Shakespeare, marriage, and love

            A Midsummer-Night’s Dream gives us an interesting insight into how Shakespeare viewed the concept of love and marriage. During this time period, women had little to no say over who they married. Often, their parents would make arranged marriages with another family in order to become more wealthy or gain higher status. This notion even extended into royal families, where princesses and queens were arranged to married princes and kings of other countries in order to secure peaceful trading or alliances.

We see this notion at work during the opening scene of A Midsummer-Night’s Dream where Hermia’s father is telling her that she can either marry Demetrius instead of Lysander like he wants, or she will have to live as a nun or be put to death. Shakespeare wastes little time in painting this notion as a bad thing and begins to do so when he compares Demetrius and Lysander. Lysander reveals that, “My fortunes every way as fairly rank’d,/ If not with vantage, as Demetrius’.” (I,I,101-102). With this, Shakespeare takes away the notion that Hermia has to marry Demetrius for her family to prosper, as Lysander holds the same if not greater amount of riches. After dismissing this notion, Shakespeare then swings the audiences favor to Lysander by having a detail about Demetrius be revealed. “Demetrius, I’ll avouch it to his head/Made love to Nedar’s daughter, Helena/ And won her sould; and she, sweet lady, dotes,” (I,i,106-108). Demetrius is shown to have already swooned another lady who loves him dearly. This puts forth the notion that Demetrius could very well be somewhat of a “player” and causes most audience members to hold his character lower than that of Lysander.

After showing Lysander to more than likely be the better choice by comparing him with Demetrius, Shakespeare cements the audience’s support for him by having him and Hermia exchange a dialogue together. The two go back and forth, with Lysander pondering on different barriers true love can face and Hermia exclaiming how terrible it would be to be in each situation. The two then plan to elope together so that they can live happily married to each other without having to worry about laws and customs. By showing that they are willing to sacrifice everything else, the pair shows that their love rings true which would all but guarantee that the audience at the very least feels sympathy for and most likely throws its support behind Lysander.

In doing so, Shakespeare pits the audience against the notion that daughters must have arranged marriages and instead has them cheering on true love. With this manipulation of the audience, it is rather easy to infer that Shakespeare did not support the notion of arranged marriages, and instead thought that it should be true love at the core.

 

Justin Kemp

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