Honour, riches, marriage-blessing,
Long continuance, and increasing,
Hourly joys be still upon you!
Juno sings her blessings upon you.
(The Tempest, IV.i)
It wasn’t just Twitter’s #ShakespeareSunday that was focused on love and marriage this weekend … if last week gave me an opportunity to reappraise Father’s Day from different perspectives, then Saturday’s wedding of my eldest has given me something else to think about …
Over the years, I’ve riffed a lot on marriage, not least on the slow move from kinship marriage to companionate marriage, and how we see that in the plays. More recently, at A Level (especially in the run-up to exams), scarcely a lesson goes by when Gayle Rubin doesn’t get a mention, and the way that women are ‘traded, bought and sold‘ in literature, by social groups of men, for their advantage.
From one notable Feminist to another. Germain Greer‘s idea was new to me – I’d never seen Shakespeare as a trailblazer for social change; more as reflecting the world about him:
We have become so used to marriage as a central theme for serious literature that it is not easy for us to estimate Shakespeare’s originality in developing the idea of the complementary couple as the linchpin of the social structure. The medieval Church regarded marriage as a second-rate condition, inferior both to virginity and celibacy, and to widowhood. [a]
‘QI‘, as I’ve written in red biro in the margins of her unexpectedly interesting book. And here’s Brinda Charry, re-asserting the charm of the Beatrices and the Rosalinds I routinely fall for when I see them on stage:
Romance was at the centre of romantic comedy. The lovers were young and beautiful, and multiple couples were often involved, as in Shakespeare’s As You Like It or John Fletcher’s The Wild Goose Chase (1621– 22). Courtship was playful and happy with the lovers often matching each other in verbal agility and rapidly exchanging witty, clever lines in a ‘set of wit well played’ (Love’s Labour’s Lost, 5.2.29). The women of romantic comedies were among the most interesting in Renaissance literature, often asserting their right to marry for love. For these women, and also for men, romance was a quest for identity, completion and fulfilment. The dramatic conflict involved overcoming obstacles coming in the way of true love. These obstacles could take on the form of objecting parents as in The Roaring Girl or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or be a result of confusion and error of other kinds. In any case, the comic plot moved towards harmony and reconciliation. The conclusion of these plays followed the tradition of the ancient fertility rituals that comedy originated in. Marriage and the implied sexual union defined the comic ending, indicating that the cyclical patterns of marriage and birth continued. Marriage bonds also brought communities and families together. Overall, these plays offered a positive understanding of human experience: life was delightful and wondrous and human folly was viewed with generosity and kindness. [b] (my emphasis)
My hopes for the eldest are mostly that – a sense of completion and fulfilment, as part of a long and happy life together that is ‘delightful‘ and ‘wondrous‘.
Congratulations, son …
[a] Germaine Greer, Shakespeare (Past Masters), (Oxford: OUP, 1986)
[b] Brinda Charry, The Arden Guide to Renaissance Drama: An Introduction with Primary Sources (Arden Shakespeare), (London: Bloosmbury, 2017)
Quotations from Shakespeare’s plays are taken from OpenSourceShakespeare