemies in one's power) is a father's dream of having his daughter entirely to himself from her infancy through the twelve years that bring her to the verge of womanhood, and on a desert island too. Incestuous impulses are rigorously banished, and the foreground of consciousness is occupied with the need to protect chastity from rape. Prospero's feelings for Miranda are the feelings of a father for a daughter whom he idealizes, whose innocence he would preserve against the sinfulness of the world in general, and whose chastity he would safeguard against the particular violence of men, who will do to her what he did to her mother in order to beget her. He knows his sex, as Polonius might say. It is all very poignant because it is all so natural and so hopeless. Miranda must be allowed to marry; she is ready to and she wants to. With the appearance of Ferdinand, the wheel of amorous questing has come full circle from the opening scene of the first romance to the middle scenes of this last one. Pericles, when he thought to win a beautiful lady from her father, found himself exposed to the guilty secret of their incest. Ferdinand, led into the presence of Prospero and Miranda by Ariel's music, discovers a stern father who will set him sundry tests but who is not in the end unappeasable, and a daughter whose ardor charmingly matches his own. She is spirited, and one can imagine her, if pressed far enough, roundly declaring to her father that so much duty as her mother showed to him, preferring him before her own father, so much must she now challenge that she may profess due to Ferdinand. It is to Prospero's credit, and a measure of his wisdom and his humanity, that he never forces her to say anything of the sort. Though he may not be so glad of their union as they are (as he says in soliloquy at III.i.92), he recognizes its inevitability when he recognizes Ferdinand's worthiness, and he gives it his blessing. As Prospero, when he finds his enemies repentant, is prepared to forego his natural inclination for vengeance and have mercy on them instead, so in a parallel movement, when he finds that Ferdinand has satisfactorily endured the trials he has put him to, he is prepared to forego his all-too-human inclination to keep his daughter to himself and to give her in marriage instead. He has lost his daughter, as he tells Alonso late in the play (V.i.147-48), but he is resigned to her loss for he has recognized its inevitability; Miranda was straining for her freedom every bit as avidly as Ariel was.

Part of the triumph of The Tempest—both the triumph dramatized in Prospero's magnanimity and Shakespeare's triumph in depicting it—resides in what the dramatist has won through to in this play: the representation of an ideal of femininity which the masculine imagination at last manages to secure for itself. Miranda is what the imagination finally succeeds in conceiving in place of the Gonerils and Regans, the Lady Macbeths and Volumnias and Cleopatras from whom, rightly or wrongly, it considers itself to have suffered. As a product of the imagination, she is very much the father's child. We hear nothing of a wife to Prospero; he has nurtured her; she has sustained him in his moment of anguish. The imagination is here able to envision a relationship between father and daughter that is not marred on the one hand by the father's jealousy or his efforts to play the petty tyrant, nor on the other by the daughter's rebellion against or indifference to his will. Least of all is it tainted by any unnatural sexual attraction on either side. The blind and foolish fathers like Cymbeline and Leontes are replaced at last by the wise and magnanimous Prospero, even as the passionate and clamorous women of the late tragedies give way to the gentle but ardent figures of Imogen and Perdita and Miranda. The son and husband and lover of the late tragedies becomes the father of the romances, a role that he does not at first accept with perfect equanimity. Cymbeline clings to his role of husband with a vicious second wife who turns him into a doting fool, to the neglect of the best interests of his daughter. And Leontes indulges a raging jealousy on behalf of his wife, to the near destruction of their daughter. Only Prospero is set before us as a father and nothing more.

As is regularly noted in accounts of the romances, their principal figures have a way of recapitulating dramatic fates from earlier plays, but in a nontragic key. Thus both Posthumus and Leontes are Othellos who have not in fact killed their Desdemonas, and Cymbeline is a weaker Lear who has succumbed to the Goneril/Regan-like authority of his second wife, but who is ultimately delivered from the same by the not-untimely deaths of her and her son. Prospero's earlier avatar is the Duke in Measure for Measure: he conducts The Tempest as the Duke presides over the action of his play, though with a surer hand and to deeper ends. But it is the relation of both ducal figures to their play's feminine leads that is most striking. The Duke in Measure for Measure hovers protectingly over Isabella and presumably at the end of the play will take her in marriage, a prospect that has not always pleased audiences, however much scholars of the play may be edified by its moral-allegorical implications. Matters are more rationally—one is tempted to say more decorously—managed in The Tempest. Prospero's solicitude for Miranda is, appropriately, the solicitude of a father (as the Duke's solicitude for Isabella ought to be but apparently is not). And having protected and cherished the idealized figure of feminine chastity which has saved him from despair, Prospero, recognizing that Miranda can no longer appropriately be his, gives her up, along with his staff and his book.


1 Quoted in Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols. (1957-75), 6 (1966): 237.

2 Robert Greene, Pandosto, in Elizabethan Prose Fiction, ed. Merritt Lawlis (New York: Odyssey, 1967), p. 277.

Lear And Cordelia

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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 shared with Chaucer the rare genius of being able to surprise us with shrewd insights into reality and thus to provoke our perception about reality. In part perhaps it is our delight in gossip, our relishing the hidden or unexplored or unexplained details about, for example, Desdemona or Lady Macbeth that engages us. L. C. Knights has alerted us to that danger in his excellent "How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?" But I like to think that it is enriching to indulge our fancy about these "real" people beyond the point of gossipy concern. For if we entertain guesses or speculations, we may perceive fresh meaning, and such meaning may lead us to a deeper understanding of the human significance of a Shakespeare play.

In King Lear, for example, it seems evident that part of the reason that Goneril and Regan are so heartlessly cruel to their father is that they have been brought up to believe that he never loved them at all. As a king, he needed a son, a reproduction of himself, and so, when Goneril and Regan were born, he was only disappointed. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet lost interest with each girl born after Elizabeth and Jane because each new birth was only another step in a mildly desperate passage to a sonless condition. As vain king, Lear would have no real interest in his first two children: he would feel the overwhelming need for a male heir. My guess would be that when Cordelia was born, Lear's wife, the queen, died. Or, at least, after the birth of Cordelia, Lear accepted the fact that he would have no son, no legitimate male heir. To the older sisters, Lear was king rather than father; to Cordelia, Lear was more father than king. In other words, the jealousy of Goneril and Regan has a sound basis: they naturally detest the favorite child and their now-doting father. Although we cannot applaud their cruelty, we can understand their loveless feeling.

It is a commonplace that Shakespeare's great tragedies are family plays: Hamlet is about a man who is both son and prince; Macbeth is about a man who is both husband and king; Lear is about a man who is both father and king. Each of the three plays defines man both in private, familial terms and in public, political terms: Lear is old man, father, and king. The office of king makes its particular, obsessive demands, submerging the man or the father to the office: ceremony determines action, as Henry V acknowledges to himself in the night before the battle of Agincourt. A king is flattered and lied to, presented with a view that is unreal and artificial: a king comes to live in, and to believe in, a world not consonant with reality; the image that a king projects and that his subjects perceive is a distorted one. As a matter of fact, I don't think that Lear ever fully understands what he is or what is happening to him. From beginning to end he is in some measure deluded and mistaken. I suppose that this remark is only another way of saying that Lear is always old man and father and king: his plight as old man—father—king is the subject of the action. One of the remarkable facts about the play is that it contains no mother.

King Lear begins with a seeming casualness that (such is the skill of Shakespeare) provides us with important information:

Kent. I thought the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.

Gloc. It did always seem so to us; but now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the Dukes he values most; for equalities are so weigh'd that curiosity in neither can make choice of either's moiety.

We soon discover that, since Gloucester's immediate master is Cornwall, Gloucester's "us" may even include Edmund, Cornwall, and Regan. In other words, Lear's preference for Albany was widely accepted. We gather then that Lear has overcome any preference for Albany or that, in the division of his kingdom, he has made an effort to seem as fair as possible. It seems obvious that all of the details of the public scene would have been worked out in private: Lear has been much occupied with kingly business. Like Richard II, Shakespeare's greatest play has as its initial scene a ceremony that is the product of careful planning and much calculation. Like Richard II, Lear intends to control response, but we first find him a public figure on a public stage, where everything is ceremonious. Everything is being stage managed, and since what Lear has planned is a performance, his fury at Cordelia and Kent is quite understandable: they are disrupting his planned, cold ceremony. All Lear wants from everyone present is the public sanction of a situation that has been, so he thinks, accepted and agreed upon by the principals in private. Why hadn't Cordelia and Kent said something earlier? What does Cordelia mean? What lurks behind Kent's untimely rudeness?

But I would also guess that Lear has been keeping his own counsel on deepest matters; in fact, I think that at the beginning Lear is a consummate politician, not a weak-minded fool. He may not and, indeed, does not understand the true feelings of Goneril and Regan, but, again, this misunderstanding is largely the result of a condition of kingship and of the demands of kingship. Lear is also a father; he is aware of his responsibilities as father. The main observation is that Lear has been striving to do whatever he can do for his daughter Cordelia, whom he does love and with whom he wants to spend the rest of his life: "I lov'd her most, and thought to set my rest/On her kind nursery." Though he is still vigorous (he hunts, for instance), Lear realizes that he is an old man. My guess is that Lear, at least at the beginning, is, like Henry IV or Henry V, a good king, a great king, and yet not greatly good. Lear does not intend to abdicate, no matter what he professes. In fact, he never intends to surrender the title of king during his lifetime, and he never does surrender it.

To be quite specific, I would imagine that after Cordelia's marriage to the Duke of Burgundy (for certainly he is the intended husband), Lear would conspire with Burgundy in order to devour France, in much the way that England conspired with Burgundy at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Then Lear and Burgundy, strengthened by the resources of a defeated France, would destroy first one son-in-law and then the other; that is to say, I think that Lear means to do away with Goneril and Regan and their husbands. The first step in this program is to separate Goneril and Regan, to separate them by putting Cordelia between them, by putting Cordelia's land between theirs. Divide and conquer. Finally, after all, Lear would have Burgundy imprisoned or killed. Although I of course rather doubt that Lear has a detailed plan of action, my guess is that Lear's main object is to destroy all of his gathered friends, who are, of course, his possible enemies; to consolidate gains after conquest; then to deliver the won world to Cordelia. But Cordelia's refusal to cooperate (her refusal to trust her father) and Kent's subsequent intrusion change everything. He is shaken by their behavior. What can he say? He hadn't expected that. And he can't divulge his secret plans, his real reasons, his true intentions.

Having come between the Dragon and his wrath, Kent addresses his master:

Royal Lear,
Whom I have ever honour'd as my King,
Lov'd as my father, as my master follow'd,
As my great patron thought on in my prayers,—

The speech is excessive; the usually blunt Kent is professing too much. To Lear, wouldn't the speech sound as if Kent, like Bolingbroke to the king at the beginning of Richard II, is making a challenge and a claim under the mask of ceremony? Doesn't it look as if Kent is using the occasion, exploiting the ceremony? In other words, doesn't it seem as if Kent is really denying how great Lear has been as master and as patron? In any event I should like to suggest that Kent may in fact be Lear's son, his illegitimate male heir, and that it is that fact that is behind the intrusion, so Lear thinks. But, anyway, like Edmund, Kent may feel that he, Kent, has been passed over and ignored. Has Kent decided that the time has come for action? Is there a conspiracy between Kent and Cordelia? Again, a Lear, deep in strategy, would not just accept an action as being what is seemed. What does it mean? The political implications of the problem are delicate, and I want to suggest that Lear handles the difficulties and the threat in a readily understandable manner—bluntly, crudely, with an exercise of power. Lear sends Kent out of his sight: Gloucester intends to do the same thing with Edmund, we remember.

Cordelia's place with Lear is taken in I, 4, by the Fool, with whom Lear is at first avuncular ("Nuncle Lear") and then paternal ("In, boy; go first"). In a manner of speaking, the newly introduced Fool is Lear's son, a substitute for a son, a reduction from Cordelia: now that the favorite child has been cast out, the Fool is Lear's closest associate. But, immediately prior to the Fool's appearance, Kent returns, in disguise, to Lear's service; that is to say, before the Fool takes Cordelia's place in Lear's affection, the disguised Kent takes the real Kent's place in Lear's depleted retinue. Right after Lear surrenders his power and rejects his dearest child and his best servant, he gets his two "sons" back. Lear is still father—king, though in a private, restricted, special sense. To those without feeling or respect, Lear is just an old man.

In III, 4, Tom of Bedlam, the disguised Edgar, joins the rejected company of Lear, the Fool, and Kent in the tempest on the heath. Although Lear sees this seeming madman as only "unaccommodated man" and although Lear deliberately tries to become like the madman (an "unaccommodated old man"), we know that the real person is Edgar, the betrayed son, Lear's godson, the boy Lear had named. So on the heath, in the storm, Lear finds his third "son," another outcast, another "false" son emerging out of the hovel, after being discovered by the Fool. Although, again, Lear is prompted by the sight of this newcomer to emphasize his own unaccommodated manliness, it is this third son, the future Gloucester, who will become, in the last act, the good knight, the instrument of justice when, in a ceremonious trial by combat, he kills his brother, Edmund, the traitor, the false Earl of Gloucester, the creation of Cornwall in III, 7.

At the end of the third act Edgar and the Fool are left behind, and only the determined Kent remains with his master. The removal of Edgar ("Thou robed man of justice") and the Fool ("his yoke-fellow of equity") from Lear signifies a change in the world of the play. Lear sleeps. With the departure of Lear for Dover and the absence of Albany, the only king figure present at the end of the third act is Cornwall; the only father figure is the caught Gloucester. In the second act Cornwall and then Lear arrive at Gloucester's household. In the third act Cornwall takes over Gloucester's castle, usurps the place of the father, Gloucester, and then punished his host. In plucking out the eyes of Gloucester, Cornwall may be said to be plucking out the eyes of the father; that is, the holder of the office of king blinds the father.

Cornwall has his reasons for his brutal, morally shocking treatment of Gloucester, and he states them: the old man is a servant who has betrayed his master, Cornwall; the old man is a traitor to his country since he is sympathetic to France, the enemy of Britain. The false old man must be made an example of so that others will not be false. Moreover, Cornwall wants to spare the son, Edmund, the informer, from witnessing the punishment of the father, the traitor. As a matter of fact, Cornwall insists on explaining to those present why he must act as he does. In addition, the remarks of Regan, Gloucester, and the first servant push Cornwall during the trial into a loss of emotional control. He is an uneasy king, a person to whom the demands of the office are too new and too complicated. But, still, even if we are able to understand Cornwall's reasons and actions, we cannot excuse them.

At least the demands of primitive kingship seem to dictate the blinding of the guilty father, the turning of a father into an unaccommodated old man. When threatened, a king must take decisive action: because Gloucester has acted as a father might, Cornwall has acted as a king must. The first servant, who stands up to his master, Cornwall, is like Kent in that he wants to prevent the king (Cornwall) from blinding the father (Gloucester). The first servant in III, 7, intrudes upon the king's actions, just as Kent had in I, 1; that is to say, the first servant is a "true son" of Cornwall in that he wants to stop his master from behaving in a terrible manner. In other words, III, 7, can be viewed as a symbolic explanation of, or a gloss on, the initial situation: Lear as king has Lear as father bound to a chair and blinded; the blind father is then thrust out of doors as a helpless old man; the remaining two servants, like Goneril and Regan at the end of the first scene of the play, comment on the action.

Lear is always old man—father—king, but with a significant difference in the last two acts. In part the change is essential because what is done to Gloucester in III, 7, is a demonstration of what could happen to Lear if he remained behind, of what could happen to Lear if he were not taken to Dover. "I have o'erheard a plot of death upon him," Gloucester tells Kent, and it is this information that prompts Gloucester's actions. In point of fact, what may lie behind the rage of Goneril, Regan, and Cornwall in III, 7, is their frustration—Lear has escaped their power. From III, 6, to IV, 6 (for, that is, five hundred lines) Lear is not on stage; his presence as old man—father—king is lacking; his symbolic meaning as old man—father—king is missing. Lear does not return until he has awakened and until spring has come again and the world has awakened and changed. During the interim, the opposing forces gather and follow Lear to Dover: the main movement is both to spring and toward the slaughter at the end, to the day of final judgment. In IV, 2, Albany ("never man so chang'd") turns from Goneril, damming her unnaturalness, and extends his sympathy to the absent, badly treated Lear; after the entrance of the messenger with news of the treatment of Gloucester and of the death of Cornwall, Albany extends his sympathy to the absent, blind Gloucester. Now that Cornwall is dead and now that the king of France has gone back to his own country, Albany is the only king figure present, though both Goneril and Regan want to make Edmund king—Edmund, whose person has become the sole object of their desire.

We may put it that in III, 7, Cornwall is king; in IV, 2, Albany is king; in IV, 6, Lear, "fantastically dressed with wild flowers" (to use Capell's words), returns to the world as mad king, crowned in nature: "I am the king himself." Edgar, no longer "unaccommodated man," observes his blind father meeting the crowned mad king. Until the very end, Edgar never sees Lear when he, Lear, is other than mad; Cordelia's second view of Lear is much different from her first view. In IV, 7, the "child-chang'd father," dressed in fresh garments, is carried in on a chair to his daughter, Cordelia. Music plays. To Cordelia, Lear is "dear father" and "royal Lord." Lear calls himself "a very foolish fond old man." If Lear is primarily mad king in IV, 6, he is essentially chastened father in IV, 7: the great rage is killed in him. To Edgar Lear is primarily king; to Cordelia Lear is essentially father. Such is the sublime reunion of Lear and Cordelia that after Lear awakens to Cordelia, they are never apart, as if to emphasize the father aspect of Lear's three related roles.

Cordelia has been off stage from I, 1, to IV, 4, and perhaps we can best say that Cordelia, the child transfigured into queen, has usurped the place that Kent, the Fool, and Edgar had with Lear in the tempest in Act III. In other words, to the reborn old man—father—king is given the now-perfect offspring. From IV, 4, on, Cordelia's only concern is her father: "He that helps him take all my outward worth." From IV, 7, on, Lear's only concern is Cordelia. As she becomes more than a daughter, Lear becomes more than old man—father—king: they become canonized by love. Her image and her example change him. As Edgar and Albany become obsessed with power and worldly justice, Cordelia and Lear, the King and his Queen, are lost in love. And the world is well lost, for Albany is, of necessity, exceedingly devious in Act V: like John of Lancaster and Westmoreland in Henry IV, II, Albany uses duplicity in order to trap traitors. Albany gets the letter written by Goneril to Edmund, and he keeps it hidden until the proper time. By the end, Albany, the successful son-in-law, is the main product of kingship, the chief inheritor of the "packs and sects of great ones/That ebb and flow by the moon."

When Lear reenters with Cordelia in his arms at the very end of the play, he (absent for two hundred and thirty lines) has undergone a final change. Emerging from his last trial, with the seemingly lifeless Cordelia in his arms, he once again, and now more than ever, is old man—father—king. His sudden presence prompts Albany to say, "we will resign,/During the life of this old Majesty,/To him our absolute power." And in his obsession with Cordelia, Lear sounds like an absolute ruler to these others: "you are men of stones"; "you, murderers, traitors all"; "Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,/And thou no breath at all?" Then with Cordelia dead, Lear sinks, and Kent delivers his master's best epitaph: "Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass; he hates him/That would upon the rack of this tough world/Stretch him out longer." like the Fool and Cordelia, Kent, now just an old man, will follow his father—king, leaving behind the cheerless Edgar and Albany, the children of a bitter world, a world now bereft of this wonderful child and this magnificent, terrifying father—king, this dead old man.

Marianne Novy (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Patriarchy, Mutuality, and Forgiveness in King Lear," in Love's Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare, The University of North Carolina Press, 1984, pp. 150-63.

[In the following essay first delivered at the 1977 conference on Shakespeare in Performance, Novy discusses the imbalance of power between Lear and his daughters, and observes that Cordelia tries to keep her integrity by withdrawing from "the coercive 'mutuality' that patriarchy seems to demand. "]

Critics of King Lear have frequently noted that Lear begins with the power of the archetypal king and father; many of them have also noted that his initial lack of self-knowledge springs in part from the prerogatives of kingship.1 It has been less observed that the play includes implicit criticism of the prerogatives of the father and an exploration of some behavior that patriarchy fosters in men and women. The apparent mutual dependence of Lear and his older daughters, following conventional patterns of male and female behavior, is deceptive. What the characters need are bonds of forgiveness and sympathy based on a deeper and less categorized sense of human connection.

Maynard Mack emphasizes the importance of relatedness in Lear.2 This concern . . . pervades Shakespeare's plays. While the early comedies parallel many different kinds of mutuality, and accept them all, in tragedy mutuality is tested, and many of its varieties are found wanting. If a society is working, the principle of mutuality—or reciprocity, as the sociologist Alvin Gouldner calls it—offers its structure further justification.3 Places in a hierarchy give reciprocal duties; the subject serves a benevolent master out of gratitude as well as obedience. However, if what the master needs of the subject includes forgiveness, this begins to call the social order into question. The emphasis on King Lear's need for forgiveness reinforces the challenge he makes to his society on the heath.

Although Lear is concerned with the mutuality between father and daughter, it deals with aspects of that mutuality which are also experienced by husband and wife in a patriarchal society, where the authority of fathers over their families, husbands over wives, and men in general over women are all related and analogous. Too great an imbalance in this power makes it likely that attempts at mutuality will be flawed by male coercion and female deception.

Lear's abdication scene provides a paradigm of this danger. He offers money and property in exchange for words of love.

Which of you shall we say doth love us most,
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge.


Of course, part of the problem with the contest is that it takes words of love as an adequate equivalent of love itself. But this is not just a problem with words; any means of expressing love may be used deceptively, and yet love requires the use of some kind of means. It is the power imbalance behind Lear's offer that makes deception both more likely and more impenetrable. Lear is really trying to coerce his daughters to a certain form of behavior; he sets up the terms and the contract. If a daughter wishes a different kind of contract, she is disowned. As king, Lear is the source of all money and property; in their dependence on him at this point the daughters resemble wives in a patriarchal marriage who can get money only by begging it from their husbands. Nora Helmer's performance in A Doll's House is a variant response to a similar situation. No matter how much the male depends on the female's response, if he has all the external power, the social approval, and the sole right to initiate, the mutuality is deeply flawed by coercion.

In such a situation, the obvious way for a woman to survive is to go along with the social order, as Goneril and Regan do at the beginning. In The Taming of the Shrew—closer to Lear than any tragedy or any other comedy in the large number of times the word "father" is used—this kind of survival is what Bianca practices from the beginning and part of what Kate learns by the end.4 In a comedy we do not much mind Bianca's ability to gull Lucendo, and the ambiguity of Kate's final integration of her individuality and the social order still pleases most audiences or wins Kate more sympathy. But even that play shows in Bianca's final posture the cool self-interest that may underlie such compliance. The pretenses of Goneril and Regan have more devastating effects, but in flattering Lear they are doing a service that women are traditionally expected to do for men. Of them, as well as of his subjects, Lear could say, "They told me I was everything" (4.6.103-4).

Lear's childishness has been noted by many critics of the play, as well as the Fool and, self-interestedly, by Goneril—"Old fools are babes again" (1.3.19); but it has been less observed that the similarity between king and child is in part in their assumptions of omnipotence encouraged—for different reasons—by the flattery of those who care for them.5 Elizabeth Janeway has explained how traditional expectations of female behavior come from nostalgia for a mother's care in childhood.6 Lear, in wishing to "unburdened crawl toward death," wants to become a child still omnipotent in his ability to control Cordelia's "kind nursery." The illusory omnipotence of the abdicating king can be compared to the illusory omnipotence of the head of the family within his household, which the sociologists Peter Berger and Hansfried Kellner call a "play area" where he can be "lord and master."7 Lear really is lord and master at the beginning; but in the love contest he pretends to have more power over his daughters' feelings than he actually has, and this, of course, results in the loss of power that makes the split between his wishes and reality even more glaring later on. Although at first Goneril and Regan have seemed like good mothers in their compliance and words of total devotion, now they are punitive and emphasize Lear's powerlessness, as the Fool suggests: "thou mad'st thy daughters thy mothers;.. . when thou gav'st them the rod, and put'st down thine own breeches,/Then they for sudden joy did weep" (1.4.163-66). When Lear curses Goneril with his wish that she bear no children or a "child of spleen," it is partly because he feels that filial ingratitude such as he experiences is the worst possible suffering—but perhaps also because her behavior toward him makes him think of her as a bad mother.

The contrast between Goneril and Regan, on the one hand, and Cordelia, on the other, owes something to the traditional tendency in Western literature to split the image of woman into devil and angel, Eve and Mary.8 Goneril and Regan are much less psychologically complex than most Shakespearean characters of comparable importance. Few of their lines carry hints of motivations other than cruelty, lust, or ambition, characteristics of the archetypal fantasy image of the woman as enemy. Shakespeare gives them no humanizing scruples like those provoked by Lady Macbeth's memory of her father. He does not allow them to point out wrongs done to them in the past as eloquently as Shylock does, or to question the fairness of their society's distribution of power as articulately as Edmund. If their attack on Lear can be seen as in part the consequence of his tyrannical patriarchy, they never try to explain it as an attack on an oppressor. Indeed, even if we follow Peter Brook's lead and imagine a Lear who knocks over tables, whose men really are a "disordered rabble," their cruelty to Lear and, even more, to Gloucester exceeds all provocation. Rather than attacking tyranny, they prefer to attack weakness, and sometimes compare those they attack to women in terms meant to be insulting. Regan says to Lear, "I pray you, father, being weak, seem so" (2.4.196). Goneril says, "I must change names at home and give the distaff / Into my husband's hands" (4.2.17-18). One of the few suggestions of psychological complexity in their characterization is this hint of a compensatory quality in their cruelty—a hatred of others they consider weak because of a fear of being weak themselves.9 Here the play suggests that weakness, or the fear of it, can be as corrupting an influence as power. This fear of weakness is, however, a standard enough trait in the psychology of violence that it does little to individualize them.

Cordelia, by contrast with her sisters, is much less stereotyped. Shakespeare's presentation of her shows sympathy for the woman who tries to keep her integrity in a patriarchal world. Refusing pretense as a means of survival, such women often try to withdraw from the coercive "mutuality" that patriarchy seems to demand. Cordelia initially attempts to say nothing; her asides tell us her wish to "love and be silent." As she speaks further, in a mode completely alien to the love contest, her difficulties with language add to the audience sympathy with her; they make us imagine that she feels much more than she says. She describes the parent-child bond in language that emphasizes its mutuality, its elements of reciprocation and response; the possible coldness in her reference to "duties" is counterbalanced by her approximation of the marriage vow:

Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me. I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.


Cordelia looks more toward the general parental gifts of the past than toward munificent promises for the future; all that she anticipates is a marriage and conflicting loyalties. In Shakespearean comedy, Portia or Rosalind can joke skeptically about professions of absolute and exclusive love; in the tragedy, Cordelia's refusal of hyperbole continues the challenge to Lear's wish to be loved alone and his delight in his special power, and it precipitates her rejection. Lear wants more than the ordinary mutuality of parent and child, but his ability to disown Cordelia when such ordinary mutuality is all she will promise springs from the superior power of fathers in a patriarchal society. Lear's rejection is total: "Better thou / Hadst not been born than not t'have pleased me better" (1.1.233-34).

It is retributive, however shocking and disproportionate, when Lear's older daughters use the power they receive with a coercion like Lear's own. As the Fool says, "I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are. They'll have me whipped for speaking true; thou'lt have me whipped for lying" (1.4.173-75). What Lear criticizes in them, however, is not their general tyranny and cruelty but their lack of mutuality—their ingratitude to him. Along with this preoccupation goes a preoccupation with his own generosity: "Your old kind father, whose frank heart gave all—" (3.4.20). Perhaps this suggests something of the intent of his gifts.

But as he experiences the sufferings of the poor and the outcast, Lear begins to imagine less self-interested kinds of giving. He shows concern for the Fool and acknowledges his own responsibility for the condition of the "poor naked wretches" he now wishes to help. And after the fantasy trial he starts to speak of his daughters in different terms as he moves to more general social and existential concerns: "Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?" (3.6.75-76) In the next scene he denounces the false mutuality that would say "ay" and "no" to everything he said. Here is his longest attack on women: it begins by pointing to someone who could be Goneril or Regan as we see them, but he does not name her, and he attacks her not for ingratitude but for lust and hypocrisy.

Behold yond simp'ring dame,
Whose face between her forks presages snow,
That minces virtue, and does shake the head
To hear of pleasure's name.
The fitchew nor the soilèd horse goes to't
With a more riotous appetite.


His words are antifeminist commonplaces of Elizabethan England, but the context suggests a basis in revulsion against pretense and sexuality in general more than against women. A bit later he shows deeper insight about the origin of such antifeminist commonplaces:

Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thy own back.
Thou hotly lusts to use her in that kind
For which thou whip'st her.


We punish others for our own faults; this is a general phenomenon that Lear denounces here and that Shakespeare often illustrates and describes elsewhere. More specifically, this passage implies the relationship of such scapegoating to patriarchal society's split of human qualities, both vices and virtues, into masculine and feminine. Patriarchal society exerts social and psychological pressure on men to deny qualities in themselves that would be seen as feminine and instead to project them on to women. This analysis suggests that Lear's disgust with women's lust is so strong because it is really disgust with himself; at the same time, his initial expectations of Cordelia's "kind nursery" are so high because he identifies her with nurturing qualities and vulnerabilities not easily admitted by a king whose royal symbol is the dragon.

Both textual and structural details in Lear support this emphasis on projection of feminine qualities; furthermore, it is closely related to the play's concern with connections between people. Lear's own words to Goneril suggest something of his identification with her:

We'll no more meet, no more see one another.
But yet thou art my flesh, my blood, my daughter;
Or rather a disease that's in my flesh,
Which I must needs call mine.


Sometimes he seems unable to recognize his daughters as persons separate from himself: "Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand / For lifting food to 't?" (3.4.15-16). At other times he blames himself for begetting them, in language that again suggests revulsion from the sexuality with which, as women, they are linked in the imagination of Western culture: "Judicious punishment—'twas this flesh begot / Those pelican daughters" (3.4.72-73). Just after Lear gags at imagining the stench beneath women's girdles, he acknowledges the smell of mortality on his own hand.

From this vision of universal guilt, Lear moves to a vision of universal suffering, the basis for a different kind of mutuality. He responds to Gloucester's sympathy, recognizes him, and speaks with him using the "we" of identification and common humanity.

We came crying hither;
Thou know'st, the first time that we smell the air
We wawl and cry. . . .
When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools.

(4.6.175-77, 179-80)

His use of "we" contrasts with his earlier assumption of the royal prerogative of the first person plural and with the "I" of his felt isolation; the imagery of crying makes an equally insistent contrast to his earlier stance:

let not women's weapons, water drops,
Stain my man's cheeks. . . .
. . . You think I'll weep.
No, I'll not weep.

(2.4.272-73, 277-78)

And while earlier he described the alienation between himself and his daughters as like an attack by one part of his body on another, now he imagines himself giving part of his body to supply another's disability: "If thou wilt weep my fortunes, take my eyes" (4.6.173). At the same time as he acknowledges his own identity and Gloucester's, and their fellowship, he acknowledges his share in a vulnerability to suffering and a need to express it—the powerlessness of the child, and not its illusory omnipotence—which he had previously relegated to women. And the tears in his vision of all crying for their own suffering quickly become tears of compassion.

The association of tears and women is a commonplace in Shakespeare and in our culture, even though in Shakespeare at least the association is most frequently made by men who do cry themselves (Laertes, Sebastian in Twelfth Night). Nevertheless, it is remarkable both how often Cordelia's tears are mentioned in King Lear, and how the imagery strives to make them powerful rather than pathetic. Cordelia credits them with arousing France's sympathy and persuading him to help Lear (4.4.25-26); she prays that they will help restore Lear's health:

All blessed secrets,
All you unpublished virtues of the earth,
Spring with my tears!


And at the climactic moment of their reunion, Lear, whose own tears "scald like molten lead" (4.7.48), touches her cheek and says, "Be your tears wet? Yes, faith" (4.7.71).10 With Cordelia's tears, as with other aspects of her characterization, Shakespeare is suggesting a kind of power different from the coercion dependent on political rank or violence; it is the power of nurturing, of sympathy, of human connection as an active force.

The physical connection of parenthood, on which Lear relied earlier in his reproaches to Goneril and Regan, has proved too often only a torment to him; in his reunions with Gloucester and, even more, with Cordelia, Lear experiences a connection—based on shared suffering—which can also be called physical insofar as it involves touching and being touched by others, weeping and being wept for.11 This kind of sympathy underlies Cordelia's ability to restore the parent-child bond rather than simply responding with the revenge Lear expects when he says, even after he has felt her tears,

If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me; for your sisters
Have (as I do remember) done me wrong.
You have some cause, they have not.


The creative power of Cordelia's compassion transcends the mechanism of revenge; nor, her words suggest, is her sympathy confined to relatives:

Had you not been their father, these white flakes
Did challenge pity of them. Was this a face
To be opposed against the jarring winds?
. . . Mine enemy's dog,
Though he had bit me, should have stood that night
Against my fire.

(4.7.30-32, 36-38)

But for all the universality of her sympathy, she expresses it in the context of their particular relationship: to Lear's "as I am a man, I think this lady / to be my child Cordelia," she responds "And so I am! I am!" (4.7.69-70). She is too tactful to speak of forgiveness; guilt and innocence seem irrelevant to her sympathy. But it is forgiveness that Lear needs, and finally he can ask for forgiveness instead of praise and gratitude: "Pray you now, forget and forgive. I am old and foolish" (4.7.84).

In his final vision of what their relationship would be, alone and happy together in prison, he says, "When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down / And ask of thee forgiveness" (5.3.10-11). In Shakespeare's England, Lawrence Stone tells us, kneeling to ask blessing was a common gesture of respect from child to parent, a symbol of generational hierarchy.12 In Lear's vision, parent kneels to child. The need for forgiveness reverses hierarchies of both age and sex, and suggests their limitations.

Northrop Frye, noting the emphasis on forgiveness in Shakespeare's comedies, claims that it results from "impersonal concentration on the laws of comic form."13 This does not, however, account for the importance of forgiveness, explicit and implicit, in a tragedy like Lear, and I think there are more basic reasons for the emphasis on the need for forgiveness in Shakespeare's tragedies, problem comedies, and romances. Shakespeare's plays are concerned with both power and relationship. Lear, for example, depends on power—even though he thinks he wants to give it up—and he wants love. Frequently, Shakespeare shows a man's attempt to get, preserve, or control a relationship with a woman resulting in disaster because he abuses his power. Lear and Angelo are the most obvious examples. From the problem comedies on, Shakespeare suggests that in a patriarchal society mutuality between man and woman must include the mutuality of forgiveness and repentance, because the powerful are so likely to abuse their power.

However, before the female characters forgive, the balance often shifts: Lear and Angelo lose power, Cordelia and Isabella gain some. Alternatively, like Desdemona, they forgive when their forgiveness cannot possibly promise to help them. In either case, the forgiveness is freely chosen, not coerced by dependence on their men like the apparent forgiveness of a battered wife who has nowhere else to go. When Shakespeare's tragic and tragicomic heroes receive forgiveness, they have generally given up all expectations of it. Perhaps the women's forgiveness of them comes as even more of a surprise because it avoids the distancing of such self-righteous forgiveness as Prospero's words to his unrepentant brother:

For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother
Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive
Thy rankest fault—all of them.


Rather, their forgiveness is acceptance. Reversing the mechanism of projection and scapegoating, it implies a recognition of their own limitations as well, somewhat like the forgiveness Prospero begs from his audience: "As you from crimes would pardoned be, / Let your indulgence set me free" (Epilogue, 19-20).

However structurally important forgiveness is in Shakespeare's comedies and romances, where R. G. Hunter finds frequent affinities to the ritual stages of the sacrament of penance, it is worth noting how much more psychologically realistic and dramatically compelling are Lear's repentance and Cordelia's forgiveness.14 Nor does Lear leave us with the sense of the inadequacy of forgiveness that Howard Felperin suggests in the problem comedies.15 Cordelia's forgiveness cannot stop the political consequences of Lear's acts, to be sure, but there is no denying the emotional power of their reunion scene.

We can never completely account for Lear's power to move us, of course, but it is worth considering the possibility that some of the intensity of this scene comes from an element in the play that would seem to move in an entirely opposite direction from sympathy and forgiveness—its portrayal of anger. The experience of Lear depends on the paradox that people are at the same time connected and separate, a paradox to which both sympathy and anger are responses. The intensity of anger may measure the intensity of feelings of loss; it also demonstrates how much sympathy is willing to forgive. Anger and sympathy are both signs of human vulnerability and relationship. In Lear's last scene his sorrow and anger at losing Cordelia merge:

Howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones.
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so
That heaven's vault should crack.


As he imagines the power his emotions could have with his listeners' help in expressing them, the effect in the theater is that he is also addressing the audience. Before the intensity of his expressions of grief for Cordelia, our responses to our own losses, as well as to him, seem inadequate. We cannot heave our hearts into our mouths.

Earlier I suggested that the mutuality between characters in Shakespeare's comedies is analogous to the mutuality between actors and audience. Stanley Cavell has proposed that in Lear the inevitable separation between actors and audience mirrors the ultimate isolation of the characters, and all of us, from each other: we cannot stop the characters from acting wrongly, from suffering pain, just as they cannot stop each other, just as we cannot stop those closest to us.16 Yet, although Lear cannot save Cordelia, nor she him, before this ultimate loss he does experience her acceptance. This acceptance includes tragic perception—it is combined with knowledge of his faults. It does not condescend, but it supports Lear in his own new willingness to acknowledge his limitations.

Perhaps this acceptance is a model for our relationship to Lear, and through him, to the play. Cordelia's attitude toward Lear mediates the attitude of the audience toward him. We can neither change Lear nor admire him uncritically, any more than Cordelia can, but we can join her in feeling with him. It is interesting that Shakespeare not only emphasizes his characters' capacity for sympathy, but also, in his descriptions of audiences, frequently presents sympathy as an important aspect of audience response. It may be the experience of feeling sympathy for someone we cannot change, whose faults we accept as we accept our own faults, that Shakespearean tragedy brings to its highest artistic expression, both within the play and between the play and the audience.

There is so much sympathy with Lear at the end that it seems cold to turn from feeling with him to any further analysis of the play in terms of sex-role behavior, but it is worth noting that part of the effect of the play is to impress on us the suffering created by these behavior patterns and then to show how inadequate they are. The forms of suffering in literature reflect the social structure, either directly or indirectly, and it is significant that much of Lear's and Cordelia's sufferings are related to the particular vulnerabilities of men and women in a patriarchal society, as I have shown. But when Lear enters with Cordelia dead in his arms, the visual image in itself suggests a change in him. The allusion to the pietà that many critics have seen here includes the fact that Lear is at this point taking on a posture much more characteristic of women than of men in our society—holding a child, caring for the dead. His patient watch over Cordelia, looking for a sign of life, may recall his expectation of her answer in the opening scene, but it is very different in tone. Though he still clings to some of his traditional images of male and female virtues, when he says, "Her voice was ever soft, / Gentle and low" (5.3.273-74), it is his own gentleness we see.17 Now he would give to her in a way that would be nurturing and not coercive, but it is too late.

His suffering includes a sense of guilt for misusing his past power, but before the ultimate fact of death he feels the powerlessness that we all feel, king and subject, man and woman. At the end of the play, the surviving characters can for the most part only watch Lear's sufferings like the offstage audience, and the only acts they can perform are gestures of sympathy. All Edgar says in the concluding speech establishing his dominance is about feeling and sympathy for Lear. Thus in the sympathy that is the audience's only power we are united with the surviving characters. Cordelia's values spread beyond her and outlive her, but this is no matter for complacent intellectualization. Shakespeare probes in King Lear to the very heart of loss. Although here, unlike the parallel explorations of Antony and Cleopatra and Othello, the issue of sexuality as such remains mostly submerged, he shows with great depth the vulnerabilities to each other that the contrasting social roles of men and women intensify. The only consolation that he offers—and in a theater it is a significant one—is that we feel each other's loss because of our basic connection.


1 See, for example, Alfred Harbage, Introduction to King Lear, ed. Alfred Harbage (Baltimore: Penguin, 1970), pp. 20-21; Maynard Mack, King Lear in Our Time (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 49-51.

2 Mack, King Lear in Our Time, pp. 100-113. He notes that the term was earlier applied to Lear's world by Enid Welsford in The Fool: His Social and Literary History (London: Faber and Faber, 1935), p. 258.

3 Alvin W. Gouldner, "The Norm of Reciprocity," American Sociological Review 25 (April 1960): 173-75.

4 Marvin Spevack, A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare, 8 vols. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1968-75), 4: 984-88.

5 See, especially, Norman Holland, Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), pp. 216-19.

6 Elizabeth Janeway, Man's World, Woman's Place (New York: Delta, 1971), pp. 37-47.

7 Peter Berger and Hansfried Kellner, "Marriage and the Construction of Reality," Diogenes 46 (Summer 1964): 17, 7.

8 See, for example, Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. H. M. Parshley (New York: Bantam, 1961), pp. 129-85.

9 Their attack on Lear draws on the role of the old as another stigmatized group, with another set of ready-made stereotypes overlapping with some of the negative images of women. For hostility toward the old in seventeenth-century England, see Lawrence Stone, "Walking Over Grandma," New York Review of Books, May 12, 1977, pp. 10-16, and Keith Thomas, "Age and Authority in Early Modern England," Proceedings of the British Academy 62 (1976): 205-48. .. . [If] patriarchy rests on male superiority in physical strength, it ceases to favor old men. In choosing Edmund, Goneril and Regan can be seen as following this form of patriarchy, which defines manhood by capacity for violence. The Elizabethan structure of institutional power did still favor old men, and Thomas suggests that this provoked much of the hostility.

10 See Marvin Rosenberg, The Masks of King Lear (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), p. 290, for the frequency of this gesture in recent performances.

11 Cf. Paul J. Alpers, "King Lear and the Theory of the 'Sight Pattern,'" in In Defense of Reading, ed. Reuben Brower and Richard Poirier (New York: Dutton, 1962), p. 150.

12 Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), pp. 591-92.

13 Northrop Frye, "The Argument of Comedy," in English Institute Essays, 1948, ed. D.A. Robertson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1949), p. 62.

14 R.G. Hunter, Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965). Hunter discusses the dependence of the forgiveness in Shakespeare's plays on a sense of common humanity that he identifies with the medieval idea of charity as distinguished from the modern one (p. 243).

15 Howard Felperin, Shakespearean Romance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), p. 87n.

16 Stanley Cavell, "The Avoidance of Love," in Must We Mean What We Say? (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969), pp. 310-53.

17 See Carolyn Heilbrun, Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 28-34, for a discussion of Shakespeare's "androgynous ideal" and its relationship to forgiveness and the father-daughter theme.

Barbara C. Millard (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "Virago with a Soft Voice: Cordelia's Tragic Rebellion in King Lear," in Philological Quarterly, Vol. 68, No. 2, Spring, 1989, pp. 143-65.

[In this essay, Millard examines Cordelia's part in the political elements of King Lear, noting that her rejection of her role as daughter in favor of one typically reserved for a son results in an internal struggle to attain her identity.]

Cordelia's silences, absences, and the highly emblematic quality of the scenes in which she appears have inspired a strong critical tradition which views the role played by Lear's youngest daughter as primarily supportive and, therefore, dramatically secondary. With so few lines, Cordelia, however revered, has yet to be recognized fully as a major character at the center of the play's action, a tragic figure who consistently plays a crucial role in the determination of events in King Lear, including her own death.1 This oversight may also be due in part to our assumptions about the importance of her military action within the political sphere of the play. As one critic articulates this view, Cordelia's decision to invade Britain is "not immediate or important in the play." Consequently, the battle is perceived as only a background for Edmund's speeches, while Cordelia "moves in shadows" as the truly patient woman and daughter.2

A comparison of King Lear with the earlier play, King Leir, however, emphasizes both the force and coherence of political elements in Shakespeare's play and Cordelia's central part in them. Rather than dismiss Cordelia's death as accident, the effect of Lear's tragic action, or even as poetically appropriate self-sacrifice, we might better consider the defeat of Cordelia's French forces and her subsequent death in terms of the importance of temporal structure in Renaissance drama; that is, as resulting from her decision to invade Britain, a preemptive attempt to reverse the effects of her rebellion in the first scene of the play.3 As the play moves from the ritualistic first act to its apocalyptic conclusion, Cordelia chooses to operate in a political sphere whose demands conflict with her more personal mission to rescue Lear. The military campaign in act four is the consequence of an off-stage decision by Cordelia to postpone giving "unaccommodated" Lear the serene "place" he needs in an effort to restore the place she believes him to have lost and desire still. In this militant and righteous posture, she not only suggests the doomed Virago of Renaissance legends but also assumes the role of the tragic hero, by mistaking both the nature of things and the proper way to attain the necessary end—Lear's rescue or release. More significantly, Cordelia presents a tragic paradigm as a woman who first rejects the self-obliterating role of daughter/mother demanded by her father, only to be defeated later by her attempt of the heroic militant role reserved for the son/father. In changing so radically Cordelia's fate from that of the traditional Leir story, Shakespeare's play not only presents us with a more ambiguous character but also raises challenging questions, reflective of Jacobean culture, about the redemptive role of women.


In attempting to comprehend the gothic structure that is Lear, one is sorely tempted to view Cordelia as monolithic. Indeed, Paula S. Berggren has noted that most women in Shakespearean tragedy seem to split into two basic types: the good, as victims, or the evil, as monsters.4 Yet, to see Cordelia as either sainted martyr (pathetic, timid, politically naive, misunderstood) or villain (cold, willful, insensitive, proud, unbending) is to ignore an important dramatic tension in the play. In fact, Cordelia's struggle to attain her identity while poised between political necessity in a patriarchal world and her own moral wisdom defines her tragic experience, her simultaneous movement toward retribution and atonement. Moreover, her ambiguous personality seems designed to elicit our ambivalence, our dual response. The Lear story in any of its forms demands that we recognize Cordelia's need for integrity in the love-test scene, and so too in Shakespeare's play, the tension of the first scene partly draws from our compulsion to align ourselves with the youngest, fairy-tale third child. But when we regard Cordelia as specifically a female child (as "our joy" and "least"), we—including many who are female, and especially, parents—tend to put her at the other end of the telescope, to see her in harsher, more traditional terms: one who betrays her identification as the loving nurse, one whose begrudging response must be an error, as later acknowledged by her tears in act four. Both Cordelia's plain truth and her "silence" in the first scene have been viewed as "manly" insofar as they are courageous, hard or untender postures (Kent is rarely criticized for his bluntness or lack of ceremony), which Lear would not expect from his most beloved daughter. That it is "pride which she calls plainness" is true, after all; that it is undesirable in any child, especially a daughter, is a paternalistic perception. From this point of view, the critic sees Cordelia's movement toward self-possession and her plea for her integrity as unladylike insubordination, a reflection of her father's pride and arrogance and a taint which is later purged by her banishment and/or converted by the romance of marriage with France.5

Another look at Shakespeare's probable sources for the Lear story, however, reveals more about Shakespeare's creation of tension and ambivalent response for the audience of this first scene. The purpose of the love-test in The True Chronicle Historie of King Leir and His Three Daughters is to divide equally the kingdom-as-dowry so as to dispose of three unwed daughters and to maneuver Cordelia into marrying the suitor Leir favors, not Shakespeare's foreign lord but "a King within this Isle." In his own version of the scene, Shakespeare removes hints about Lear's motivation which would lend him pathos (that he is sad and distraught because his wife has died, and that he wants to live in devout contemplation), and eliminates the suggestion of naiveté which might excuse his error (that he is ignorant of the affairs and character of daughters, "For fathers best do know how to governe sonnes" [1.1.19]).6 In Leir, Gonorill and Ragan are clearly revealed, in a scene before the love-test, to be carping, mean-spirited, and jealous of Cordelia's beauty, so that the audience is predisposed to appreciate Cordelia's disgust with their prevarication.

The most significant change is in the character of Cordelia as she appears in Shakespeare's play. The youngest daughters in the accounts of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Raphael Holinshed, and John Higgins are cryptic, riddling, and intimidated. The slightly varying answers invariably point to the issue of spiritual versus material evaluation: "Look how much you have, so much is your Value [or "woorth," or "goodes," respectively], and so much I love you." The injunction of such an answer is for the king to look within; the riddle is a key to the sisters' true avarice. In Leir, Cordelia's reply, "What love the child doth owe the father, / The Same to you I beare, my gracious Lord" (11. 279-80)—is yet personal as it speaks of a potentially open-ended relationship. As Shakespeare's Lear increases the demand ("more opulent") of the old men of the legends, so he receives less, in fact, nothing. As Cordella presented an expansive equation, Cordelia specifically limits hers: "I love you according to my bond, no more nor less." As Cordella, under fire from her father's wrath, reaches toward conciliation: "Deare father, do not mistake my words, / Nor my playne meaning be misconstrued; / My toung was never usde to flattery" (11. 301-3), so Cordelia stands taller in the fire and seeks justification. Thus Shakespeare transforms his material to ask what the older stories more confidently assume, and the question is one of central importance in the later romances: What does it mean to be a royal daughter in a patriarchal society? What does it require?

To begin, Shakespeare emphasizes Cordelia's competition with her already-married sisters. That her personal dislike of her sisters noticeably influences her behavior has been frequently observed. Her first response is to them in the aside, "What shall Cordelia speak?" Or, rather, it is to herself; for throughout the scene, Cordelia is primarily in a conversation with herself, as the third person reference in her question indicates. Meanwhile, Goneril's and Regan's opulence places her in a competition where being last is a distinct embarrassment if not a liability: "Then poor Cordelia!" But Cordelia's concern is less with winning or losing and more with her own feelings, as her answer to herself makes clear: "And yet not so, since I am sure my love's / More ponderous than my tongue." The Quarto text presents "richer" in lieu of "ponderous," alluding to the original riddle of spiritual/material worth. The substituted "ponderous," however, combines the idea of weight with thought. Cordelia's pondering, in the exchange with her father, about the real nature of her love and their relationship leads to a dialectic in which her asides posit one answer to the question (to one half of herself and to us) and her public response posits another (to Lear and her other half). As Lear divides his kingdom, so his uncompromising demand divides Cordelia, a psychological state which endures for one reason or another until her tragic death.

At this point, the political expediency of Lear's contest—to ensure his youngest daughter's power (and his own "rest") by means of "more opulent" property and a carefully selected husband—apparently does not escape Cordelia. Neither is the task at hand beyond her. She is eloquent in her brief asides and infuriatingly articulate and precise in her replies to Lear. In fact, she has forty-six lines in the scene as compared with the earlier Cordelia's eighteen, or her sisters' eleven and nine. Cordelia's famous "silence" refers not to what she does say but to what she does not say, beyond her hints in the asides (the other half of the dialectic). Rather than a helpless reply, "Nothing" is a deliberate choice, the alternative dictated by her own imperative: "Love and be silent," as well as by Lear's equation of words with reward. Whereas the Quarto text includes only Cordelia's "Nothing," the Folio adds Lear's query, "Nothing?" and its reprise, simultaneously prolonging the tension and asserting her rejection of Lear's formula.7 Like a person indicted. Cordelia is driven by Lear's imperatives into an equally uncompromising confrontation with herself, for she cannot answer Lear's question and define their relation without defining herself. It is a perilous journey for Cordelia in so little space and time. When she speaks again, she dramatically increases the proportion of first person pronouns to second person: "Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty / According to my bond, no more nor less." When she "mends" this speech a little, the proportion is more balanced: "You have begot me, bred me, loved me. I / Return those duties back as are right fit, / Obey you, love you, and most honor you." While the other Cordelias were teaching the father about himself, Cordelia teaches Lear about his daughter: "So young, my lord, and true."

A good deal of Cordelia's comment, of course, is an attempt to refute her sisters' hypocrisy, and in the process both define and distance herself from her siblings in the only was the social order permits, by distinguishing herself as daughter and wife: "Sure I shall never marry like my sisters, / To love my father all." By coming to realize the limits of her own personality, she finds the dimensions of her integrity. Cordelia's dramatic assertion bespeaks her claim to adulthood and emotional autonomy. Joyce Carol Oates has aptly commented on the tenor of this confrontation: "In this woman's insistence upon a moral intelligence not determined by her social role we have rebellion, the first and the most surprising of all."8 That Cordelia's rebellion is all the more offensive to her father because she is female is suggested by Lear's invocation of the witch Hecate in his curse. That he views her violation of familial duty as destructive of the civil order as well is indicated by his "preference" for the barbarous Scythian over this "sometime daughter."9

However splendid Cordelia's personal realization, her achievement is shadowed by the socio-political realities of the context. The fate of Britain as well as of her father hangs suspended, and neither her courage nor her militant candor can defeat her sisters' politic skill or avert their triumph. If she lacks that "glib and oily art," she also eschews poetry. Where her sisters imagine their golden future of "grace," "health," "beauty," "felicitation," "joys," "freedom," and "honor," Cordelia withdraws from the necessity of Lear's "darker purpose" and speaks of "duty," "bond," "care," "plight," "obedience," "vicious blot," "unchaste act," and dishonor. What her sisters eloquently proclaim with impunity is what Cordelia, as "last" and "least" would have to (and does) inherit, that is, to prefer her father to "space" or "libertie" or "life" or other "love." Cordelia's language reveals to Lear and the court what he would leave unsaid, his intention to usurp her life and subsume her future to his "rest." We recognize that the political alternatives are unacceptable, Burgundy, Lear's probable choice for Cordelia's husband ("I crave no more than hath your Highness offer'd"), proves greedy and politically ambitious. Cordelia's dowry of a larger third would ensure the enmity of her sisters and guarantee the strife Lear wished to avoid. So, too, Cordelia's unconditional commitment to the perpetual "nursery" of the father she must love "all" would preclude all hope of self-possession. As it is, Cordelia reverses their positions and power and, in effect, wins her freedom and ascends a throne of moral individualism. Furthermore, her ascension to the throne of France completes an emblem of a most highlycharged and threatening political meaning for British kings and subjects. Cordelia's role as Queen of France becomes a part of her identity which no one in the play can afford to forget. Edmund's only legitimacy in the last two acts of the play is as defender of Britain against this foreign Queen.

Both Cordelia's struggle to maintain her integrity and her right to rule Britain according to Lear's design would have been her unquestioned prerogative had the "least" been more in this society, that is, male. Unlike his counterparts in the source stories, Lear never laments the lack of a son but compensates himself instead with his demand for the full measure of his daughters' feminine virtues: obedience, love, servitude. With shattering clarity the events of the play dramatize the ramifications of Lear's attempt to impose these virtues rather than encourage the development of a true sovereignty in his daughters. Gloucester's apocalyptic vision in scene two reveals that Lear has tried, in fact, to make Cordelia both daughter-mother by her personal love-pledge and son through his gift of patrimony: "and the bond cracked d'twixt son and father . . . there's son against father; the king falls from bias of nature" (11. 111-14). Cordelia's independent stance, her rejected role as primary inheritor, and her "male" bluntness are thus put in ironic relief to Edmund's "lusty" bid to "top th' legitimate" in this juxtaposed scene.

Lear's unethical and politically dangerous experiment and its subsequent confusion—his hasty re-division of the kingdom to punish Cordelia—place him in jeopardy but not Cordelia. She has side-stepped the trap for a "better where." Her fate—to die as an invading queen—is not the inevitable consequence of this scene until, exiting, she "commits" him to the "professed bosoms" of the sisters whose "faults" and "cunning" she well knows, if "loath to call / . . . as they are nam'd." Having avoided one impossible commitment, she makes another she cannot, in her humanity, keep. Ironically, Cordelia's wish to "prefer him to a better place" suggests the scenario of the source material, his safe removal to her care in France, rather than the preemptive tragic invasion Shakespeare has her choose later when she recants this "commitment." When, in a recounted off-stage action, Cordelia's "importun'd tears" convince France to "incite" their arms in the service of her father's business, she chooses to imitate her father's impulsive act and punish her sisters, the "shame of ladies," by attempting to seize their patrimony through military offensive and return it to her father—an action personally ineffective and politically unacceptable.10 As we shall see, one of the most terrible ironies which Shakespeare suggests in the catastrophe of this play is that in her militant posture Cordelia unwittingly participates in her sisters' destructiveness, even as she battles their inhumanity.

Cordelia's choice of a militant role in advance of the ministerial one is central to both the play's action and its ominous theme regarding female ascendancy in conflict with patriarchal order. Having received their power through Cordelia's "default," Goneril and Regan demonstrate more obviously the dangers of female assertion and provide the context for Cordelia's actions in acts four and five. The steady descent of Goneril and Regan into "unnatural," ruthless monstrosity suggests the consequences of freeing these women from the patriarchal power which held them in check (and forced both obedience and eloquence upon demand) and the folly of allowing such daughters such "unnatural" authority. The Fool consistently chides Lear and Lear commiserates with Poor Tom, specifically, about "daughters" not children.

After the first scene of the play, Shakespeare mythically projects a situation similar to that described by Simone de Beauvoir as the fearful vision of patriarchal society. The reign of women is perceived as "the reign of irreducible duration, of contingency, of chance, of waiting, of mystery."11 As an old dispossessed man, Lear is as vulnerable in the female realm of Nature as Cordelia is in the male-dominated settings provided for her trials: the court and the battlefield. The entire import of act three is that no man can stand in the fierce winds of a real matriarchy. Striving in his "little world of man," Lear not only identifies the storm (raw unchecked nature) with his mother-daughters but also recognizes that the support of patriarchy, Jupiter's thunderbolts, have been suborned as well: "But yet I call you servile ministers, / That will with two pernicious daughters join / Your high-engender'd battles 'gainst a head / So old and white as this" (3.2.21-24). As much as to the storm within, his own unleashed personality, Lear succumbs to two unpredictable forces of life: elemental nature and women. The movement of all the characters from dwellings, across a desolate landscape, to the field of battle and the cliffs of Dover in the last two acts of the play would seem to suggest that there is no home, no sanctuary of rest in the shifting world of female dominance. Even Cordelia who desires to provide shelter for Lear's "abused nature" can only offer the vicissitudes of the French camp.


Like so many other Renaissance writers, Shakespeare treats militant or Amazonian women according to whether they operate within the frame of the existing patriarchal order. Since there is no patriarchal order after Lear's abdication and subsequent madness, all his daughters' actions, however motivated, can only contribute to the chaos. Only when Albany demands authority from Goneril, and denies to Edmund that lent him by Regan (5.3.83-85), does the political turmoil begin to subside.12 One can look at the anti-feminism of the Jacobean stage in general, and of King Lear in particular, as deriving from several contemporary events: male revulsion toward the threatening phenomenon of "a monstrous regiment of women" rulers and militant politicos in Europe; the recent death of the Queen, and with her the Tudor ideal of peace; and the various political plots against James I's throne, especially the Cobham plot in 1603, which attempted to overthrow the king in favor of the insubordinate Lady Arabella Stuart. One can also cite the strictures of various humanists, like Castiglione and Vives, against the teaching of martial arts and government to young ladies of the court, to explain Shakespeare's association of male disaster and psychological horror with female defiance and power. Contemporary polemicists were found of quoting the ancients, especially Juvenal: "Quem prestare potest mulier galeata pudorem?" (Satires 6.252: What modesty can you expect in a woman who wears a helmet?). However, the legend from British Celtic history of a real Virago, Boudicca, suggests a paradigm by which we can better comprehend Shakespeare's conception of the militant women in his plays and the necessity of their tragic fates.

Of that British stock from which the Tudors came, this queen and patriot fought gloriously against the Roman invaders of her country only to face ultimate defeat. Like Cleopatra, Boudicca had no mind to figure in a Roman triumph, and like several Shakespearean women of "manly" courage she killed herself. The Roman historian, Dion Cassius, records the Britons' deep respect and passionate mourning for her, while the Welsh Gildas exhibits contempt for "that deceitful lionness" who led a cowardly rabble army and lost the final battle.13 This duality of response to Boudicca's legend is manifest in Tudor histories and sheds light on Cordelia's complex character. The Elizabethan humanists were noticeably influenced by Tacitus' account of a wronged woman seeking revenge in a fool-hardy manner, but one book, Petruccio Ubaldini's The Lives of the Noble Ladies of the Kingdome of England and Scotland (written for Elizabeth in 1588 and published in 1591), specifies a double for Boudicca. Together "Bunduica" and her double, "Voadicia," resemble the dual image of the female warrior which appears in the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The "Bunduica" figure, a bold Virago, is noted for her military prowess which is balanced by her marvelous virtues and praiseworthy deeds.14 We can see that image in Elizabeth I, in her white velvet dress and silver cuirass, "like some Amazonian Empress," and in the likes of Britomart, and perhaps Cordelia.15 Edmund Spenser celebrates Boundicca in The Faerie Queene as the precursor of Gloriana in her courageous opposition to oppression. Like Cordelia, Spenser's heroine loses the final battle underservedly, a victim of the universal corruption "overcome in happlesse fight," yet triumphant "on death in enemies despight" (2.10.14-16).16 On the other hand, Bunduica's double, Voadicia, suggests that Elizabethan man-woman whose thirst for vengeance leads to folly and impetuosity on the battlefield and chaos in the civil order. She is the actual Amazon queen of unmitigated power: a Tamora or Goneril or Pucelle. And she is also a failure. The legend of Boudicca generally connects with the exempla of other emotional women of classical fame, such as Dido or Cleopatra, who fail in moments of crisis, usually as a result of their passion (Note Goneril's "I had rather lose the battle than that sister / Should loosen him and me" [5.1.18-19]). After Elizabeth's death, the legend of Boudicca becomes increasingly tarnished. By the time she appears in Milton's History of Britain (1670), she is not only deplorably immodest, but also responsible for the barbaric and impotent conduct of British men and the failure of the campaign. Evidence that the legend of Boudicca, used for propaganda for the monarchy of Elizabeth, was turned to anti-feminist use in the Jacobean era can perhaps be found in Fletcher's Bonduca, performed by the King's Men in 1610 and therefore, contemporary with Shakespeare's own interest in ancient British history evident in Lear and Cymbeline. Bonduca is clearly subordinated in this play to the more chivalrous and competent leader Caratach, who watches in horror the fatal consequences of her generalship. After accusing her of complicity with the devil in meddling in "men's affairs," he bids the "trifle" go home and "spin" (3.5.132-35).17 Although many classical figures, human and divine, serve in Renaissance drama as models of female valor, Boudicca's dual identity is especially significant in the ambivalence it exposes in Renaissance culture towards militant women, an ambivalence which perhaps accounts for the incongruous juxtaposition of Cordelia's militant posture and patient resignation in acts four and five, if not for her defeat in battle. Indeed, Holinshed's account of Boudicca contains several parallels in tone and characterization with King Lear. Like Cordelia, Queene Voadicia moves against the Romans because of the disinheritance of her royal family and the plight of people who have been forced to endure a houseless condition of "hunger, thirst, cold. . . . " As Cordelia speaks of her sisters' treatment of Lear in contrast to that of a dog, Voadicia similarly complains of Roman cruelty "since there is no man that taketh so much as a wild beast, but at the first he will cherish it." Also like Cordelia, Voadica disclaims any motive of personal gain in her address to her troops. She comes not "to fight for her kingdome and riches," but to regain liberty and punish cruelty.18

That female militancy, however qualified by goodness, cannot prevail is indicated by the ironic interplay between the parallel careers of Edgar and Cordelia. Whereas Edgar, the elder, legitimate heir, can combine the dual role of "nurse" and champion—and triumph, Cordelia in her similar attempt cannot. So, too, the subconscious wish to punish the hurtful, unappreciative father can be executed with impunity and transcended by Edgar in the ritualized suicide attempt of his father.19 Conversely, Cordelia cannot prevent the annihilation of herself and her father as a consequence of both her attempt at separation in act one and her later chivalrous action in behalf of her "aged father's right." The virtues of goodness, patience, love, forgiveness, and "nursery," ultimately celebrated in Cordelia, are manifest first in Edgar. In acts three and four, he anticipates Cordelia's part by sympathizing with and tending to Lear, first, and then to his own father. At this point in the play, the sub-plot overtakes the main plot. Edgar, together with the Fool, assumes Cordelia's function, so that when Cordelia appears, her ministration is both a reflection of and comment on Edgar's. While Cordelia evokes all the "unpublished virtues of the earth" to "spring" with her tears and be "remediated in the good man's distress," Edgar, as Poor Tom, studies and learns. "How to prevent the fiend, and to kill vermin" (4.4.15-17; 3.4.157). Finally, Edgar's ability to cope with political and moral evil through personal, death-encountering ritual succeeds where Cordelia's tears and well-intentioned war fail. While both figure forth the moral victory of filial love, Cordelia pays the higher price, and Edgar's moment of justification is ironically juxtaposed with the terrible vision of hanged Cordelia in Lear's arms.

Although Cordelia and Edgar both might be described as naive in their response to evil, Edgar imitates the imaginative procedures of Shakespeare's women in the comedies and romances. He retreats to disguise, yields to emotional distress through the persona, Poor Tom, and learns the miseries of his father "by nursing them," before asserting his right.20 Understanding "ripeness," he abides his father's death before engaging Edmund, not on his father's business, but his own. Thus he is at one with his action; a harmonious relation exists between all his ends and purposes, harmony exists between his purposes and means. Since tragedy stems from alternatives ignored as well as choices made, we should note the alternative to Cordelia's military action which Edgar offers when he allows time to bring Gloucester to him and prompt his part. That time is the remedy for destructive male impulse in the romances is generally acknowledged. Whatever Cordelia hopes to achieve by her action, the temporal structure of the play indicates that the military campaign is precipitous and premature. Often, in Lear, the motive for choosing alternative behavior is not given dramatic consideration; rather, the choices themselves and the consequences of these choices are more important than the reasons for them. Thus, Cordelia, who determines in an early letter to Kent to "give losses their remedies" (2.2.171-73), determines the events of the play from the blinding of Gloucester (3.7) to the battle (5.2), when she embarks "with a force" for England.

In this point, Shakespeare's divergence from his sources is only less dramatic than in Cordelia's death itself, a fact that suggests a relation between the two events. All known sources of the story have the king escape England and undergo a healing process before the redress of political wrongs. Leir, whose life is in certain danger from assassins hired by his daughters, seeks out Cordella in France and desires military assistance of her. The political implications of Shakespeare's events are specific. Cordella, France, and the French force, in whatever combination, however deployed in the various tales, are given legitimacy, first by the dukes' rebellion and second by Leir's responsible advocacy. No such legitimacy attends Cordelia's and France's invasion; this invasion is anticipated as retributive (3.3.11-13) and later described as personal: her love, its "mourning and importuned tears," did their "arms incite." That the Folio text excludes the several references to the invasion, prior to Cordelia's appearance in act four, attests to the political explosiveness of the issue for an English audience.

As a woman who will do before she says, Cordelia anticipates on her father's part a desire he no longer has—to reclaim his throne and power. While there is no textual evidence to support the contention that France has political ambitions for himself, there is his hasty retreat to deny it. In attempting to gauge Cordelia's motive, certainly, one cannot discount the punitive tone regarding the two who are the "Shame of Ladies" and the final cold anger of "Shall we not see these daughters, these sisters?" But this tone is only one of several, including her expression of filial sympathy when "she heav'd the name of 'father' / Pantingly forth, as if it press'd her heart" (4.2.27-28). Cordelia accepts and would restore the role Lear defined for himself in the first scene; she endeavors to atone for her sisters' crimes by returning kingly majesty to him through military exploit, as if, to quote Lamb, "the childish pleasure of getting his gilt robes and sceptre again could tempt him to act over again his misused station."21 Like Lear in act one, Cordelia treats Britain as her father's property. When she alludes to her dear father's business, we shiver to realize that the real business Lear must get on with is dying. Thus an exhausted old man tells Cordelia, "You do me wrong to take me out o' the grave" (4.7.45).

For his thematic purpose, then, Shakespeare not only compressed the events of Lear's rescue as they are described in the source material but also changed them so much as to risk troubling the play's audiences through the ages. Like Edgar, the Cordelias of the other versions minister to the father, providing him with shelter, comfortable rest, and restoring his confidence before raising troops to aid him in battle. For Cordelia, nursery and battle are simultaneous and therefore mutually defeating. Throughout act three, Lear's houseless condition suggests its remedy, the relief that Cordelia might provide. Indeed, Lear's confused question, "Am I in France?" suggests that happy alternative of the history; so too, the double edge of his reply ("Do not abuse me") to the truth of where he is suggests that to be in this hostile place, no longer "his," is both abuse and error. Shakespeare's use of dramatic contrast further conveys the inappropriateness of Cordelia's military campaign to her personal mission. The cries of a raving Lear in act three are punctuated with intelligence reports of France's maneuvers. After act three, scene four, Shakespeare never allows his characters to mention Lear's responsibility as king; rather, the mad king demonstrates all too clearly his distance from the mundane world of affairs. At the end of this sequence of "mad" scenes, Kent points to the real necessity of Lear's condition: "Oppressed nature sleeps. / This rest might yet have balm'd thy broken sinews / Which, if convenience will not allow, / Stand in hard cure" (3.6.95-98). In a scene positioned between Edgar's meeting with the blinded Gloucester and their arrival at the "cliff site, Cordelia discusses Lear's treatment with the Doctor (or Gentleman of the Folio text). The prescription echoes Kent's emphatically: "Our foster-nurse of nature is repose. / The which he lacks" (4.4.12-13). Immediately follows the report that the British powers are on the march. Whereas Lear has learned through extremity to transcend the political world, and Edgar, to suspend it, Cordelia is trapped and destroyed by both its realities (her foreign royalty and disinheritance) and its burdens, "the darker purpose" of her surrogate male-child role, or the punishment of her sisters. Once she commits herself to her "father's business," Cordelia casts herself in the image of the redemptive Son, a role immediately recognizable for its sacrificial implications, a role from which she cannot extricate herself once she discovers her father's transformation and hears his plea to "forgive and forget." In her "male" role, she eschews the imaginative, female suberfuge practiced by Edgar and the comedies' heroines: withdrawal and disguise. When the Gentleman describes her to Kent, the image poignantly depicts her struggle to remain poised within the dual impulse: "it seem'd she was a queen / Over her passion, who most rebel-like / Sought to be king o'er her" (4.2.15-17). The rebel-like Cordelia has brought herself and her father to the cliffs of Dover, in an action parallel to that of Edgar, only to find that she has misjudged her father's business and her own, and that the fall is real. Unlike Edgar, Cordelia does not enjoy integrity of action in act four. The reality of Lear's condition places her role as champion "son" at odds with that of nursing daughter:

O my dear father, restoration hang
Thy medicine on my lips, and let this kiss
Repair those violent harms that my two sisters
Have in thy reverence made!


As ministering daughter, Cordelia follows in the wellestablished tradition, dating at least from twelfth-century Arthurian romance, in which female healers tend the hero's wounds. The extension of this power to psychological healing is praised in the Renaissance by such as Anthony Gibson, in A Womans Woorth, defended against all the men in the world: "Even so a woman qualifies divers tempests, which wandring through a mans braines, do weaken his stronger powers untili this lawful and natural medicine be thereto applyed."22

That her meeting with Lear is so peaceful, joyous, and genuine in its pathos only emphasizes the incongruity of the context in which Cordelia would attempt to cure "this great breach," his "untuned and jarring senses." Accordingly, Shakespeare presents jarring visual and auditory effects to underscore the irreconcilable nature of Cordelia's divided purpose. The Doctor and the Soldiers enter the scene together, the literal means by which Cordelia hopes to "repair those violent harms" made by her sisters.23 As a "soul in bliss" dressed in battle armor, as she should be (and rarely is), Cordelia would appear to be a travesty. The newly feminized Lear, pacifist, patient and humble, is wakened to music and comfort only to face the alarum of troops. Cordelia has done her best to create the illusion of haven, a "redeemed world," but it evaporates all too quickly in the hostile landscape of civil war. Even Cordelia's expression of sympathy to her father combines the language of nursery: "restoration," "medicine," "kiss," "repair," "reverence," "pity," "benediction"—with the terms of warfare: "violent," "breach," "challenge," "oppos'd," "warring," "dread-bolted," "terrible and nimble stroke," "perdu," "helm," "enemy."24

Plausibility has not been left behind in Lear regarding the defeat of Cordelia's forces and her death. Those in the British camp are so absorbed in preparation and the gathering of intelligence regarding the French force (5.1.51-54), that their personal affairs become muddled. But there is no discussion of strategy in the French camp where personal concerns have replaced the political. Cordelia prepares us for her tragic fate before Lear awakes. Acknowledging Kent's goodness, she predicts, "My life will be too short, / And every measure fail me" (4.7.2-3). While the gentle benedictions of Lear and Cordelia are yet fresh, the Gentleman reminds us that "the arbitrement is like to be bloody." While Edmund and Albany express their determination to repel the French and, now, English rebel forces, Cordelia in the fullness of her heart, is preoccupied with the Doctor's warning about Lear's condition: "Trouble him no more / Till further settling" (4.7.81-82). That Cordelia with Lear "by the hand" should fall into the abyss while walking the tightrope between these two poles of retribution and ministration should be no surprise. Victory for Lear and Cordelia, moreover, would present a situation as politically undesirable as Lear's proposal in act one. Whereas Cordila, in The Mirror for Magistrates version, "manly fought" beside her husband and her father, the spectacle of Cordelia, supporting a tottering Lear and leading forces against Goneril, Regan, Albany and Edmund is so obvious in its implication as to allow Shakespeare to omit most details of battle. The battle lost before it began, Cordelia's death at the hands of her ruthless enemy is, more likely than not, the logical outcome of principles of plot and characterization that have operated in the play.

As with another well-intentioned child, Hamlet, we can neither blame nor justify the action of Cordelia "who with best meaning . . . incurred the worst." Both France as a chivalrous prince, coming to the rescue of virtue in the first scene, and Edgar in his ritual combat with Edmund suggest analogues to Cordelia's militant stance. In ritual combat, however, Edgar accepts a higher (male) authority, submits to the gods' adjudication, and trusts to "this sword, this arm," with the result that he receives not only justice but also a confirmation of his authority. Without authority, Cordelia is indeed as a fly to whatever gods rule in the patriarchal world of Shakespearean tragedy. That Goneril ("the better soldier") and Regan are destroyed by their lusts does not provide occasion for Cordelia's rescue, but rather a fatal distraction from that purpose. Involved with the business of restoring a patriarchal order, the men in whose hands her life is suspended simply forget her.

Albany, as the eldest son-in-law and legal inheritor in scene one, finally assumes his patrimony, simultaneously with Cordelia's defeat, and yields it to Edgar, the champion son (Fl). The reestablishment of patriarchal order, however, is a destructive mission for Cordelia, and an undesirable one for at least two of the three male survivors. There are those who view the return of Lear's "kingly" manhood as worth the price of Cordelia's death ("sacrifice"). Robert Egan, for example, comments, "Cordelia is in Lear's arms, more his child now than ever, and Lear is massive with the dignity of his fatherhood."25 Does Cordelia's death free Lear? He rouses from his feebleness to kill "the slave that was a-hanging" her. As he laments the loss of her life ("dead as earth") and its mystery—that "a dog, a horse, a rat, have life," and her no breath at all—does not the "idol" of a gilded cage become finally subordinate to his assertion that his "poor Fool is hanged?" However pathetic and magnificent Lear is in his last moments, his love for Cordelia remains possessive. The quality of love remains the human value which Cordelia carries like a grail on her quest, across that tightrope of polarities. But children cannot redeem their parents, neither by loving them "all" nor by living with them forever and wearing out "packs and sects of great ones." Children can only replace their parents, as Edgar does.

Whether Cordelia's "sacrifice" is redemptive at all remains one of those critical questions to which we bring our own perspectives. Unlike Desdemona, Juliet, or Cleopatra, Cordelia is denied a triumphant death on stage with its suggestion of moral quality. Unlike Ophelia or Lady Macbeth, she inspires no memorial description of her final moment. No recorded statement of faith or final assertion lingers after her. Her heroism is superseded by Lear's heroic boast regarding the hangman. And, unlike Hamlet, she receives no royal eulogy, no soldier's rites. Rather, Lear speaks of her as though she had died after many years as his companion and emphasizes her femininity: "Her voice was ever soft, / Gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman." If Cordelia, unlike her counterparts in the source material, never acknowledges responsibility for Lear's ordeal, neither does Lear acknowledge any responsibility for her fate now. To the contrary, Lear's perception and that of the survivors in the play is that her death was accidental, futile, and meaningless. The "men of stones," who say little else that they feel, vaguely wonder, "Is this the promised end?" and even Kent observes only that, "If Fortune brag of two she loved and hated, / One of them we behold" (5.3.283-84). Cordelia's requiem is indeed a "dull sight." The pity belongs to Lear for his loss rather than to Cordelia for hers.

Ever since Bradley, critics have found Cordelia's existence to be less important than what she represents. Cordelia's "No cause, no cause," inspires us to cherish her as a feminine principle of goodness, selflessness, and love. As Lisa Jardine has argued, the literary examples of "good" women from antiquity through the Christian martyrs enshrine a female hero that is defined by weakness, vulnerability, and tears, by her being other than manly.26 In "gentle" Cordelia Shakespeare seems to reaffirm the traditional perspective that female sacrifice protects the sacred bonds of human society from the devastation which natural freedom would unleash. But it is Lear who calls Cordelia's imprisonment together with him a "sacrifice," not she, and it is Lear who denies her the measure of her greatness because of his total self-absorption in his sorrow. In his close reading of the last 70 lines of the play, Stephen Booth traces the pattern of testing by which Lear strains to determine Cordelia's renewed life, tests, Booth says, which echo the test "in which Cordelia could not heave her heart into her mouth" at the beginning of the play.27 But what weighs in the balance of these tests of the looking glass and the feather is more than an ample third of the kingdom; it is, for Lear, no less than the redemption of "all sorrows / That ever I have felt" (5.3.67-68). The darkest implication here is that in her death, incurred as invading French Queen, Cordelia has failed Lear again, failed to redeem his sorrow, evaded the "sacrificial" role that he would have of her alive and in his keeping.

Like her "silence" regarding her heart in act one, her silence as she is led to prison and death assures her mystery. Her use of royal address—"We are not the first . . ."—indicates her self-possession and calm, and her acceptance of the consequence of her actions: "who with best meaning have incurred the worst." Having achieved an inner poise and freedom of spirit ("I am, I am"), she is sustained by insight and courage: "For thee, oppressed king, I am cast down; / Myself could else out-frown false Fortune's frown" (5.1.4-5). In this, the last scene in which she appears alive, Cordelia exemplifies that "manliness" in the face of death which humanists like Thomas Lupset espoused in his Treatise of Dieying Well (1530): "Let us then take a lusty courage of this desperation, seinge there is no remedy: lette us manfully go to it."28 However few her lines or appearances, Cordelia's tragic stature is fully realized. Having rejected the static role that Lear would have imposed on her in act one, Cordelia goes on to create her own future, to seek retribution and the creation of a new order beyond her sisters', and eventually to achieve her own transcendence from political constraints through her reconciliation with Lear. She has in a "manly" fashion forged her own destiny and loses her life as a result of heroic risk. Like other heroic women in Shakespeare's tragedies, Cleopatra, Desdemona, or Juliet, she takes her "failure" upon herself. She does not try to evade it, but stands dignified by the truth or guilt of her free act.

Why then, in his last scene, does Shakespeare deny Cordelia the final recognition that he accords to others of his tragic women? Is it because she failed by her death to reaffirm, to redeem some hope of man in his own spiritual power? The only character who acknowledges the political reality of "the Queen's" militancy (as distinct from that of France) is Edmund who, in describing his plot and her apparent "suicide," alludes to her volition in the war and the possibility that "upon her own dispair . . . she fordid herself (5.3.256-57). As stated, this suicidal motive evokes the legendary fate of both the Cordella whose nephews (resenting the "gynarchy") had her imprisoned, and that predecessor of British warrior queens, Boudicca. According to Holinshed, Cordella, imprisoned, followed the example of Boudicca and, "being a woman of manlie courage, and despairing to recover libertie, there she slew hirselfe."29 Throughout the play Shakespeare suggests that the invasion is a mistake, and that such a stance is destructive of that female virtue which can redeem man through other more poetic means. Yet, as the histories and tragedies portray, patriarchy frequently isolates women and forces them to seek relief or redress in the political sphere, where they are invariably destroyed (or, in the histories, at least bereft) and their destruction can usually be legitimized. As Juliet Dusinberre comments in Shakespeare and the Nature of Women: "If women go to war themselves they cease to offer an alternative to the male world of politics and violence . . . ferocity in women challenges the stability of the civilized world."30

In Shakespeare's period of high tragedy, after 1603, the incidence of militant queens and women of "manly courage" who desire to be "fair warriors," but who end as "unhandsome," is highly suggestive of this male anxiety. They include: Desdemona, Cordelia, Goneril, Regan, Lady Macbeth, Volumnia, and Cleopatra. Like Shakespeare's histories, the tragedies are set in the dense landscape of social and cultural history. They present women who cannot survive the aggressive tactics of patriarchal politics with any tactics of their own: either their feminine goodness and compliance is important or their female power and determination to resist or change the landscape is destructive. Prior to this period, militant women appear in a noticeable cluster only in Shakespeare's earliest plays: Queen Margaret, Joan La Pucelle, Tamora, and perhaps Kate ("I think she'll sooner prove a soldier" [2.1.145]—whereas the women of the Henriad are "good soldier-breeders" (1 HIV [3.1.193]). When such militant women appear in the late romances, they are evidently types of female evil, such as Dionyza or the Queen in Cymbeline. On the other hand, Viola's comic declaration, "I am no fighter," extends literally to the heroines of Shakespearean romance: the gods must fight for Perdita, a "poor thing" (2.3.191); Marina turns to her needlework and virtuous speech to protect her; the angelic Imogen serves as a page to the Roman general Lucius; and Miranda's "affections / Are then most humble" (1.2.484-85). Possessed of the romantic heroines' beauty, youth, gentleness, and moral commitment, Cordelia clearly lacks only the monumental "Patience" which presides over their crises.

If critical response to Cordelia's role in King Lear continues to fracture along the lines of blame and praise, perhaps it is because a traditional cultural perspective, to some extent, informs the play. But, more importantly, such response seems to reflect the dramatic ambiguity of Cordelia's character as manifest in the two key scenes in which she figures (the love test and reconciliation scenes). The difficulty in reconciling the rebellious and dutiful in Cordelia also derives from the dramatic question which Shakespeare poses in the first scene of the play: What does it mean to be a royal female child? What is required?—and the playwright's intuitive response: nothing and all. If there is resistance to accepting her in her dual role as loving daughter and Virago, it is because these realities appear to be highly incongruent in the play itself. In Lear's darkest vision, she, like all women, is a centaur underneath, capable of opposition when least expected. Female militance in King Lear is, after all, more devastating than the male because its effects are more personal. However virtuous, Cordelia in her militant, rebellious posture is a sister to her monster sisters and a daughter to that dead, forgotten mother who bore such daughters. A tragic queen in cuirass, Cordelia in her nursing role anticipates the heroines of the last plays, who, Shakespeare seems to suggest, can only save themselves and the sons of man through their healing power.


1 Since Coleridge, studies of Cordelia as a tragic figure locate her decisive action only in 1.1. The argument that Cordelia's contribution to the tragic plot is limited to that scene is exemplified by Robert B. Heilman who maintains that, although Cordelia is a tragic actor because of her decision to "withdraw" in the first scene, her fate is not a central effect of the play but only meaningful as it "amplifies the tragic experience of Lear" (This Great Stage: Image and Structure in "King Lear" [Louisiana State U. Press, 1948], pp. 35-36, 301); and more recently by John McLaughlin when he asserts: "Cordelia is a tragic figure because the flawed life plan that prevented her from giving Lear the flattery he demanded is punished too severely" ("The Dynamics of Power in King Lear, " Shakespeare Quarterly 29 [1978]: 40).

2 Cf. John Reibetanz, The Lear World: A Study of"King Lear" in Its Dramatic Context (U. of Toronto Press, 1977), pp. 14, 31, 52.

3 Reviewing past arguments for the dramatic justification of Cordelia's death, Susan Snyder argues that the event does not follow from the logic of the action, but is rather part of a grotesque joke (The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare's Tragedies [Princeton U. Press, 1979], pp. 156-59). As the debate continues, Stephen J. Lynch sees its tragic ending as an appropriate conclusion to a drama more consistently concerned with spiritual and Christian values than the earlier Leir play ("Sin, Suffering, and Redemption in Leir and Lear," Shakespeare Studies 18 [1986]: 172-74).

4 Berggren, "The Woman's Part: Female Sexuality as Power in Shakespeare's Plays," in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (U. of Illinois Press, 1980), p. 18.

5 See, for example, Sophia B. Blaydes, "Cordelia: Loss of Insolence," Studies in the Humanties 5 (1976): 15-21.

6 All citations of source material for King Lear are from those texts reproduced in Major Tragedies: "Hamlet, " "Othello, " "King Lear, " "Macbeth, " volume 7 of Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973). Quotations of Shakespeare's texts are from The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare, ed. Sylvan Barnet (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1972).

7 It is not my purpose here to debate the primacy of either the Ql or Fl texts, but the Folio text is generally accepted as a corrected or adjusted version of Ql, perhaps used as prompt copy. Whether the revisions are Shakespeare's or the playing company's, they suggest a more tactful approach to the political issues of the play. Hence Ql variants prove intriguing. Most of the variation in 1.1 concerns Lear's response to Cordelia. Fl variants change Lear's more authoritarian, formal expression in Ql to a personal, more paternal address. For example, Ql, "Goe to, goe to, mend your speech . . . / Lest you may mar your fortunes" becomes "How, how Cordelia?. . . . Lest you may mar your fortunes."

8 Oates, "Is This The Promised End?': The Tragedy of King Lear," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 33 (1974): 22. Also, Marianne Novy observes: "Cordelia, by contrast with her sisters, is much less stereotyped. Shakespeare's presentation of her shows sympathy for the woman who tries to keep her integrity in a patriarchal world" ("Patriarchy, Mutuality, and Forgiveness in King Lear," Southern Humanities Review 13 [1979]: 284).

9 Both Lynda Boose and Coppèlla Kahn discuss this scene as a variant of the wedding ceremony. See Boose, "The Father and the Bride in Shakespeare," PMLA 97 (1982): 325-47; and Kahn, "The Absent Mother in King Lear," in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discoures of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers (U. of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 33-49. Kahn argues further that the renunciation of Cordelia as "daughter/wife" awakens a deeper need in Lear for Cordelia as "daughter/mother" (p. 40).

10 In "The War in King Lear," Shakespeare Studies 33 (1980): 27-34, Gary Taylor argues convincingly against conflating the Ql and Fl texts, especially as they present different versions of the political/military action in the last three acts. Taylor's analysis concludes that the Folio text was revised to emphasize "who leads the invasion army" and to transform a French invasion into a "rebellion."

11 DeBeauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. and ed. H.M. Parshley (New York: Knopf, 1952), p. 70.

12 Goneril significantly loses her claim to authority when Albany receives testimony of her adultery with Edmund. As Barbara Mowat observes, "Goneril and Regan are embodiments of the male anxieties about women seen in many of Shakespeare's males: in their power madness, their cruelty, their treachery they are like witches; in their lust for Edmund they are like harlots" ("Images of Women in Shakespeare's Plays," Southern Humanities Review 11 [1979]: 153).

13 Quoted by Donald R. Dudley and Graham Webster in The Rebellion of Boudicca (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1962), p. 113. For Dion's account, see Dio's Annals of Rome, trans. Herbert Foster (Troy, N.Y.: Pafraets Book Co., 1906), 5: 29-40.

14 The OED documents the ambiguity of the term Virago as one of praise or blame in Renaissance usage, defining both "a man-like, vigorous, and heroic woman," and "a bold, impudent (or wicked) woman."

15 The phrase is cited by Paul Johnson in Elizabeth I: A Study of Power and Intellect (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1974), p. 320.

16 The reference is to The Faerie Queene, ed. J.C. Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909-1910).

17 References are to the text of Bonduca in Volume 6 of The Works of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, ed. Arnold Glover and A.R. Waller (Cambridge U. Press, 1908).

18 Raphael Holinshed, The Historie of England, volume 1 of Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (London: J. Johnson, 1807; rpt. New York: AMS, 1965), p. 495.

19 See Marvin Rosenberg, The Masks of King Lear (U. of California Press, 1972), pp. 334-35.

20 Devon Leigh Hodges notes that Edgar and Kent remain intact because they adopt disguises which protect their noble natures. As a "sublime truth," however, Cordelia's spirit disintegrates into "fragmented matter in order to make it visible" ("Cut Adrift and 'Cut to the Brains': The Anatomized World of King Lear," English Literary Renaissance 11 [1981]: 210).

21 Charles Lamb, "On the Tragedies of Shakespeare," Lamb's Criticism, ed. E. M. W. Tillyard (Cambridge U. Press, 1923; rpt. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1970), p. 89.

22 Gibson, A Womans Worth (London: John Wolfe, 1599), Bl.

23 The Doctor becomes a Gentleman in Fl in accordance with revisions which de-emphasize the French invasion before act four. Gary Taylor makes the point that, while surgeons appeared with armies in Elizabethan drama, the Doctor in Ql is an anomaly ("The War in King Lear," p. 30).

24 Enfans perdus, to which Cordelia's term refers, were the most "reckless and intrepid volunteers for military exploits regarded as desperate ventures, "as noted in The Variorum King Lear, ed. W. H. Furness (1880; rpt. American Scholar Publications, 1965), p. 300. S. L. Goldberg notes this hostile vocabulary as well in An Essay on "King Lear" (Cambridge U. Press, 1974), p. 148.

25 Egan, Drama within Drama: Shakespeare 's Sense of His Art in "King Lear," "The Winter's Tale," and "The Tempest," (Columbia U. Press, 1975), p. 55.

26 Jardin, Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Sussex: The Harvester Press: Totowa, N.J.: Barnes and Noble, 1983), p. 193.

27 Booth, "King Lear, " "Macbeth, " Indefinition and Tragedy (Yale U. Press, 1983), p. 24.

28 Lupset, A Compendious Treatise, Teachying the Waie of Dyeing Well, in The Life and Works of Thomas Lupset, ed. John Archer Gee (Yale U. Press, 1928), p. 280.

29 Bullough, p. 319.

30 Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (London: Macmillan, 1975), p. 299.

Role Of Marriage

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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 this alteration has posed for critics:

The normal comic resolution is the surrender of the senex to the hero, never the reverse. Shakespeare tried to reverse the pattern in Alls Well that Ends Well, where the king of France forces Bertram to marry Helena, and the critics have not yet stopped making faces over it.1

This curious inversion of comic action is all the more remarkable in the light of Frye's suggestion that New Comedy dramatizes a "comic Oedipus situation" in which a young man (the son in the Oedipus triangle) outwits a father to win the love of a young woman. The heroine is unconsciously linked to an image of the youthful mother that a son loved and thought himself to possess as a young child. In this framework, the comic movement toward marriage builds on fantasies of triumphant return to a time in which a boy thought himself in secure and complete possession of a mother's love and the father could still be regarded as an unwelcome intruder, susceptible, at least in the child's imagination, to magical exclusion.2

The complex dramatic strategies in Shakespeare's festive comedies which safeguard triumphs in love relations from the contamination of familial associations deserve more extensive treatment than they may be given here. But their purpose in creating a world in which young love may prosper is neatly summed up by Rosalind in As You Like It: "But what talk we of fathers when there is such a man as Orlando?" In All's Well, however, there is a very strong emphasis on bonds that are grounded in family experience.

Unlike the festive comedies, All's Well presents an action in which parental figures are closely and actively involved in the steps that lead to marriage. In the late romances there is a further intensification of family bonds, as Shakespeare evolves a comic design that includes but does not turn on the fulfilment of youthful love in marriage. In this paper I will try to account for some of the difficulties posed by All's Well by examining one kind of relation that play has to the late romances.

C. L. Barber has provided the framework that brings this relation into focus. "In the festive comedies," argues Barber, "holiday liberty frees passion from inhibition and the control of an older generation." But in the late romances,

the festive movement is included within a larger movement where the centre of feeling is in the older generation. The festive comedies move out to the creation of new families; Pericles and The Winter's Tale move through experiences of loss back to the recovery of family relations in and through the next generation. . . . One can put this in summary by saying that where regular comedy deals with freeing sexuality from the ties of family, these late romances deal with freeing family ties from the threat of sexual degradation.3

In All's Well, a play caught in the middle of this transition, a central action much like those of the festive comedies is brought under unique and disruptive pressures by the partial intrusion of a pattern of love and desire that is grounded in relations within a family.

Professor Barber argues that in the late romances "fulfilment for the principal figure requires a transformation of love, not simply liberation of it" (ibid.). Pericles and The Winter's Tale transform love relations which include hazardous, perverse trends. Repressed components in Pericles' love for a daughter and Leontes's love for a friend4 lead to catastrophic situations of loss and betrayal. The action of these plays recovers those relations on a new plane, purified of perverse sexual longings. In All's Well, Shakespeare attempts to dramatize the resolution of a love situation that is in need of "transformation" without having yet fully discovered a form that goes beyond the dramatic strategies of "liberation."

Erotic fulfilment in marriage provides the main plot line moving toward comic resolution in All's Well, although this movement is interrupted by Bertram's disgust at "the dark house and the detested wife" the king has compelled him to accept. In "Marriage and Manhood in All's Well that Ends Well"5 I argue that Bertram's hasty flight from his marriage to Helena is an attempt to flee a sexual union that is marred by incestuous associations. Bertram's sexual longings are released in a context that for him necessarily lies outside his marriage, in what he thinks is his successful seduction of Diana in Florence. But this flight from a union marred by family ties into erotic release is forced to double back on itself when Helena substitutes her body for Diana's. This substitution lets the plot move along, but it does nothing to act on the roots of the psychological problem. Bertram's final acceptance of Helena does not build on a fundamental eradication of his aversion to her, but simply evades the forces that make her repugnant to him in the first place. With the late romances in mind, it is possible to extend this interpretation further, and to recognize more fully the role of the king in intensifying the conflicts of this play.

Shakespeare does not provide an appropriate romantic response to Helena's love for Bertram. Helena is a much loved character, however, and a very important expression of love for her is dramatized in the king. When Helena raises him from his "sickly bed," she begets in the king a love for his "preserver" that reaches far deeper than Bertram's reluctant acceptance of her as his wife. Helena's winning of the king's affection is the key part in a larger pattern in which Helena comes to occupy a position of love and hope previously held by Bertram.

When Bertram flees France and his dreaded marriage, he abdicates his place at home. Bertram makes this clear in Italy when he tries to bribe Diana into bed by giving her his father's ring, the symbol of his position in the Rousillion family tradition. At home in France, the countess makes the fact of Bertram's abdication even more explicit, and adds an important element to it. Addressing the abandoned Helena, the countess declares:

He was my son,
But I do wash his name out of my blood,
And thou art all my child.


The starkness of the countess's shift of parental affection from Bertram to Helena is qualified a little later by her confusion—"which of them both/ Is dearest to me, I have no skill in sense/ To make distinction" (III.iv.38-40). But the pattern is clear. For the countess, Bertram the "unseasoned courtier" and the hope of the Rousillion family has become that "rash and unbridled boy" who has betrayed himself and denied his family. This devaluation of Bertram is inversely proportionate to the countess's heightened regard for Helena, who

deserves a lord
That twenty such rude boys might tend upon
And call her hourly mistress. (III.ii.79-81)

Bertram forfeits his place in a loving family relation, and this place is filled by a highly idealized Helena.

This pattern is echoed in shifts of attitude in the old counsellor Lafew and in the French lords Bertram joins in Italy. But most importantly, the repudiation of Bertram as the dramatic center of love and hope and his replacement in this role by Helena take place at court. The king first receives Bertram with warmth and high hopes, seeing him, as did the countess, as a young man who promises to duplicate the merits of his dead father. But the king is outraged when Bertram refuses the hand of the woman who has brought health back to his majesty.

Here, take her hand,
Proud scornful boy, unworthy this good gift
That dost in vile misprision shackle up
My love and her desert. . . . (II.iii.149-52)

The king's anger violently compresses attitudes that will be sorted out in a very different dramatic rhythm when they reappear in Prospero's mixed response to Ferdinand. Prospero's surrender of his daughter Miranda to the young suitor he has himself chosen to be her husband is a central source of dramatic tension in The Tempest. Prospero achieves controlled release of his fatherly resentment of Ferdinand by imposing verbal abuse and ritual slavery upon the young man before awarding him with the "rich gift" of his daughter. A similar paternal ambivalence is concentrated in the king's demand upon Bertram, with a father's resentment compounded by the king's frustration when Bertram refuses the "good gift" of Helena. This powerful and explosive scene, in which the king plays the role of the father bestowing the daughter on an "unworthy" suitor, verifies the important shift in family conflict that has occurred since the early scenes of the play.

All's Well opens with the creation of a symbolic family parented by the king and the countess:

LAFEW: You [Countess] shall find of the king a husband, madam; you, sir [Bertram], a father. (I.i.6-7)

But by the second act, Helena has replaced Bertram in this family situation. Bertram, the very hope of the comic family when All's Well begins, has become, by the last act, a "stranger" who must justify his acceptance into the restructured family through marriage.

The late romances will build more centrally on situations very similar to the family situation that is evolved in All's Well. Central to the designs of these later plays is the opening up of a family that includes a strong bond of father to daughter in order to admit an outsider. The role of suitor into which Bertram is moved suggests the positions of Florizel and Ferdinand in The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. Although Bertram is a reluctant husband and Florizel and Ferdinand are quite eager to marry, their roles are parallel in certain important respects. Florizel's attempt to win Perdita from the Old Shepherd, her apparent father, is violently interrupted by the rage of his own father. Faced with disinheritance, he flees Bohemia and the angered Polixenes only to be caught in a lie in the court of Leontes, Perdita's real father. Ferdinand, in order to win Miranda, must chop wood in ritual debasement before Prospero, while being made to think his own father has perished. Like Bertram, who undergoes utter humiliation before the king in the last act of All's Well, each of these characters must suffer estrangement from father and home and withstand a stiff challenge to his own masculine autonomy in order to complete a marriage to the precious daughter.

Closely related to these conflicts in the late romances are the paired themes of loss and redemption. Particularly in The Winter's Tale, the loss of the daughter results from attitudes or actions of the father, and she must be recovered before the father may be restored to vital qualities he has lost within himself. Helena's "pilgrimage" to Florence is accepted, on the basis of the note she leaves behind, as a journey to her death. Helena's apparent death anticipates the loss of Imogen, Marina, and Perdita in the later plays. The king, in anticipation of Pericles, Cymbeline, and Leontes creates the conditions that lead to Helena's apparent death when he forces the marriage to Bertram.

A daughter's service in restoring a father to a full sense of life is also anticipated by Helena's cure of the king. But in the later plays, the recovery of the father either follows or, as in The Tempest, accompanies the loss or expulsion of the daughter. In All's Well, Helena finds the king at the edge of death, cures him of his fistula, and restores him to the vigor of his manhood. She then must undergo a symbolic death because of disturbances in her marriage to Bertram.

This ordering of the pattern of loss and recovery precludes the achievement, within the relation of the king and Helena, of the balance of reciprocated protective and creative powers that will be essential to father/daughter relations in the late romances. Leontes, "ready to leap out of himself for joy of his found daughter" (The Winter's Tale, V.ii.47-48), confers upon Perdita in turn her proper status as the child of a king, and makes possible her union with Prince Florizel. In All's Well, the king is exasperated in his attempt to balance his debt to Helena. "What should be said?" he demands of Bertram:

If thou canst like this creature as a maid
I can create the rest. Virtue and she
Is her own dower; honor and wealth from me.


Bertram's immediate answer ("I cannot love her, nor will strive to do't") is momentarily overcome only to give way to the even deeper frustration of Helena's apparent death.

Rather than "create" a worthy noblewoman, duly rewarded with the husband of her choice, the king sets Helena up to be abandoned and disgraced. It is no wonder that the king broods with such ominous force in the final scene as he attempts, clearly with little success, to forget the negation of his power caused by Bertram's flight:

Let him not ask our pardon;
The nature of his great offense is dead,
And deeper than oblivion do we bury
Th' incensing relics of it. (V.iii.22-25)

Nor is it any wonder that the king is still trying to recover his power to "create the rest" in his very last speech, when he turns to a girl of even humbler origins, the Florentine Diana, and directs her to choose, as Helena did before her, a husband from among the courtiers present: "If thou beest yet a fresh uncropped flower, / Choose thou thy husband, and I'll pay the dower" (V.iii.323-24).

The need for a central male figure to balance a debt to the creative or regenerative powers, frustrated in the king's relation to Helena, is an important feature in the design of the late romances. In the earlier comedies simple gratitude was an easier achievement for men who, like Bassanio or Orlando, are brought to positions of consummating their love by the efforts of strong women. That the investment of such a trust in the power of women becomes a threatening feature in Shakespearean drama is made clear, however, by the fierce struggles that are fought in the tragedies as a result of erosions of male power or wisdom which result, at least partially, from relations to women.

The failure, in an intimate relation with a woman, of the capacity for trust, either through excess or through inhibition, is a theme deeply implicated in many of the tragedies. This theme is given a tentative first statement when Brutus refuses the counsel and confidence of his Portia, and continues through to the dramatization of Coriolanus as a man whose life has been shaped in every respect by his deference to the domineering power of Volumnia. Perhaps the elaborate scheme devised by Lear to justify his need for Cordelia's total love is the most appropriate example. Lear, as Stanley Cavell has shown in his brilliant essay,6 can only accept Cordelia's love by placing it within the distorting medium of a coercive trade-off in which Lear attempts to command the love of his daughter with the gift of land and power.

This covert attempt to impose an illegitimate balance in which Lear trades something for, essentially, everything, precipitates the tragic outcome of King Lear. In The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, the achievement of an acceptable balance is central to dramatic movements which, like those of the tragedies, turn on the issue of trust, but which move beyond catastrophe to a restored order that includes the main characters. Leontes' banishment of his daughter follows his failure to trust his wife and his childhood friend. The multiple reunions at the end of that play dramatize the restoration of the capacity for trust as it is bolstered by an altered structure of relations. Prospero's banishment from Milan, however, follows an over-investment of trust in his brother Antonio:

.. . my trust
Like a good parent, did beget of him
A falsehood in its contrary as great
As my trust was, which had indeed no limit,
A confidence sans bound.

(The Tempest, Lii.93-97)

The learned and ultimately powerful Prospero is able to recoup his will and his energy because of the strength he finds in the presence of the helpless infant Miranda, who has been banished with him.

O, a cherubin
Thou wast that did preserve me! Thou didst smile,
Infused with a fortiude from heaven,
When I have decked the sea with drops full salt,
Under my burden groaned: which raised in me

An undergoing stomach, to bear up
Against what should ensue.


A balance continues through their life together on the island, Prospero providing for Minada the roles of both father and mother while sustaining himself through his love for her. Prospero's life on his island is a kind of toughened revision of Lear's dream of a prison/paradise with Cordelia, surrendered begrudgingly but necessarily and under conditions created by his own large powers, when the child becomes a woman ready to take a husband.

The issue of trust enters All's Well, together with the insistence that a man's power to bestow position and wealth within the social structure of life balances a woman's power to create or regenerate the vitality of life itself, when the king decides to let Helena perform her cure:

More should I question thee, and more I must,
Though more to know could not be more to trust—
From whence thou carn'st, how tended on—but rest
Unquestioned welcome, and undoubted blest.
Give me some help here, ho!—If thou proceed
As high as word, my deed shall match thy deed.


Helena makes available to the king a renewed sense of trust that takes a man who is past hope and brings him to a new faith in life's possibilities. The king's "past-cure malady" metaphorically presents the sterility of a life that has lost touch with its own deepest emotional springs. Helena brings to this life a remedy which "oft . . . hits/ Where hope is coldest and despair most fits" (II.i.142-43). If cured by the "undoubted blest" Helena, the king will "match" her deed with one that lies within his own power.

A sense of basic trust, according to Erik Erikson, is the necessary "cornerstone" of a vital human identity, and may be deeply involved in the psychological crises of all stages of human life. Such trust, Erikson argues, is essential to the development of what becomes the "capacity for faith" and of what is "conducive to the vital strength of hope. . . . "7 This sense of trust must create, and in turn be sustained by, an image of a "reasonably coherent world" which makes meaningful actions and relations to others feasible. Basic trust initially

arises out of the encounter of maternal person and small infant, an encounter which is one of mutual trustworthiness and mutual recognition. This, in all its infantile simplicity, is the first experience of what in later reoccurrences in love and admiration can only be called a sense of "hallowed presence," the need of which remains basic in man. (Erikson, p. 105)

But this first encounter, which provides the indispensable foundation for all ensuing human growth, provides the framework for the deepest psychic hazards as well. "For along with a fund of hope, an inescapable alienation is also bequeathed to life by the first stage, namely a sense of threatening separation from the matrix, a possible loss of hope, and the uncertainty whether the 'face darkly' will brighten again with recognition and charity."8

Shakespeare dramatizes in the recognition scenes in the late romances the recovery of this "hallowed presence" after a calamitous crisis of trust has taken a key figure beyond hope, away from the matrix that has given his life substance and coherent meaning. In Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest, this key figure is a father. His recovery of the basic trust vital to human functioning includes a deep and compelling response to the presence of his daughter. But this recovery must be protected from hazards that accompany it within the regressive substructure of a crisis of trust, lest other essential pychological achievements be swept away. In the late romances, the power of the father to provide the daughter with protection, position, and a worthy suitor, along with his recovery of the power to function fully in the social and political dimensions of his own life, sustains for him the masculine autonomy that would be sacrificed in an overt posture of submission before his daughter's idealized presence.

But Bertram's reluctance to accept Helena for his wife in All's Well calls into question the enraged king's restored powers, undermines his capacity to return Helena's gift of health by providing her with a husband:

My honor's at the stake, which to defeat
I must produce my power.


The play fails to provide the king with the means of returning fully Helena's gift with a suitable exercise of his own power. From this point on, an awesomely efficient Helena is in charge of retrieving her husband for herself.

The extreme intensity of the king's outburst at Bertram, however, suggests that there is more even than honor at the stake. The king does not relinquish Helena to Bertram; he compels him to take her, forcing the issue even after Helena has withdrawn her claim: "That you are well restored, my lord, I'm glad./ Let the rest go" (II.iii.146-47). That Bertram's resistance should provoke so strong a response suggests that the king's concern for Helena and Bertram's aversion to her are more deeply connected than at first appears. The king seems to regard Bertram as symbolic equivalent of his own restored potency, which is threatened by the young count's assertion of his right to choose a wife for himself:

It is in us to plant thine honor where
We please to have it grow. Check thy contempt.
Obey our will, which travails in thy good.
Believe not thy disdain, but presently
Do thine own fortunes that obedient right
Which both thy duty and our power claims;
Or I will throw thee from my care forever,
Into the staggers and the careless lapse
Of youth and ignorance, both my revenge and hate
Lossing upon thee, in the name of justice,
Without all terms of pity.


A potential hazard in the crisis of trust, perhaps even more threatening than the risk of autonomy, derives from the origins of basic trust in a situation of infantile sexual attachment to the mother. These incestuous ties may be evoked anew by one who restores at a new level what the mothering person provided initially. Lafew provides the king's recovery at the hands of Helena with sexual undertones when he watches the newly healed monarch enter with his "preserver":

Lustick! as the Dutchman says. I'll like a maid the better whilst I have a tooth in my head. Why, he's able to lead her a coranto. (II.iii.40-42)

A close look at the scene in which Helena proposes her cure suggests that the king's regard for his healer includes components which, because they cannot be expressed in his relation to Helena, are projected onto Bertram.

The dying king, who has been pronounced beyond hope of recovery by the "most learned doctors," at first rejects Helena's promise of a cure. It would, he asserts, discredit the dignity of his position "to prostitute our past-cure malady" to the futlie and debasing efforts of pseudo-healers. After all, he argues, "the congregated college" of physicians having failed, there is little an unlearned girl can do. Lafew, however, in his praise of Helena's medical power, has already suggested qualities that set it apart from that of the typical physician.

Before Helena is granted her first audience with the king, Lafew provides him with this enthusiastic description of her skills:

I have seen a medicine
That's able to breathe life into a stone,
Quicken a rock, and make you dance canary
With sprightly fire and motion; whose simple touch
Is powerful to araise King Pepin, nay,
To give great Charlemain a pen in's hand,
And write to her a love-line.


What is remarkable about this account, beyond its concern with the miraculous nature of Helena's medicine, is the emphasis on erotic properties. The dance with "sprightly fire and motion," the power to put life in a stone, to raise "King Pepin" by mere touch, or to provide Charlemain with a "pen" with which to make love, these qualities stress the power of the medicine not only to restore but to arouse male potency.10 Such erotic suggestions are brought fully into play when Lafew, on leaving the king alone with Helena, likens to Pandarus: "I am Cressid's uncle,/ That dare leave two together. Fare you well."

The ensuing exchange with the king and Helena, however, presents this eroticism in another mode, once removed from the openly sexual banter of Lafew. Helena brings to the king a special "receipt" bequeathed to her by her dead father, the physician Gerard de Narbon, which "he bade me store up as a triple eye,/ Safer than mine own two." After much persuasion, the king decides to test her assurance that "my art is not past power, nor you past cure." The conditions under which they agree to proceed include elements that define the nature of the king's bond to Helena.

Helena's extraordinary confidence in her curative powers, the king concludes, "must intimate/ Skill infinite, or monstrous desperate." The terms of his agreement to let her proceed account for both possibilities: "Sweet practicer, thine physic I will try,/ That ministers thine own death if I die." Helena, however, provides an even more interesting suggestion, along with her death, regarding an appropriate punishment for her should the medicine fail to heal the king. Her proposal indicates more clearly the nature of the "monstrous" possibilities entertained by the king. "Upon thy certainty and confidence/ What dar'st thou venture?" asks the king, and Helena responds:

Tax of impudence,
A strumpet's boldness, a divulged shame
Traduced by odious ballads; my maiden's name
Seared otherwise; nay, worse of worst, extended
With vilest torture let my life be ended.


Her willingness to risk utter degradation prompts the king to think that in Helena "some blessed spirit doth speak/ His powerful sound within an organ weak" (II.i.174-75). Either Helena is the very ideal of young womanhood, the frail but loving organ of "some blessed spirit," embodying all that is precious in life, or she is a creature of shame, a "strumpet" deserving the notoriety of a convicted whore. And if she is successful in her cure—"Then shalt thou give me with thy kingly hand/ What husband in thy power I will command" (II.i.193-94).

The future of Helena, to be determined by her medical service to the king, is settled in terms of sexual legitimacy. Depending on her success, she will know either the fate of a prostitute or that of an honored wife. The two possible outcomes dramatize an unacknowledged sexual trend in the king's regard for Helena and the defense against that trend through idealization and projection. The recovery of the king allows the idealized version of Helena to survive the monstrous one. The forbidden sexual longings in the father/king's love are then projected into the legitimate order of marriage, but a marriage arranged by the king. The elevation of the king's regard for Helena to an idealized plane enhances the scope of his love, while the projection of the sexual component of that love onto another assures parental propriety. When Bertram is presented with this "good gift" of a wife, he becomes an agent who must complete an unconscious, unacceptable dimension that finds its way into the king's relation to Helena.

The relationship of the king and Helena introduces into All's Well the incestuous motive in a father's love for a daughter that will undergo transformation in the design of the late romances. Barber has demonstrated how closely the incestuous component of a father's love comes to making a disastrous intrusion into The Winter's Tale when Leontes looks on Perdita, not yet recognized as his daughter, with an eye that has "too much youth in't." But the ensuing action serves to redefine this longing by placing it in the larger context of Leontes's renewed relations to Perdita as daughter, to Polixenes as friend, and to Hermione as wife. The relation gains in meaning within a dramatic arrangement that allows Leontes to release his daughter to the youthful Florizel. In The Tempest, Prospero's love for Miranda is relieved of its tabooed dimension by the presence of the monstrous Caliban, who, as a part of his role, represents repressed components that may seek expression in a father's relation to his daughter. Because of this function served by Caliban, Prospero can confront the need to relinquish Miranda to a young husband in a context that has been dramatically insulated from much of the force of its most hazardous elements.

These actions are anticipated by the king's relations to Helena and Bertram in All's Well. But in The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, the dramatic movement of the whole play responds to conflicts organized by the experience of a central character, including conflicts that hinge on that character's fatherhood. The somewhat simpler action of Pericles helps to show the importance of this mode of ordering comic form in the late plays. Pericles, as Professor Barber has shown, transforms a loving motive that includes dangerous components within itself, particularly the threat of incestuously bound sexual drives. Projection is one of two principal psychological strategies for controlling those dangers dramatically, and idealization, expressed in the elevation of love to the realm of the sacred, is the other. The obstacles that obstruct the fulfilment of Pericles' quest for loving relations project those dangers in externalized form. Because they are objectified and put into external opposition to the loving motive, these dangers may be overcome as obstacles alien to the self, and the experience of love in a single character may be brought to a joyful completion. But in All's Well, the incestuous trend in the king's love for Helena is expressed in the attempt to compel Bertram to marry her. Their union is not dramatically separated from this dimension of longing, but is forced to include it.

In Pericles, the incestuous associations within the loving motive are expressed in a context that transforms them away from the sexual and "in the direction of the sacred" (Barber, p. 60) in order to restore and purify a relation within the family. Spiritual renewal in Pericles builds on the recovery of an infant's magical participation in benevolent powers awesomely larger than its own. The need to restore one's participation in these larger powers in a context that redefines adult relations is presented in the central importance of miracle and magic in the late romances.

Lafew provides an extensive expression of this need to immerse merely human affairs in a realm of mysterious power that encloses them in All's Well. In remarks that open the scene that will display for the first time the recovered king, Lafew proclaims:

They say miracles are past, and we have our philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless. Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear. (II.iii.1-6)

But whereas the late romances achieve a design that calls out the fullest dramatic possibilities of this immersion in the miraculous, and which protects it from the psychological hazards it evokes, All's Well does not. Even Lafew's evocation of transcendent powers gets caught up in the burlesque of an exchange in which clownish Parolles competes with Lafew to describe the wondrous qualities of the king's cure (II iii.7-43).

The psychological base of Shakespearean comedy shifts after the writing of the festive comedies, and this shift demands a radically new form. The base of the festive comedies in fantasies of oedipal triumph calls for an action that brings together young lovers in sexual unions which evade the contamination of family ties. This action affirms and protects a faith in the fundamental compatibility and interdependence of liberated human feelings and social order. The whole festive movement is grounded in a sense of trust. But the faith that encloses the actions of these plays becomes the center of conflict in the late romances, where faith and hope are lost and then restored in an action that pivots on a crisis of trust. The base of the romances is, psychologically, "deeper." It demands a recovery of the quality of basic trust, first acquired in the earliest phases of infancy. "Primitive religions," writes Erikson,

the most primitive layer in all religions, and the religious layer in each individual, abound with efforts at atonement which try to make up for vague deeds against a maternal matrix and try to restore faith in the goodness of one's strivings and in the kindness of the powers of the universe.11

This "layer" of needs for atonement and the restoration of a vital world image is expressed in the dramatic pattern of the late romances.

All's Well, caught up in this shift, is unable to absorb entirely the pressures of a changed psychological situation with dramatic strategies rooted in festive comic form. Characteristics central to the design of the late romances are present in All's Well as intrusions not fully integrated into its comic action. The tentative and partial shift of focus toward the older generation in All's Well, rather than establish a new center of feeling, blurs that center which the comic design attempts to locate in the experience of youth. Rather than a recovery of relations through a younger generation, the king's pressure on Bertram intensifies the young count's disdain for Helena to revulsion and flight. When these two young people are finally united, it is not through an action of atonement or redemption that touches the beneficent force of miraculous or magical powers basic to a vision of the world, but through the manipulations of industrious Helena. The sense of awe or wonder, evoked and then aborted in the second act in connection with the healing of the king, fails to reappear in the service of the final ordering of relations at the play's end.

I have tried to show how precisely correct Frye was when he saw that the central difficulty for All's Well arises when "the king of France forces Bertram to marry Helena." But this gesture does not so much signify Shakespeare's reversal of the comic pattern as his tentative step toward a new mode of comedy that will be completed and perfected in the late romances. In All's Well the forceful intrusion of the fatherly king into the realm of youthful love subverts the festive comic purpose of liberation but does not achieve the characteristic purpose of the late romances, of protecting family ties from incestuous motives. The king's role in the marriage of Bertram to Helena merges a family centered love, unconsciously identical with the father/ daughter bonds of the late romances, with an action leading to sexual union. Bertram's understandable flight from this union undermines the sense of a renewed social order that might have found its appropriate emblem in the newly revived king. The play's closing does not effectively restore a strong feeling for the king's power to give order to his society or to balance his debt to Helena, nor does it clear the relation of Bertram to Helena of the obstacles which have interfered with it. Our confused attempt to find our bearings in a play in which the action does not respond coherently to its own emotional springs culminates in an ending which, as A. P. Rossiter has observed, speaking for many critics of All's Well, "makes us neither happy nor comfortable."12


1 "The Argument of Comedy," English Institute Essays 1948, ed. D. A. Robertson (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1949), p. 59. Quotations from Shakespeare in this paper are from William Shakespeare, The Complete Works, gen. ed. Alfred Harbage (Baltimore: Penguin, 1969). The text of All's Well that Ends Well is edited by Jonas A. Barish.

2 For a more rigorously psychoanalytic consideration of this comic pattern, see Ludwig Jekels, "On the Psychology of Comedy" (1926), tr. I. Jarosy, in Theories of Comedy, ed. Paul Lautner (New York: Doubleday, 1964), pp. 424-31.

3 "'Thou that Beget'st Him that did Thee Beget': Transformation in Pericles and The Winter's Tale," Shakespeare Survey, 22 (1969), 61. Much recent criticism "has stressed the affinities of All's Well with the last plays, and seen it as belonging to the main stream of Shakespearean comedy" (Barish, "Introduction," p. 365). A useful summary and extension of this criticism is presented by G. K. Hunter in the introduction to the Arden Edition of All's Well (London: Methuen & Co., 1957). Three recent books have further developed this trend: Larry S. Champion, The Evolution of Shakespeare's Comedy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1970); R. A. Foakes, Shakespeare, the Dark Comedies to the Last Plays (Charlottesville, Va.: Univ. of Virginia Press, 1971); Alan R. Velie, Shakespeare's Repentance Plays: The Search for an Adequate Form (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1972). The notes to Professor Champion's book, particularly, provide a valuable bibliography of recent work on All's Well. These studies have, however, largely searched for formal or thematic anticipations in All's Well or the late romances. My essay explores a shift in the psychological base in which Shakespeare's comic strategies are grounded.

4 Barber's view of Leontes' relation to Polixenes enlarges an observation first made by J. I. M. Stewart, who explores The Winter's Tale in terms of Freud's analysis of the relations of repressed homosexuality, delusional jealousy, and paranoia (Character and Motive in Shakespeare [New York and London: Longmans, Green, 1949]). For a penetrating consideration of Leontes's delusional jealousy as one aspect of "a form of psychic imprisonment in which the loss of ego boundaries makes the external world nothing but a confluence of symbols, selected according to ambivalent wishes and fears," see Murray M. Schwartz, "Leontes' Jealousy in The Winter's Tale" American Imago, 30 (1973), 250-73.

5Bucknell Review, 21 (1973), 103-24.

6 "The Avoidance of Love: A Reading of King Lear" Must We Mean What We Say? (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969), pp. 267-353.

7Identity: Youth and Crisis (New York: Norton, 1968), p. 106.

8 "Human Strength and the Cycle of Generations," Insight and Responsibility (New York: Norton, 1964), p. 154.

9 The force of the king's demands on Bertram in Shakespeare's conception of the play is brought into clear relief when this passage is set against the principal source for All's Well, Paynter's retelling of a Boccaccio tale in the Palace of Pleasure (Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957- ], II, 389-96). In that story, when Giletta (Helena) asks for Beltramo (Bertram) in marriage,

the king was very loth to graunt him unto her: but for that he had made a promise which he was loth to breake, he caused him to be called forth, and said unto him: 'Sir Countie, knowing full well that you are a gentleman of great honour, oure pleasure is, that you returne home to your owne house to order your estate according to your degree: and that you take with you a Damosell which I have appointed to be your wife.' (p. 391)

Paynter's king then insists, firmly but politely and perhaps even a little apologetically, that the reluctant Beltramo accept Giletta, arranges the marriage, and is never heard from again.

10 For the sexual connotations of stone, fire, motion, touch, [a]raise, and pen, see Eric Partridge, Shakespeare 's Bawdy (1948; rpt. New York: Dutton, 1960).

11Childhood and Society, revised ed. (New York: Norton, 1963), p. 251.

12Angel with Horns (New York: Theatre Arts, 1961), p. 128.

Lynda E. Boose (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: 'The Father and the Bride in Shakespeare," in PMLA, Vol. 97, No. 3, May, 1982, pp. 325-47.

[Here, Boose explores the phases of the marriage ceremonyseparation, transition, and reincorporationas a pattern for the father-daughter relationship.]

The aristocratic family of Shakespeare's England was, according to social historian Lawrence Stone, "patrilinear, primogenitural, and patriarchal." Parent-child relations were in general remote and formal, singularly lacking in affective bonds and governed solely by a paternal authoritarianism through which the "husband and father lorded it over his wife and children with the quasi-authority of a despot" (Crisis 271). Stone characterizes the society of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as one in which "a majority of individuals . . . found it very difficult to establish close emotional ties to any other person" (Family 99)1 and views the nuclear family as a burdensome social unit, valued only for its ability to provide the means of patrilineal descent. Second and third sons counted for little and daughters for even less. A younger son could, it is true, be kept around as a "walking sperm bank in case the elder son died childless," but daughters "were often unwanted and might be regarded as no more than a tiresome drain on the economic resources of the family" (Stone, Family 88, 112).2

Various Elizabethan documents, official and unofficial, that comment on family relations support Stone's hypothesis of the absence of affect.3 Yet were we to turn from Stone's conclusions to those we might draw from Shakespeare's plays, the disparity of implication—especially if we assume that the plays to some extent mirror the life around them—must strike us as significant. Shakespeare's dramas consistently explore affective family dynamics with an intensity that justifies the growing inference among Shakespearean scholars that the plays may be primarily "about" family relations and only secondarily about the macrocosm of the body politic.4 Not the absence of affect but the possessive overabundance of it is the force that both defines and threatens the family in Shakespeare. When we measure Stone's assertions against the Shakespeare canon, the plays must seem startlingly ahistorical in focusing on what would seem to have been the least valued relationship of all: that between father and daughter.

While father and son appear slightly more often in the canon, figuring in twenty-three plays, father and daughter appear in twenty-one dramas and in one narrative poem. As different as these father-daughter plays are, they have one thing in common: almost without exception the relationships they depict depend on significant underlying substructures of ritual. Shakespeare apparently created his dramatic mirrors not solely from the economic and social realities that historians infer as having dictated family behavior but from archetypal models, psychological in import and ritual in expression. And the particular ritual model on which Shakespeare most frequently drew for the father-daughter relationship was the marriage ceremony.5

In an influential study of the sequential order or "relative positions within ceremonial wholes," Arnold van Gennep isolated three phases in ritual enactment that always recur in the same underlying arrangement and that form, in concert, "the pattern of the rites of passage": separation, transition, and reincorporation.6 The church marriage service—as familiar to a modern audience as it was to Shakespeare's—contains all three phases. When considered by itself, it is basically a separation rite preceding the transitional phase of consummation and culminating in the incorporation of a new family unit. In Hegelian terms, the ceremonial activities associated with marriage move from thesis through antithesis to synthesis; the anarchic release of fertility is positioned between two phases of relative stasis. The ritual enables society to allow for a limited transgression of its otherwise universal taboo against human eroticism. Its middle movement is the dangerous phase of transition and transgression; its conclusion, the controlled reincorporation into the stability of family. But before the licensed transgression can take place—the transgression that generates the stability and continuity of society itself—the ritual must separate the sanctified celebrants from the sterile forces of social interdiction. The marriage ritual is thus a pattern of and for the community that surrounds it, as well as a rite of passage of and for the individuals who enact it. It serves as an especially effective substructure for the father-daughter relation because within its pattern lies the paradigm of all the conflicts that define this bond at its liminal moment of severance. The ceremony ritualizes two particularly significant events: a daughter and a son are being incorporated into a new family unit, an act that explicitly breaks down the boundaries of two previously existing families; yet, at the same time, the bonds being dissolved, particularly those between father and daughter, are being memorialized and thus, paradoxically, reasserted. In early comedies like The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare followed the Roman design of using the father of the young male lover as the senex iratus, a blocking figure to be circumvented. The mature comedies, tragedies, and romances reconstruct the problems of family bonds, filial obedience, and paternal possessiveness around the father and daughter, the relation put into focus by the marriage ceremony. When marriage activities are viewed from the perspective of their ritual implications, the bride and groom are not joined until the transitional phase of the wedding-night consummation; before that, a marriage may be annulled. What the church service is actually all about is the separation of the daughter from the interdicting father.

The wedding ceremony of Western tradition has always recognized the preeminence of the father-daughter bond. Until the thirteenth century, when the church at last managed to gain control of marriage law, marriage was considered primarily a private contract between two families concerning property exchange. The validity and legality of matrimony rested on the consensus nuptialis and the property contract, a situation that set up a potential for conflict by posing the mutual consent of the two children, who owed absolute obedience to their parents, against the desires of their families, who must agree beforehand to the contract governing property exchange. However true it was that the couple's willing consent was necessary for valid matrimony and however vociferously the official conduct books urged parents to consider the compatibility of the match, fathers like Cymbeline, Egeus, and Baptista feel perfectly free to disregard these requirements. Although lack of parental consent did not affect the validity of a marriage and, after 1604, affected the legality only when a minor was involved,7 the family control over the dowry was a powerful psychological as well as economic weapon. Fathers like Capulet, Lear, and Brabantio depend on threats of disinheritance to coerce their children. When their daughters nonetheless wed without the paternal blessing, the marriages are adversely affected not because any legal statutes have been breached but because the ritual base of marriage has been circumvented and the psychological separation of daughter from father thus rendered incomplete. For in Shakespeare's time—as in our own—the ceremony acknowledged the special bond between father and daughter and the need for the power of ritual to release the daughter from its hold.

As specified in the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, the marriage ritual enjoins that the father (or, in his absence, the legal guardian)8 deliver his daughter to the altar, stand by her in mute testimony that there are no impediments to her marriage, and then witness her pledge henceforth to forsake all others and "obey and serve, love honor and keep" the man who stands at her other side. To the priest's question, "Who giveth this woman to be married unto this man?"—a question that dates in English tradition back to the York manual (Book of Common Prayer 290-99; 408, n.)—the father must silently respond by physically relinquishing his daughter, only to watch the priest place her right hand into the possession of another man. Following this expressly physical symbolic transfer, the father's role in his daughter's life is ended; custom dictates that he now leave the stage, resign his active part in the rite, and become a mere observer. After he has withdrawn, the couple plight their troths, and the groom receives the ring, again from the priest. Taking the bride's hand into his, the groom places the ring on her finger with the words, "With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow," thus solemnizing the transfer in its legal, physical, and material aspects.9

Before us we have a tableau paradigmatic of the problematic father-daughter relation: decked in the symbols of virginity, the bride stands at the altar between her father and husband, pulled as it were between the two important male figures in her life. To resolve the implied dilemma, the force of the priest and the community presides over and compels the transfer of an untouched daughter into the physical possession of a male whom the ceremony authorizes both as the invested successor to the father's authority and as the sanctified transgressor of prohibitions that the father has been compelled to observe.10 By making the father transfer his intact daughter to the priest in testimony that he knows of no impediments to her lawful union, the service not only reaffirms the taboo against incest but implicitly levels the full weight of that taboo on the relationship between father and daughter. The groom's family does not enter into the archetypal dynamics going on at this altar except through the priest's reference to marriage as the cause why a man "shall leave father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife." The mother of the bride is a wholly excluded figure—as indeed she is throughout almost the entire Shakespeare canon. Only the father must act out, must dramatize his loss before the audience of the community. Within the ritual circumscription, the father is compelled to give his daughter to a rival male; and as Georges Bataille comments:

The gift itself is a renunciation. . . . Marriage is a matter less for the partners than for the man who gives the woman away, the man whether father or brother who might have freely enjoyed the woman, daughter or sister, yet who bestows her on someone else. This gift is perhaps a substitute for the sexual act; for the exuberance of giving has a significance akin to that of the act itself; it is also a spending of resources.11 (218)

By playing out his role in the wedding ceremony, the father implicitly gives the blessing that licenses the daughter's deliverance from family bonds that might otherwise become a kind of bondage. Hence in A Midsummer Night's Dream, a play centered on marriage, the intransigent father Egeus, supported by the king-father figure Theseus, poses a threat that must be converted to a blessing to ensure the comic solution. In Love's Labor's Lost, the sudden death of the Princess' father, who is likewise the king-father figure for all the French ladies, prevents the necessary blessing, thus cutting sharply across the movement toward comic resolution and postponing the happy ending. In plots constructed around a daughter without a father, the absent father frequently assumes special dramatic prominence. This absence felt almost as a presence may well contribute to the general unease and unresolved tensions emanating from the three "problem plays," for Helena, Isabella, and Cressida are all daughters severed from their fathers.

Within the father-daughter plays, the daughter's association of father with husband is so strong that even when a woman as independent as Rosalind or Viola first thinks about the man she will eventually marry, her thoughts immediately call to mind her father. Her movement toward conjugal love unconsciously resuscitates a mental movement back to the father to whom she will remain emotionally as well as legally bound until the ritual of marriage transfers her loyalties from one domain to the other. The lack of narrative logic in the association emphasizes its subconscious quality. When Viola first hears the governor of Illyria named, she responds: "Orsino! I have heard my father name him. / He was a bachelor then" (TN 1.2.28-29). When Rosalind meets Orlando she instantly tells Celia, "The Duke my father lov'd his father dearly," making a connection that Celia pointedly questions in her response, "Doth it therefore ensue that you should love his son dearly?" (AYL 1.3.29-32). Once inside Arden Forest—ostensibly on a journey to find her father—Rosalind pays scant attention to her purpose, instead asking Celia, "But what talk we of fathers, when there is such a man as Orlando?" (3.4.38-39). But at the conclusion of the play, when Rosalind prepares to become Orlando's wife, she seeks out her father as the necessary figure who must ritually enable her to do so. Whereas she can freely don male clothing and shift her identity back and forth between Rosalind and Ganymede without the assistance of ritual, marriage is not merely the transposition of assumed roles but the actual transition from daughter to wife. And the movement must be ceremonialized through its distinct, sequential phases. Having spent the play testing various roles and disguises, Rosalind at the end chooses a fixed identity as wife; but that identity depends on her first having re-entered the role of daughter. To be incorporated into a new stasis, she must have one from which to be separated; she must be reunited as child to her father before she can be joined to her "child's father" (1.3.11). Thus in ritual language she repeats the vow of incorporation first to her father and then to Orlando: "To you I give myself, for I am yours" (5.4.116, 117). The play itself becomes paradigmatic of the ritual movement that concludes it: Rosalind's search to be reunited with her father metamorphoses into a journey to be united with the husband who replaces and supersedes him. And instantly on completion of the ceremony, having first been rejoined with his daughter and having then fully performed the father's formulaic role, Duke Senior is miraculously reinstated in his dukedom, regaining the paternal authority over his domain that he had lost at the same time as he had lost that over his daughter. In King Lear and The Tempest, Shakespeare uses the same pattern, making the King's ability to govern his state depend on his ability to enact his ritual role as father. In Lear, however, the dual restitution of paternal roles that concludes the two comedies is reversed into an opening scene staging the dual divestiture of daughter and kingdom.

In tragedies like Lear, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet, the father's failure to act out his required role has a special significance, one that we can best apprehend by looking not at the logic of casual narrative progression but at the threat implied by the violation of ritual. Even when marriage is sanctified by the presence of a priest, as it is in Romeo and Juliet, the absence of the father becomes crucial. In Romeo, the significance is dramatically projected through ritual structures in which Capulet repeatedly "gives away" his daughter without her consent and Juliet is repeatedly "married" without the blessing of her father, a father who ironically has been "a careful father" in choosing a harmonious match compatible with the best interests of the daughter he obviously cherishes.

At the same moment as Romeo and Juliet consummate their wedding upstairs, downstairs the father figuratively gives his daughter's hand to the Count Paris. Although Capulet earlier tells Paris, "My will to her consent is but a part" (1.2.17), he now presumes his paternal authority: "I think she will be rul'd / In all respects by me; nay more, I doubt it not" (3.4.13-14). Here, at the structural center of the play, where Romeo and Juliet are momentarily joined only to be separated until death reunites them, Shakespeare has drawn on inverted marriage ritual as the vehicle for the tragic peripeteia. Scenes 4 and 5 of act 3 dramatize two phases of the matrimonial rite, featuring two bridegrooms: the one downstairs to whom the father gives his consent and the one upstairs with whom the daughter consummates hers. While the separation ritual of scene 4 is legitimizing Paris as bridegroom, the incorporation rite of scene 5 is legitimizing Romeo; both young "grooms" consequently come to the Capulet monument to lie with Juliet, both convinced of their right to claim her. In these two scenes, disjunct phases of the rite of passage are enacted in isolation. But although each scene includes a groom, each is missing a crucial figure—either the father or the bride—and a crucial sequence, the daughter's transition from one male domain to the other. The juxtaposition obviously increases the tension of the narrative by making us aware, as Romeo and Juliet celebrate their union, of the unexpected threat that will irrevocably separate them, a threat emphasized by the lovers' intuition of a growing darkness that invades the ecstasy of their morning aubade (3.5). The threat that they metaphorically imagine as darkness is to us, however, a great deal more specific. Specifically, it is Juliet's father, who comes, as we know he will, to invade his daughter's bridal chamber, assert his paternal prerogative to invalidate her right to choose a future, and conclude that, since she is his property, he has the ineluctable right to dispose of her as he will: "And you be mine, I'll give you to my friend; / and you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets" (3.5.191-92). The central conflict in the play, projected in microcosm through these two scenes, mirrors the archetypal conflict in the daughter's life. The altar ritual likewise mirrors it, for the threat to the marriage and the daughter's future is always embodied in the person of the father, the character propelled into the role of tragic nemesis in Romeo and Juliet by the substructuring logic of marriage ritual.

After the crucial scenes in act 3, the remainder of Romeo progresses as a series of inverted and disordered epithalamia.12 When the priest, the groom, and the musicians organized by old Capulet enter Juliet's chamber to take the bride to church, Capulet finds that she has already been wedded and the festival has gone on without him. He can thus only lament that "Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir, / My daughter he hath wedded" (4.5.38-39) and that "All things that we ordained festival / turn from their office to black funeral" (4.5.84-85). In a parody of the father's due expectations on entering the bridal chamber the morning after a wedding, Capulet exclaims when he discovers Juliet's bleeding body lying with her husband:

.. . O wife, look how our daughter bleeds!
This dagger hath mista'en, for lo his house
Is empty on the back of Montague,
And it mis-sheathed in my daughter's bosom!


The play ends in a final reversal, concluding with the scene that should traditionally have preceded the wedding: the two fathers bargaining over the bridal portion, Capulet initially asking for Montague's "hand" as all he feels able to demand as a widowhood entitlement for his "daughter's jointure" (5.3.297); Montague insisting that "I can give thee more / for I will raise her statue in pure gold" (298-99); and Capulet countering with his matching offer of as rich a statue for Romeo.13 Appropriately, this play, so controlled by the problems of time and timing, ends with the ritual elements scattered out of sequence and the fathers participating in a futile attempt to validate the spousals retroactively, finally playing out their correct but now untimely paternal roles as reciprocal gift givers vying to give countergifts that surpass each other in sumptuousness (see Lévi-Strauss).14 The barrenness implicit in their action is projected on stage through the subtext of parodic ritual.

The famous "nunnery scene" in Hamlet is another such inverted marriage ceremony, furnished as it is with the couple themselves and with the bride's father and the figure of state authority secreted where they can overhear the vows. Ophelia, who even holds the prayer book that the bride traditionally carries, is dramatically positioned between her concealed father on the one side and Hamlet on the other. But instead of the groom's awaiting the entrance of the bride and her father, the hidden father and the nervous Ophelia await Hamlet; instead of having the groom give the bride a ring, this scene inverts the model by having Ophelia return Hamlet's gifts, which she says she has "longed long to redeliver" (3.1.93). The awkward phrase is an appropriate one. For the scene presents, not a deliverance of a daughter to a new family, but a redeliverance to her father. When Hamlet suddenly demands of Ophelia "Where's your father?" (129), he is essentially asking her to choose, to declare just where her obedience and service, her love and honor, are bound. In her response, "At home, my lord" (130), not only does she lie but, more importantly, she chooses: through the very words she desperately seizes on, she indicates her own inability to break away from the weighty bonds of home and father. In making such a choice Ophelia violates the ritual. And Hamlet responds in savage parody by giving her the dowry she has indeed received from Polonius: to be as chaste as ice and as pure as snow and yet not escape calumny. He then shatters the mock ceremony with his injunction that there shall be no more marriages. When Ophelia later sings her bawdy songs and distributes her symbolic flowers with an insight born of derangement, thoughts of her father and Hamlet entangle in her mind like the fantastic garlands she wears. To both the unfaithful Gertrude and herself she gives rue. She also gives Gertrude a daisy, symbolic of dissembling; but, as she says, she has no violets to give away, for these flowers of faithfulness "wither'd all when my father died" (4.5.184). The fidelity that should have been given to Hamlet is inextricably entwined with thoughts of her father, the male from whom she has never ritually transferred her obedience or her loyalty.

Through the use of ceremonial substructures, Shakespeare invokes a sacramentality, a context of sacredness, for a certain moment and space within the play. Such structures temporally and spatially set the ritualized moments away from the undifferentiated profane events of the drama. But once a ritual has been invoked, has in effect drawn a circle of archetypal reference around the moment and space, any events from the nonsacramental surrounding world that interrupt or counter its prescribed direction take on special, portentous significance.15 By interrupting or converting the invoked ritual to parody, such profane invasions rupture its sacramental context. Ritual structure is explicitly invoked, for example, in Othello 2.2, a twelve-line scene staged only to allow a "Herald" to proclaim that "every man put himself into triumph" for "the celebration of [Othello's] nuptial." When next Iago—earlier identified by Brabantio as a "profane wretch" (1.1.114) and by Desdemona as "a most profane and liberal counsellor" of "lame and impotent conclusion" (2.1.163, 161)—then converts the epithalamion outside Othello's chamber into a drunken, violent rout that interrupts the bridal pair within, our intuition of an ominous significance attached to the action derives from a half-conscious awareness of ritual violation. The matter is not one of direct casuality. No one is reductively to infer, for example, that Othello murders his wife because the revelers got drunk or that Romeo and Juliet come to a bad end just because her father did not participate in the wedding. Shakespeare's inverted rituals are a matter, rather, of violated sacramentality, the transgression of a sacred enclosure, the disruption of a hallowed sequence by incongruous actions penetrating from the profane world.

When Shakespeare wants to create a heightened aura of harmony, he will periodically blend ritual references, incorporating our associations with the "rite of May" and "Saint Valentine" into the festival already evoked by the title of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Conversely, to intensify a tragic moment, he will—rather than blend ceremonial structures—bring two incompatible rituals into collision, most frequently those of wedding and funeral.16 When the technique works, the consequent explosion infuses the scene with the energy released by the violation of two sacred spheres, each shattered by its convergence not with something of a lesser energy but with something of equal sacred intensity. In Romeo we often encounter dual ritual references, as in Lady Capulet's line "I would the fool were married to her grave" (3.5.140). Such merely verbal references only allude to ritual structures without actually invoking them; Lady Capulet's juxtaposition of incompatible ceremonies serves as a tragic foreshadow. In scenes from other plays, however, the collision of modes incipient in the words is converted to a presentational dramatization. One of the finest examples of this collision of rituals is Ophelia's funeral.

Hamlet 5.1 begins as a scene of profaned ceremony: an inverted funeral of maimed and truncated rites presided over by a "churlish priest" who refuses the brother's plea for traditional ceremonies, instead asserting that "Shards, flints, and pebbles should be thrown on her," for "We should profane the service of the dead / To sing a requiem" (230-31, 236-37). Through Gertrude's action of strewing flowers, returning them as it were to Ophelia, the ritual moment is suddenly expanded to present us with an image associated not only with funerals, but with weddings:

I hop'd thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife,
I thought thy bride-bed to have deck'd, sweet maid,
And not have strew'd thy grave.


The double context barkens back to one of the major disturbances of the play. It echoes the paradigm of colliding sacred rituals already alluded to in Hamlet's bitter description of the conjunction of his mother's marriage and his father's funeral feasts, where "the funeral bak'd meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables" (1.2.180-81). The coincidence of the two ceremonies desecrates the ritual sacramentality of each. This collision of significations is enjoined when Laertes, playing out his role as his sister's natural guardian, leaps into her grave to assert the seemingly unchallengeable primacy of his bond (5.1). But his claim of authority is challenged and the sullied funeral recast into the bizarre image of a superimposed parodic wedding when Hamlet, fulfilling the role earlier defined by his mother, steps forward to this mock altar to assert his own claim to Ophelia's body. Again the tableau at the altar is invoked as the two claimants struggle over possession of the mock bride, Laertes refusing to relinquish the "fair and unpolluted flesh" of his sister (239) and Hamlet asserting that "Forty thousand brothers / Could not with all their quantity of love / Make up my sum" (269-71). The stage image of the two men competing for possession of Ophelia's shrouded body is the more suggestively dual in ceremonial reference when we recall the wedding custom—alluded to in Robert Herrick's "Nuptial Song on Sir Clipsby Crew and His Lady"—of sewing the bride up in a white sheet before laying her on the flower-strewn bed to await the groom's entrance.17 The violent rivalry of the two competing claimants pulling the sanctified body back and forth between them reflects the structural principle underlying the scene: the violent collision of two mutually exclusive rituals, funeral and wedding, each struggling to claim the sacramentality it unwittingly pollutes by its own parodic enactment, the two competing claims forced by simultaneity into the fusion of energies that releases the scene's dramatic explosion.

In Othello, the father-daughter rupture is dramatized as a structural parody of the church service. As in most of the father-daughter plays, the father here is apparently a widower with only one child, a daughter whom he loves possessively and has denied to several suitors. When he is awakened in the first scene by Iago's vividly pornographic pictures of "your daughter cover'd with a Barbary horse," "your daughter and the Moor . . . making the beast with two backs," "your daughter .. . in the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor" (111-12, 115-17, 122, 126), Brabantio's odd response, "This accident is not unlike my dream, / Belief of it oppresses me already" (142-43), suggests the repressed voyeurism of the father's incestuous projection seeping into the unconscious world of his dreams. In his brief moment alone on stage, the father speaks of the isolated sense of loss that his subsequent rage and denial attempt to supplant: " . . . gone she is; And what's to come of my despised time / Is nought but bitterness" (160-62). Although Brabantio voices a bitterness that has been purged from Prospero's response in a later play, both men express an unassuageable emptiness. Like that other Venetian father Shylock (who also tries to lock his daughter inside his house), Brabantio sets off through the city streets determined to reclaim his stolen treasure before it has been "possessed" by the claimant he has never authorized. Instead of using either the ritual archetype of the father's bringing the bride to the altar or the folktale pattern of the groom's kidnapping her from her father's fortress, Shakespeare here stages an inverted model, with the father storming the groom's quarters and attempting to recapture the bride.

Brabantio's action dramatizes the emotional and psychological problem that the marriage ritual seems implicitly designed to control and prevent. For consciously or unconsciously, overtly or implicitly, the father of the bride in most of Shakespeare basically wants, like Brabantio, to retain, withhold, lock up, and possess his daughter. Prevented by law, custom, and ritual injunction from taking any of these actions, the only satisfaction available to him is to arrogate to himself the choice of her husband, most often insisting on someone she does not want, lest a desired husband usurp the father's primary position in the daughter's life. But in spite of the paternal preference for Cloten over Posthumus Leonatus, Burgundy over France, Demetrius over Lysander, Paris over Romeo, or Saturninus over Bassianus, Shakespeare always stages the defeat of the father's choice, in both comedy and tragedy.

Brabantio's defeat in the Duke's chamber is played out against the set sequential movement of the church ceremony. Hoping to persuade the Duke that there are impediments to the marriage, Brabantio alleges that "Sans witchcraft" Desdemona could not "fall in love with what she fear'd to look on" (1.3.64, 98). He is here alluding to a specific impediment recognized by canon law as an impedimentum dirimens, one that, if proved, would indeed prevent a marriage or could nullify it retroactively. Specifically, Brabantio is claiming the impediment of vis et metus, or a condition of fear, duress, and constraint overruling the will—a general category that included the more specific accusation of witchcraft.18 The Duke's rejoinder to Brabantio, "To vouch this is no proof (106), reflects the appropriate procedure for such a charge, for an alleged impediment would prevent a marriage only when accompanied by substantive proof (Wheatly 491, Rathen 34-35).

When Othello then refutes the charge of coercion by denying that he seduced Desdemona by any "indirect and forced courses" (111), the Duke accepts the validity of Othello's story and gently advises Brabantio to "Take up this mangled matter at the best" (173). But the sadly stubborn father orders Desdemona to tell the congregation "Where most you owe obedience" (180). Desdemona answers with what is essentially the recitation of her wedding vow to obey and serve Othello, forsaking all others, including her 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 husband;
And so much duty as my mother show'd
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor, my lord.


The nine-line passage is rhetorically arranged to reflect the "divided duty" of the bride poised at the altar. Its structure is a balance of two separate sentences, each one made up of four and one-half lines, the structural "volta," or difficult turn, from father to husband occurring at the midpoint of the fifth and longest line, the full stop in midline reflecting the attempt to terminate one status and begin a new one. The important fifth line is given added weight through alliteration, which emphasizes the turn to "husband." Following this transition, the terms "lord" and "duty" are transferred from the first to the second rhetorical domain of the passage. In the final line, which conveys Desdemona's determination through its brevity and its emphatically monosyllabic construction, the "duty" in question metamorphoses to "due," the proscriptive stasis of "duty" in the first line converting to the vitality of "due" in Desdemona's concluding speech-act pledge. Desdemona's response accords with the ritual; Brabantio's parodies it. Instead of presenting his daughter as a consecrated gift, the possessive and now dispossessed father hurls her across the stage at Othello with the words

I here do give thee that with all my heart
Which but thou hast already, with all my heart
I would keep from thee.


The Desdemona-Brabantio scene and the Lear-Cordelia confrontation, two versions of the same ritual model, have obvious similarities.19 The opening scene of King Lear, however, is infused with the additional tension of colliding, incompatible ritual structures: the attempt of the man who is both king and father to substitute the illegitimate transfer of his kingdom for the legitimate one of his daughter.

In King Lear, the father's grudging recognition of the need to confer his daughter on younger strengths while he unburdened crawls toward death should be understood as the basal structure underlying his divestiture of his kingdom. Lear has called his court together in the opening scene because he must at last face the postponed reckoning with Cordelia's two princely suitors, who "Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn, / And here are to be answer'd" (1.1.47-48). But instead of justly relinquishing his daughter, Lear tries to effect a substitution of paternal divestitures: he portions out his kingdom as his "daughters' several dowers," attaching to Cordelia's share a stipulation designed to thwart her separation. In substituting his public paternity for his private one, the inherently indivisible entity for the one that biologically must divide and recombine, Lear violates both his kingly role in the hierarchical universe and his domestic one in the family. Nor is it accident—as it was in Hamlet 5.1—that brings these two incompatible rituals into collision in Lear 1.1. It is the willful action of the king and father, the lawgiver and protector of both domain and family, that is fully responsible for this explosion of chaos.

Yet of course Lear's bequest of his realm is in no way an unconditional transfer of the kingdom from one rulership to another. Instead, Lear wants to retain the dominion he theoretically casts off and to "manage those authorities / That he hath given away" (1.3.17-18). Likewise, the bequest of his daughter is actually an attempt to keep her, a motive betrayed by the very words he uses. When he disclaims "all my paternal care" and orders Cordelia "as a stranger to my heart and me / Hold thee from this for ever" (113, 115-16), his verb holds to his heart rather than expels from it the daughter he says is "adopted to our hate" (203), another verbal usage that betrays his retentive motives. His disastrous attempts to keep the two dominions he sheds are structurally linked through the parodic divestiture of his kingdom as dowry. In recognition of the family's economic interest in marriage, the terms of sixteenth-century dowries were required to be fully fixed before the wedding, thus making the property settlement a precondition for the wedding (see n. 13).20 But Lear the father will not freely give his daughter her endowment unless she purchases it with pledges that would nullify those required by the wedding ceremony. If she will not love him all, she will mar her fortunes, lose her dowry, and thus forfeit the symbolic separation. And yet, as she asserts, she cannot marry if she loves her father all. The circularity of Lear's proposition frustrates the ritual phase of separation: by disinheriting Cordelia, Lear casts her away not to let her go but to prevent her from going. In Lévi-Strauss' terms, Lear has to give up Cordelia because the father must obey the basic social rule of reciprocity, which has a necessarily communal effect, functioning as a "distribution to undo excess." Lear's refusal is likewise communal in its effect, and it helps create the universe that he has "ta'en too little care of."

Insofar as Burgundy's suit is concerned, Lear's quantitatively constructed presumption works. Playing the mime priest and intentionally desecrating the sacramental ritual question he imitates, Lear asks the first bridegroom-candidate:

Will you, with those infirmities she owes,
Unfriended, new adopted to our hate,
Dow'r'd with our curse, and stranger'd with our
Take her, or leave her?


Burgundy's hedged response is what Lear anticipates—this suitor will gladly "take Cordelia by the hand" only if Lear will give "but that portion which yourself propos'd" (243, 242). Shrewdly intuiting that France cannot be dissuaded by so quantitative a reason as "her price is fallen," Lear then adopts a strategy based on qualitative assumptions in his attempt to discourage the rival he most greatly fears. Insisting to France that

For you, great King
I would not from your love make such a stray
To match you where I hate; therefore beseech you
T' avert your liking a more worthier way


Lear tries to avoid even making the required ritual offer. By calling his own daughter "a wretch whom Nature is asham'd / Almost t'acknowledge hers" (212-13), Lear implies by innuendo the existence of some unnatural impediment in Cordelia that would make her unfit to marry and would thus prevent her separation. Effectively, the scene presents an altar tableau much like that in Much Ado, with a bride being publicly pronounced unfit for marriage. In Lear, however, it is the father rather than the groom who defames the character of the bride, and his motives are to retain her rather than to reject her. In this violated ceremony, the slandered daughter—instead of fainting—staunchly denies the alleged impediments by demanding that her accuser "make known / It is no vicious blot . . . No unchaste action, or dishonored step, / That hath deprived me of your grace and favor" (226-29). And here the groom himself takes up the role implicit in his vows, defending Cordelia's suborned virtue by his statement that to believe Lear's slanders would require "a faith that reason without miracle / Should never plant in me" (222-23). The physical separation of the daughter from the father is finally achieved only by France's perception that "this unpriz'd precious maid . . . is herself a dowry" (259, 241); France recognizes the qualitative meaning of the dowry that Burgundy could only understand quantitatively.

In Cordelia's almost archetypal definition of a daughter's proper loyalties (1.1.95-104), Shakespeare uses a pun to link the fundamental predicament of the daughter—held under the aegis of the father—to its only possible resolution in the marriage troth: "That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry / Half my love with him" (101-02), says Cordelia. When France later addresses his bride as "Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich being poor, / Most choice forsaken, and most lov'd despis'd" (250-51), he echoes the husband's traditional pledge to love "for richer, for poorer" the daughter who has "forsaken all others." And France himself then endows Lear's "dow'rless daughter" with all his worldly goods by making her "queen of us, of ours, and our fair France" (256-57). His statement "Be it lawful I take up what's cast away" (253) even suggests a buried stage direction through its implied allusion to the traditional conclusion of the consensus nuptialis as explained in the Sarum and York manuals: the moment when the bride, in token of receiving a dowry of land from her husband, prostrates herself at her husband's feet and he responds by lifting her up again (Rathen 36, Legg 190, Howard 306-07).

The visual and verbal texts of this important opening scene allude to the separation phase of the marriage ritual; the ritual features are emphasized because here, unlike the similar scene in Othello, the daughter's right to choose a husband she loves is not at issue. Because the ritual is sacred, Cordelia dispassionately refuses to follow her sisters in prostituting it. Lear, in contrast, passionately destroys his kingdom in order to thwart the fixed movement of the ritual pattern and to convert the pattern's linear progression away from the father into a circular return to him.21 The discord his violation engenders continues to be projected through accumulating ritual substructures: in a parody of giving his daughter's hand, Lear instead gives her "father's heart from her" (126); in a parody of the ring rite, Lear takes the golden round uniting king and country and parts it, an act that both dramatizes the consequences of dividing his realm and demonstrates the anguish he feels at losing his daughter to a husband.

Once Lear has shattered the invoked sacred space by collapsing two incompatible rituals into it, he shatters also all claims to paternal authority. From this scene onward, the question of Lear's paternal relation to his daughters and his kingdom pervades the drama through the King's ceremonial invocations of sterility against the daughters he has generated and the land he has ruled. In the prototype of a harmonious wedding that concludes As You Like It, Hymen—who "peoples every town"—defines Duke Senior's correct paternal role as that of the exogamous giver of the daughter created in heaven:

Hymen from heaven brought her,
Yea, brought her hither,
That thou mightst join her hand with his
Whose heart within his bosom is.


Hymen characterizes the generating of children as a gift from heaven, an essential spending of the self designed to increase the world. By contrast, Lear's image of the father is the "barbarous Scythian, / Or he that makes his generation messes / To gorge his appetite" (1.1.116—18). The definition is opposite to the very character of ritual. It precludes the possibility of transformation, for the father devours the flesh he begets. Here, generation becomes primarily an autogamous act, a retention and recycling of the procreative energies, which become mere extensions of private appetite feeding on its own production. The unnatural appetite of the father devouring his paternity is implicit even in the motive Lear reveals behind his plan to set his rest on Cordelia's "kind nursery" (124), an image in which the father pictures himself as an infant nursing from his daughter. The implied relationship is unnatural because it allows the father to deflect his original incestuous passions into Oedipal ones, thus effecting a newly incestuous proximity to the daughter, from whom the marriage ritual is designed to detach him. And when this form of appetite is thwarted by France's intervention, Lear effects yet another substitution of state for daughter: having ordered Cornwall and Albany to "digest the third" part of his kingdom, he and his gluttonous knights proceed to feed off it and through their "Epicurism and lust / Make . . . it more like a tavern or a brothel / Than a grac'd palace" (1.4.244-46). Compelled by nature to give up his daughter, he unnaturally gives up his kingdom; when his appetites cannot feed on her, they instead devour the paternity of his land.

The father devouring his own flesh is the monstrous extension of the circular terms of Lear's dowry proposal. The image belongs not only to the play's pervasive cluster of monsters from the deep but also to its dominant spatial pattern of circularity. Within both the narrative movement and the repeated spatial structure inside the drama, the father's retentive passions deny the child's rite of passage. When Cordelia departs from the father's realm for a new life in her husband's, ostensibly fulfilling the ritual separation, the journey is condemned to futility at its outset, for Cordelia departs dowered with Lear's curse: "Without our grace, our love, our benison" (1.1.265). Although the bride and groom have exchanged vows, the denial of the father's blessing renders the separation incomplete and the daughter's future blighted. Cordelia, like Rosalind, must therefore return to be reincorporated with her father before she can undergo the ritual severance that will enable her to progress. She thus chooses father over husband, returning to Lear to ask his blessing: "look upon me, sir, / And hold your hand in benediction o'er me" (4.7.56-57). In lines that indicate how futile the attempt at incorporation has been when the precedent rites of passage have been perverted, Cordelia asserts, "O dear father, / It is thy business that I go about" (4.4.23-24), and characterizes her life with France as having been one of constant mourning for the father to whom she is still bound.

Shakespeare rewrote the source play Leir to make Cordelia remain in England alone (rather than with France at her side) to fight, lose, and die with her father, a revision that vividly illustrates the tragic failure of the family unit to divide, recombine, and regenerate. The only respite from pain the tragedy offers is the beauty of Lear's reunion with Cordelia, but that reunion takes place at the cost of both the daughter's life and the future life of the family. And for all the poignancy of this reunion, the father's intransigence—which in this play both initiates and conditions the tragedy—remains unchanged: it is still writ large in his fantasy that he and his daughter will be forever imprisoned together like birds in a cage.23 At the end of the play, excluding any thought of Cordelia's new life with France, Lear focuses solely on the father-daughter merger, which he joyfully envisions enclosed in a perpetuity where no interlopers—short of a divine messenger—can threaten it: "He that parts us shall bring a brand from heaven, / And fire us hence like foxes" (5.3.22-23). The rejoining is the precise opposite of that in As You Like It. To Rosalind's question, "if I bring in your Rosalind, / You will bestow her on Orlando here?" Duke Senior responds, "That would I, had I kingdoms to give with her" (AYL 5.4.6-7, 8). In the Duke's characterization of Orlando's newly received endowment as "a potent Dukedom" (5.4.169), the implied fertility of both kingdom and family in ensured through the father's submission to the necessary movement of ritual. In King Lear, the father who imagined that he "gave his daughters all" extracts from his daughter at the end of the play the same price he demanded in the opening scene—that she love her father all. The play's tragic circles find their counterpart in its ritual movements. Cordelia returns to her father, and the final scene stages the most sterile of altar tableaux: a dead father with his three dead daughters, the wheel having come full circle back to the opening scene of the play. Initially barren of mothers, the play concludes with the death of all the fathers and all the daughters; the only figures who survive to emphasize the sterility of the final tableau are Albany, a widower, and Edgar, an unmarried son.

In Shakespearean tragedy, the cost demanded of the daughter is appallingly high. No matter how wrongheaded the inflexible father may be, the child who severs herself from him—even from allegiance to his impossible demands—becomes guiltlessly agentive in the wrack of the original family and tragically incapable of creating a new one. Such images of amputation and sterility are implicit in Gratiano's address to the dead young wife of Othello:

Poor Desdemon! I am glad thy father's dead.
Thy match was mortal to him, and pure grief
Shore his old thread in twain.

(Oth. 5.2.204-06)

Even Juliet, the most determinedly independent of all the daughters of tragedy, never considers what would seem to be the most practical solution to Romeo's banishment, that is, leaping over Verona's walls and going with him to Mantua. Instead, Juliet tries to effect a resolution that—even at the symbolic cost of her own life—will reunite her with her husband inside the structure of the Capulet family tomb. If the alternatives thus posed are equally unattractive, the dilemma thereby created is quintessentially Shakespearean: the "unresolvably problematic sense of experience" that raises questions we can "neither ignore nor answer" (Rabkin 29, 31) but affords no easy answers.

In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare gives us two versions of the daughter's solution to the repressive demands of the father. In each, the father follows the folktale motif of trying to lock up his daughter and retain her for himself. Portia's physical self has been symbolically locked up inside a lead casket by her dead father's "will," a term that suggests the father's desire to maintain both legal and physical possession of her. Jessica, meanwhile, is literally locked up inside her father's house—a house that becomes, through Shylock's calling it "my sober house" and its casements "my house's ears" (2.5.36, 34), an anthropomorphic refiguration of the father himself.

In this play, each father's determination to lock up his daughter sets up the test by which the daughter defines herself. While more theologically oriented readings have seen Jessica as a nominative figuration of the House of Jesse and her flight from Venice to Belmont as a symbol for the transition from Old to New Testament law, an allegorical interpretation of Shakespeare's characters that did not allow for the possibility of irony would end up making Gratiano—surely the most graceless figure in the play—an emblem of a theological concept he seems as incapable of representing as does Jessica. While biblical allusion is clearly important in The Merchant, we must remember that Shakespeare is writing drama, not theological allegory. Jessica serves as a dramatic foil to Portia; against Portia's relationship with both her wealthy father and her impoverished suitor we are implicitly invited to measure Jessica's. And inasmuch as the play gives us two specific test objects—the caskets and the rings—that enable Portia to engineer her transition from filial to conjugal bonds, they should likewise be understood as test objects that measure the success of Jessica's rite of passage.

To escape the repressive will of her father, Jessica climbs out the casement windows carrying "a casket" full of Shylock's jewels and money, gilding herself with her father's ducats and essentially selling herself to a Lorenzo who seems as interested in the acquired ducats as in the daughter who stole them. Jessica's theft here is dual. From the symbolic house of the father she simultaneously steals both herself and her father's fortune, leaving the House of Shylock empty in every sense. When in court the defeated Jew states:

Nay, take my life and all, pardon not that:
You take my house when you do take the prop
That doth sustain my house; you take my life
When you do take the means whereby I live


the voice that speaks is not only the miser's. It is also the father's.

Shylock's daughter, who defies all the structures and denies the bond—a term fundamental to the tragic plot of the play—ends up symbolically disavowing the sanctity of the conjugal bond of her own heredity, a point that receives comic allusion through Launce's hope "that you are not the Jew's daughter" and Jessica's response, "That were a kind of bastard hope indeed; so the sins of my mother should be visited upon me" (3.5.11-14). In purchasing her escape to an imagined freedom, the daughter sells her mother's "ring" and her father's "stones," symbolic representations of the female and male generative organs. And in figuratively delegitimizing herself, the daughter reciprocally disinherits and defiles the father in a way that alludes to the Old Testament family laws of Shylock's faith. For in the same chapter of Leviticus that ostracizes any sons of Aaron who have "cuttings in their flesh" as being polluted before the Lord and states that if the "daughter fall to playe the whore, she polluteth her father," it is also written that any man who may "haue his stones broken" is defiled and shall not "come nere to offer the sacrifices of the Lord" (21.5, 9, 20, 21).24 The Old Testament precedent suggests that in demanding a pound of Antonio's flesh, Shylock is calling for a retributive defilement against the man who has spat on Shylock's Jewish gabardine, broken the legal bond, and furthermore—at least in Shylock's mind (see 2.7.1-10)—joined with the other Christians in severing Shylock's flesh. For "my daughter," Shylock tells us, "is my flesh and blood" (3.1.37). The precedent also makes Solanio's metaphoric use of "stones" a cruelly appropriate means of mocking Shylock's anguish over Jessica's disavowal of a heritage that to her father is "rich and precious." Behind Solanio's gleeful mimicry of the comic hoarder ranting in the streets for his stolen ducats lies the figure of the tragic father castrated by his daughter and disinherited from the future:

A sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats,
Of double ducats, stol'n from me by my daughter!
And jewels, two stones, two rich and precious stones,
Stol'n by my daughter!


What Jessica buys in return for the symbols of her parents' procreative act is a monkey, a grotesque imitation of the infant human form. And in act 5, scene 1, she is left singing a moonlight duet with Lorenzo that—beneath the beauty of its lyrical surface—uneasily equates their love to that of Troilus and Cressida, Pyramus and Thisbe, Aeneas and Dido, and Jason and Medea, all ominous archetypes of bonds somehow shattered in conjunction with attempts to invalidate family or cultural allegiances. Lorenzo's line "In such a night / Did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew, / And with an unthrift love did run from Venice" (5.1.14-16) unwittingly suggests a poverty implicit in Jessica's purchase on the night of her gilded stealth. The daughter who meant to discard her paternity is furthermore left with an ironic dependence on her father's money, a fortune obtained not by legacy but by robbery, as Lorenzo unwittingly suggests in his joke about acquiring "thieves for wives" (2.6.23). The final bitter irony of Jessica's stolen dowry comes at the end of the play, when Lorenzo describes the second seized fortune they will get from Shylock as "manna" dropped from heaven. The reference echoes Portia's courtroom paean to the quality of mercy and simultaneously alludes to the sustenance that the Old Testament Father freely gave the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness en route from bondage to freedom in the Promised Land. Jessica's attempt to make the transition from filial to conjugal bonds by means of theft is, in its ritual implications, as unsuccessful as Shylock's attempt to lock up and possess his treasure, the family treasure that is ultimately the daughter herself.

In contrast to Shylock, Portia's father has not conflated his ducats and his daughter but has understood that his true treasure is Portia. What he has locked up inside the casket is not his jewels but his daughter's "counterfeit," the image of the family fortune. In the riddle game the successful suitor will be the one who values Portia enough to choose not the gold or silver she brings with her as dowry but the lead casket that requires him to "give and hazard all." What France recognizes as true of Cordelia is likewise true of Portia: she is herself a dowry.

Like Jessica, Portia chafes against the restrictions of this bond. With a quibble on her use of "will," she laments:

0 me, the word choose! I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curb'd by the will of a dead father. Is it not hard . . . that I cannot choose one, nor refuse none?


But, unlike Jessica, Portia does not try to ensure her happiness by throwing away the filial bonds—any more than she will ensure Antonio's freedom by denying Shylock's claim or by overturning the legal structure outright. Instead, she characteristically works out a solution that amounts to fudging a bit. She resolves the strictures of institutional bonds by readjusting them to her own will, thus achieving a sort of independence within the given structures. In the marriage riddle, she must passively rely on the base natures of the suitors themselves to cause them to choose wrongly. But she does—without actually disobeying her father—manage to guide Bassanio's choice by first telling him to "pause a day or two / Before you hazard" (3.2.1-2; my italic) and then giving him a hint that she gave no previous suitor, in the form of the music and the song whose end lines rhyme with the word "lead."

To attribute to Portia a conscious complicity in directing Bassanio's choice is not to demean her integrity. Rather, it is to do justice to her role as the daughter-heroine of comedy who must play a part in shaping her own future. While the death of the father does free a male heir like Petruchio to choose an independent future, it does not likewise free the heiress richly left in Belmont. Nor for that matter does the marriage ritual allow even the fatherless daughter to walk independently down the aisle and give herself away; fatherless or not, she is always a property to be bequeathed by some figuratively paternal authority. And to resolve the potentially unacceptable alternatives symbolically posed by the paternal structures surrounding her, the daughter-heroine of comedy must often resort to disguise, either literal or figurative. Since Portia, as she says, can neither "choose one, nor refuse none," she must subtly find a way to lead the suitor she first silently chooses to choose her. Faced with the predicament dramatized in the marriage ceremony, she enacts the archetypal resolution frequently defined in folktale romance. Led to the altar, "given" to the husband by the father before she herself is ever asked to acknowledge that she will "take this man," she must either acquiesce to her father's will or violate the ritual by refusing—unless she can ensure by contrivance that the hand to which she is transferred is the one she herself has already chosen. In mythic terms, the daughter escapes her father's castle not by climbing out of its casements but by symbolically throwing down the key to the suitor she chooses. Like Rapunzel, who lets down her hair, Portia directs Bassanio to discover the key that will unlock "Portia's self from confinement. Jessica—like Desdemona, a daughter inside tragedy—chooses to escape at the cost of violating the family house and all it represents; Portia also "chooses," but in a way that leaves the structure intact for the future.

And unlike Jessica, who in selling her mother's betrothal ring rejects the value of the conjugal bond it represents, Portia insists on the value of her ring and on the family ties it symbolizes. When Bassanio gives away her ring at Antonio's request, here acceding to the demand that his friend's love be "valued" 'gainst your wive's commandment" (4.2.450), the act is not one that Portia dismisses lightly. At the end of the play, having first induced Bassanio to repeat his vows of faith, Portia puts Antonio into the role of surrogate priest and bonded witness to the sanctity of those vows. By acting as Bassanio's "surety," Antonio figuratively takes out a bond once again for Bassanio; only this bond guarantees the validity of Bassanio's marriage at the pledge of Antonio's soul rather than, as previously, of his flesh: "I dare be bound again, / My soul upon the forfeit, that your lord / Will never more break faith advisedly" (5.1.251-53).26 In a further mimesis of the ceremonial pledge to "love, honor and keep" the recipient of the ring, Portia makes Antonio the priest, giving him the ring and telling him to give it to Bassanio with the instructions to "bid him keep it better" (5.1.255; my italic). The comedy thus ends with a correct ritual enactment, which resolves the threat to union implied by Bassanio's transfer of Portia's ring.

Not only in The Merchant of Venice but frequently throughout the canon, Shakespeare draws on ritual substructures for the conclusions of his plays. Within these patterns, tragedy ends with an emphasis on broken or inverted ritual designs; comedy ends with the scattered elements of ritual regrouped and correctly enacted. And in the four late romances—plays in which oracular prophecies and the sudden descent of divine beings constantly reshape the linear narrative—the shattered human world, through obsessive reenactments of broken rituals, strives to recapture what has been lost and thus to reconnect itself with the sacred world of its origins. The design closely approximates Mircea Eliade's description of the ritual process as humanity's attempt to effect the "myth of the eternal return." Within these late plays, the declining world of inflexible paternal authority rediscovers a redemptive teleology through the ritualized reclamation of that particular bond which could only be viewed as a liability to the family's prospects for economic and patrilineal prosperity. In The Winter's Tale, the murderous wrath Leontes directs against his innocent wife and daughter is punished by the immediately conjunctive death of the son he imagines will carry his lineal posterity. Only when he comes to value "that which has been lost"—the daughter Perdita, who is a matrilineal rather than a patrilineal extension—is Leontes allowed the partial restitution implicit in his adoption of Florizel. And even this compensation is made possible only through the return and affirmation of the hitherto unvalued daughter.

In Pericles, another play in which redemption depends on reclaiming the lost female child, a riddle game and caskets again serve as ritual structures through which the father-daughter relation is expressed. The Prince of Type, perceiving the horrible truth that explains how Antiochus can be "father, son, and husband mild" to his own daughter (Per. 1.1.68), flees from this daughter, whom he calls a "glorious casket stor'd with ill"(77). Parallel to Lear's barbarous Scythian who gorges on his own generation, the daughter in Antioch is "an eater of her mother's flesh" (130); both are autophagous and monstrous images of generative consummation perverted into degenerative consumption. Antiochus' daughter is a type of living death. While Portia was the family jewel inside the lead casket, the life locked into the symbolically maternal container by the "will" of her dead father, this daughter is the casket itself, containing inside her the deadly ill of the father's incestuous generation.

As D. W. Harding aptly points out, whether or not Shakespeare wrote this opening of Pericles, the events at Antioch "have a sharply defined significance for the broad topic of the relation between father and daughter, since they ask us to contemplate, and decisively reject, the possibility of incest" (59). The background story of Antioch, which Gower narrates at the beginning of the play, is a mirror of that leading up to Pericles' recognition of Marina in act 5. Gower tells of a great king who

unto him took a peer,
Who died and left a female heir,
So buxom, blithe, and full of face
As heaven had lent her all his grace;
With whom the father liking took.


While yet oblivious to the deadly perversion in Antioch, Pericles had thanked Antiochus for having "taught / My frail mortality to know itself, / . . . For death remembered should be like a mirror" (1.1.41-42, 45); once aware, he calls the princess a "Fair glass of light" from whom his "thoughts revolt" (76, 78). Yet this scene has still another mirror, one that frames the other two and reflects the unnatural reality of the relationship: the mirror of ritual enactment. The scene features a father, a bride, and a groom and parodies the appropriate and expected progression of a marriage ceremony. Instead of enacting the father's role of bringing in and giving away his bridal-decked daughter to a waiting husband, Antiochus demands—while music plays— "Bring in our daughter, clothed like a bride / For ernbracements even of Jove himself" (6-7). The father has here positioned himself in the groom's role to receive and embrace this daughter, who is clothed like a bride but is not one, and he embraces her in the incongruous person of Jove the father. Instead of relinquishing her to a husband's hand, Antiochus warns the daughter's suitor to "touch not, upon thy life, / For that's an article within our law" (87-88). Here, the daughter's necessary search for a husband to supplant the father, the successful metamorphosis of love in As You Like It, is prevented by the insidious bond of "kindness," culminating in the relationship of unnatural kin and kind semantically alluded to in the princess' riddle: "I sought a husband, in which labor / I found that kindness in a father" (66-67).

Although the rest of the play can rightly be called a flight from incest, years later Pericles is aroused from his silent apathy only by the sight of an unidentified young woman who reminds him suddenly of his dead wife, the triggering association that lies at the heart of the father's incestuous love for his daughter. Having spent the play fleeing the punishment of recognizing the father's ugly secret in Antioch, he finds himself, now a father, aroused to life by his own daughter. But having once looked into the deadly mirrors of the first scene, Pericles can go on to reject the implicit seductiveness of the situation reflected in his own response to Marina.

In this play, which is characterized by a highly symbolic, mythic set of connections, the lust between Antiochus and his daughter is condignly punished by fire from heaven, which consumes them. The punishment meted out to Pericles throughout the play has no such obvious cause, and it seems in fact so basically causeless that it makes him appear almost Job-like. The implicit "cause," however, is rooted in the matter of Antioch that begins and ends the play and that Pericles' actions unconsciously mirror. Pericles, mistakenly presuming his wife dead, had thrown "her overboard with these very arms" (5.3.19), abandoning the woman who, locked up in a casket, at that moment gave birth to the daughter whom he ultimately finds in the brothel in Mytilene. Symbolically, this action reflects the same choice that the father in Antioch made. Such a choice discards the conjugal bond and the treasure of legitimate family generation, which here, as in The Merchant of Venice, is represented by the emblematic womb-tomb of casket-coffin.

Only after Pericles, having wandered for years, comes full circle back to face the terrifying secret from which he had fled can he release Marina from the brothel in which he finds her; and only after the father has freed his daughter from the structure to which the image of his own desire has symbolically consigned her can the husband again move forward in his own life. At the end of the play Pericles sets off again to reestablish the legitimate order of the family by reclaiming the lost treasure that is rightly his. In recovering Thaisa and asking her to "come, be buried / A second time within these arms" (43-44), Pericles effects the reclamation and rebirth of the family "fortune," here reversing his earlier act of throwing it away in a coffin.

Through the daughter's return—and only through her return—can the king in both Pericles and The Winter's Tale proceed to recover the mother, whom the daughter resembles yet who symbolically "died" in conjunction with the daughter's birth. In both plays the physical presence of the daughter exerts a unique, enormously evocative power over the father, initially attracting him in a way that is definably incestuous. Yet from this attraction and from it alone springs the force of regeneration incipient in all the father-daughter relationships, even the tragic ones. The spiraling inwardness of Leontes' and Pericles' paternal narcissism leads both of them to the threatened incestuous moment. But the recognition obtained in this frightening instant generates an impulse to create life anew, the exogamous impulse that compels the father to relinquish his daughter and bring back to life the abandoned mother. The final scene of each play moves into a markedly mythic structure to enact what becomes a dual progression of the ritual passage, the separation of daughter and father leading to the incorporation of the daughter into a new union, simultaneous with the reincorporation of the father into the one he had cast away. As opposed to the sterile circularity of the violated ritual in King Lear, the structure of these plays returns to its origin so that the family can be recreated through the redemption of the ritual now correctly enacted. The recreation is made possible by the daughter's regenerating both the mother and the father who generated her. She becomes, in Pericles' words, the force "that beget'st him that did thee beget" (5.1.195).

The father-daughter relation in The Tempest, the last of the romances, is somewhat similar, in that Miranda, like Perdita and Marina, is the force that preserves her father. Here, however, there is no mother for Prospero to rediscover when he at last gives up his daughter and abandons his island. Instead of the miraculous reunion with a lost daughter as the force that suddenly resuscitates life, The Tempest shows us a father who has never lost his child and whose concern for her welfare has always given him his will to live. And of all the Shakespearean fathers of daughters, Prospero is undoubtedly the most successful in enacting his proper role. His purpose, much like that defined by Hymen in As You Like It, has always been to educate, discipline, and nurture Miranda so that he can set her free, as he does Ariel. Prospero understands the need to play the father's mock role as the barrier to young love, the need to make Ferdinand realize the value of his daughter through laboring to earn her lest "too light winning / Make the prize light" (1.2.452-53). He also understands the need for the daughter to choose her husband over her father, a choice that Desdemona and Cordelia could not make their fathers accept. When he commands Miranda not to talk with his prisoner or reveal her name, he is purposely acting to fulfill both roles. While Lear casts Cordelia away so that he can keep her, Prospero ties Miranda to him so that she will disobey his commands and initiate the required transition of loyalties from father to husband. Yet, for all his awareness, Prospero turns aside from watching Miranda and Ferdinand play out the parts he himself has written for them and makes the pained comment "So glad of this as they I cannot be" (3.1.92).

Shakespeare shows us that it is no easier for Prospero to give up Miranda, even to a husband he himself has chosen, than it was for poor Brabantio to relinquish Desdemona. Throughout the play Prospero remains disproportionately preoccupied with tormenting thoughts of his daughter sexually possessed by another male, an obsession that has its analogue in Brabantio's dream. Hence the father lectures Ferdinand—the future son-in-law whom old Prospero never manages to like very much—that

If thou dost break her virgin-knot before
All sanctimonious ceremonies may .. . be minist'red,
. , . barren hate . . . and discord shall bestrew
The union of your bed with weeds so loathly
That you shall hate it both.


And hence he sets Ferdinand to work hauling logs, doing the labor that Caliban refused to do, thereby domesticating Ferdinand's energies in a way that could never reform the uneducable lust of Caliban. In his betrothal gift to Miranda and Ferdinand, the dowry masque he evokes out of the powers of his mind, Prospero includes the rainbow goddess Iris, the emblematic fertility of Ceres, and the archetypal wife-consort Juno. Significantly, from this vision the father banishes Venus and her son, turning them back on their way to the celebration, where he fears they would have done "some wanton charm upon this man and maid, / Whose vows are, that no bedright shall be paid / Till Hymen's torch be lighted" (4.1.95-97).

The forces of erotic chaos that Prospero hoped to banish from his daughter's prothalamion are, however, not so easily vanquished. For before the masque has ended, Prospero realizes that Caliban and his confederates are on their way, and the very thought of the would-be rapist abruptly dissolves the insubstantial pageant into thin air.

In The Tempest, Prospero essentially overcomes his incestuous desire to retain his daughter imprisoned on his island. He recognizes his own repressed but monstrous wishes in confessing that Caliban, who would people the island with Calibans, is a "thing of darkness I / [must] Acknowledge mine" (5.1.275-76). Caliban, the monster of The Tempest, whose name suggests an anagram for "cannibal," refigures the incestuous, self-consumptive desires imaged in Lear's "barbarous Scythian" and in the "monstrous lust" between Antiochus and his daughter in Pericles. He is also a force on whose nature nurture will not stick. And so while daughter and father are simultaneously released from the enchantment of living together forever isolated on an island controlled by the father's shaping fancies, Caliban must remain enslaved on it. Their release and their ability to return to the natural order of civilization are made possible only by the arrival of Ferdinand, who comes—like the prince of the fairy tale—to take the bride away from her father's fortress and lead her out into generative space and time.

The end of The Tempest leaves us with a father who has learned what nature requires of him: the father must take part with his nobler reason against his fury and let his admired Miranda go. Yet doing so leaves Prospero with the lonely emptiness apparent in his confession to Alonzo: "I / Have lost my daughter . . . In this last tempest" (5.1.147-48, 153). As in Pericles and The Winter's Tale, the ritual dissolution of the father-daughter bond is dramatically realized; but in this final play the relationship gains added depth through the exploration of the central paradox always inherent in its resolution. Here, we are not left entirely with the "brave new world" imagined by Miranda and in some respects promised to the reclaimed families of the two earlier romances. For Shakespeare goes beyond the happy ending to show us the pain and loss bequeathed to the isolated father who has acted out the required rite of separation. For while at first glance the church ceremony might seem only to dramatize the transfer of a passive female object from one male to another, in reality it ritualizes the community's coercion, not of the bride, but of her father. Ultimately, it is he who must pay the true "bride price" at the altar and, by doing so, become the displaced and dispossessed actor. As the celebratory reunification that concludes Shakespeare's comedy begins in the final scene, it is therefore left up to Prospero to complete the demands dictated by his role and—like every father of every bride—retire from the scene to seek out his seat in the congregation. Thus Prospero concludes the ritual and the play with his only remaining expectation:

to see the nuptial
Of these our dear-belov'd solemnized,

And thence retire me to my Milan, where
Every third thought shall be my grave.



1 Stone accounts for the drama and poetry of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries by modifying his "rather pessimistic view of a society with little love and generally low affect" to allow for "romantic love and sexual intrigue . . . in one very restricted social group . . . that is the households of princes and great nobles" (Family 103-04). This qualification does not extend to his view of parent-child relationships.

2 Stone also points out that the high infant-mortality rate, "which made it folly to invest too much emotional capital in such ephemeral beings," was as much responsible for this lack of affective family ties as were any economic motives (Family 105). For Stone, paternal authority—not affection—was the almost exclusive source of the family's coherence. Furthermore, the domestic patriarchy of the sixteenth century was not merely a replica of family structures inherited from the past but a social pattern consciously exploited and reinforced by the state to emphasize the injunctions of obedience and authority; nor was it replaced until absolute monarchy was overthrown (see Family 151-218). Meanwhile, because of the prevalent child-rearing practices, the maternal impact was relatively insignificant, hence not nearly so important to the psychological process of maturation; in Stone's estimate, our familiar "maternal, child-oriented, affectionate and permissive mode" of child rearing did not emerge till about 1800 (Family 405). During the Elizabethan era, the upper-class practice of transferring a newborn infant immediately to a village wet nurse, who nurtured the child for two years, substantially muted any maternal influence on child development and no doubt created an inestimable psychological distance between mother and child. Stone cites the strained and formal relationship between Juliet and Lady Capulet as vivid testimony of the absence of affective mother-child bonds that results from such an arrangement (106); in the Capulet household, it is even left up to the nurse, not the mother, to remember Juliet's birthday. Yet Stone does not measure the relationship between Juliet and her father against his hypothesis of the absence of affect. Old Capulet is indeed the authoritarian dictator of Stone's model, but he is also a "careful father" who deeply loves his child. Instead of being eager to have her off his hands, Capulet is notably reluctant to give up the daughter he calls "the hopeful lady of my earth" (1.2.15; all Shakespeare quotations are from the Evans ed.); his bull-headed determination to marry her to Paris following Tybalt's death is born, paradoxically enough, from the deeply rooted affection that Stone's hypothesis excludes.

3 As Christopher Hill suggests in his review of Stone's Family, much of the evidence used could well imply its opposite: "The vigour of the preachers' propaganda on behalf . . . of breaking children's wills, suggests that such attitudes were by no means so universally accepted as they would have wished" (461). Hill and others have criticized Stone for asserting that love and affection were negligible social phenomena before 1700 and for presuming throughout "that values percolate downwards from the upper to the lower classes" (Hill 462). Because of the scope and importance of Stone's subject, his book has been widely reviewed. As David Berkowitz comments, "the possibility of endless symposia on Stone's vision and performance looms as a fashionable activity for the next half-dozen years" (396). Hill's review and the reviews by Keith Thomas and John Demos seem particularly well balanced.

4 One could chart the new emphasis on the family by reviewing the Shakespeare topics at recent MLA conventions. The 1979 convention featured Marriage and the Family in Shakespeare, Shirley Nelson Garner chairing, as its Shakespeare Division topic and also included a related special session, The Love between Shakespeare's Fathers and Daughters, Paul A. Jorgensen chairing. Before becoming the division topic, the subject had been examined in special sessions for three consecutive years: 1976, Marianne Novy chairing; 1977, John Bean and Coppélla Kahn chairing; and 1978, Carol Thomas Neely chairing. Special sessions continued in 1980 and 1981, with Shirley Nelson Garner and Madeion S. Gohlke as chairs. A parallel phenomenon has meanwhile been taking place in sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century historical scholarship, which Hill explains by saying that " . . . the family as an institution rather suddenly became fashionable, perhaps as a by-product of the women's liberation movement" (450).

Most of the work on fathers and daughters in Shakespeare has been done, as might be expected, on the romances. See the essays by Cyrus Hoy, D. W. Harding, and Charles Frey. Of particular interest is the Schwartz and Kahn collection, which was published after I had written this paper but which includes several essays that express views related to my own. See esp. David Sundelson's "So Rare a Wonder'd Father: Prospero's Tempest" C. L. Barber's "The Family in Shakespeare's Development: Tragedy and Sacredness," and Coppélia Kahn's "The Providential Tempest and the Shakespearean Family."

5 Margaret Loftus Ranald has done substantial work on the legal background of marriage in Shakespeare plays. I have found no marriages (or funerals) staged literally in the plays of Shakespeare or of his contemporaries. Although, for instance, the marriage of Kate and Petruchio would seem to offer a rich opportunity for an indecorously comic scene appropriate for The Taming of the Shrew, the action occurs offstage and we only hear of it secondhand. Nor do we witness the Olivia-Sebastian marriage in Twelfth Night, Even the fragment of the botched ceremony in Much Ado does not follow the liturgy with any precision but presents a dramatized version of it. This omission—apparently consistent in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama—may have resulted from the 1559 Act of Uniformity of Common Prayer and Divine Service in the Church, which stipulates sanctions against "any persone or persones whatsoever . . . [who] shall in anye Entreludes Playes Songes, Rymes or by other open Woordes, declare or speake anye thing in the derogation depraving or despising of the same Booke, or of any thing therein conteyned" (1 Elizabeth 1, c. 2, in Statutes 4:355-58). Given the rising tempo of the Puritan attack on the theaters at this time, we may reasonably infer that the omission of liturgy reflects the dramatists' conscientious wish to avoid conflict. Richmond Noble's study corroborates this assumption (82). Of the services to which Shakespeare does refer, Noble notes that the allusions to "distinctive features, words, and phrases of Holy Matrimony are extremely numerous" (83).

6 Van Gennep built his study on the work of Hartland, Frazer, Ciszewski, Hertz, Crowley, and others who had noted resemblances among the components of various disparate rites. His tripartite diachronic structure provides the basis for Victor W. Turner's discussions in the essay "Liminality and Communitas" (Ritual Process 94-203).

7 The church canons of 1604 seem to have confused the situation further by continuing to recognize the validity of the nuptial pledge but forbidding persons under twenty-one to marry without parental consent; this ruling would make the marriage of minors illegal but nonetheless binding for life and hence valid (Stone, Family 32). Until the passage of Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act in 1753, confusion was rife over what constituted a legal marriage and what a valid one. In addition to bringing coherence to the marriage laws, this act was designed to protect increasingly threatened parental interests by denying the validity as well as the legality of a religious ceremony performed without certain conditions, including parental consent for parties under twenty-one (Stone, Family 35-36).

The concern for parental approval has always focused on, and in fact ritualized, the consent of the bride's father. In 1858, the Reverend Charles Wheatly, a noted authority on church law, attributed the father's giving away his daughter as signifying the care that must be taken of the female sex, "who are always supposed to be under the tuition of a father or guardian, whose consent is necessary to make their acts valid" (496). For supportive authority Wheatly looks back to Richard Hooker, whose phrasing is substantially harsher. Hooker felt that the retention of the custom "hath still this vse that it putteth we men in mind of a dutie whereunto the verie imbecillitie of their [women's] nature and sex doth binde them, namely to be alwaies directed, guided and ordered by others . . ." (215).

Even though the validity of a marriage was not vested in parental consent, "the Protestants, including the Anglicans, considered the consent of the parents to be as essential to the marriage as the consent of the bride and bridegroom" (Flandrin 131). Paradoxically, "both Church and State claimed to be supporting, at one and the same time, freedom of marriage and the authority of parents" (Flandrin 132). The ambiguity arose because the child was obliged, under pain of mortal sin, to obey the parent. Technically, the child was free to choose a marriage partner, but since the church never took steps against the prerogatives of the father, the notion of choice was problematic.

8 Given the high parent mortality rate, a number of brides necessarily went to the altar on the arms of their legal guardians. Peter Laslett notes that in Manchester between 1553-1657 over half of the girls marrying for the first time were fatherless (103), but some historians have criticized his reliance on parish registers as the principal demographic barometer.

9 The groom's pledge suggests the wedding ring's dual sexual and material symbolism. Historically, the ring symbolizes the dowry payment that the woman will receive from her husband by the entitlement of marriage; it apparently superseded the custom of placing tokens of espousal on the prayer book (see Book of Common Prayer 408). It also signifies the physical consummation, a point frequently exploited in Renaissance drama and also implied by the rubrics in the older Roman Catholic manuals, which direct the placing of the ring. The Martène manual specifies that the bride is to wear it on the left hand to signify "a difference between the estate and the episcopal order, by whom the ring is publicly worn on the right hand as a symbol of full and entire chastity" (Legg 207). The Rathen Manual, which follows the Use of S arum, contains a rather charming piece of folklore widely believed through the eighteenth century. It, too, allusively suggests the sexual significance of the ring: "For in the fourth finger there is a certain vein proceeding to the heart and by the chime of silver there is represented the internal affection which ought always to be fresh between them" (35-36; see also Wheatly 503). Even after the priest took over the ceremonial role of transferring the bride's hand from her father's to her husband's, he did not also become the intermediary in transferring the ring from the groom's keeping to the bride's finger. Such an incorporation of duties might seem logical were it not that this part of the ritual simultaneously imitates and licenses the sexual act.

The English reformers retained both the symbol of the ring and the groom's accompanying pledge to "worship" his wife's body, a retention that generated considerable attack from the more radical reformers. The controversy over this wording occupies the major portion of Hooker's defense of the Anglican marriage rite (see also Stone, Family 522, on the attempts in 1641 and 1661 to alter the wording of the vow from "worship" to "honor"). Hooker justifies the husband's "worship" as a means of transferring to the wife the "dignitie" incipient in her husband's legitimizing of the children he now allows her to bear. She furthermore receives, by this annexation of his worship, a right to participate in his material possessions. The movement of the vow, from sexual to material pledge, thus sequences a formal rite of passage, a pattern alluded to in Hooker's phrase, "the former branch hauing granted the principali, the latter graunteth that which is annexed thereunto" (216).

10 The ceremonial transfer of the father's authority to the husband is acknowledged by the Reverend John Shepherd in his historical commentary accompanying the 1853 Family Prayer Books: " . . . the ceremony shows the father's consent; and that the authority, which he before possessed, he now resigns to the husband" (Brownell 465). By implication, however, the ceremony resolves the incestuous attraction between father and daughter by ritualizing his "gift" of her hand, a signification unlikely to be discussed in the commentary of church historians. When first the congregation and next the couple are asked to name any impediments to the marriage, there are, Wheatly says, three specific impediments the church is charging all knowledgeable parties to declare: a preceding marriage or contract, consanguinity or affinity, and want of consent (483). The final act of Ben Jonson's Epicoene enumerates all the possible legal impediments that might be subsumed under these three.

The bride's father, by virtue of his special prominence in the ritual, functions as a select witness whose presence attests to the validity of the contract. The Friar in Much Ado asks Hero and Claudio whether they "know any inward impediment why you should not be cojoin'd" (4.1.12-13). Leonato dares to respond for Claudio, "I dare make his answer, none," because, 'as father of the bride, he presumes to have full knowledge that no impediment exists. When he learns of Hero's supposed taint, the rage he vents over the loss of his own honor is the more comprehensible when we understand his special position in the ceremony as a sworn witness to the transfer of an intact daughter.

11 The sections on the celebration of "Festiuall daies" and times of fast that precede Hooker's defense of the English "Celebration of Matrimonie" are especially helpful in understanding Elizabethan ritual, for in these sections Hooker expands his defense of the Anglican rites into an explanation of, and rationale for, the whole notion of ritual. Having first isolated three sequential elements necessary for festival—praise, bounty, and rest—he goes on to justify "bountie" in terms remarkably compatible with the theories of both Bataille and Lévi-Strauss on the essential "spending-gift" nature of marriage. To Hooker, the "bountie" essential to celebration represents the expression of a "charitable largenesse of somewhat more then common bountie. . . . Plentifull and liberall expense is required in them that abounde, partly as a signe of their owne ioy in the goodnesse of God towards them" (292, 293). Bounty is important to all festival rites, but within the marriage rite this "spending" quality incorporates the specific idea of sexual orgasm as the ultimate and precious expenditure given the bride by her husband, a notion alluded to in Bataille and one that functioned as a standard Elizabethan metaphor apparent in phrases like "Th' expense of spirit" (sonnet 129) or Othello's comment to Desdemona, "The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue; / That profit's yet to come 'tween me and you" (2.3.9-10). The wedding ceremony ritualizes this notion of bounty as the gift of life by having the father give the groom the family treasure, which the father cannot "use" but can only bequeath or hoard. The groom, who ritually places coins or a gold ring on the prayer book as a token "bride price," then fully "purchases" the father's treasure through his own physical expenditure, an act that guarantees the father's "interest" through future generations. This money-sex image complex is pervasive and important in many of Shakespeare's plays. The pattern and its relation to festival are especially evident in Juliet's ecstatic and impatient speech urging night to come and bring her husband:

O, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possess'd it, and though I am sold,
Not yet enjoy'd. So tedious is this day
As is the night before some festival.


In another context, this pattern enables us fully to understand Shylock's miserly refusal to give or spend and the implications of his simultaneous loss of daughter and hoarded fortune. His confusion of daughter and ducats is foreshadowed when he recounts the story of Jacob and equates the increase of the flock through the "work of generation" to the increase of money through retentive "use." To Antonio's question, "Or is your gold and silver ewes and rams?" Shylock responds, "I cannot tell, I make it breed as fast" (MV 1.3.95-96).

12 McCown discusses the use and inversion of epithalamic conventions in Juliet's address to the night (3.2.1-31). My article "Othello's Handkerchief analyzes the handkerchief in terms of Elizabethan wedding customs. For examinations of epithalamic traditions in Renaissance poetry, see also the works by Virginia Tufte and R. V. LeClercq.

13 The bride was expected to bring with her either property or a substantial cash sum as her "dowry." In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, this money usually went directly to the father of the groom, who often used it as a dowry to marry off one of his own daughters. In return, the groom's father guaranteed the bride an annuity, called a "jointure," to provide for her if she survived her husband (see Stone, Family 88-89, and Ranald 69). In the closing moments of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare creates an irony of pathos by referring to this custom. Juliet has in truth "survived" her husband by dying after him; the "jointure" that old Capulet here requests from the groom's family on behalf of his daughter is the dowry that has been crucially missing throughout the play, the cessation of enmity represented in Capulet's demand for his "brother Montague's hand." The terms of the dowry and jointure settlements were fixed before the wedding and were often made public during the ceremony by the priest's asking the groom, immediately following the ring rite, "What shall the morwyn gift be?" (Rathen 2, 36). In the York and Sarum manuals the question was what "dower" the woman should receive from her husband (see Howard 1:306-07). The significance of these negotiations as a precondition of the wedding is evident in The Taming of the Shrew, where Petruchio delineates Kate's jointure to her father even before he begins his otherwise unorthodox wooing and where the choice of Bianca's husband clearly rests entirely on which suitor can ensure the shrewd old Baptista the largest jointure for his daughter.

14 In his famous Essai sur le Don (1923), Marcel Mauss concludes that exchange in primitive societies involves not so much economic transactions as reciprocal gifts. Building on these conclusions, Lévi-Strauss analyzes exogamy and the prohibition of incest as substantially identical rules of kinship that reflect a reciprocal gift system based on the condition of surpassing sumptuousness. He stresses that the idea of a mysterious advantage attached to reciprocal gifts is not confined to primitive society but is inherent in our own notion of the father "giving away" the bride (52-62). The parodic dowries concluding Romeo and Juliet reflect the same reciprocity of escalating generosity.

15 Hooker also makes the point that the sacramentality invoked by ritual is profaned when festival celebration overflows the measure or when the form of ceremony becomes parodic. Hooker asserts that the festivals of the "Israelites and heathens," though they contained the necessary elements, "failed in the ende it self, so neither could they discerne rightly what forme and measure Religion therein should obserue. . . . they are in every degree noted to haue done amisse, their Hymnes or songs of praise were idolatrie, their bountie excesse, and their rest wantonnesse" (294). On the use of ritual as the human means to recover the sacred dimension of existence, see Eliade:

Driven from religious life in the strict sense, the celestial sacred remains active through symbolism. A religious symbol conveys its message even if it is no longer consciously understood in every part. For a symbol speaks to the whole human being and not only to the intelligence. .. . Hence the supreme function of the myth is to "fix" the paradigmatic models for all rites and all significant human activities. .. . By the continuous reactualization of paradigmatic divine gestures, the world is sanctified. (129, 98-99)

Unquestionably, the late C. L. Barber's study is the best book to date on the relation of Shakespeare's plays to underlying patterns of ritual.

16 Hooker also stresses the necessary separation of festival and fast, celebration and mourning, for "as oft as joy is the cause of the one and grief the welspring of the other, they are incompatible" (212); "Seeing therefore all things are done in time, and many offices are not possible at one and the same time to be discharged, duties of all sortes must haue necessarily their seuerall successions and seasons . . ." (197). When Theseus bids Philostrate call forth the nuptial revels, he directs that mourning be banished—"Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth; / Turn melancholy forth to funerals" (MND 1.1.13-14). Likewise Spenser, acting as his own poetic master of revels in Epithalamion, ritually banishes all evil spirits, sounds of mourning, or other activities that would counter the mood of marriage celebration. This felt imperative governing the segregation of ritual activities underlies Shakespeare's strategic use of colliding ritual structures.

17 Robert Herrick, who gave us detailed pictures of May Day customs that did not survive in later generations ("Corinna's Going A-Maying"), also recorded a number of now forgotten Elizabethan wedding customs, including that of shrouding the bride in her wedding sheets:

But since it must be done, despatch, and sew
Up in a sheet your bride; and what if so
It be with rock, or walls of brass
Ye tower her up, as Danae was,
Think you that this
Or hell itself a powerful bulwark is?
I tell ye no; but like a
Bold bolt of thunder he will make his way,
And rend the cloud, and throw
The sheet about like flakes of snow.


18 The divorce trials of Henry VIII provide a wealth of information on the conditions recognized as impediments to marriage, since of course Henry at one time or another tried nearly every legally acceptable means to extricate himself from his numerous marriages. The accusation that he had been "seduced and constrained by witchcraft" was one he considered leveling at the hapless Anne Boleyn. After all—Richard III had succeeded in nullifying (at least temporarily) his brother Edward IV's marriage to Henry's grandmother, Elizabeth Woodville, and the marriage between Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and Eleanor Cobham had been annulled on the same grounds. These details are included in Henry Ansgar Kelly's highly informative study (241-42). See also Church and the Law of Nullity, which notes that the impediment of vis et metus remained unchanged by the Reformation (58).

19 C. L. Barber also notes the ritual connection: "Lear begins with a failure of the passage that might be handled by the marriage service, as it is structured to persuade the father to give up his daughter. Regan and Goneril, though married, pretend to meet Lear's demand on them in all-but-incestuous terms. Cordelia defends herself by reference to the service" (in Schwartz and Kahn 197).

20Measure for Measure provides the most dramatic testimony to the importance of fixing the dowry provisions before the wedding. Although Juliet is nearly nine months pregnant and although she and Claudio believe themselves spiritually married, they have not legalized the wedding in church because of still unresolved dowry provisions.

21 Alan Dundes points out the psychological dimensions of various folktale types underlying a number of Shakespeare's plays; significantly, the central figure in the folktale is usually the daughter-heroine. The theme of incest, which Freud himself recognized as a powerful undercurrent in King Lear, is manifest in the folktale father who demands that his daughter marry him; Shakespeare transforms the overt demand into a love test requiring that she love her father all (358). In Dundes' interpretation, the more obvious father-daughter incest wish is actually an Electral daughter-father desire that has been transformed through projection. Dundes also lists other discussions of the father-daughter incest theme in King Lear (359).

22 Hymen's verses emphasize the religious sense of the marriage ritual. In this context the genetic father is only a surrogate parent, appointed by the heavenly parent to act out the specific role of bequeathing the daughter to a new union; Hymen himself functions as the mythic priest, the agent authorized by heaven to oversee the transfer. Wheatly's notes reflect this same sense of the religious meaning of the roles played by father and priest: " . . . the woman is to be given not to the man, but to the Minister; for the rubric orders, that the minister shall receive her at her father's or friend's hands; which signifies, to be sure, that the father resigns her up to God, and that it is God, who, by His Priest, now gives her in marriage . . ." (497).

23 See Barber's essay in Schwartz and Kahn, esp. pp. 198-221. Barber additionally provides a striking iconographic association, noting the image of Lear with Cordelia in his arms as being effectively "a pietà with the roles reversed, not Holy Mother with her Dead Son, but father with his dead daughter" (200).

24Geneva. Deuteronomy 23.1 contains a similar text that the 1611 King James Bible translates as "He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his priuie member cut off, shall not enter the Congregation of the Lord." "Stones" is not only an Old Testament term but Elizabethan cant for testicles (Partridge).

25 When Iago shouts to Brabantio, "Look to your house, your daughter, and your bags! Thieves, thieves!" (Oth. 1.1.80-81), his innuendo is the same as Solanio's.

26 A similar incident took place in connection with Shakespeare's own marriage when Anne Hathaway's father appointed two friends to guarantee the wedding (Schoenbaum 78-79). The bond for Shakespeare's marriage, dated 28 Nov. 1582, is an extant record. The sureties who purchased it were named later as "trusty" friends in the will of Richard Hathaway, Anne's father. That the bond mentions no spokesmen for Shakespeare's family has generated a number of suspicions, including Sir Sidney Lee's feeling that it was taken out to prevent a reluctant bridegroom from evading his obligation to marry the pregnant bride. Schoenbaum, however, thinks that it was customary for the bondsmen to be friends of the bride's family, to ensure an unmarried heiress protection from fortune-hunting suitors. If so, then Shakespeare would seem to be flouting tradition in his conclusion to The Merchant of Venice, for the bondsman here is clearly a friend of the groom's.

Works Cited

Barber, C. L. Shakespeare's Festive Comedy. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959.

Bataille, Georges. Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo. 1962; rpt. New York: Arno, 1977.

Berkowitz, David. Renaissance Quarterly 32(1979): 396-403.

The Book of Common Prayer, 1559. Ed. John E. Booty. Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 1967.

Boose, Lynda E. "Othello's Handkerchief: 'The Recognizance and Pledge of Love.'" English Literary Renaissance 5(1975):360-74.

Brownell, Thomas Church, ed. The Family Prayer Book; or, The Book of Common Prayer according to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1853.

The Church and the Law of Nullity of Marriage. Report of a commission appointed by the archbishops of Canterbury and York in 1949. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1955.

Demos, John. New York Times Book Review, 25 Dec. 1977, 1.

Dundes, Alan. '"To Love My Father All': A Psychoanalytic Study of the Folktale Source of King Lear." Southern Folklore Quarterly 40(1976): 353-66.

Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane. Trans. Willard R. Trask. New York: Harcourt, 1959.

Evans, G. Blakemore, ed. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton, 1974.

Flandrin, Jean-Louis. Families in Former Times: Kinship, Household and Sexuality. Trans. Richard Southern. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979.

Frey, Charles. ""O sacred, shadowy, cold, and constant queen': Shakespeare's Imperiled and Chastening Daughters of Romance." South Atlantic Bulletin 43(1978): 125-40.

The Geneva Bible. 1560; facsim. rpt. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1961.

Harding, D. W. "Father and Daughter in Shakespeare's Last Plays." TLS, 30 Nov. 1979, 59-61.

Hill, Christopher. "Sex, Marriage and the Family in England." Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 31(1978):450-63.

Hooker, Richard. Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politic 1594; facsim. rpt. Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1971.

Howard, George Elliott. A History of Matrimonial Institutions. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1904.

Hoy, Cyrus. "Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare's Romances." In Shakespeare's Romances Reconsidered. Ed. Carol McGinnis Kay and Henry E. Jacobs. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1978, 77-90.

Kelly, Henry Ansgar. The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 1976.

Laslett, Peter. The World We Have Lost. 2nd ed. 1965; rpt. London: Methuen, 1971.

LcClercq, R. V. "Crashaw's Epithalamium: Pattern and Vision." Literary Monographs 6. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1975, 73-108.

Legg, J. Wickham. Ecclesiological Essays. London: De La More Press, 1905.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. The Elementary Structures of Kinship. Trans. James Harle Bell. Ed. John Richard von Sturmer and Rodney Needham. Paris, 1949; rpt. Boston: Beacon, 1969.

McCown, Gary M. "'Runnawayes Eyes' and Juliet's Epithalamion." Shakespeare Quarterly 27(1976): 150-70.

Noble, Richmond. Shakespeare's Use of the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer. London: Society for the Promotion of Biblical Knowledge, 1935.

Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare's Bawdy. 1948; rpt. New York: Dutton, 1969.

Rabkin, Norman. Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981.

Ranald, Margaret Loftus. "'As Marriage Binds, and Blood Breaks': English Marriage and Shakespeare." Shakespeare Quarterly 30(1979):68-81.

The Rathen Manual. Ed. Duncan MacGregor. Aberdeen: Aberdeen Ecclesiological Society, 1905.

Schoenbaum, S. William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1975.

Schwartz, Murray M., and Coppélia Kahn, eds. Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980.

The Statutes of the Realm. London: Record Commissions, 1820-28; facsim. ed. 1968.

Stone, Lawrence. The Crisis of the Aristocracy: 1558-1660. Abridged ed. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1971.

——. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England: 1500-1800. New York: Harper, 1977.

Thomas, Keith. TLS, 21 Oct. 1977, 1226.

Tufte, Virginia. The Poetry of Marriage. Los Angeles: Tinnon-Brown, 1970.

Turner, Victor W. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine, 1969.

Van Gennep, Arnold. The Rites of Passage. Trans. Monika Â. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee. 1908; rpt. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960.

Wheatly, Charles. A Rational Illustration of The Book of Common Prayer according to the Use of the Church of England, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1858.

Further Reading

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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. London: Macmillan, 1990, pp. 208-27.

Argues that the mother is a figure of subversion in The Tempest and in Margaret Laurence's fiction.

Hansen, Carol. "Authority of the Father." In Woman as Individual in English Renaissance Drama: A Defiance of the Masculine Code. New York: Peter Lang, 1993, pp. 11-26.

Examines the parameters of masculine power as it is reinforced by social institutions, focusing primarily on the relationship between Lear and Cordelia to show how that power can be subverted.

Harding, D. W. "Shakespeare's Final View of Women." Times Literary Supplement, No. 4002 (November 30, 1979): 59-61.

Assesses the late romances as focused on the task of creating positive images of womanhood.

Leventen, Carol. "Patrimony and Patriarchy in The Merchant of Venice." In The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, edited by Valerie Wayne. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991, pp. 59-80.

Historicizes the relationship of the women of The Merchant of Venice and money.

Mazzon, Gabriella. "Shakespearean Thou and You Revisited, or Socio-affective Networks on Stage." In Early Modern English: Trends, Forms and Texts, edited by C. Nocera Avila, N. Pantaleo, and D. Pezzini. Catania, Italy: Schena Editore, 1992, pp. 121-36.

Studies father-daughter relationships in Othello, Hamlet, and King Lear by tracing the use of formal and affectionate pronouns.

McEachern, Claire. "Fathering Herself: A Source Study of Shakespeare's Feminism." Shakespeare Quarterly 39, No. 3 (Autumn 1988): 269-90.

Contends that the valuing of brides as commodities results in an emotional conflict for the fathers in Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear.

Melchiori, Barbara. "Still Harping on My Daughter." In English Miscellany, edited by Mario Praz. Rome: British Council, 1960, pp. 59-74.

Analyzes the incest motif in the late romances.

Neill, Michael. "Unproper Beds: Race, Adultery, and the Hideous in Othello." Shakespeare Quarterly 40, No. 4 (Winter 1989): 383-412.

Argues that Desdemona becomes the object of the racial fear and sexual revulsion that mark the unspoken shame of society, both Elizabethan and modern.

Ravich, Robert A. "A Psychoanalytic Study of Shakespeare's Early Plays." The Psychoanalytic Quarterly 33, No. 3 (1964): 388-410.

Analyzes father-daughter relationships in the early plays from a Freudian perspective and proposes an analysis of Shakespeare himself on that basis.

Stallybrass, Peter. "Patriarchal Territories: The Body Enclosed." In Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, edited by Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986, pp. 123-42.

Argues that Desdemona's fate in Othello is entwined with issues of class.

Wilcockson, Colin. "Father-directors, Daughter-performers in Shakespeare." Critical Survey 3, No. 2 (1991): 134-41.

Explores the analogy between the roles of director and actress on the one hand and father and daughter on the other to expose the effects of differences in power on relationships, focusing on Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, and King Lear.

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Fate and Fortune


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