Who is going to be my husband? To obey or not to obey?
The element of marriage is present in most of the Shakespearean comedies(1). As a matter of fact, marriage appears in the five comedies studied in class: “The Comedy of Errors”, “The Taming of the Shrew”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Twelfth Night” and “The Merchant of Venice”. Characters that are engaged and married couples which appear in these five plays are listed in Appendix 1. However, all those characters will not be the main point of this essay.
As it can be seen in many Shakespearean comedies, it is not a personal decision for many women characters to choose their husbands. Sometimes fathers (as the head of the family) make this decision and force their daughters to marry someone they do not love. In this case, daughters will have at least two options: obey or disobey. Therefore, the subject matter of this paper will be “Obedience and disobedience in relation to marriage in women characters”.
First of all, four authoritarian fathers who get involved in the process of choosing a husband for their daughters would be Baptista (Katharina and Bianca’s father in “The Taming of the Shrew”), Egeus (Hermia’s father in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Shylock (Jessica’s father in “The Merchant of Venice”) and the dead father of Portia in “The Merchant of Venice”.
Baptista’s will is that Katharina, who is his older daughter, marries before Bianca’s marriage takes place(2). According to this, the reaction of the older sister (Katharina) differs from Bianca’s reaction. On the one hand, Katharina rejects this idea of getting married first(3) and this fact can be understood as a sign of disobedience.
As far as Bianca’s attitude in relation to marriage is concerned, she will obey her father’s decision of waiting until her sister gets married(7), but she will be disobedient in some way because she will marry Lucentio without her father’s permission(8).
Regarding Hermia’s behaviour toward her father Egeus
in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, the girl must listen to her father’s complaint
about her desire to marry Lysander in front of the
Duke of Athens (Theseus), and according to her
father’s will, she must marry Demetrius obediently(9). At this point, she seems to be
obedient because she has to put up with this unpleasant situation(10),
but in fact, she clearly disobeys Egeus when she
That is, Hermia will be able to marry Lysander under the Duke’s permission although she will not obtain her father’s(13). Therefore, Hermia’s disobedience can be seen from the beginning to the end of the play.
On the other hand, as far as “The Merchant of Venice” is concerned, obedience and disobedience in relation to marriage can be seen from two different perspectives. First, the perfect obedient daughter would be observed in the character of Portia since she rigorously carries out the procedure to find the right husband that her father devised before dying(14). As a result of this, Bassanio will find the portrait of Portia inside the lead casket(15) and Portia will marry him(16) as her father had established.
Nonetheless, the opposite disobedient behaviour would be Jessica’s. Shylock, the rich and Jewish father of Jessica, wants her daughter to marry a Jewish man because he hates Christians(17). However, she is in love with Lorenzo(18), who is a Christian. So finally, Jessica will not keep her father’s rules: she will run away from home(19) and marry her loved Lorenzo(20).
To sum up, disobedience in these women characters is the result of their endeavour to marry whoever they love and whenever they want. So, daughters refuse to marry the person their fathers impose or they choose that moment on their own. Hermia (MND), Jessica (MV) and Bianca (TSh) to some extent as it has been explained before, were in that case. Regarding Portia (MV), she does not find herself having to disobey because Bassanio is both the person who is in love with and the one who sorted out the riddle devised by her father. Finally, the most ambiguous case is that of Katharina (TSh) because despite her violent and disobedient character, she will obey her father and get married in order to be tamed and find her role in society.
(1) “Types of Drama / Plays: Comedy”, Dr. Eric W. Trumbull.
to her, lead apes in hell.”
be curst in company. I tell you, ‘tis incredible to believe how much she loves me: O, the kindest Kate! – She hung about my neck; and kiss on kiss she
vied so fast, protesting oath on oath, that in a twink she won me to her love. O, you are novices! ‘tis a world to see, how tame, when men and women are
alone, a meacock wretch can make the curstest shrew. – Give me thy hand, Kate: I will unto
the feast, father, and bid the guests; I will be sure my Katharine shall be fine.”
TSh: (II, I, 311-312) Baptista – “I know not what to say: but give me your hands; God send you joy, Petruchio! ‘tis a match.”
TSh: (II, I, 318) Gremio – “Was ever match clapt up so suddenly?”
and means to wed at leisure.”
TSh: (III, II, 27-29) Baptista - “Go, girl; I cannot blame thee now to weep; for such an injury would vex a saint, much more a shrew of thy impatient humour.”
I thank you all, that have beheld me give away myself to this most patient, sweet, and virtuous wife: dine with my father, drink a health to me; for I must
hence; and farewell to you all.”
TSh: (III, II, 209-211) Katharina – “For me, I’ll not be gone till I please myself: ‘tis like you’ll prove a jolly surly groom, that take it on you at the first so roundly.”
TSh: (III, II, 237) Baptista – “Nay, let them go, a couple of quiet ones.”
TSh: (III, II, 239) Tranio – “Of all mad matches never was the like.”
(6) TSh: (I, I, 74-77) Baptista - “Gentlemen, that I may soon make good what I have said, Bianca, get you in: and let it not displease thee, good Bianca; for I will love thee ne’er the less, my
TSh: (I, I, 80-83) Bianca – “Sister, content you in my discontent. – Sir, to your pleasure humbly I subscribe: my books and instruments shall be my company, on them to look, and practise
TSh: ( V, I, 103) Bianca – “Pardon, dear father.”
TSh: (V, I, 122-123) Baptista [to Lucentio] – “But do you hear, sir? Have you married my daughter without asking my good-will?”
(9) MND: (I, I, 22-45) Egeus – “Full of vexation come I, with complaint against my child, my daughter Hermia. Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord, this man hath my consent to marry her.
Stand forth, Lysander: and, my gracious duke, this hath bewitch’d the bosom of my child: -thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rimes, and interchanged
love-tokens with my child: thou hast by moonlight at her window sung, with feigning voice, verses of feigning love; and stol’n the impression of her fantasy with
bracelets of thy hair, rings, gauds, conceits, knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweemeats, -messengers of strong prevailment in unharden’d youth: with cunning hast
thou filch’d my daughter’s heart; turn’d her obedience, which is due to me, to stubborn harshness:-and, my gracious duke, be it so she will not here before
your Grace consent to marry with Demetrius, 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, according to our law immediately provided in that case.”
(10) MND: (I, I, 56) Hermia – “I would my father lookt but with my eyes.”
MND: (I, I, 57) Theseus – “Rather your eyes must with his judgement look.”
MND: (I, I, 58-64 Hermia – “I do entreat your Grace to pardon me. I know not by what power I am made bold, nor how it may concern my modesty, in such a presence here to plead my
thoughts; but I beseech your Grace that I may know the worst that may befall me in this case, if I refuse to wed Demetrius.”
seven leagues; and she respects me as her only son. There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee; and to that place the sharp Athenian law cannot pursue us. If
thou lovest me, then, steal forth
thy father’s house to-morrow night; and in the wood, a league without the town,
where I did meet thee once with
observance to a morn of May, there will I stay for thee.”
MND: (I, I, 177-178) Hermia - “In that same place thou hast appointed me, to-morrow truly will I meet with thee.”
MND: (II, II, 35-38) Lysander – “Fair love, you faint with wandering in the wood; and to speak troth, I have forgot our way: we’ll rest us, Hermia, if you think it good, and tarry for the comfort
of the day.”
am gone; for I must now to Oberon.”
MND: (III, II, 102-109) Oberon [Squeezes the flower on Demetrius’ eyelids] – “Flower of this purple dye, hit with Cupid’s archery, sink in apple of his eye! When his love he doth espy, let her
shine as gloriously as the Venus of the sky. – When thou wakest, if she be by, beg of her for remedy.”
eternally be knit: and, for the morning now is something worn, our purposed
hunting shall be set aside. Away with us to
three, we’ll hold a feast in great solemnity. Come, Hippolyta.”
(14) MV: (I, II, 22-27) Portia – “-O 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, Nerissa, that I cannot choose one, nor refuse none?”
MV: (I, II, 28-36) Nerissa – “Your father was ever virtuous; and holy men, at their death, have good inspirations: therefore, the lottery, that he hath devised in these three chests of gold,
silver, and lead, -whereof who chooses his meaning chooses you, -will, no doubt, never be chosen by any rightly, but one who shall rightly love. But what warmth
is there in your affection towards any of these princely suitors that are already come?
MV: (I, II, 101-106) Nerissa – “You need not fear, lady, the having any of these lords: they have acquainted me with their determinations; which is, indeed, to return to their home, and
to trouble you with no more suit, unless you may be won by some other sort than your father’s imposition, depending on the caskets.”
MV: (I, II, 107-112) Portia – “If I live to be as old as Sibylla, I will die as chaste as Diana, unless I be obtain’d by the manner of my father’s will. I am glad this parcel of wooers are
so reasonable; for there is not one among them but I dote on his very absence; and I pray God grant them a fair departure.”
meagre aught, lead, which rather threatenest than dost promise thy paleness moves me more than eloquence; and here choose I: -joy be the consequence!”
MV: (III, II, 114-115) Bassanio – “What find I here? [Opening the leaden casket.] Fair Portia’s counterfeit!”
(16) MV: (III, II, 166-174) Portia – “Myself and what is mine to you and yours is now converted: but now I was the lord of this fair mansion, master of my servants, queen o’er myself; and even
now, but now, this house, these servants, and this same myself, are yours, my lord: I give them with this ring; which when you part from, lose, or give
away, let it presage the ruin of your love, and be my vantage to exclaim on you.”
(17) MV: (IV, I, 95-98) Shylock – “These be the Christian husbands! I have a daughter; would any of the stock of Barabbas had been her husband rather than a Christian! –We trifle time: I pray
thee, pursue sentence.”
keep promise, I shall end this strife, -become a Christian, and thy loving wife!”
readiness. If e’er the Jew her father come to heaven, it will be for his gentle daughter’s sake: and never dare misfortune cross her foot, unless she do it under
this excuse, -that she is issue to a faithless Jew. Come, go with me: peruse this as thou goest: fair Jessica shall be my torch-bearer.”
MV: (II, IV, 105-106) Jessica – “I will make fast the doors, and gild myself with some moe ducats, and be with you straight.”
MV: (II, IV, 108-115) Lorenzo – “Beshrew me but I love her heartily; for she is wise, if I can judge of her; and fair she is, if that mine eyes be true; and true she is, as she hath proved
herself; and therefore, like herself, wise, fair, and true, shall she be placed in my constant soul. [Enter Jessica, below.] What, art thou come? –On,
gentlemen; away! Our masking mates by this time for us stay.”
(20) MV: (III, V, 18-19) Jessica – “I shall be saved by my husband; he hath made me a Christian.”
MV: (III, V, 26-27) Jessica – “I’ll tell my husband, Launcelot, what you say: here he comes.” [Enter Lorenzo.]
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare”, Wordsworth Editions (1999). Pages 166-186: “The Comedy of Errors”, Pages 329-358: “The Taming of the Shrew”, Pages 279-301: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Pages 641-669: “Twelfth Night”, Pages 388-415: “The Merchant of Venice”.
“Types of Drama /
Plays: Comedy, Introduction to Theatre Online Course”,
in The Taming of the Shrew: An Islamic Perspective”, Islam – The Modern Religion, Ed. Rasha
Night’s Dream: Study Questions”,