Shakespeare’s works, the substandard status of women is evident. Women are to give up their homes, theirpersonal choices, and even their lives for the men that they are meant to serve. Marriage and its power over women isused as a convention within many of Shakespeare’s plays, it can be apunishment, a reward, a political move, or a celebration. Put most simply, marriage offers a symbolicand ceremonial form of closure and resolution in a play. The different versions are all apparent inreading A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Measure for Measure, and Richard
III. In both A Midsummer’s Night
Dream and Measure for Measure, the marriage of main characters
provides the framework for the entire play. In A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Measure
for Measure, and Richard III the use of sexual politics is evident,
Hippolyta must marry for the sake of her tribal society, Isabella must marrybecause a man of higher status requests her hand, and Lady Anne must marry tosave her political fortunes and her life for a brief while.
Midsummer’s Night Dream
In Measure for Measure,
the entire play hinges on the act of marriage. Because Claudio and Juliet engage in a premarital sexual relationshipthat results in her pregnancy, Angelo uses his new-found position of power toset an example for the entire city of Vienna. If Angelo had simply decreed that Claudio andJuliet should marry immediately, the entire confusion and conflict of the playwould be negated. Claudio’s sister,Isabella has planned to become a nun when the play begins, she pushes back heroath-taking on order to assist her brother. Her virginity is something she greatly values,and thus it becomes a glorified prize for Angelo. In her desperation to save her brother’slife, she makes a deal with Angelo, but it is a deal which will, in turn, ruinher life. She is not willing to giveAngelo the sexual favors he wants in order to spare her brother’s life, but, withno other choice, she agrees to meet his terms.
As much for my poor brother as myself:
That is, were I under the terms of death,
The impression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies,
And strip myself to death, as to a bed
That longing have been sick for, ere I'd yield
My body up to shame.
Then must your brother die.
And 'twere the cheaper way:
Better it were a brother died at once,
Than that a sister, by redeeming him,
Should die for ever. (2.4.99-109)
Even in his act of trying to persuade Isabella, Angelo frequently mocks women,their honor, and even his own honor. Hemakes promises that he has no intention of keeping, all the while barelymasking his desire to ruin Isabella’s virtue. He does not value her in any way other than asexual object to be had and then tossed aside just as he has done with hisprevious lover, Mariana. Isabellabecomes entangled in a...