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Love and its Critics

Michael Bryson
Arpi Movsesian

8. Shakespeare: The Return of Fin’amor

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I. The Value of the Individual in the Sonnets

  • 1 Briffault, 197.

1The true recovery of the troubadour tradition comes with Shakespeare, the poet and playwright who “towers like a mountain peak above the surrounding foothills, but is one substance and structure with them”.1 Most truly “of the English strain”, Shakespeare’s sonnets are a reversing, even a mocking of the Petrarchan mode and the Neoplatonic sublimation of passion into worship that sometimes marks the poetry of Sidney. Rather than treating the individual as a means to an end, the lowest rung on the ladder of love, Shakespeare’s sonnets reverse this emphasis, valuing the individual as an end in itself, not a means to some higher goal.

2In effecting this reversal, Sonnet 1 begins with a recognizably Platonic image, “beauty’s rose”, which is something like the form of rose, rather than the tangible flower which, for a good Platonist or Neoplatonist, is merely a copy of the higher reality. In the terms of the sonnet, “we” want to see a proliferation of such copies in order that the form or idea will not disappear from the world:

  • 2 William Shakespeare. “Sonnet 1”, ll. 1–4. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. by Stephen O (...)

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory;

3In the following lines the young man addressed in the sonnet is chided for not reproducing himself and his beauty, thus removing that beauty from the world, and limiting the ability of others to perceive the higher form due to the slow degradation of the copy.

  • 3 1.5–8.

But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:

4The young man is accused of being what we might call a narcissist today. He is “contracted” (married, bound) to his own eyes, rather than the brilliantly blazing eyes of a Petrarchan beloved; he seems in love with himself, like someone who wakes up, looks in the mirror, and falls in love all over again every morning. So far, the sonnet seems to fit the religious and allegorical frame with which Helen Vendler surrounds it:

  • 4 Helen Vendler. The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University (...)

When God saw his creatures, he commanded them to increase and multiply. Shakespeare, in this first sonnet of the sequence, suggests we have internalized the paradisal command in an aestheticized form […] We are also educated in the speaker’s culture—here, in such stock figures as the medieval Rose of beauty, […] the command from Genesis to increase and multiply, the dynastic obligation to produce heirs, and so on.4

5However, as the sonnet continues, it becomes clear that the religious and allegorical frame does not fit; the poet regards this young man’s beauty as something both important and tragically ephemeral, a moment’s brightness that will soon be overwhelmed by the darkness of the grave.

  • 5 Shakespeare, 1.9–14.

Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And tender churl mak’st waste in niggarding:
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

6The shift in emphasis is already clear—rather than being primarily concerned with “beauty’s rose”, the form of beauty, or with any God-given command to reproduce, this poem is concerned with the preservation of the individual rose (the young man himself), or at least with the preservation of the memory of that rose.

7The next several sonnets make that concern obvious. Their power depends on the tragic sense of watching as a beautiful individual slowly but surely fades away. These sonnets focus on the value inherent in the person, not on preserving the form of Beauty for the next generation. That can take care of itself; the poems speak of preserving the all-too-ephemeral beauty of an individual subject to time, decay, and death. As with the troubadour poems, the individual takes center stage here, a flesh-and-blood mortal who is of worth in himself.

8In Sonnet 3 the young man is placed in a sequence of acts of memory—each generation’s beauty serving, not to remind onlookers of Beauty itself, but to remind them of the beauty of those individuals Time and Death have taken or will soon take. The young man is asked to consider his mother:

  • 6 Ibid., 3.9–10.

Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime.

9Your mother’s beauty, the poem suggests, is preserved in you. In turn, it is important that the young man have a child, in order to pass on the memory of his own beauty. The concern here is for the memory of individuals, the attempt to preserve what a Diotima or Bembo would regard as copies of the real, not the real itself. But the sonnets disagree—what is important is precisely the individual, the so-called copy, the unique manifestation of beauty, not a philosophical ideal. In taking action—through reproduction—to preserve the memory of his own beauty, the young man will ensure that he does not disappear, like tears in rain, in the never-ceasing flow of Time:

  • 7 Ibid., 3.11–14.

So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.
But if thou live remembered not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee.

10By Sonnet 15, however, Time has become a more pressing factor. How long can the memory of individual beauty can be preserved merely through reproduction? Edmondson and Wells insist that nothing has changed:

  • 8 Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells. Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 65

Sonnets 1–17 are concerned with procreation, with breeding and re-creating the image of oneself in another living and autonomous being in order to combat the ravages of Time and so vicariously to achieve everlasting life. In this respect they are grounded firmly in the Platonic ideal of procreative love expressed in the Symposium, “because procreation is the nearest thing to perpetuity and immortality that a mortal being can attain”. It is through procreation that Shakespeare wills the re-creation and transcendence of his lover through time.8

  • 9 “Die Kunst ist lang! Und kurz ist unser Leben” (Goethe. Faust, Part I, 106, ll. 558–59). Goethe rev (...)

11But something has changed. Reproduction through children, though still encouraged in this poem, and a number of those that follow, is no longer put forward as the most effective preservation technique. In Goethe’s formulation, “Art is long! And our life is short”.9 Everything and everyone, in the terms of Sonnet 15, is a thing of a moment, soon to disappear. In Neoplatonic terms, even in Petrarchan terms, this is only a problem of incorrect perception and valuation. What Diotima teaches, what Bembo describes, and what Sidney’s Astrophil struggles to believe and act upon, is the idea that individual beauty—no matter how compelling—is only a doorway to wider spaces and greater wonders, a window through which one can see the light, though it is not the light itself. Sonnet 15 rejects these ideas in no uncertain terms. It starts with a seemingly orthodox statement of the ephemerality of all things in this world of flux and change:

  • 10 Shakespeare, 15.1–2.

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment.

12Everything that grows, eventually dies. Our peak moments, our moments of “perfection”, are but “little”, consigned to the past as soon as they arrive in the ever-changing present:

  • 11 Ibid., 15.5–8.

When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked even by the self-same sky:
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory.

13None of us are exempt. No philosophical or theological conceits of being somehow one with a larger universe, an emanation of a larger One, or the creation of an immortal God who promises mortals an eternity of blessing or punishment, can stop even the simplest movement of one moment to the next, or the loss of a single hair in the perceptible process of aging and eventual death. This idea of inevitable loss brings the poem to Art, to poetry itself:

  • 12 Ibid., 15.9–14.

Then the conceit of this inconstant stay,
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

  • 13 J. B. Leishman. Themes and Variations in Shakespeare’s Sonnets (London: Routledge, 1961), 41.

14In a war against Time itself, who can do anything but lose? Each of us will die, and many of us will go through the process of saying goodbye to the things and people we love. If we have enough time, we will bid farewell to ourselves, to our sense of who and what we have been in a world into which we were thrown without preparation, and from which we are taken without remorse. It is a war we all lose, eventually. But the war this poem, and this poet, fights is slightly different. Art cannot keep the young man from aging and eventually dying. But it can lift a moment out of Time, describe it, keep it, and pass it on to those who will live their own all-too-short lives in the future. This is the power the sonnet describes—poetry as immortalization: “[t]he theme of Horace’s Censorinus ode, Donarem pateras, often reappears: […] the gifts bestowed by the poets will endure forever”.13

  • 14 The most profound of modern work often shares the same spirit. It can be found, for example, in Ing (...)

15It may be a Pyrrhic victory, achieved at great cost and impossible to hold for long, but it is the only victory the artist, the poet, the mortal can win. To say to Time and Death, No. Not this one. Not this moment. You can’t have him. You can’t have her. You can’t have this. This we will save. This we will preserve, as best we can, against you—this is the “war with Time” the sonnet fights.14 Far from valuing the young man as a Beatrice, or as a Laura, or as a Stella, as a means to higher ends, this sonnet, and others that follow, value the temporary over the permanent, the ephemeral over the eternal. The fight to recognize, revalue, and preserve the individual is powerfully expressed in one of the most famous of all the sonnets, number 18:

  • 15 Shakespeare, 18.1–4.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

16A summer’s day is the perfect comparison to the beauty of the young man. The day will not last, and neither will he or his beauty. It is here for a moment, then gone forever, and though other days may follow, none of them are that day, none are quite the same. From the perspective of this sonnet, it is that day, that beauty, that individual that must be preserved in the face of inevitable loss. Since summer days are not equal in their beauty, they are not interchangeable:

  • 16 Ibid., 18.5–8.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:

17Therefore, this one must be kept, no matter the cost, using every power and technique at the poet’s disposal:

  • 17 Ibid., 18.9–14.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

18Perhaps the cliché is true—perhaps the pen really is mightier than the sword, for who has gone to war with Time, wielding, as Hamlet puts it, “a bare bodkin”? Though the troubadours do not speak of fighting against time and death in their poetry, their spirit is here, much more than is the spirit of the Dante who would put Paolo and Francesca in Hell, or the spirit of the Petrarch who transforms a young girl into a symbol for heavenly transcendence. These sonnets value one man’s life far more than they value philosophical or theological abstractions.

  • 18 Dympna Callaghan. Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Malden: Blackwell, 2007), 62.

19This is not to say, however, that the philosophical heights of a Bembo have no place in Shakespeare’s sonnets—such heights are scaled, most notably in a sonnet often used in perhaps the most inappropriate context of all: wedding ceremonies. It seems a rare experience to attend a wedding in an English-speaking country in which Sonnet 116 does not make an appearance, and it has been popular with “[g]enerations of readers [who] have understood this poem to constitute a lyrical definition of true love, that is, love that transcends time and is unperturbed by age and change”.18 This famous sonnet is often included beside the words of Paul from 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, which is usually read aloud from a modern translation that renders the central term as “love”. For example, the popular New International Version (NIV) translation expresses the passage this way:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

20A lovely sentiment, this passage as it is usually read seems to establish “love” as the basis for a marriage between two people who have chosen each other freely, and are solemnizing that choice in a modern marriage ceremony. The only problem is that the translation is misleading—while the word “love” is not, strictly speaking, inaccurate, the word “charity” would be closer to the mark. The King James Bible (or Authorized Version of 1611) renders the passage with “charity” in place of “love”:

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.

21The English sense of the two passages is quite different. Love may, or may not, be “patient” or “suffereth long”. But charity, from the Latin caritas, definitely is, and does. The difference is found in the shadings of meaning offered by the three classical Greek words used for love: eros (desire, lack, a need to have an emptiness filled), philia (friendship, familial affection, close familiarity and warmth), and agape (a love based on principle, respect and acknowledgment of the value of another—in that sense, a very unPetrarchan love).

  • 19 Charity, however, has taken on a rather different sense in the twenty-first century than the sevent (...)
  • 20 John Kerrigan. The Sonnets; and A Lover’s Complaint (New York: Penguin, 1986), 53.

22The “charity”19 of the King James rendition, based on the Latin caritas, which is itself a translation of the Greek agape, comes much closer to the sense of “love” as it appears in Sonnet 116. As John Kerrigan cynically notes, “[t]his sonnet has been misread so often and so mawkishly that it is necessary to say at once, if brutally, that Shakespeare is writing about what cannot be attained”.20 While it may be too much to insist that the “love” of Sonnet 116 “cannot be attained”, it is important to understand that, rather than being a celebration of desire, or even of friendship, Sonnet 116 celebrates the relative permanency of a “love” defined in terms of principle and an unchanging recognition of the inherent value of another person:

  • 21 Shakespeare, 116.1–4.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments, love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.

23The union is not between true hearts or bodies (though these are by no means incompatible), but “true minds”. Even here, it is the individual that is valued for his or her own sake, for the value and truth of the mind each brings to the other. Each is regarded as an end in itself, and love, in the sense of agape, caritas, and charity is fixed and constant:

  • 22 Ibid., 116.5–8.

O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken[.]

24The passage of time will not, cannot, alter this love, for it is both freely given, and freely received, a love of choice, of mutual recognition of each other as inherently valuable, an appreciation of truth, substance, and goodness as found in each other, not as a guidepost to something or someone greater. Those who give and receive this love will not be dissuaded from it:

  • 23 Ibid., 116.9–14.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

25As Héloïse d’Argenteuil proves in her letters, and as Milton demonstrates in Paradise Lost, those who love with even a spark of this unalterable regard, will defy God himself in its name.

  • 24 Callaghan (2007), 61.
  • 25 Stephen Booth. Shakespeare’s Sonnets (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), 387.

26As we have seen, and will often see again, there are any number of literary critics dedicated to diminishing poetry’s power, telling readers that poems do not mean what they merely seem to say (or that they do not mean at all, in some extreme cases). Dypmna Callaghan has remarked on this phenomenon with Sonnet 116, and “the many ways in which critics and editors have argued that this poem does not mean what it says”,24 a point borne out by both Vendler and Stephen Booth. Booth argues that the virtues of Sonnet 116 “are more than usually susceptible to dehydration in critical comment. The more one thinks about this grand, noble, absolute, convincing and moving gesture, the less there seems to be to it”,25 while Vendler regards Sonnet 116 as a statement against love by a faithless lover:

  • 26 Vendler, 491, 493.

The young man has, after all, said, “I did love you once, but now impediments have arisen through alterations and removes”. The speaker argues by means of the couplet that the performative speech-act of Platonic fidelity in quasi-marital mental love cannot be qualified; if it is qualified, it does not represent love. […] The poem entertains, in the couplet, the deconstructive notion of its own self-dissolution; the impossibility of error is proved by the contrary-to-fact hypothesis, I never writ. […] The young man, by his mentioning of “impediments”, has announced the waning of his own attachment to the speaker, dissolving the “marriage of true minds”.26

  • 27 Callaghan (2007), 64.

27Where the sonnet speaks of a love that does not admit impediments, the critic has rewritten it into a scenario in which impediments are the very thing that has altered—even ended—a love that was not of “true minds”. With that familiar what-seems-to-be-X-is-actually-Y move, the sonnet is inverted, and made to represent the opposite of what its words seem to convey. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a critic has become so deeply engaged with his or her terms of analysis that a text has simply become invisible under the bright light of the critic’s scrutiny. But it is not necessary to submit to the idea “that the consensus of generations of readers is so completely wide of the mark as some recent editors suggest”.27

  • 28 Philip Martin. Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Self, Love and Art (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 19 (...)
  • 29 Edmondson and Wells, 15.

28Shakespeare’s sonnets are not always concerned with so high and noble a conception of love as is Sonnet 116. Their feet are more likely to tread on the ground, to paraphrase another of the most famous sonnets, number 130. This poem is “a clever piece of literary satire” in which “we see [Shakespeare’s] amused and discerning awareness of Petrarchan excess”.28 In this poem, Shakespeare openly mocks the Petrarchan mode, holding up most of its major themes for ridicule: “Shakespeare proclaims his independence from convention in Sonnet 130 in which, while declaring love for his mistress, he mocks the standard vocabulary of praise”.29 For example, the beloved, here rendered as “mistress”, thus discarding the sense of a woman who is angelic and unapproachable, does not have, as do so many Petrarchan and Neopetrarchan beloveds, eyes like the sun or hair like flaxen strands of gold:

  • 30 Shakespeare, 130.1–4.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,
Coral is far more red, than her lips red,
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun:
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head:

29His mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun, and a good thing too. A woman with eyes like the sun would be well and truly unapproachable, for who could make eye contact with a woman whose eyes had the power to strike one blind? In the very first line of the sonnet, Shakespeare has dismantled the most common of the Petrarchan conceits—the lady as somehow heavenly or divine—and the next lines proceed to dismantle poetic notions of the lady’s physical perfection. As the sonnet continues, the embodied reality of the mistress is celebrated, while the poetic cliché is mocked:

  • 31 Ibid., 130.5–12.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight,
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.

  • 32 The modern bristle toothbrush, though invented by the Chinese Tang dynasty of 609–917 CE, did not m (...)
  • 33 Vendler, 557.

30Here we have a woman whose breath stinks,32 whose voice is delicately described as being less pleasing than music, and whose feet, unlike those of a goddess, walk on English dirt. This description has sometimes caused readers to react negatively, so accustomed are they to the inflated praise of the “divine lady” in the tradition of poetry beginning with Giacomo da Lentini and working its way through Petrarch to Sidney: “Shakespeare’s mock-blazon has sometimes been thought misogynistic, in part because readers have formed their idea of it from its octave, where nothing positive is predicated of the mistress”.33 But this is a mistake, for all of the criticisms that come before the closing couplet are rejections of Petrarchan clichés, not of the woman herself. The woman being described in these lines is no poetic ideal, no angel or goddess. This is a real woman with faults of the flesh. But the last two lines of the sonnet, even more than the previous twelve, blow the Petrarchan mode of idealized description right out of the water:

  • 34 Shakespeare, 130.13–14.

And yet by heaven I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

  • 35 Callaghan (2007), 57.

31Perhaps the most romantic lines in all of English literature, this final couplet declares for the individual over the ideal, for the flesh over the spirit, for immediate desire over sublimated worship. The woman described in this poem exists in the world where everything that grows holds in perfection but a little moment, and she is very probably past that little moment. But she is “rare”, more singular and valuable than any of the laughably false “shes” of the post-troubadour poetic tradition who have been misrepresented through the “false compare” of poets less attuned to the beauty of this world than to the imperious demands of worlds beyond. The final couplet “effects a shift from the lyrical to the colloquial register in order to demonstrate that even goddesses are overrated”.35

32Even more cutting in its rejection of the Petrarchan mode is the description of a relationship between a man and a (much younger) woman in Sonnet 138. This poem gives us a picture of compromise and lies as the basis for an apparently successful relationship. No ladder of love or pathway to the divine here: this poem describes a union in which each deceives the other in order to keep the other reasonably, if not ecstatically, happy. The lies, such as they are, seem thin, relatively harmless, and perhaps even necessary if the two are going to stay together:

  • 36 Shakespeare, 138.1–4.

When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.

33We begin with the depiction of two lies: the speaker’s lover “swears that she is made of truth” (a more obvious lie is almost inconceivable), and the speaker knows that she lies; but the speaker also pretends to “believe her”, to give an impression of simplicity and youthfulness in order to manipulate her thinking: “That she might think me some untutored youth”. He pretends to believe her lies because it is useful to him to have her believe that he is falling for those lies. The subject of her lies is probably his greater age (and possibly her desire for a younger man), as evidenced by the following lines:

  • 37 Ibid., 138.5–8

Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue,
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed:

34The speaker is both vain (trying to pretend to himself that he is still young, and that she is buying into his pretense), and thinking in vain, thinking thoughts which are obviously not true, as neither he nor she really regard him as young, because “she knows” his days are “past the best”. But he pretends to believe her when she says he is young, both simply (without criticism or confrontation about what each knows is a lie) and as if a simpleton (thus furthering his own lie of being too naïve to catch on to her lies). When the speaker thinks about this, he gets angry for a moment, but then recovers his balance, and remembers his reasons for compromise:

  • 38 Ibid., 138.9–12.

But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love, loves not to have years told.

35Why don’t they just drop the masks, stop lying, and tell each other the truth? Because that would upset the delicate balance of a relationship that neither one of them is apparently willing to see come to an end. She is unjust, and he is old (and unjust in his own way), but honesty in love is not always the best policy. This couple, who have found something in each other (perhaps once it was eros, and perhaps philia has settled in, and there might even be a touch of agape or caritas in there somewhere), clearly do not intend to upset the delicate balance they have achieved by insisting on absolute truth between them. In fact, “seeming trust” is their love’s “best habit” (best repeated action, and best guise or disguise), and since neither one of them broaches the topic of “age in love”, those “years” will not be “told”. The final couplet makes the compromise clear:

  • 39 Ibid., 138.13–14.

Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

36Here is no Astrophil agonizing over a Stella, Dante worshiping a Beatrice, or Petrarch gazing to the point of idolatry on his own carefully-wrought “she belied with false compare”. The love described in this poem does not point the way to heaven or to higher philosophical truth. It merely enables two people to keep and maintain companionship in an often lonely world where at least one of the poem’s figures held “in perfection but a little moment” a very long time ago. Sonnet 138 portrays a relationship in which two people compromise the ideal in favor of the real. Without the rhetorical heights of more famous poems like Sonnet 18 or Sonnet 116, and without the visual humor and obvious mocking of Petrarchism in Sonnet 130, Sonnet 138, in its quiet way, is the most thorough rejection of the Beatrices, Lauras, and Stellas of Italian and English poetry. It returns, as does Shakespeare’s larger body of work, to the spirit of the troubadours, and to the spirit of Ovid, for whom love may have involved compromise and lies, but was always love of an individual. It returns to love as it was in the Song of Songs—love of a man or woman of flesh and blood, rather than a God.

II. Shakespeare’s Plays: Children as Property

37In Shakespeare’s plays love thrives, not as allegory, but as the passionate desire and regard between two who choose each other, often in the face of fierce resistance. To trace the power and presentation of love, we will consider two elements: the treatment of children as property by fathers, and the claims of love, individual choice, and agency that defy paternal demands in order to assert the rights of one’s own heart. In so doing, we will look at three daughters—Silvia, Hermia, and Juliet—whose desires are regarded as impediments to the plans, purposes, and passions of the fathers who begot them, before turning to the occasionally successful, sometimes disastrous, but always disruptive challenges that love and lovers will make to the forces that demand the exclusive right to obedience, fidelity, and life itself.

  • 40 Lawrence Stone. The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500–1800 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977) (...)

38Shakespeare is not staging his plays of love in the face of resistance in order to demonstrate, as the historian Lawrence Stone would have it, that “the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, [lay] in the way they brought destruction upon themselves by violating the norms of the society in which they lived”.40 Many members of Shakespeare’s audience may have thought as Stone thinks—initially. But others did not. And during the 1590s and 1600s, Shakespeare’s plays consistently present characters that reject the forces of tradition:

  • 41 Diane Dreher. Domination and Defiance: Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare (Lexington: University (...)

In the comedies and romantic tragedies, love emerges as a force of inspiration and renewal for individuals and the enduring bond that comprises human society. Time and again, he presents young men and women who marry for love, rejecting the traditional arrangements of their parents. The moral vision in Shakespeare’s plays is not ironclad obedience to the ancién regime but a new moral order based on free will, choice, and commitment, a personal bond of love and trust between two individuals that becomes an inspiration to their world.41

39Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet does not condemn its title characters, but sympathizes with the lovers whose disobedience brings them momentarily to the brink of a truly chosen life, only to be crushed by the forces of obedience, law, and profit. Such a work does not criticize those who violate the norms of society; rather, it criticizes the norms themselves.

40Shakespeare writes during a time of transition. His life and career cross over the end of the sixteenth-century Elizabethan world into the beginnings of the seventeenth-century Stuart dynasty, which will eventually see a people rise against its king, a gentleman farmer become the Lord Protector of England, and a poet of revolution become the country’s international voice. Even as he is writing his earliest plays, such as Two Gentlemen of Verona, England is already beginning to stir with discontent and the unmistakable signs of future rebellion. The resentment of Catholic citizens at being forced to conform to the doctrines and disciplines of a new faith, denying the dictates of their consciences, will soon enough burst out into the attempt to assassinate a king and a parliament together in the infamous Gunpowder Plot. The discontents of many Protestants with the quasi-Catholic ceremonies, hierarchies, and vestments of the English Church break out into vituperative pamphlet broadsides such as the Marprelate controversy of 1588–89. Elizabeth’s last Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, uses his position to enforce conformity in religion, attempting to crush the Presbyterian and Independent church movements, even as he moves to codify and mandate English belief in the Calvinist doctrine of predestination with the Lambeth Articles of 1595. Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, makes the 1570s and 1580s a period of repression and abject terror for the country’s Catholics, who can be jailed for celebrating Mass or hiding a priest (who was himself liable to execution for carrying out his then-illegal function). England undergoes tremendous upheaval during Shakespeare’s lifetime, moving from majority Catholic at his birth to majority Protestant at his death, while matters of faith, family, marriage, and emotion are all too often matters of conformity and obedience to the imperious demands of authority: whether that of God, the monarch, or the father.

  • 42 L. Stone, 87.
  • 43 For detailed discussions of the composition of such audiences (in terms of economics, gender, and n (...)
  • 44 The as yet unsolved question of the authorship of this play revolves primarily around two candidate (...)

41In a sense, Stone may be right—“an Elizabethan courtier [who saw] where duty lay”42 may have condemned the disobedience of a character like Juliet. But courtiers were a minority among the public theatre audiences of the 1590s and early 1600s,43 for whom the distinctly uncourtly scenario presented in Arden of Faversham (1592)44 was already familiar. In that play, a wife named Alice is willing—even eager—to murder her husband in order to be with her lover, Mosby. And despite the fact that this is presented as a crime which will be punished, the idea is still present that marriage without love is a despotism in which the husband is an illegitimate usurper, whose fate is to be cast out and overthrown. As Alice expresses it:

  • 45 Arden of Faversham. In Martin Wiggins, ed. A Woman Killed with Kindness and Other Domestic Plays (O (...)

Sweet Mosby is the man that hath my heart,
And he [Arden] usurps it, having nought but this,
That I am tied to him by marriage.
Love is a god, and marriage is but words;
And therefore Mosby’s title is the best.

  • 46 See Greenblatt’s argument—published in several different forms—in Shakespearean Negotiations: The C (...)

42Shakespeare’s audiences filled the Globe Theatre for spectacles of disobedience and passionate assertions of the right to choose, performances which enabled them to imagine themselves, not as criminals, but as living and loving in the same free and chosen manner as those men and women they saw enacted on the stage. Far from being a bastion of convention-confirming conservatism—as Stephen Greenblatt contends through his idea of subversion and containment, a process which continually produces rebellion and tames it at the same time (thus subverting and containing the rebellious force)46—Shakespeare’s plays not only encourage, but as we will see in Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo and Juliet, they celebrate disobedience in the name of love, the power of men and women to choose their own hearts’ path, and the right to live as they see fit. The driving force behind this celebration of disobedience, this rejection of the notion that children are the property of their parents and citizens are the helpless subjects of their monarch, is the power of an old idea— fin’amor:

  • 47 L. Stone, 490–91.

Beginning as a purely extra-marital emotion in troubadour literature of the twelfth century, it was transformed by the invention of the printing press and the spread of literacy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was a theme which dominated the poetry, theatre and romances of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and found its way into real life in the mid-eighteenth century.47

  • 48 Roger Stilling. Love and Death in Renaissance Tragedy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Pres (...)
  • 49 L. Stone, 103.
  • 50 As Bloom lays out the case,
    [t]he idea of Western character, of the self as a moral agent, has many

43However, the mid-eighteenth century is far too late a period to identify as the time in which the love described in poetry, theatre, and romances works its way into real life. One only need look at the story of John Donne and Anne More, discussed in Chapter 9, to be disabused of that notion. This is very much a development of the literature of Shakespeare’s time, and “the movement of lovers toward each other may well be the most important single motive force in Elizabethan literature”.48 Love is not “a reality which existed in one very restricted social group”, nor is it merely “the subject of much poetry of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and of many of Shakespeare’s plays”.49 For many, both in Shakespeare’s audience and his larger world, love is an urgent concern. It is here and now that love enters “real life”, as art and life engage in a mutually affirming, mutually embracing dance of cultural, intellectual, and philosophical upheaval which moves the world from one in which all human devotion is directed upward—to God, monarch, and father—to one in which love is shared between relative equals; a move away from a world in which love, beauty, and other people are means to an end, steps on a ladder leading to the divine, and to a world in which love, beauty, and all our beloveds are ends in themselves. In his way, Shakespeare helps to push the intellectual world from Plato to Kant, from the forms to the things in themselves, from a focus on the abstract idea of a rose, to the beauty of the rose that is right in front of us. Harold Bloom, that old Falstaff of American literary criticism, was at least partly right: Shakespeare helped to invent the modern sense of what it means to be a human being in the Western world.50

  • 51 For a review and critique, see Linda A. Pollock. Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 15 (...)

44Unfortunately, it is not hyperbolic to describe the parent-child relationships of Early Modern England as proprietary. Though Stone’s thesis of the cold emotional detachment of parents from their children in the period may have been overstated,51 the hierarchical relationships within families are well-documented. As late as 1658, in an era of revolution and upheaval, the pater familias-style conservatism of parent-child relations, though beginning its decline, is still alive and well and speaking with a clear voice about the rights of parents to determine the marital and family futures of their children. From this perspective, for sons or daughters to choose their own mates is among the worst kinds of disobedience possible:

  • 52 Richard Allestree. The Practice of Christian Graces, or The Whole Duty of Man (London: Printed by D (...)

But of all acts of disobedience, that of marrying against the consent of the Parent, is one of the highest. Children are so much the goods, the possessions of the Parent, that they cannot without a kind of theft, give away themselves without the allowance of those, that have the right in them.52

45From this point of view, children are portable wealth; not as fixed as land, though not so permanent either, children represent an opportunity to improve the family’s fortunes through advantageously-arranged marriages. And the fathers of the respective families that were matched in such a union were not about to allow the romantic notions of their children to interfere with business. The era struggled with

  • 53 L. Stone, 181.

a clear conflict of values between the idealization of love by some poets, playwrights and the authors of romances on the one hand, and its rejection as a form of imprudent folly and even madness by all theologians, moralists, authors of manuals of conduct, and parents and adults in general.53

  • 54 Hagstrum, 220.
  • 55 “un dispositif d’alliance: système de mariage, de fixation et de développement des parentés, de tra (...)
  • 56 Dreher, 28.
  • 57 Diana O’Hara. Courtship and Constraint: Rethinking the Making of Marriage in Tudor England (Manches (...)

46It was the fathers who stood most to gain from the marriages they arranged for their children: “[t]he marital pactum was too important to be created by the individuals concerned; instead it was forged by the two men who headed the two families involved. Negotiations resembled statecraft on a smaller scale”.54 For many generations, marriage had been treated as a business deal, an economic exchange between families—or more precisely, between fathers, in what Foucault describes as “a deployment of alliance: a system of marriage, of the securing and developing of kinship ties, of the transmission of names and possessions”.55 As a result of this system of alliance-forming, “[m]ost marriages in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were arranged by parents or guardians [and] economic interests and parental pressures prevailed, [though] the poor, with no considerations of lineage and property, could often choose for themselves”.56 The idea that money was often, if not always, at the root of such arranged marriages is supported by English court documents, in which “[o]f all the depositions studied for the period 1542–1600, at least a third sufficiently illustrates the weighting of financial considerations in the making of marriages”.57

  • 58 Ibid., 32.

47It was not, of course, the situation that no child ever had any input into the choice of his or her eventual spouse. But neither were theirs the voices that spoke most persuasively on the matter: “‘I must be ruled by my friends’, said Elizabeth Fletcher of Canterbury, ‘as well as by myself’”.58 Even in cases where individual expression was accommodated, children were expected, in keeping with their role as goods and possessions, to maintain obedience. This expectation was especially pronounced where the subject of marriage was concerned:

  • 59 L. Stone, 180.

The choice of marriage partner concerned both boys and girls and was especially important in a society where there were large financial and political stakes in marriage and where divorce was virtually impossible. Almost all children until the end of the sixteenth century were so conditioned by their upbringing and so financially helpless that they acquiesced without much objection in the matches contrived for them by their parents.59

  • 60 Dreher, 21.
  • 61 L. Stone, 171.

48While “[t]he notion of children as property”, seems inhumane to us, it “was deeply imbedded in Renaissance thought. Children were their parents’ goods, to be used as they saw fit, and owed them lifelong obedience for begetting them”.60 Even titled children, who outranked their parents in the hierarchy of the nation, were expected to perform acts of fealty and submission that seem incredible today. For example, the playwright, translator, and author Elizabeth Cary (née Tanfield), became Lady Falkland the Viscountess Falkland, when her husband was made Viscount in 1634. And yet she was still required to show, not merely respect, but outright submission to her mother: “Elizabeth, Countess of Falkland, always knelt in her mother’s presence, sometimes for an hour at a time, despite the fact that she had married above her parents into the peerage, and that she was ‘but an ill kneeler and worse riser’”.61 And though Cary’s case seems especially counter-intuitive today, it was far from uncommon in her time:

  • 62 Ibid.

[the] stress on domestic discipline and the utter subordination of the child found expression in extraordinary outward marks of deference which English children were expected to pay to their parents in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It was customary for them when at home to kneel before their parents to ask their blessing every morning, and even as adults on arrival at and departure from the home. This was a symbolic gesture of submission which John Donne believed to be unique in Europe.62

49As John Aubrey describes conditions of the period:

  • 63 John Aubrey. Wiltshire. The Topographical Collections of John Aubrey, 1659–70, ed. by John Edward J (...)

The child perfectly loathed the sight of his parents as the slave his torture. Gentlemen of 30 and 40 years old were to stand like mutes and fools bareheaded before their parents; and the daughters […] were to stand at the cupboard-side, during the whole time of the proud Mother’s visit [until] they had done sufficient penance in standing.63

50Failure to obey, especially in the matter of marital choice, could have serious negative consequences even with one’s siblings, much less one’s parents:

  • 64 O’Hara, 33.

No amount of pleading would move some kinsmen. The widow Christine Marsh fell down on her knees before her brother George Coppyn, desiring him to be a good brother unto her and a friend also, for he had rebuked and threatened her for the promise she had made to George Gaunt.64

51To marry without permission often brought financial repercussions, as displeased parents would use the threat of disinheritance to prevent and/or punish the “disobedience” involved in making one’s own choice. Elizabeth Evelyn was punished in precisely this way by her father, who describes with a certain methodical and self-righteous tone the reasons for his decision to disinherit his eldest child:

  • 65 Ralph A. Houlbrooke, ed. “‘Stealing a Marriage’: The Marriage of Elizabeth Evelyn in 1685 Described (...)

[July] 27 This night when we were all asleep went my daughter Elizabeth away to meet a young fellow, nephew to Sir John Tippet (Surveyor of the Navy, and one of the Commissioners), whom she married the next day, being Tuesday, without in the least acquainting either of her parents, or any soul in the house. […] This accident caused me to alter my will, as was reasonable; for though there may be a reconciliation upon her repentance, and that she suffered her folly; yet I must let her see what her undutifulness in this action deprives her of, as to the provision she else might have expected, solicitous as she knew I now was of bestowing her very worthily.65

  • 66 Hamlet 3.1.21–24.
  • 67 George Bernard Shaw. “Caesar and Cleopatra”. Three Plays for Puritans (New York: Brentano’s, 1906), (...)

52The fathers of Shakespeare’s plays, who may well seem to modern readers and spectators like so many tinpot dictators, were not at all unusual for their time. To Shakespeare’s contemporaries, they would have been entirely familiar, on-and off-stage. Hamlet explains why: art serves “to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”.66 In giving this speech to the players, he is not telling them that art uncritically mirrors the values and practices of a civilization to its members while encouraging them to remain compliant. His entire purpose for the play-within-the-play is angry and accusatory. That is what art—Shakespeare’s art—is when at its best. Art holds up the mirror to show the time and place within which it appears, to which it reacts, and against which it often struggles, that the “customs of [its] island and tribe are [not] the laws of nature”.67 Thus, when portraying the Duke of Milan in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, or Egeus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare is not soothing, he is savaging, He is holding them up for scorn as images of what not to do rather than as examples of the idea that Father knows best. The play’s the thing, in which he will catch the consciences of countless fathers who think themselves king.

  • 68 A term originally coined in 1976 by Jean Lipmen-Blumen to describe a social, rather than sexual, pr (...)
  • 69 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columb (...)

53The plots initially revolve around marriage as a bond, not between a young man and a young woman, but between two men over and through the body of a woman. In what Eve Sedgwick describes as a dynamic of homosociality,68 the fathers in these plays bond themselves to men of their choosing (often quite a bit older than their daughters), who offer advantages in terms of wealth, land, and power. Sedgwick, following Gayle Rubin, describes this as “traffic in women”, or “the use of women as exchangeable, perhaps symbolic, property for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men”.69 In this claim, she rearticulates the argument of the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss:

  • 70 [l]a relation globale d’échange qui constitue le mariage ne s’établit pas entre un homme et une fem (...)

[t]he overall relationship of exchange which constitutes marriage is not established between a man and a woman, in which everyone has rights and everyone gets something: it is between two groups of men, and the woman figures as one of the objects of exchange, and not as one of the partners between whom exchange occurs.70

54In just this fashion, the fathers in Shakespeare attempt to partner with other men, while using their daughters as “objects of exchange”. Love—passionate and mutually chosen attachment between those who would otherwise be caught up in the pattern—serves as the primary means of resistance. Silvia and Hermia choose their loves despite their fathers, and would likely do so again, despite the hardships that ensue. Romeo and Juliet choose each other in the face of family hatred and violence, even enacting their own version of a dawn song in which they lament the coming of day and the short moments they have left to be together. In many of his most powerful plays, Shakespeare casts love and its pursuit in the light of rebellions that are both justified and long overdue. As wielded in Shakespeare’s plays, love serves as the primary challenge to the authority of fathers and rulers who claim obedience from children and subjects alike.

III. Love as Resistance: Silvia and Hermia

55As the Troubadour poet Giraut de Borneilh (1138–1215) describes it, love enters through the eyes:

  • 71 John Rutherford, ed. The Troubadours: Their Loves and their Lyrics (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 187 (...)

Tam cum los oills el cor ama parvenza
Car li oill son del cor drogoman
E ill oill van vezer,
Lo cal cor plaz retener.

So through the eyes love enters the heart,
Because the eyes are the agents of the heart
And the eyes go forth to gaze,
On what the heart would like to own.

  • 72 “si heten beide ein herze” (Gottfried Von Strassburg. Tristan, l. 11,731, ed. by Karl Marold [Leipz (...)

56For Giraut, love cannot be tamed and controlled, nor does it develop as an emotional balm to heal the frictions of an arranged marriage between strangers; rather it is something that hits from the outside and works its way inwards in a near-immediate process of transformation. Gottfried Von Strassburg’s image for this is the effect of the love-drink: meant to provide the bond between King Mark and his young bride-to-be Isot (Iseult or Isolde in other versions of the story), it instead transforms Tristan and Isot from two into one, “who had both one heart”.72 It is this transformative power that causes Gottfried’s lovers to defy King Mark, and this power is shown again and again in Shakespeare as the driving force behind the resistance to the homosocial structure of exchange.

  • 73 Two Gentlemen of Verona 2.4.172–73.

57Such resistance can be seen initially in the early comedy The Two Gentleman of Verona. In this relatively light, yet humorously bizarre and revealing play, the triangular pattern of fathers matching themselves to men through their daughters is evident. But Shakespeare uses an old comic device, the cuckolding plot, to add a fourth element: a young man who will try to break up the sexual match between the often-older man and the daughter by stealing her away (with her enthusiastic assistance), thus scotching the proposed partnership between the men. The Duke of Milan wishes to match his daughter Silvia (whom he keeps locked in a tower at night) to a wealthy, if otherwise unappealing man named Thurio. He is swayed in this choice because Thurio is rich, despite an evident lack of any other desirable qualities. As Valentine describes Thurio, he is a “foolish rival, that her father likes / Only for his possessions are so huge”.73 But in arranging this match, the Duke has a problem: Silvia despises Thurio, and has fallen in love with Valentine. As Valentine is busily arranging to run away with Silvia by using a rope ladder (which he is hiding underneath his cloak), he encounters the Duke, who complains of his daughter’s disobedience:

  • 74 Ibid., 3.1.68–79.

she is peevish, sullen, froward,
Proud, disobedient, stubborn, lacking duty,
Neither regarding that she is my child
Nor fearing me as if I were her father;
And, may I say to thee, this pride of hers,
Upon advice, hath drawn my love from her;
And, where I thought the remnant of mine age
Should have been cherished by her child-like duty,
I now am full resolved to take a wife
And turn her out to who will take her in:
Then let her beauty be her wedding-dower;
For me and my possessions she esteems not.

  • 75 See Linda Woodbridge. Vagrancy, Homelessness, and English Renaissance Literature (Urbana: Universit (...)

58In this speech, we encounter elements we will see again. The father demands his daughter’s obedience, in this case specifically to his will in terms of his choice for her marriage partner. When she does not comply with his will, he threatens to disown her, despite the fact that he had planned to rely on her as a caretaker as he aged, and resolves to throw her out of his house and let her fend for herself by living the life of an early modern vagrant.75

59However, the perspective the Duke either does not understand or does not care to understand—his daughter’s side of the question—is exactly what the play highlights for its audience, showing “the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”. Silvia regards the match with Thurio, not merely as undesirable, but as unholy. In pleading with a gentleman to help her escape, she describes the match as one worthy of punishment by heaven itself:

  • 76 Two Gentlemen of Verona 4.3.14–17, 27–31.

Thou art not ignorant what dear good will
I bear unto the banished Valentine,
Nor how my father would enforce me marry
Vain Thurio, whom my very soul abhors.
Urge not my father’s anger, Eglamour,
But think upon my grief, a lady’s grief,
And on the justice of my flying hence,
To keep me from a most unholy match,
Which heaven and fortune still rewards with plagues.

  • 77 L. Stone, 180.
  • 78 Allestree, 291.

60This is no mere foolery, or adolescent madness, nor is Shakespeare here running “directly across the norms and practices of [his audience]”.77 This is Shakespeare showing his audience that “the norms and practices” of their society run “directly across” their hearts. Silvia wants and needs to be stolen from her father, in a “theft’ that involves giving herself away “without the allowance of those, that have the right in [her]”.78 But in their mutual defiance of her father’s will, Valentine and Silvia seek no harm each to the other, nor any dominance one over the other. The same cannot be said of the “lover” Proteus.

  • 79 Two Gentlemen of Verona 1.3.78–87.
  • 80 Ibid., 2.6.23.
  • 81 Ibid., 2.4.208.

61Proteus’ love is destructive, and actively seeks to subordinate the will of others. Proteus does not so much rebel against the authority of the Duke of Milan as try to sneak around it, pretending to serve the Duke while imposing himself on Silvia, who absolutely does not want him. Proteus, who feared his father at the beginning of the play,79 fears any honest confrontation with the Duke as much or more, and takes the coward’s way out consistently. Determining to betray his friendship with Valentine because “I to myself am dearer than a friend”,80 and because the merest sight of Silvia has “dazzled [his] reason’s light”,81 Proteus behaves as if Silvia owes him her love because of the frequent, though unwelcome, declarations he makes of his love.

  • 82 Ibid., 2.4.33.
  • 83 Ibid., 5.4.59.

62It is in Proteus’ threat to rape Silvia, and the odd way that threat plays out—not between himself and Silvia, but between himself and Valentine—where this play’s most unusual twist on love can be found. Despite the fact that Silvia has declared that she would rather be eaten, digested, and then presumably excreted by a “hungry lion”82 than have anything to do with Proteus, the perversely determined young man simply will not take “no” for an answer. Insisting that he will finally bend Silvia’s will to his own, and not about to be satisfied with any courtly tricks or delays, Proteus declares that he will love Silvia “‘gainst the nature of love” by forcing her to submit to his desire.83 Whatever else may be said of fin’amor, it is not rape. The ultimate in fals’amor, rape seeks, not mutual choice in a one-to-one relationship, but a perverse form of obedience. Rape seeks exactly the opposite of that sought by love. Where love wishes to be free from the authority of the father, rape reimposes that authority by the most intimately violent means, changing the agent or enactor of that authority from the father to the rapist. In essence, Proteus does not seek to rebel against the Duke so much as become the Duke: declaring his authority over the flesh, the sexuality, of Silvia.

63Even odder, and to many contemporary readers less explicable, is Valentine’s reaction. Rather than show any concern for Silvia, he directs his emotional investment—not merely anger, but what looks like the genuine disappointment of a jilted lover—toward Proteus:

  • 84 Ibid., 5.468–72.

[…] Proteus,
I am sorry I must never trust thee more,
But count the world a stranger for thy sake.
The private wound is deepest: O time most accurst,
‘Mongst all foes that a friend should be the worst!

  • 85 Ibid., 5.4.82–83.

64Valentine is less worried about the trauma inflicted on Silvia than he is about his own feelings of betrayal. If it is true that the ones we love the most also have the power to hurt us most deeply, then it is apparent that Valentine’s “true” love is Proteus, not Silvia. He demonstrates that by quickly accepting the thinnest of apologies from Proteus—whom the play has been at pains to portray as genuinely untrustworthy—and then simply giving Silvia to him: “that my love may appear plain and free, / All that was mine in Silvia I give thee”.85 In this gesture, Valentine behaves as if Silvia’s love, and his “right” to it, is a transferable property. Far from being the mutual partner she was with Valentine in their earlier plan of escape, Silvia is now given no voice at all, leaving many readers and audiences wondering if something has gone wrong:

  • 86 Jeffrey Masten. “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”. A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, Vol. III (Malden (...)

To a modern audience accustomed to a sex/gender system that clearly designates cross-sex marriage as more important than same-sex friendship and furthermore sees same-sex and cross-sex affection as linked to mutually exclusive categories of identity, Valentine’s valuation of his love of Proteus over his love of Silvia is unexpected, and has struck many critics and directors of the play as simply erroneous.86

  • 87 Two Gentlemen of Verona 5.4.175.

65We are on firmer ground, however, if we see this ending, not as a mistake, but as part of the play’s design. Far from being erroneous, the odd ending of this play suggests that we have been following the misadventures of young people who play at love, whether cross-sex or same-sex, without ever really understanding it, or lending themselves to its power. The “Gentlemen” neither choose their female loves, nor ever have the courage to do anything more than faintly and indirectly choose each other, through Valentine’s declaration that their wedding days shall be “One feast, one house, one mutual happiness”.87 Their rebellions are in form only, resisting the “property” claims of older men to women that they themselves go on to treat as exchangable property, and the two “Gentlemen” seem especially happy to be received back into the arms of authority at the end, as the Duke declares:

  • 88 Ibid., 5.4.145–47.

[…] Sir Valentine,
Thou art a gentleman and well derived;
Take thou thy Silvia, for thou hast deserved her.

66Rather than challenge authority as Silvia does, Proteus and Valentine adopt its roles, acting as the fathers and older males act, by exchanging (or intending to exchange) Silvia between them, just as the Duke had meant to do with Thurio. Not yet the love of mutual choice in defiance of authority, the loves toyed with by Valentine and Proteus are but that—toys.

  • 89 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.16–17.
  • 90 Ibid., 2.1.170–71.
  • 91 L. Stone, 112.
  • 92 Ibid., 181.

67A more powerful resistance to the “between men” structure can be seen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Love and marriage—not always in tandem—are central to the play. But of the human pairs presented therein, only one is not brought together by violence or an authoritarian insistence on obedience to the force of another’s will, sword, or magic. Theseus and Hippolyta, the ruling pair of the play, are the couple of the will crossed with the sword, as Theseus “wooed [her] with [his] sword, / And won [her] love doing [her] injuries”,89 while the eventual pairing of Demetrius with Helena is the result of an herb which “[t]he juice of it on eyelids laid, / Will make man or woman madly dote”.90 What the play illustrates and condemns through these pairings is an “obedience […] enforced with brutality”.91 Only Hermia and Lysander freely choose each other—in the midst of the delightful chaos of this play, is that supposed to be the example of what Stone calls love’s “imprudent folly and even madness”?92 Or, as Alan Sinfield suggests, is it merely the illusion of choice?

  • 93 Sinfield, 109.

If I were directing the play […] the more effective move would be to disclose the tragedy in the conventional ending. This would involve presenting the boys and girls as manifestly brainwashed and infantilized by Puck’s manipulations of their minds and bodies into cross-gender pairings. […] Puck could be shown putting electrodes on to their heads; they would lose their vigour and engagement with life, and sink into marriage as into a stupor.93

  • 94 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.22.
  • 95 Ibid., 1.1.110.
  • 96 Allestree, 291.

68These critics’ urge to discount and dismiss Hermia’s choice is cut from the same cloth as the tyranny of her father. Critic and father are closer together than it might initially seem. One may not expect a literary critic to adopt the emphatic physical presence of an actor. Neither might one expect a dramatic character to express himself in the terms of academic prose. But the dismissal of Hermia’s will features prominently in the thinking of both figures. Egeus storms into the presence of the Duke, demanding that the public State enforce his private authority: he is “full of vexation” and “complaint” with Hermia,94 who has refused his choice of marriage partner for her—the “spotted and inconstant” Demetrius95—and has further defied his will by, in “a kind of theft”,96 giving her love to Lysander. Egeus rages at Lysander for having used witchcraft (Sinfield’s “manipulations”) to steal his daughter away from him:

  • 97 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.27–38.

This [man] hath bewitched the bosom of my child;
Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
And interchanged love-tokens with my child:
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,
With feigning voice verses of feigning love,
And stolen the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, 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.

69Egeus demands either that his daughter be forced to obey him, or be forced to face the death penalty:

  • 98 Ibid., 1.1.39–45.

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.

  • 99 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.56.
  • 100 Ibid., 1.1.57.

70Even harsher than the Duke of Milan, Egeus would rather that his daughter die than be allowed to exercise a will and judgment independent of, or even slightly different from his own. Egeus’ demands appear to put Theseus—with the conspicuously silent Hippolyta beside him—in something of an awkward position. He can give Egeus his will, and sit back while the raving old man makes a mockery of the authority of his state by demanding that public justice be meted out for private faults. He can simply dismiss Egeus, possibly creating trouble for himself with the patrician class of Athens. Or, he can do what so many of Shakespeare’s characters do: seem to do, say, or think one thing while acting in an entirely different manner. In this case, Theseus seems to take Egeus’ side, telling Hermia that she must subordinate her judgment (and her eyes—thus, her attraction to Lysander) to her father. When Hermia says “I would that my father looked but with my eyes”,99 a line practically calculated to appeal to the anti-authoritarian sentiments that the poetry and drama of this period are increasingly trading on, Theseus responds with the conservative instruction: “Rather your eyes must with his judgment look”.100 So far, so predictable.

  • 101 Ibid., 1.1.65–66. Emphasis added.
  • 102 Ibid., 1.1.90.

71But the Thesean “fix” is in, though Egeus is too dull-witted to see it. As the conversation between the warrior duke and the spirited daughter of a tyrant-father proceeds, it becomes evident that Theseus is looking for a loophole, a way to bend the rules. When Hermia asks what the worst-case scenario is if she refuses to obey Egeus, Theseus subtly alters the terms of the old man’s demands: Hermia will be forced “Either to die the death or to abjure / For ever the society of men”.101 There is the loophole. Hermia has a choice—limited though it is—of three options: obedience, “austerity and single life”,102 or death. It is not nearly as draconian a choice as the obedience or death ultimatum that Egeus would impose.

  • 103 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.91–92.

72As the scene progresses, Egeus’ absurdity, and Demetrius’ unsavory character, each becomes more evident. In a clever mocking of the entire “between men” structure, Lysander turns to Demetrius and demands that he leave off his pursuit of Hermia: “You have her father’s love, Demetrius; / Let me have Hermia’s: do you marry him”.103 And why not? Why not just cut out the middle woman? If this bond is to be one between Egeus and Demetrius, what need for so obvious an object of exchange as Hermia? And though this is a laugh-line, and a big one, Egeus steps right into the role of the butt of the joke, insisting on his right to dispose of both his love and his property as he sees fit:

  • 104 Ibid., 1.1.95–98.

Scornful Lysander! true, he hath my love,
And what is mine my love shall render him.
And she is mine, and all my right of her
I do estate unto Demetrius.

73Demetrius has Egeus’“love”, and as a sign of that soon-to-be-bonded love between men, Egeus will “estate” (like the value of moveable goods that can be passed from one owner to another) his daughter upon the man of his love’s choice. The joke here, if the audience has ears to hear, and the reader has eyes to see, is that it is not “love” that is being portrayed here as folly or madness—it is the absurdity of allowing the eros of the father to be the sole legitimate and determining factor in the making of a marriage. “Do you marry him”, indeed.

74Another notable point about the ridiculous nature of Egeus’ insistence on estating his daughter unto Demetrius, is that Demetrius has a reputation as what we might now call a player. As Lysander charges, with no self-defense whatsoever coming from the accused:

  • 105 Ibid., 1.1.106–10.

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.

  • 106 Ibid., 1.1.111–12.

75Demetrius has cruelly dallied with Helena, and is now, apparently to be “estated” with another young girl for his troubles. As Theseus, somewhat perturbed at this, notes: “I must confess that I have heard so much, / And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof”.106 At this point, Theseus goes from finding the loophole to finding the escape clause. He tells both Demetrius and Egeus to come with him:

  • 107 Ibid., 1.1.123–126.

I must employ you in some business
Against our nuptial and confer with you
Of something nearly that concerns yourselves.

  • 108 Ibid., 1.1.134.

76In so doing, he creates the situation in which, being left utterly alone, Hermia and Lysander can do as they will—obey, escape, or pursue whatever other options occur to them. Theseus has worked his way out of an awkward, ridiculous, and unwanted situation, and given himself a layer of plausible deniability as a shield against any further trouble. From this point, “the course of true love” may not “run smooth”,108 but at least it has a fighting chance.

  • 109 Ibid., 4.1.76.

77The relation of judgment to the eyes, seeing, sight, and insight, and their association with love are the dominant themes of the mix of magic and comedy that plays out in the forest scenes in the middle of the play. It is through the eyes, manipulated with herbal magic, that love is changed, conjured out of nothing, and (for some) restored. The comic action suggests both the fragility and the power of love, the ease with which surfaces can be mistaken for depths, especially for the young men of the play—though even the fairy queen Titania finds herself “enamored of an ass”.109

Edwin Henry Landseer, Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania and Bottom (1848–1851).110

  • 111 Ibid., 2.1.165–66, 70.
  • 112 Ibid., 3.1.139.
  • 113 The drug apparently makes Lysander forgetful of more than his love for Hermia, as he seems to have (...)

78The fairy king Oberon, who orders his servant Puck to fetch “a little western flower” on which “the bolt of Cupid fell”, determines to use “the juice of it, on sleeping eyelids laid”111 to control who will pair with whom. In so doing, he acts as a satire on Egeus and the entire structure of a society in which marriage and love not only “keep little company together nowadays”,112 but are regarded as incompatible, while “love” is regarded as madness, and marriage—arranged, of course, by the father—is thought to be the “reasonable” and “sane” alternative. In the Comedy-of-Errors-style identity confusion that the plot relies on, Puck ends up squeezing the juice into the eyes of both young men, rather than merely putting Demetrius under its magic spell, and then the game is on. Lysander, in love with Hermia at the beginning, now wakes up and finds Helena irresistible, and is filled with the urge to fight Demetrius for her love:113

  • 114 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2.2.103–07.

Transparent Helena! Nature shows art,
That through thy bosom makes me see thy heart.
Where is Demetrius? O, how fit a word
Is that vile name to perish on my sword!

79When Helena, naturally enough, is shocked by Lysander’s sudden outburst, and reminds him of his love for Hermia, the formerly stable young man illustrates the extremes of thought and behavior to which the drug can lead (in a comic illustration of the effects of authority and obedience):

  • 115 Ibid., 2.2.111–22.

Content with Hermia! No; I do repent
The tedious minutes I with her have spent.
Not Hermia but Helena I love:
Who will not change a raven for a dove?
The will of man is by his reason swayed;
And reason says you are the worthier maid.
Things growing are not ripe until their season
So I, being young, till now ripe not to reason;
And touching now the point of human skill,
Reason becomes the marshal to my will
And leads me to your eyes, where I o’erlook
Love’s stories written in love’s richest book.

  • 116 John Milton. Paradise Lost 3.108, 109–10. All citations of Milton’s poetry are from John Milton: Co (...)
  • 117 All’s Well that Ends Well 2.3.106–07.

80Reason, as much or more than love, is mocked by this speech. Reason, which as John Milton will write, “also is choice”, cannot operate when the will is overridden, when it is “[u]seless and vain, of freedom both despoiled, / Made passive”, and made to serve “necessitie”.116 Under the influence of the drug that has been applied to his eyes, Lysander is less free to use, as Bertram would, “[t]he help of [his] own eyes”117 than he was when confronting the authority of Egeus and Theseus. Lysander, who while pursuing the goals of fin’amor was willing to stand with Hermia before the authority of the father and the state, is now, while under the influence of fals’amor, a toady, a lackey, a slave who speaks and acts as authority—the drug—would have him speak and act. This is especially obvious to Hermia, when Lysander explains his sudden transformation:

HERMIA What love could press Lysander from my side?

LYSANDER Lysander’s love, that would not let him bide,
Fair Helena, who more engilds the night
Than all you fiery oes and eyes of light.
Why seek’st thou me? could not this make thee know,
The hate I bear thee made me leave thee so?

  • 118 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 3.2.185–91.

HERMIA You speak not as you think: it cannot be.118

81Hermia is right for two reasons: Lysander speaks not as he thinks because he is not actually thinking, merely reacting obediently to the power of the drug—the former rebel now a comically absurd conformist—and Lysander speaks not as himself, but as someone under the influence, not of a chosen love, a fin’amor, but of a drug that renders his will “useless and vain”. Hermia knows Lysander; her sight is insight, as Lysander’s had been before the drug. Thus, far from being a lover like Proteus, who can find in one object the same superficial attractions he finds in any other object, Hermia is the kind of lover of whom the troubadours wrote—one who knows the beloved, and chooses, despite the trouble it may cause, love over obedience.

82Demetrius and Helena are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Neither of them appears to have any insight whatsoever, as Helena continues to chase a man who has little but contempt for her, and Demetrius—before being drugged—continues to chase a woman who wants nothing to do with him. Demetrius’ reasons for his behavior—venal and mercenary as they are—are at least rational. Helena, on the other hand, is the one of the four who is portrayed as helpless in the face of an unchosen passion, almost as if she were a female version of Sidney’s Astrophil, or of Petrarch himself, chasing an always-uncatchable Stella or Laura. The effect of this unfortunate sickness is to make her think herself uniquely undesirable in comparison with Hermia:

  • 119 Ibid., 2.2.93–99.

[…] I am as ugly as a bear;
For beasts that meet me run away for fear:
Therefore no marvel though Demetrius
Do, as a monster fly my presence thus.
What wicked and dissembling glass of mine
Made me compare with Hermia’s sphery eyne?

83Demetrius, in contrast, suffers no such negative self-opinion. His beloved is not, like a heavenly principality, beyond his grasp, nor would it be sullied by his touch, because his beloved is Egeus and his money. As the play makes clear, that love is most certainly requited. But under the influence of the drug, Demetrius becomes just as untrue to money as Lysander becomes to Hermia:

  • 120 Ibid., 3.2.137–44.

O Helena, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!
To what, my love, shall I compare thine eyne?
Crystal is muddy. O, how ripe in show
Thy lips, those kissing cherries, tempting grow!
That pure congealed white, high Taurus snow,
Fann’d with the eastern wind, turns to a crow
When thou hold’st up thy hand: O, let me kiss
This princess of pure white, this seal of bliss!

84The effect of the drug is to override the will, rendering it compliant to the demands of the one who administers it, and in a sense, of the readers and audiences who look on in mirth. Underneath the laughter is a dark thread of reflection on just how fragile love can be as a challenger to the claims of authority and power, when the human will can so easily be manipulated, even in those cases in which it could not be intimidated. Lysander, who like Hermia, is a good judge of character, a young man with insight (it was he, after all, who “outed” Demetrius as the unsavoury man he is), does not have that ability beaten out of him, but drugged out of him. Egeus would likely give a pretty penny to have the juice of that magic flower with which to cancel his daughter’s will, and bring her back to heel.

  • 121 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2.1.120–21.
  • 122 Ibid., 2.1.136–37.

85Beyond the mere enforcement of the administrator’s will, the drug serves a punitive function when it is administered to Titania, who has dared defy Oberon over his request for “a little changeling boy / To be [his] henchman”.121 As they argue and then part, Oberon darkly mutters “[t]hou shalt not from this grove / Till I torment thee for this injury”.122 Titania’s refusal to obey is punished by having her sight manipulated and her will stripped away by being made a foolish slave to the effects of the flower whose “liquor” is squeezed upon her eyes:

  • 123 Ibid., 2.1.176–79, 182.

Having once this juice,
I’ll watch Titania when she is asleep,
And drop the liquor of it in her eyes.
The next thing then she waking looks upon,
She shall pursue it with the soul of love.

  • 124 Ibid., 3.1.136.
  • 125 Monique Vleeschouwers-Van Melkebeek. “Separation and Marital Property”. In Mia Korpiola, ed. Region (...)
  • 126 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 4.2.154.
  • 127 Ibid., 4.2.178.

86The first thing Titania sees on awakening, of course, is the comic character Bottom, who has been transformed by Puck so that he has the head of an ass. Titania’s drugged reaction is to do exactly as Oberon had demanded: “on the first view”, she says while gazing into the eyes of the ass, “I love thee”.124 This is, of course, not love, and that is exactly the joke. So much of what passes for love in a culture of arranged marriages is a command performance, intended to gloss the ugly reality of having been bought and sold into a relationship and a life not of one’s own choosing, from which there are few avenues of escape, except for perhaps “the ecclesiastical separation a mensa et thoro”—a separation from bed and board under which an “ecclesiastical judge permitted a man and wife to live apart, but without granting them the right to remarry”.125 Unlike comedy, in the real world no one was magically released from arranged marriages from which only death (theirs or their spouse’s) would release them. But in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lysander is released to be himself again, and once more be able to choose Hermia. Titania is released from her punishment of foolish illusion, and is shown the very ass of whom she thought she had been enamored. Even Egeus’ claims of “the law, the law”126 are swept away in a grand gesture by Theseus, who tells the old tyrant that “I will overbear your will”.127 Everything is made right, and all is restored.

87Except that it isn’t. One man, Demetrius, is left under the influence of the drug, forced to love Helena, while at the same time, Helena is trapped in a situation in which the man she loves—for whatever inexplicably pathetic Petrarchan reasons—does not really love her. Oh certainly, he plays the part well, unbeknownst even to himself, but Demetrius does not choose Helena. In effect, he is left under the spell of authority and obedience for the rest of his life. Readers and audience members who approve this as part of a “happy ending” should ask themselves if they would like to have their own wills rendered useless, or whether that is a treatment they would reserve strictly for people of whom they disapprove. For thee, but not for me.

IV. Love as Resistance: Juliet and the Critics who Disdain

  • 128 Romeo and Juliet 1.1.76–77.
  • 129 Ibid., 1.1.95–96.

88Moving from comedy to tragedy, we see the same pattern at work. A father seeks to match himself to another man, using the daughter as a medium of exchange, while a fourth element—the younger man—interferes with the planned match, aided by the enthusiastic participation of the daughter. In Romeo and Juliet, the father is Capulet, the leader of one of the two rival families in Verona. His family’s ongoing contention with the Montague family—expressed in Capulet’s early determination to strike because “Old Montague is come / And flourishes his blade in spite of me”128—has caused enough trouble that the Prince has warned both houses: “If ever you disturb our streets again, / Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace”.129 Capulet needs a way to best “Old Montague”, and what better way than by matching himself to a foreign nobleman who is kinsman to the Prince—the County Paris—in order to raise the status of his family, trump Montague, and do a little flourishing in spite of him? Capulet’s daughter, Juliet, will be the glue that seals the two men together, if only Paris will be patient enough to let her grow up a little more. Capulet says that she is too young:

  • 130 Ibid., 1.2.8–11.

My child is yet a stranger in the world;
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years,
Let two more summers wither in their pride,
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.

  • 131 See Michael K. Jones and Malcolm G. Underwood. The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess (...)
  • 132 Romeo and Juliet 1.1.12.
  • 133 Ibid., 1.3.72–73.
  • 134 Ibid., 1.3.70–71.

89Paris thinks she is old enough at thirteen, an idea with more than adequate precedent in English history, even among the Tudors—Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, was thirteen while pregnant with the child that would eventually win the kingship at Bosworth Field.131 As Paris notes: “Younger than she are happy mothers made”,132 a position indirectly supported by Juliet’s mother, who tells the girl that she had already been her mother “much upon these years / That you are now a maid”,133 and that younger girls than Juliet “in Verona, ladies of esteem, / Are already made mothers”.134 This kind of early marriage, while shocking today, is not unusual in Shakespeare’s time:

  • 135 Hanne Blank. Virgin: The Untouched History (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007), 14.

Child betrothals and adolescent marriages are a source for scandal in the West today […] but were quite normal for much of our history. Catherine of Aragon was betrothed at age three to Arthur, son of Henry VII of England, and married to him when she was fifteen.135

  • 136 Romeo and Juliet 1.2.13.

90But Capulet is reluctant: “And too soon marred are those so early made”.136 At this point in the play, the father seems at least as concerned with his daughter’s welfare, even with her heart and will, as he is with making the match between himself and Paris. He tells the suitor to take his time, get to know Juliet, and see if something develops organically. He, Capulet, cannot or will not force his daughter’s heart, so Paris will have to appeal to Juliet on his own:

  • 137 Ibid., 1.2.16–19.

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.

91Capulet will play a quite different tune, of course, when matters grow more urgent later in the play.

  • 138 Ibid., 1.3.65.
  • 139 Ibid., 1.3.74.
  • 140 Ibid., 1.3.96.
  • 141 Ibid., 1.3.97–99.

92Juliet’s mother is working, not the other side of the match, but the proposed object of exchange for the match, as she questions Juliet. “How stands your disposition to be married?”138 she asks, telling Juliet “[t]he valiant Paris seeks you for his love”.139 Unlike Silvia and Hermia, who find their fathers’ choices repellent, Juliet appears amenable. When her mother presses the point—“Speak briefly, can you like of Paris’ love?”140—Juliet responds as a model of obedience and cooperation: “I’ll look to like, if looking liking move: / But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly”.141 All of this, of course, flies out of the proverbial balcony window after she meets, falls in love with, and secretly marries Romeo—a state of affairs about which her parents are entirely unaware.

Frank Dicksee, Romeo and Juliet (1884). Southampton City Art Gallery.142

93When her initial willingness to cooperate changes into what seems to him an inexplicable and moody resistance, Capulet makes it clear what Juliet’s position is:

  • 143 Romeo and Juliet 3.5.161–65.

Hang thee, young baggage! disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what: get thee to church o’ Thursday,
Or never after look me in the face:
Speak not, reply not, do not answer me;
My fingers itch.

94Because of the tumult that has arisen in Verona over the street brawl that resulted in the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio, as well as the banishment of Romeo, Capulet acts quickly to seal the match between himself and Paris. There is now no time for wooing, and Capulet’s will is now the whole, not just a part, of Juliet’s consent. Or so he thinks, as he threatens to beat his daughter for her disobedience. All the while, Juliet finds herself unable—out of fear—to tell him why she is suddenly refusing the marriage to Paris. Her stammerings further enrage Capulet, who—having reached a nearly Jehovean state of wrath—tells his daughter that she will obey, or else be thrown out with the trash:

  • 144 Ibid., 3.5.191–97.

Look to’t, think on’t, I do not use to jest.
Thursday is near; lay hand on heart, advise:
An 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.

  • 145 Ibid., 3.5.176, 170.

95In this outburst, Capulet makes it perfectly clear what Juliet is— property. At this point, even his wife thinks that he is “too hot”, while the Nurse tells him that he “is to blame […] to rate her so”.145 But these proxies for audience reaction are nowhere near powerful enough to change Capulet’s mind. His daughter—who in his mind owes him obedience for her begetting, and should be to him as creation is to its god—will either obey the commandments wrapped in his titanic thundering, or she will be thrown out into the streets. An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend. A starker statement of proprietary relationship can scarcely be found. Juliet is capital, a movable good that can be used as a medium of exchange in the purchase of something lasting and valuable. To Capulet, her lack of obedience lowers her value to nothing, and he finds her assertion of will enraging and confusing all at once—as if a man’s cash suddenly lost all of its value, even announcing that it was not going to be used to make purchases. Capulet, in his moment of rage, would rather see Juliet in prison, in alehouses, a criminal, than allow her to make up her own mind and exercise her own heart’s will. Juliet’s “scope of choice” is the same the Father will later give Adam and Eve in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Obey or be cast out.

  • 146 Ibid., 3.5.159–60.

96Capulet may seem less extreme than Egeus, since he is not openly demanding his daughter’s death. However, Juliet’s fear hints that Capulet may be more dangerous than he appears. Even as she begs her “[g]ood father” to hear her “but to speak a word”,146 she is terrified of telling him that she is already married—contracted in the presence of witnesses, solemnified by the Friar, and consummated through a clandestine night’s passion—and for her to marry Paris would be a crime and a sin. But she is so afraid of her storming, raging father, that she would rather fake her own death than tell him the truth.

  • 147 Thomas V. Cohen. Love and Death in Renaissance Italy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004, 2 (...)
  • 148 Elizabeth S. Cohen and Thomas V. Cohen. Daily Life in Renaissance Italy (Westport: Greenwood Press, (...)
  • 149 Romeo and Juliet 3.5.190.
  • 150 L. Stone, 218.

97She has good reason to be afraid. His “fingers itch” in a time and place in which the killing of “disobedient” daughters was far from unheard of. The phenomenon known as “honor killing” was well-known in sixteenth-century Italy, with a particularly famous instance of it occurring in the killing by Giovanni Battista of his wife, Vittoria Savelli on 26 July 1563: “He first hit her forehead and then slit her throat, cutting her head half off, […] the method used to dispatch livestock”.147 Another such incident, in 1555, involved a father killing his daughter in the same fashion: “the father took his [pregnant] daughter by the elbow and, under the eyes of the whole village, led her across the field to her lover’s corpse. There, as all watched, as if she were his heifer, he slit her throat”.148 Having been told by her father to “Graze where [she] will”,149 as if she were an animal, Juliet is right to be afraid, and she is never fully able to break out of the role of “baggage” that her father assigns her. The audiences that watched this play for the first time were being “offered an alternative model to that of blind obedience to paternal dictate”,150 but they were also being shown with what violent fury paternal dictate will defend its prerogatives.

  • 151 Measure for Measure 4.4.156–57.

98In terror and confusion, Juliet seeks the intervention of Friar Lawrence, a significantly less powerful advocate than the one Hermia finds in Theseus. Even more manipulative than the “fantastical duke of dark corners” who spends his time posing as a friar in Measure for Measure,151 Friar Lawrence is at once more than faintly disreputable, and nearly as afraid of direct confrontation as Juliet is. His plan is practically the archetype of a cowardly and foolish brand of Machiavellian scheming:

  • 152 Romeo and Juliet 4.1.91–94, 102–06.

Tomorrow night look that thou lie alone;
Let not thy nurse lie with thee in thy chamber:
Take thou this vial, being then in bed,
And this distilled liquor drink thou off;
Each part, deprived of supple government,
Shall, stiff and stark and cold, appear like death:
And in this borrow’d likeness of shrunk death
Thou shalt continue two and forty hours,
And then awake as from a pleasant sleep.

99The plot has its intended effect, getting her out of the marriage to Paris, but at the cost of sowing the seeds of Juliet’s real, rather than merely pretended, death.

100Even upon discovering her “dead”, however, the grief Capulet expresses centers more on the loss of his match with Paris, than it does on the loss of his daughter. Paris will now not be his son-in-law, since that position is already taken (though by someone other than he assumes):

  • 153 Ibid., 4.5.38–40.

Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir;
My daughter he hath wedded: I will die,
And leave him all; life, living, all is Death’s.

101His concern here is over the question of the “heir” to whom he will leave his wealth and estate. He grieves that he has been unable to match himself with Paris, and has instead matched himself with Death (to whom all are matched in the end): “I will die, / And leave him all; […] all is Death’s”. He has lost the one thing that mattered most to him in life—the mechanism though which he would be able to pass on his property, wealth, and inheritable legacy. Juliet, while valuable, is enumerated as merely a possession, now lost, among all those that will be bequeathed to Death.

102Through the tragic outcome of Romeo and Juliet, we can easily see how love functions as a challenge to and a rejection of the authority of the father. Romeo starts out unpromisingly, as the young man in love with Love, more Neopetrarchan than neo-troubadourian, moping, sighing and crying in a way that makes some want to reassure him and others to smack him. According to his father, Romeo spends most of his pre-dawn mornings in a competition with himself over how intensely he can grieve:

  • 154 Ibid., 1.1.131–39.

With tears augmenting the fresh morning dew.
Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs;
But all so soon as the all-cheering sun
Should in the furthest east begin to draw
The shady curtains from Aurora’s bed,
Away from the light steals home my heavy son,
And private in his chamber pens himself,
Shuts up his windows, locks far daylight out
And makes himself an artificial night.

  • 155 Ibid., 1.1.207–08.
  • 156 Valerie Traub. The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge Universi (...)
  • 157 Romeo and Juliet 1.1.211.
  • 158 Ibid., 1.1.212–13.

103All this excessive emotion is related to Romeo’s unsuccessful courting of a girl named Rosaline, whose identity we learn from Romeo’s friend, Benvolio, rather than from Romeo himself. She will simply not cooperate with, or be impressed by, any of Romeo’s shopworn techniques. First, Romeo claims that the as-yet-unnamed Rosaline will “not be hit / With Cupid’s arrow; she hath Dian’s wit”.155 Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt who is strongly associated with images of lesbian love in the Renaissance, if “subtly authorized under the idiom of chastity”,156 serves as Romeo’s shorthand explanation to Benvolio for his failure. Romeo seems unable (or unwilling) to imagine that his failure to attract Rosaline has anything to do with him. It must be her. In Romeo’s mind, she apparently also has a deaf ear for poetry: “She will not stay the siege of loving terms”.157 How is it that his verses—staged as they are in military terms as weapons with which to force his way past the defenses of the walled town of Rosaline’s assent—are unable to conquer her resistance? It must be that she hath Dian’s wit. That same “wit” must be why she will not “bide the encounter of assailing eyes” or “ope her lap to saint-seducing gold”158 either. Romeo cannot talk his way, stalk his way, or buy his way into Rosaline’s affections.

  • 159 Ibid., 1.1.226–27.
  • 160 Ibid., 1.1.234–35.
  • 161 Ibid., 1.12.90.

104Wisely, Benvolio does not comment on any of this nonsense, except by telling his ridiculous young friend to turn his attention elsewhere, “[b]y giving liberty to thine eyes”, and examining “other beauties”.159 Romeo’s response is straight out of the Petrarchan lover’s handbook. Rosaline—whom he has just absurdly implied is a tin-eared lesbian—is also the unreachable measure of all other beauties, any one of whom would serve merely as “a note / Where [he] may read” of his beloved’s beauty, as if Rosaline (whose name Romeo never actually pronounces) were the Platonic form of which all other women were merely copies.160 Romeo is made idiotic as he follows the path of superficial, sight-without-insight fals’amor. But he will soon learn what Giraut de Borneilh meant when he wrote “through the eyes love enters the heart”, as what Romeo terms “the devout religion of mine eye”161—an image of obedience, doctrine, and authority—gives way to fin’amor, whose only doctrines are wonder and desire.

105At the feast Capulet gives to mark what is meant to be the matching of Juliet to the County Paris, Romeo sees something he claims, at least, never to have seen before: true beauty. Watching Juliet dance, possibly with Paris himself, Romeo is flabbergasted:

  • 162 Ibid., 1.5.45–54.

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.

106At this point, it is hard to know how much of this is genuine passion, the entering of love through the eyes, and how much of it is Romeo’s established mode of framing everything in terms of poetic opposites, filtering lived experience through the “devout religion” of his eye. Does he truly see here, and if so, what can he possibly be seeing? A beautiful girl, with every grace imaginable, dancing with another man—thus adding a hint of the adulterous, or quasi-adulterous angle of so much troubadour and trobairitz poetry—Juliet is, to this point, someone with whom he has never exchanged so much as a single word. What does he know of her? What can he know of her? As the scene reveals, he does not even know her name when he approaches her, and speaks to her for the first time.

  • 163 Walther von der Vogelweide. “Saget mir ieman, waz ist minne?” In Karl Lachmann, ed., Die Gedichte W (...)

107And then, something remarkable happens. In true troubadour and trobaritz fashion, this young man and young woman, who do not know each other at all, discover that they have “one joy in two hearts” (“zweier herzen wünne”),163 as they compose a sonnet, together, as their first meeting and first words. Romeo approaches, and begins:

  • 164 Romeo and Juliet 1.5.94–97.

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

108Admittedly, it is difficult not to wonder whether or not this is an example of the “siege of loving terms” that had worked so poorly with Rosaline. Is this a stanza that Romeo has memorized, and keeps for occasions such as these? Perhaps. But even if so, perhaps especially if so, what he then encounters—in Juliet’s like-for-like response—has to be all the more amazing.

  • 165 Ibid., 1.5.98–101.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

  • 166 Ralph Berry. The Shakespearean Metaphor (New York: Macmillan, 1978), 38.

109Some might argue that this exchange is merely conventional. Even so respected a critic as Ralph Berry argues in this way. For him the sonnet that Romeo and Juliet compose together is part of “a tranced process of courtly reciprocity”, an “inward-turning, acquiescent” phenomena that reflects “the fluency, the intensity, and the superficiality of the means through which this society orders its experience, and its relationships”.166 One of the current authors had a graduate professor some years ago who professed to be thrilled during the first few minutes of the 1993 Kenneth Branagh film of Much Ado About Nothing because, “someone has finally figured out that love is merely a construct in Shakespeare, a conventional game”. She then related her disappointment at the way the film departed from her reading of the play. The remark made in response to her observations, “Shakespeare doesn’t belong to academics”, did not go over well. But it is just as true now as it was then.

  • 167 “Whatever we have words for, we are already beyond” (“Wofür wir Worte haben, darüber sind wir auch (...)

110Literary critics are too often, despite pretensions to be defenders of the unfettered intellect, among the most conformist members of society. We follow the fashionable codes of our “discourse communities” in looking for ways to tame our material, to allegorize it—if not through the categories of religion, then through those of history or theory—into saying something very different from what a “naive” or “surface” reading of the text might suggest to an ordinary reader, one less artfully trained in the ways of interrogating a literary object in order to bend it to one’s will, or make it disappear entirely. Regardless of whether or not Romeo’s first stanza is a memorized performance piece, a Petrarchan pick-up line that he has at the ready, Juliet’s response is not preplanned, rehearsed, or otherwise the kind of utterance that Nietzsche argues is only possible because the sentiment it expresses is already dead in our hearts.167 Juliet’s response is only conventional in the sense that it uses a known form in order to express thoughts and emotions of her own—in that same sense, the guitar solo in Carlos Santana’s Europa is “conventional”, as is the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, the Pathetique.

  • 168 Regina Schwartz. Loving Justice, Living Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 50, 51

111Juliet’s response does not indicate that she is a slave to convention; she is a mere girl who has yet to become sophisticated enough to be knowing and jaded about the poetical and musical forms of her time. Juliet gives us an example of what a more generous critic like Regina Schwartz calls a “communication [that] is instantaneous and complete”, which teaches both lovers to “[leave] behind the Petrarchan lover’s conventions”, in favor of “a devotion without guile and without measure”.168 In fact, what makes Juliet’s response at once more bracing and delightful is that she gets the form of the sonnet ever so slightly wrong—a deliberate cue, it seems, on the author’s part to the freshness and originality of her response to Romeo. Where Romeo is predictably correct in following his author’s ABAB rhyme scheme (hand, this, stand, kiss), Juliet’s improvised response, while beautiful, is written as a mistaking of the typical scheme for the second stanza of a Shakespearean sonnet. Rather than CDCD, introducing two new rhymes to the mix, Juliet introduces only one new rhyme, while re-using one of Romeo’s in a CBCB scheme (much, this, touch, kiss). However, one might read this, not as a mistake, but as an adaptation of the form that makes Juliet’s second stanza even more responsive to Romeo’s first than a purely “conventional” second stanza might have been. In this case, far from a girl who is merely giving the expected, “acquiescent” response her culture demands, we have an artist, a poet in her own right, who then matches Romeo line by line in composing the sonnet:

  • 169 Romeo and Juliet 1.5.102–07.

ROMEO Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
JULIET Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
ROMEO O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
JULIET Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
ROMEO Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.

  • 170 Ibid., 1.5.111.
  • 171 Ibid., 1.5.135–36.

112The couple then starts another sonnet, this time getting through only the first four lines, before they are interrupted. But even though Romeo may, as Juliet observes, “kiss by th’ book”,170 and though Juliet may be expressing herself with unnecessary emphasis by declaring that if Romeo is “marriéd, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed”,171 it hardly seems necessary to dismiss them as mere puppets of structural expectations and conventions:

  • 172 Berry, 40.

The young lovers feel intensely that which the [sonnet] mode incites them to feel. Confronted with the image of the ideal lover, each reverts to stereotype. What we have here is an existential drama of sonnet-life. The world of Romeo and Juliet […] is a world of fixed relations and closed assumptions. They appear as quotations, and they speak in quotations: the cliché, of which the sonnet is exemplar, is the dominant thought-form of Verona.172

113Here we have a touch of the Zumthor/Stone/Heller-Roazen argument that seeks to erase individuality. One begins to wonder what it is in this argument that appeals to the academic mind. Understood in this way, one also wonders why anyone would bother paying the price of admission to see this play. Kiernan Ryan, in a brilliant chapter on King Lear, addresses the reductive nature of too much critical writing about these plays, and about literature and art in general, and boils the problem down into three ingredients that are applicable to any number of other plays:

  • 173 Kiernan Ryan. “King Lear”. In A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, Vol. 1, The Tragedies, ed. by Ric (...)

The first is [the critics’] supposition that the tragedy is the symptom of some ulterior phenomenon, whether it be language, the unconscious, patriarchy, or power. The play’s autonomy and integrity as a work of art are ditched by critics bent on recruiting it to confirm their theoretical assumptions or preconceptions of the past. The second reason is endemic to critics raring to immure [the play] in its early modern matrix: a blindness to the possibility that the tragedy may not be fully intelligible in terms of its time, because its gaze is fixed on horizons that still lie ahead of our time. Even when radical historicists like Patterson hold [the play] must have been subversive in Shakespeare’s day, it remains the imprint of an obsolete era, the pawn of a purely retrospective viewpoint. And the third reason is the failure to engage in detail with the poetic language and dramatic form […], which in some cases, as Greenblatt’s essays demonstrate, simply furnishes a pretext for expounding another text altogether.173

  • 174 Romeo and Juliet 2.2.33, 40.

114But there is no shortage of interesting material in the plays, despite the desire of many critics to rewrite the texts, or, as Ryan suggests, abandon them for others. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet addresses fundamental questions of identity, politics, and love’s tenuous existence in a world in which so many will fight for so long over what finally amounts to so little. In asking “wherefore art thou Romeo?” and “What’s Montague?”174 Juliet shows that her thinking is already more advanced than is Romeo’s, who is still half caught in his own facility with Petrarchan poetic imagery, as he compares her to the sun and the stars, and wishes—rather than to be with her at the moment—to be a glove upon her hand so that he might touch her cheek:

  • 175 Ibid., 2.2.1–3, 10–11, 15–17, 23–25.

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!

  • 176 Between joy and its external cause there is always some separation and some obstacle: society, sin, (...)
  • 177 Romeo and Juliet 2.2.38.
  • 178 Ibid., 2.2.40–41.
  • 179 Al-Ghāzalī, an eleventh-and twelfth-century interpreter of Aristotle explained the distinction as a (...)

115In contrast, Juliet is already thinking about the practical obstacles to their ability to be together, and how those obstacles might be overcome, pace Denis De Rougemont’s argument that it is the obstacles themselves that are the incitements to love.176 In Juliet’s speech, “‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy”,177 and the obstacles of name and position can be overcome if the lovers will see beyond the historically contingent categories of politics and Veronese identity to the nature or essence of what each person is, or can be In referring to body parts like hand and foot, arm and face,178 Juliet argues that in moving beyond what a Renaissance thinker, following Aristotle, would call “the accidental”,179 she and Romeo can find love in spite of the obstacles that stand between them.

  • 180 Dympna Callaghan. “The Ideology of Romantic Love: the Case of Romeo and Juliet”. The Weyward Sister (...)
  • 181 Ibid., 60.
  • 182 “la gamme du sado-masochisme que les deux partenaires avaient annoncé déjà dans la version pourtant (...)
  • 183 Sinfield, 112, 111.

116Whether or not this is possible, or even desirable, is contested. For some, like Callaghan, Romeo and Juliet serves to create and impose “a certain formation of desiring subjectivity attendant upon Protestant and especially Puritan ideologies of marriage and the family required by […] the emergent economic formation of capitalism”.180 Callaghan also argues that the play has served as a powerful artifact that supports the “dominant ideology of romantic love”, which oppressively “relegates homosexuality to the sphere of deviance, secures women’s submission to the asymmetrical distribution of power between men and women, and bolsters individualism by positing sexual love as the expression of authentic identity”.181 For Julia Kristeva, the play’s portrayal of love disguises a dark undercurrent in which, if Romeo and Juliet had survived, their passion would have revealed “the whole range of sadomasochism that both partners had already announced in the relatively quiet version of the Shakespearean text”.182 But if that is what Romeo and Juliet depicts, if Callaghan’s argument about the play being oppressive is correct, or Kristeva’s contention about its love’s perversity is correct, then what should the play portray instead? Rather than presenting what these critics regard as an oppressively heterosexual and/or sadomasochistic “romantic love”, should it, after all, proceed with the orderly demonstration of Juliet’s obedience to her father? Would unfettered patriarchy be preferable? Or should it show Romeo and Mercutio running off together, while Juliet finds happiness with Rosaline or expresses her “authentic identity” through celibacy, or perhaps a hobby of some sort? Perhaps, as Sinfield suggests, it would be more interesting if the play were rewritten in order that “every man or woman may have his or her Jack and his or her Jill”, so that we might have combinations that go beyond “even same-gender couples”?183 Maybe it would be preferable to “amputate” the play, after the fashion of the avant-garde writer/director Carmelo Bene, who, in Gilles Deleuze’s view, opens up amazing possibilities by eliminating Romeo altogether?

  • 184 CB [Carmelo Bene] […] soustrait quelque chose de la pièce originaire. […] Mais, par exemple, il amp (...)

CB [Carmelo Bene] […] subtracts something from the original piece. […] For example, he amputates Romeo, neutralizes Romeo in the original piece. […] If you ampute Romeo, you will witness an amazing development. Mercutio was only a virtuality in Shakespeare’s play. Mercutio dies quickly in Shakespeare, but in [Carmelo Bene’s version] he does not want to die, cannot die, cannot reach the point of dying, since he is going to constitute the new play.184

117Or should it, perhaps, remain exactly as it is, serving as an object of scorn tied to the critical whipping-post while modern, morally superior critics vent their spleens? At long last, it becomes impossible to tell whether there is any sense of decency left in criticism, as so many of us pound a work until it threatens to die beneath our urgent bludgeoning. This entire dynamic of morally outraged criticism is wonderfully described by Ryan:

  • 185 Ryan, “King Lear”, 377–78.

One of the least appealing features of literary studies today is the smug diagnostic attitude that has swept through them like foot-and-mouth disease through a fine herd of Friesians. It is this attitude that reduces Shakespeare’s drama to an allegory or appendix of something else and then passes sentence on it from the supposedly superior vantage point of hindsight. It thereby denies the plays the power not only to arraign the world in which they were first forged and the world in which we now encounter them, but also to foreshadow futures that would otherwise remain intangible. It is an approach that goes hand in hand with a scorn for close reading, a contempt for the belief that there is something special about the creative use of language and form in imaginative writing at its best that sets it apart from other kinds of discourse and gives us ways of seeing the world which no other kind of writing can deliver.185

  • 186 “Then anguish satisfied by response, longing satisfied by presence, we cease to call for a sensitiv (...)

118Perhaps it is in the dawn-song scene of Act 3 where Romeo and Juliet might mount a defense against its more disdainful critics. In a scene in which two young people, who about to be separated forever, have fallen in love—not to injure anyone, and certainly not to “relegate” anything or anyone “to the sphere of deviance”—and now face the full power of the father and the state arrayed against them, perhaps here some redeeming value might be found in the play. The scene is nearly a point-by-point recreation of the alba form of the troubadour poets. The genre assumes an oppressive and tightly-controlled world of social, financial, and political power. It includes marriage, not, as De Rougemont would have it, as the happy cure to love,186 but as the oppressive institution through which love’s flourishing is strangled in its cradle. And yet, authority fails. Love flourishes in spite of the power of the jealous husband (lo gilos), as the eyes go forth to gaze and desire (ill oill van vezer) despite the demands of authority and obedience. The lovers, invariably adulterous, can only meet in secrecy, under cover of darkness, and they need a watchman or guard to warn them as soon as the first rays of the too-quickly rising sun appear.

  • 187 See Simon Gaunt. “Poetry of Exclusion: A Feminist Reading of Some Troubadour Lyrics”. The Modern La (...)
  • 188 Jonathan Saville. The Medieval Erotic Alba: Structure as Meaning (New York: Columbia University Pre (...)

119These poems are not biographical, of course, though the situations they describe are well within the range of human experience. They are literary constructions—as is Romeo and Juliet—whose effect depends on their contact with lived events and emotion. However, if regarded as merely literary constructions, or the occasions for formal dramatic performances, or as self-ironizing and self-aggrandizing pieces reflecting the narcissism and misogyny of the poets,187 then they are just as dead as their authors. If were are to believe that “[a] poet wrote albas, not because he had experienced the situation depicted by the alba, and not even because he fancied himself experiencing it with a particular woman he was in love with, but simply because it was one of the current literary genres”,188 then we are being asked to believe that the most passionate poems written at the very dawn of the modern Western literary tradition can, and should, be coolly regarded as mere exercises in form, a day’s work at the poet’s office in eleventh-and twelfth-century Occitania. With friends like these, what need has poetry of enemies? Finally, what comes to mind are these lines by William Butler Yeats:

  • 189 William Butler Yeats. The Scholars [1929 version], in Yeats’s Poetry, Drama, and Prose: Authoritati (...)

Bald heads forgetful of their sins,
Old, learned, respectable bald heads
Edit and annotate the lines
That young men, tossing on their beds,
Rhymed out in love’ s despair
To flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.
All shuffle there; all cough in ink;
All wear the carpet with their shoes;
All think what other people think;
All know the man their neighbour knows.
Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?

  • 190 Ewan Fernie. The Demonic: Literature and Experience (New York: Routledge, 2013), 88.
  • 191 человек умнейший и даровитейший, человек, так сказать, даже науки, хотя, впрочем, в наукену, одн (...)

120Yeat’s riposte is one of the classic examples of a poet speaking back to critics, and is of a piece with the picture the novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky gives of a particular critic, a character named Stepan Verkhovensky, who represents a “creed [that] unavoidably involves a degree of alienation—from the concrete immediacy of life, from our feeling for what is”.190 As Dostoevsky describes him, this critic is all surfaces and no depths, a proto-nihilistic poseur who has little real use for either poetry or scholarship. Verkhovensky is “the cleverest man and a gifted man, so to speak, even a scholar, though, indeed, in scholarship… well, in a word, in scholarship, he did not so much, and it seems, nothing. But with the scholarship we have in Russia this very often happens”.191 Despite the “Old, learned, respectable bald heads”, whose work both the poet and the novelist appear to regard as “not so much, and it seems, nothing”, passionate poetry is not mere form, no matter how many books and journal articles pile up claiming that it is so, nor is it reducible to ideology, nor, finally, is it merely biography (which could be seen, in a mean-spirited way, as narcissism). It is an attempt to reflect, capture, transmit, and communicate at least some part of the experience (or range of experiences) that people have when they love, for good or ill, another than themselves in a passionate, vulnerable, sometimes possessive and insecure, and erotic way. It is not mere lust these poems describe. It is not mere poetic form that they rehearse. If the latter were all that such poetry had to offer, few besides Yeats’ imagined scholars would read any of it.

121But such has not been the fate of the troubadour albas, nor has it been the fate of Romeo and Juliet, whose alba, or dawn-song, is among the most affecting moments in the play despite the attempts of authority—that of Capulet in the play, and that of too many academic critics in the modern world—to eliminate its power. As Aileen Ann Macdonald observes:

  • 192 Aileen Ann Macdonald. “A Refusal to be Silenced or to Rejoice in any Joy that Love may Bring: The a (...)

The alba […] recounts the continuing events of a love affair after it has been initiated, for it describes the lovers’ clandestine meetings at night, culminating in their passionate and poignant parting as dawn breaks. […] It has been suggested […] that the alba was in the beginning another woman’s song, where the lady laments that dawn is coming to part her from her lover—just as does Juliet in the most famous alba of all after her night of love with Romeo.192

  • 193 In Aristotle’s definition:
    Tragedy, then, is imitation of an elevated action that is both great and

122Juliet’s alba is the emotional core of a play designed to take audiences and readers on a wrenching journey of what Aristotle once called catharsis (κάθαρσις)—the raising of intense emotion that is held, and then released during the play.193 Far from being rendered merely “conventional”, Juliet’s emotions and predicament are even more powerfully expressed through the use of the alba, especially since she and her husband do not belong in the situation the genre describes. Romeo and Juliet are married, not an adulterous couple, and the jealous male here (lo gilos) is a father, not a husband.

123Though the couple’s marriage is clandestine and not yet formalized with a church ceremony, it is legally-binding, and would be known to be so by the English audience watching this play for the first time:

  • 194 Hagstrum, 221.

Consensus facit nuptias had been a principle of Roman and early canonical law […]. The church wanted a union of hearts as well as hearths, and so private vows and promises with or without consummation were understood to constitute a valid marriage, and the desponsatio (betrothal) became more important than the final ceremony.194

124There were forces that opposed such marriages, but “clandestine contracts” remained part of the tapestry of marriage practices, in spite of the opposition:

  • 195 R. B. Outhwaite. Clandestine Marriage in England, 1500–1850 (London: Hambledon Press, 1995), 7.

A note of “matters to be moved by the clergy” in the Parliament and Synod of 1563 included pleas […] for the raising of the age of consent for girls to fifteen; for sterner punishments of adulterers, fornicators, and abductors; and pleas that both the marriage of minors without parental permission and “all clandestine contracts” be made void.195

  • 196 Richard Bagot. “Letter from Richard Bagot to Richard Broughton, 1587 June 3”. Papers of the Bagot F (...)

125The anger such clandestine marriages caused fathers who were thereby deprived of their ability to control—and profit from—the marriages of their children is attested to by a letter, dated June 3 1587 and written by Richard Bagot to Richard Broughton. In the letter, Bagot complains bitterly about his daughter Margaret’s secret marriage, describing his “daughters lewde dealings in this her match, [which] hath not a litle trobled me and her mother”. Bagot then wonders how he will ever be able to “digest such a villainy”, before wishing that “god give them joye and some sorrowe, as they have given us cause of grief”.196 The secret— and not-so-secret—rebellions that Shakespeare presents on stage are already beginning to take root in the England from which he derives his audiences and readers.

126Romeo and Juliet should not be in this position, and yet, due to the authority of Prince Escalus, who has banished Romeo over the killing of Tybalt, the overbearing authority of Capulet, and Juliet’s fear of confronting him, here they are—in a strangely misplaced alba, hoping that it is not the dawn’s first light they are seeing, light that will separate them forever. The female voice—Juliet—begins, noting and denying the coming of day:

  • 197 Romeo and Juliet 3.5.1–5.

Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.

127And as they had begun, composing their poetry in the scene of their first meeting, so they end, writing the final poem of their vanishingly brief marriage. Romeo responds by acknowledging the light, and framing his choice between life and banishment, or love and death:

  • 198 Ibid., 3.5.6–11.

It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.

  • 199 Ibid., 3.5.39–40.
  • 200 Ibid., 3.5.51.

128After several more lines of back and forth, during which they switch rhetorical and emotional positions, with Juliet now urging Romeo to escape, Romeo pledging to stay and die, and each bemoaning how little time they have left together, the watchman of the alba enters. Juliet’s nurse, who has aided and abetted the relationship between Romeo and Juliet to the best of her ability, comes in to warn them of the coming of day: “Your lady mother is coming to your chamber: / The day is broke; be wary, look about”.199 With each wondering if they “shall ever meet again”,200 Romeo says Adieu, adieu! as he escapes out the balcony window, and they are never truly together again.

  • 201 Colin Falck. Myth, Truth and Literature: Towards a True Postmodernism (Cambridge: Cambridge Univers (...)
  • 202 So, without going into a more serious explanation, we will say only that, in reality, the typicalit (...)

129What renders this scene so powerful is the feeling of helplessness in the face of hostile and jealous authority that the alba genre brings with it, amplified by Shakespeare’s modification of the marital situations usually found therein. These are lovers who should be together, who have every right to be together, and whom every single person in an audience wants to see together. The sense of love and unjust interference is palpable, powerful, and profound. To remark, as if there were some particularly insightful observation contained therein, that Shakespeare is merely making use of “one of the current [or past] literary genres” is to miss, even actively to obscure, the point. It does not matter whether, while writing these words, Shakespeare was, or had recently been, experiencing the emotions his work evokes. What matters is that the emotions are evoked, that art and an audience have similar enough frames of reference (“conventional” thoughts and objects of thought, if one must use such ground-to-dust terminology) that sympathy, empathy, even pity and fear can be evoked—that lived experience can be recalled, reframed, and made new again, even if only for a moment. Art “reveals in a more concentrated or intense way what ordinary life reveals in its expressive aspects”.201 This is what Dostoevsky refers to when he describes everyday people as “разбавляется водой202—“diluted with water”, or “watered-down” versions of literary characters—not that human beings in their ordinary lives are less than real, but that our artistic representations of ourselves and our experiences are concentrated and sharpened to a point. Just as we depend on our art for an intensified experience of life, our art depends on us for contact with everyday reality. Art, perhaps especially narrative and dramatic art, depends on its ability to refer to and represent the lived experience of human beings in order for it to have any power at all. It cannot be locked away inside the structures of language, or inside a self-referentiality of techniques and formal elements from which it cannot escape. Denied that contact with “ordinary life”, literature, music, painting, sculpture, dance, dies, just as do Romeo and Juliet, alone, and with no one to mourn until it is too late.

  • 203 L. Stone, 87.
  • 204 Evelyn Gajowski. The Art of Loving: Female Subjectivity and Male Discursive Traditions in Shakespea (...)

130The love between the young pair has served as their impetus to defy authority and social convention, while risking the sharp disapproval (and possible violence) of their families. But it has not given them the strength to stand up, and openly acknowledge what they have done. Romeo’s banishment, and Juliet’s faked death, show each of them turning in fear from the face of authority, as their celebrated love is not enough to enable them to face the wrath of those to whom they have long been in the habit of submissiveness. And that is their tragedy, not in “violating the norms of the society in which they lived”,203 but in failing to sufficiently honor love, and each other, by bringing their disobedience and rejection of those norms out into the open. Juliet, who is in some ways the stronger of the two, is still too young, and is not yet sure-footed and strong-willed enough to defy Capulet; she “possesses the strength to choose a Montague for her husband, but not to stand up to her father”.204 Given Capulet’s wrath and potential for violence, it is all too easy to understand why.

  • 205 Romeo and Juliet 4.1.105.

131One of the starkest differences between this pair, who are otherwise presented as having “zweier herzen wünne”, is revealed in their death scenes. Romeo still has a bit too much of the Petrarchan sonneteer about him, and despite his love for Juliet, has not yet learned to see her apart from his own poetic fantasies of the ideal love she represents to him. Had he only been given time, he might have grown beyond his idealizing tendencies; but time is what the play—and all its sources, from the works of Arthur Brooke, to Pierre Boaistuau, to Matteo Bandello—will not give him. In the heart of the Capulet mausoleum, with Juliet’s awakening face and form in front of him, Romeo does not see. Her “two and forty hours”205 of unconsciousness are all but up, and Romeo’s own remarks indicate that she is warming and nearly surfacing past the waters of unconsciousness even as he looks at her. Far from being a cold corpse that will suddenly reanimate, Juliet is ruddy of cheek and lip; she looks alive, and Romeo finds that puzzling:

  • 206 Ibid., 5.3.91–96.

O my love! my wife!
Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath,
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty:
Thou art not conquered; beauty’s ensign yet
Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks,
And death’s pale flag is not advanced there.

  • 207 Ibid., 5.3.97.

132But rather than stop for a moment with Juliet, he turns and speaks to the body of Tybalt, lying in a “bloody sheet”,207 though perhaps something now registers with him about the contrast between the two bodies. He turns back to Juliet, and asks—as if speaking to her one last time—why she looks so much like she is still alive:

  • 208 Ibid., 5.3.101–05.

Ah, dear Juliet,
Why art thou yet so fair? shall I believe
That unsubstantial death is amorous,
And that the lean abhorred monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour?

133The simple solution to the problem, of course, is that Juliet is alive. But Romeo, overwhelmed by a grief the like of which he has never experienced, that he can only understand through the Petrarchan and Platonic images and concepts he has not yet had time enough to master and move beyond, does not adopt the simple solution. In fact, it does not even occur to him. Instead, he mythologizes and poeticizes Juliet’s death-which-is-not-death, by casting Juliet in the part of Eurydice in the myth of Orpheus, especially perhaps, the version from Phaedrus’ speech in Plato’s Symposium:

  • 209 ἀνεῖσαν ἀγασθέντες τῷ ἔργῳ οὕτω καὶ θεοὶ τὴν περὶ τὸν ἔρωτα σπουδήν τε καὶ ἀρετὴν μάλιστα τιμῶσιν. (...)

The gods let loose their wonder for the works of love, and haste to hold valour in high honor. Orpheus, son of Oeagrus, they sent away unsuccessful from Hades, showing him only the ghost of the wife he had come for, and did not deliver her true self to him. For they regarded him as soft of purpose, like a mere player and singer of songs, because he lacked the courage to die for love as Alcestis had, but sought to enter Hades alive.209

134Perhaps with the idea of “the ghost of [his] wife” in mind, and not wanting to be thought “soft” like Phaedrus’ version of Orpheus, Romeo proceeds to die for love, while indulging in one last poetic speech:

  • 210 Romeo and Juliet, 5.3.112–20.

Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death!
Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide!
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark!
Here’s to my love! [
Drinks] O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.

  • 211 Romeo is a kind of inverted Orpheus—one who loses his Eurydice, not because he looks back at her, b (...)

135As he kisses her, is he so wrapped up in the poetry of the Orphean myth211 that he does not feel the warmth of Juliet’s lips? It is impossible to know, but given the focus on himself and his own emotions Romeo has shown throughout the play, it seems the likely answer is “yes”.

  • 212 Ibid., 5.3.167.
  • 213 Callaghan (1994), 59.
  • 214 In Gramsci’s thought, literary critics—at least as much as, if not more than, poets and playwrights (...)

136Juliet, on the other hand, sees Romeo. As she awakes and takes stock of where she is and what is going on, she sees Romeo’s lifeless body, mere moments after it had crossed over into death. As she kisses him, she feels traces of life: “Thy lips are warm!”212 In that moment, more than any other in the play, the full tragedy of love, fear, and authority hits home, and catharsis kicks into high gear. These two never had a chance, to love, to live, even to grow up past the initial blooming of their passions and potential. The story of their lives and deaths does not bolster “individualism by positing sexual love as the expression of authentic identity”;213 rather, it shows how an attempt to use such love as an expression of identity can be ruthlessly crushed by the “dominant ideology”, not of love, but of (usually male) authority and its demands for “submission to the asymmetrical distribution of power” between fathers and daughters, fathers and sons. The Gramscian hegemon in this play, which embodies the cultural norms promoted by an elite class to maintain dominance over everyone else,214 is hardly “romantic love”, nor does that love relegate anything to “the realm of deviance”. It is that love itself which is regarded as deviant by the authority figures of the play, only to have the play turn the tables on them by showing them to be blind and tyrannical murderers of their own children. As Prince Escalus bitterly sums up:

  • 215 Romeo and Juliet, 5.3.291–95.

Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montague!
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punished.

  • 216 John Vyvyan. Shakespeare and the Rose of Love (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1960), 134.

137It is as if Shakespeare is making the argument of a prosecutor in a courtroom in which, rather than the lovers, their parents, their city, their world are on trial: “Shakespeare […] is making a closing demonstration: ‘Look at the corpses in front of you—your own son and daughter! Why are they dead? For God’s sake think!’ And he is requiring his audience to do the same”.216 Far from being any kind of dominant ideology, in Romeo and Juliet, love is portrayed as a breathtaking, bittersweet, but doomed challenger to paternal authority and its demands for obedience. Love, unsublimated passion for another human being, the fin’amor of the troubadour and trobairitz poets of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, is no idle game in Shakespeare. It is a tool of resistance in a contest between generations that is all too often, a matter of life and death.


1 Briffault, 197.

2 William Shakespeare. “Sonnet 1”, ll. 1–4. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. by Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller (New York: Pelican, 2002), 67. All further references to the sonnets will be from this edition, and will be referenced in the notes by sonnet number and line number(s).

3 1.5–8.

4 Helen Vendler. The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997), 46.

5 Shakespeare, 1.9–14.

6 Ibid., 3.9–10.

7 Ibid., 3.11–14.

8 Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells. Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 65.

9 “Die Kunst ist lang! Und kurz ist unser Leben” (Goethe. Faust, Part I, 106, ll. 558–59). Goethe reverses the emphasis of Hippocrates of Cos (460–370 BCE): “Life is short, and art is long” (“ βίος βραχύς, δὲ τέχνη μακρή”).

10 Shakespeare, 15.1–2.

11 Ibid., 15.5–8.

12 Ibid., 15.9–14.

13 J. B. Leishman. Themes and Variations in Shakespeare’s Sonnets (London: Routledge, 1961), 41.

14 The most profound of modern work often shares the same spirit. It can be found, for example, in Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film Det sjunde inseglet, or The Seventh Seal, especially in the scene where the Crusades-era knight Antonius Bloch realizes how precious the ordinary moments can be in a life much too intimately engaged with death: “I will remember this moment. The stillness, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk, your faces in the evening light. […] And it will serve as a sign for me, and it will be enough" (“Jag ska minnas den här stunden. Stillheten, skymningen, skålen med smultron, skålen med mjölk, era ansikten i kvällsljuset. […] Och detta ska vara mig ett tecken och en stor tillräcklighet”.) (55:39–56:25)

15 Shakespeare, 18.1–4.

16 Ibid., 18.5–8.

17 Ibid., 18.9–14.

18 Dympna Callaghan. Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Malden: Blackwell, 2007), 62.

19 Charity, however, has taken on a rather different sense in the twenty-first century than the seventeenth century, and there may not be a one-word translation in contemporary English that can capture the complexity in the orginal term ἀγάπη [agape]. The closest analog available may be the Hindu concept of bhakti, a word that, though usually translated as devotion, is probably better rendered as participation. Thus, agape or caritas might be most accurately translated as “the love that participates in highest things”.

20 John Kerrigan. The Sonnets; and A Lover’s Complaint (New York: Penguin, 1986), 53.

21 Shakespeare, 116.1–4.

22 Ibid., 116.5–8.

23 Ibid., 116.9–14.

24 Callaghan (2007), 61.

25 Stephen Booth. Shakespeare’s Sonnets (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), 387.

26 Vendler, 491, 493.

27 Callaghan (2007), 64.

28 Philip Martin. Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Self, Love and Art (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1972), 123.

29 Edmondson and Wells, 15.

30 Shakespeare, 130.1–4.

31 Ibid., 130.5–12.

32 The modern bristle toothbrush, though invented by the Chinese Tang dynasty of 609–917 CE, did not make its first appearance in England, even among the wealthy, until 1690. See Michael Olmert. Milton’s Teeth & Ovid’s Umbrella: Curiouser and Curiouser Adventures in History (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 62.

33 Vendler, 557.

34 Shakespeare, 130.13–14.

35 Callaghan (2007), 57.

36 Shakespeare, 138.1–4.

37 Ibid., 138.5–8

38 Ibid., 138.9–12.

39 Ibid., 138.13–14.

40 Lawrence Stone. The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500–1800 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 87.

41 Diane Dreher. Domination and Defiance: Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986), 38.

42 L. Stone, 87.

43 For detailed discussions of the composition of such audiences (in terms of economics, gender, and numerous other factors), see Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

44 The as yet unsolved question of the authorship of this play revolves primarily around two candidates: William Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd. Arguments for Kyd go back to Charles Crawford and Walter Miksch in the early twentieth century (in, respectively, “The Authorship of Arden of Faversham”. In Jahrbuch der Deutschen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, 39 [1903], 74–86, and Die verfasserschaft des Arden of Feversham [Breslau: H. Fleischmann, 1907]), and have recently been championed by Brian Vickers (“Thomas Kyd, Secret Sharer”. Times Literary Supplement [18 April 2008], 13–15). The most recent argument for Shakespeare’s authorship (especially of the middle section of the play) has been made by MacDonald P. Jackson in Determining the Shakespeare Canon: “Arden of Faversham andA Lover’s Complaint” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), while the editors of The New Oxford Shakespeare (Gary Taylor, et al., 2016) include the play, listing its authorship as by Anonymous and Shakespeare.

45 Arden of Faversham. In Martin Wiggins, ed. A Woman Killed with Kindness and Other Domestic Plays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 1.98–102.

46 See Greenblatt’s argument—published in several different forms—in Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998); ‘Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and its Subversion’, in Glyph 8: Johns Hopkins Textual Studies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), 40–61; ‘Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and its Subversion, Henry IV and Henry V’, in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, eds, Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985), 18–47; and in “Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and its Subversion”, in eds. Peter Erickson and Coppélia Kahn, Shakespeare’s ‘Rough Magic’: Renaissance Essays in Honor of C. L. Barber (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985), 276–302. This argument, as Gabriel Egan explains, insists that any resistance to authority portrayed in Shakespeare, Marlowe, and others was merely illusory, because “the theatre industry of Shakespeare’s time was a special device for the containment of progressive forces precisely because it appeared to produce subversion” (Gabriel Egan. Shakespeare and Marx [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004], 95).

47 L. Stone, 490–91.

48 Roger Stilling. Love and Death in Renaissance Tragedy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976), 148.

49 L. Stone, 103.

50 As Bloom lays out the case,
[t]he idea of Western character, of the self as a moral agent, has many sources: Homer and Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, the Bible and St. Augustine, Dante and Kant, and all you might care to add. Personality, in our sense, is a Shakespearean invention, and is not only Shakespeare’s greatest originality but also the authentic cause of his perpetual pervasiveness. Insofar as we ourselves value, and deplore, our own personalities, we are the heirs of Falstaff and of Hamlet, and of all the other persons who throng Shakespeare’s theater of what might be called the colors of the spirit.
Harold Bloom.
Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (New York: Penguin, 1998), 4.

51 For a review and critique, see Linda A. Pollock. Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500 to 1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, 1–67. See also Lois G. Schwoerer, “Seventeenth-Century English Women Engraved in Stone?” Albion, 16.4 (1984), 389–403, who analyzes Stone’s work from a feminist perspective; Alan MacFarlane, “The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England”, History and Theory, 18 (1979), 103–26, who critiques Stone’s readings of secondary material; Philippe Ariès, “Lawrence Stone. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800”, American Historical Review, 83 (1978), 1221–24, who, in an otherwise complimentary review, argues that Stone distorts early modern child-rearing practices; and John Gillis, “Affective Individualism and the English Poor”, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 10 (1979), 121–28, who argues that Stone ignores the lower economic levels of society in his work.

52 Richard Allestree. The Practice of Christian Graces, or The Whole Duty of Man (London: Printed by D. Maxwell for T. Garthwait, 1658), 291,;c=eebo;idno=a23760.0001.001;node=A23760.0001.001%3A19;seq=318;vid=96830;page=root;view=text

53 L. Stone, 181.

54 Hagstrum, 220.

55 “un dispositif d’alliance: système de mariage, de fixation et de développement des parentés, de transmission des noms et des biens” (Michael Foucault. Histoire de La Sexualité Vol. 1: la Volonté de Savoir [Paris: Gallimard, 1976], 140). Foucault opposes this “deployment of alliance” not with the concept of fin’amor that we are identifying here as a combination of love, mutual recognition, and mutual choice between lovers, but with what he calls “the deployment of sexuality” (“le dispositif de sexualité”) (140), a concept he defines as operating “based on techniques of power that are mobile, polymorphous, and cyclical” (“d’après des techniques mobiles, polymorphes et conjoncturelles de pouvoir”), and as concerned with “the body’s sensations, the quality of its pleasures, and the nature of its impressions, as tenuous or imperceptible as these may be” (“les sensations du corps, la qualité des plaisirs, la nature des impressions aussi ténues ou imperceptibles qu’elles soient”) (140). But far from being anything like an avenue for resistance to the authorities of a given time and place, for Foucault, this alliance of sexuality is merely one more means of control: “The deployment of sexuality does not have its reason for being in reproduction, but in […] controlling populations in an ever more global manner” (“Le dispositif de sexualité a pour raison d’être non de se reproduire, mais de […] contrôler les populations de manière de plus en plus globale”) (141).

56 Dreher, 28.

57 Diana O’Hara. Courtship and Constraint: Rethinking the Making of Marriage in Tudor England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 215.

58 Ibid., 32.

59 L. Stone, 180.

60 Dreher, 21.

61 L. Stone, 171.

62 Ibid.

63 John Aubrey. Wiltshire. The Topographical Collections of John Aubrey, 1659–70, ed. by John Edward Jackson (London: Longman, 1862), 16,

64 O’Hara, 33.

65 Ralph A. Houlbrooke, ed. “‘Stealing a Marriage’: The Marriage of Elizabeth Evelyn in 1685 Described by Her Father”. English Family Life, 1576–1716: An Anthology from Diaries (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), 39.

66 Hamlet 3.1.21–24.

67 George Bernard Shaw. “Caesar and Cleopatra”. Three Plays for Puritans (New York: Brentano’s, 1906), 119,;view=1up;seq=167

68 A term originally coined in 1976 by Jean Lipmen-Blumen to describe a social, rather than sexual, preference for members of one’s own sex.

69 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 26.

70 [l]a relation globale d’échange qui constitue le mariage ne s’établit pas entre un homme et une femme qui chacun doit, et chacun reçoit quelque chose: elle s’établit entre deux groupes d’hommes, et la femme y figure comme un des objets des objets d l’échange, et non comme un des partenaires entre lesquels il a lieu.
Claude Lévi-Strauss. Les Structures Élémentaires de la Parenté (Berlin: De Gruyter), 2002).

71 John Rutherford, ed. The Troubadours: Their Loves and their Lyrics (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1873), 34, ll. 1–4,

72 “si heten beide ein herze” (Gottfried Von Strassburg. Tristan, l. 11,731, ed. by Karl Marold [Leipzig: E. Avenarius, 1906],

73 Two Gentlemen of Verona 2.4.172–73.

74 Ibid., 3.1.68–79.

75 See Linda Woodbridge. Vagrancy, Homelessness, and English Renaissance Literature (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001).

76 Two Gentlemen of Verona 4.3.14–17, 27–31.

77 L. Stone, 180.

78 Allestree, 291.

79 Two Gentlemen of Verona 1.3.78–87.

80 Ibid., 2.6.23.

81 Ibid., 2.4.208.

82 Ibid., 2.4.33.

83 Ibid., 5.4.59.

84 Ibid., 5.468–72.

85 Ibid., 5.4.82–83.

86 Jeffrey Masten. “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”. A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, Vol. III (Malden: Blackwell, 2003), 273.

87 Two Gentlemen of Verona 5.4.175.

88 Ibid., 5.4.145–47.

89 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.16–17.

90 Ibid., 2.1.170–71.

91 L. Stone, 112.

92 Ibid., 181.

93 Sinfield, 109.

94 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.22.

95 Ibid., 1.1.110.

96 Allestree, 291.

97 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.27–38.

98 Ibid., 1.1.39–45.

99 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.56.

100 Ibid., 1.1.57.

101 Ibid., 1.1.65–66. Emphasis added.

102 Ibid., 1.1.90.

103 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1.1.91–92.

104 Ibid., 1.1.95–98.

105 Ibid., 1.1.106–10.

106 Ibid., 1.1.111–12.

107 Ibid., 1.1.123–126.

108 Ibid., 1.1.134.

109 Ibid., 4.1.76.


111 Ibid., 2.1.165–66, 70.

112 Ibid., 3.1.139.

113 The drug apparently makes Lysander forgetful of more than his love for Hermia, as he seems to have forgotten the fact that Demetrius—until he is also drugged—wants nothing to do with Helena.

114 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2.2.103–07.

115 Ibid., 2.2.111–22.

116 John Milton. Paradise Lost 3.108, 109–10. All citations of Milton’s poetry are from John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. by Merritt Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press, 1957).

117 All’s Well that Ends Well 2.3.106–07.

118 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 3.2.185–91.

119 Ibid., 2.2.93–99.

120 Ibid., 3.2.137–44.

121 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2.1.120–21.

122 Ibid., 2.1.136–37.

123 Ibid., 2.1.176–79, 182.

124 Ibid., 3.1.136.

125 Monique Vleeschouwers-Van Melkebeek. “Separation and Marital Property”. In Mia Korpiola, ed. Regional Variations in Matrimonial Law and Custom in Europe, 1150–1600 (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 81–82.

126 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 4.2.154.

127 Ibid., 4.2.178.

128 Romeo and Juliet 1.1.76–77.

129 Ibid., 1.1.95–96.

130 Ibid., 1.2.8–11.

131 See Michael K. Jones and Malcolm G. Underwood. The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 95.

132 Romeo and Juliet 1.1.12.

133 Ibid., 1.3.72–73.

134 Ibid., 1.3.70–71.

135 Hanne Blank. Virgin: The Untouched History (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007), 14.

136 Romeo and Juliet 1.2.13.

137 Ibid., 1.2.16–19.

138 Ibid., 1.3.65.

139 Ibid., 1.3.74.

140 Ibid., 1.3.96.

141 Ibid., 1.3.97–99.


143 Romeo and Juliet 3.5.161–65.

144 Ibid., 3.5.191–97.

145 Ibid., 3.5.176, 170.

146 Ibid., 3.5.159–60.

147 Thomas V. Cohen. Love and Death in Renaissance Italy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004, 27).

148 Elizabeth S. Cohen and Thomas V. Cohen. Daily Life in Renaissance Italy (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2001), 93. Astonishingly, “the notion of honor killing disappeared from the Italian Penal code only as recently as 1981 with the law no. 442 of 5 August called ‘Abrogazione della rilevanza penale della causa d’onore e del matrimonio riparatore’ [Abolishment of the ‘honour motive’ and of ‘shotgun’ marriages in criminal proceedings]” (Donatella Barazzetti, Franca Garreffa, and Rosaria Marsico. National Report: Italia. Daphne Project: Proposing New Indicators: Measuring Violence’s Effects. University of Calabria, Rende: Italy, 2007, 3, Credit for this insight is due to Modje Taavon, who in conversation pointed out the similarities between the Renaissance and modern practices of “honor killing”.

149 Romeo and Juliet 3.5.190.

150 L. Stone, 218.

151 Measure for Measure 4.4.156–57.

152 Romeo and Juliet 4.1.91–94, 102–06.

153 Ibid., 4.5.38–40.

154 Ibid., 1.1.131–39.

155 Ibid., 1.1.207–08.

156 Valerie Traub. The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 237. See especially her discussion of Thomas Heywood’s 1609 play The Golden Age.

157 Romeo and Juliet 1.1.211.

158 Ibid., 1.1.212–13.

159 Ibid., 1.1.226–27.

160 Ibid., 1.1.234–35.

161 Ibid., 1.12.90.

162 Ibid., 1.5.45–54.

163 Walther von der Vogelweide. “Saget mir ieman, waz ist minne?” In Karl Lachmann, ed., Die Gedichte Walthers von der Vogelweide (Berlin: George Reimer, 1891), 69,

164 Romeo and Juliet 1.5.94–97.

165 Ibid., 1.5.98–101.

166 Ralph Berry. The Shakespearean Metaphor (New York: Macmillan, 1978), 38.

167 “Whatever we have words for, we are already beyond” (“Wofür wir Worte haben, darüber sind wir auch schon hinaus”) (Friedrich Nietzsche. Zur Genealogie der Moral [1887] Götzendämmerung [1889] [Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 2013], 244). Robert Musil expresses a similar idea: “The truth between two people cannot be spoken. As soon as we speak, we close doors; words are best used for insubstantial messages; we speak in the hours in which we are not alive” (“Die wahre Wahrheit zwischen zwei Menschen kann nicht ausgesprochen werden. Sobald wir sprechen, schließen sich Türen; das Wort dient mehr den unwirklichen Mitteilungen, man spricht in den Stunden, wo man nicht lebt”) (Musil, 516). The Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev makes much the same observation in his poem Silentium: “The thought, spoken, is a lie” (“Мысль изреченная есть ложь”) (Stephen Prickett, ed. European Romanticism: A Reader [London: Bloomsbury, 2010], 638, l. 10).

168 Regina Schwartz. Loving Justice, Living Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 50, 51.

169 Romeo and Juliet 1.5.102–07.

170 Ibid., 1.5.111.

171 Ibid., 1.5.135–36.

172 Berry, 40.

173 Kiernan Ryan. “King Lear”. In A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, Vol. 1, The Tragedies, ed. by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard (Maldan, MA: Blackwell, 2003), 376–77.

174 Romeo and Juliet 2.2.33, 40.

175 Ibid., 2.2.1–3, 10–11, 15–17, 23–25.

176 Between joy and its external cause there is always some separation and some obstacle: society, sin, virtue, our bodies, our separate selves. And from this arises the heat of passion. And from this comes the fact that our wish for total union is bound indissolubly with a desire for the death that frees us.
Entre la joie et sa cause extérieure il y a toujours quelque séparation et quelque obstacle: la societé, le peché, la vertu, notre corps, notre moi distinct. Et de là vient l’ardeur de la passion. Et de là vient que le desir d’union totale se lie indissolublement au désir de la mort qui libere.
Denis de Rougemont. L’Amour et l’Occident (Paris: Plon, 1939), 176.

177 Romeo and Juliet 2.2.38.

178 Ibid., 2.2.40–41.

179 Al-Ghāzalī, an eleventh-and twelfth-century interpreter of Aristotle explained the distinction as a matter of prior and latter categories:
In the sentence: “This human being is white and an animal”, the predication of “white” and “animal” of “human being” is quite different. Al-Ghāzalī calls the first accidental and the second essential. […] He seems to mean, as Aristotle indeed thought, that what is essentially tied to each other is also ordered in a special way, namely in the sense that animal is prior to human being [and thus prior still to white].
Henrik Lagerlund. “The Assimilation of Aristotelian and Arabic Logic up to the Later Thirteenth Century”.
Medieval and Renaissance Logic, ed. by Dov M. Gabbay and John Woods (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2008), 288.

180 Dympna Callaghan. “The Ideology of Romantic Love: the Case of Romeo and Juliet”. The Weyward Sisters: Shakespeare and Feminist Politics (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994), 59.

181 Ibid., 60.

182 “la gamme du sado-masochisme que les deux partenaires avaient annoncé déjà dans la version pourtant relativement paisible du texte shakespearien” (Julia Kristeva. Histoires d’amour. Paris: Denoël, 1983, 210).

183 Sinfield, 112, 111.

184 CB [Carmelo Bene] […] soustrait quelque chose de la pièce originaire. […] Mais, par exemple, il ampute Roméo, il neutralise Roméo dans la pièce originaire. […] Si vous amputez Roméo, vous allez assister à un étonnant développement, le développement de. Mercuzio, qui n’était qu’une virtualité dans la pièce de Shakespeare. Mercuzio meurt vite chez Shakespeare, mais, chez CB, il ne veut pas mourir, il ne peut pas mourir, n’arrive pas à mourir, puisqu’il va constituer la nouvelle pièce.
Gilles Deleuze. “Un manifeste de moins”. Superpositions (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1979), 87–88.

185 Ryan, “King Lear”, 377–78.

186 “Then anguish satisfied by response, longing satisfied by presence, we cease to call for a sensitive and delicate happiness, cease to suffer, accept our day. And then marriage is possible, for we two are contented” (“Alors l’angoisse comblée par la réponse, la nostalgie comblée par la présence cessent d’appeler un bonheur sensible, cessent de souffrir, acceptent notre jour. Et alors le mariage est possible. Nous sommes deux dans le contentement”) (Denis de Rougemont, 273).

187 See Simon Gaunt. “Poetry of Exclusion: A Feminist Reading of Some Troubadour Lyrics”. The Modern Language Review, 85: 2 (April 1990), 310–329,

188 Jonathan Saville. The Medieval Erotic Alba: Structure as Meaning (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), 122. Emphasis added.

189 William Butler Yeats. The Scholars [1929 version], in Yeats’s Poetry, Drama, and Prose: Authoritative Texts, Contexts, Criticism, ed. by James Pethica (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2000), 60.

190 Ewan Fernie. The Demonic: Literature and Experience (New York: Routledge, 2013), 88.

191 человек умнейший и даровитейший, человек, так сказать, даже науки, хотя, впрочем, в наукену, одним словом, в науке он сделал не так много и, кажется, совсем ничего. Но ведь с людьми науки у нас на Руси это сплошь да рядом случается" (Fyodor Dostoevesky. Бесы [Demons, aka The Possessed, or The Devils] [St. Petersburg: Azbuka, 2008], 20).

192 Aileen Ann Macdonald. “A Refusal to be Silenced or to Rejoice in any Joy that Love may Bring: The anonymous Old Occitan canso, ‘Per ioi que d’ amor m’avegna’”. Dalhousie French Studies, 36 (Fall 1996), 10.

193 In Aristotle’s definition:
Tragedy, then, is imitation of an elevated action that is both great and complete, in language embellished by distinctive forms in each section, rendered by action and not by recitation, accomplishing through pity and fear the catharsis of such sufferings.
ἔστιν οὖν τραγῳδία μίμησις πράξεως σπουδαίας καὶ τελείας μέγεθος ἐχούσης, ἡδυσμένῳ λόγῳ χωρὶς ἑκάστῳ τῶν εἰδῶν ἐν τοῖς μορίοις, δρώντων καὶ οὐ δι᾿ ἀπαγγελίας, δι᾿ ἐλέου καὶ φόβου περαίνουσα τὴν τῶν τοιούτων παθημάτων κάθαρσιν.
Poetics, ed. by Stephen Halliwell. In Aristotle: Poetics. Longinus: On the Sublime. Demetrius: On Style (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995, 46, 1449b 24–28).

194 Hagstrum, 221.

195 R. B. Outhwaite. Clandestine Marriage in England, 1500–1850 (London: Hambledon Press, 1995), 7.

196 Richard Bagot. “Letter from Richard Bagot to Richard Broughton, 1587 June 3”. Papers of the Bagot Family of Blithfield, Staffordshire, 1428–1671 (bulk 1557–1671). Folger MS L. a. 68 (Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington,

197 Romeo and Juliet 3.5.1–5.

198 Ibid., 3.5.6–11.

199 Ibid., 3.5.39–40.

200 Ibid., 3.5.51.

201 Colin Falck. Myth, Truth and Literature: Towards a True Postmodernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 122.

202 So, without going into a more serious explanation, we will say only that, in reality, the typicality of persons is, as it were, diluted with water, and all those Georges Dandins and Podkoleosins are actually there scurrying and running in front of us every day, but as if in a somewhat liquefied state.
Итак, не вдаваясь в более серьезные объяснения, мы скажем только, что в действительности типичность лиц как бы разбавляется водой, и все эти Жорж-Дандены и Подколесины существуют действительно, снуют и бегают пред нами ежедневно, но как бы несколько в разжиженном состоянии.
Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Идиот [The Idiot] (St. Petersburg: A. Suvorin, 1884), 452.

203 L. Stone, 87.

204 Evelyn Gajowski. The Art of Loving: Female Subjectivity and Male Discursive Traditions in Shakespeare’s Tragedies (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1992), 52.

205 Romeo and Juliet 4.1.105.

206 Ibid., 5.3.91–96.

207 Ibid., 5.3.97.

208 Ibid., 5.3.101–05.

209 ἀνεῖσαν ἀγασθέντες τῷ ἔργῳ οὕτω καὶ θεοὶ τὴν περὶ τὸν ἔρωτα σπουδήν τε καὶ ἀρετὴν μάλιστα τιμῶσιν. Ὀρφέα δὲ τὸν Οἰάγρου ἀτελῆ ἀπέπεμψαν ἐξ Ἅιδου, φάσμα δείξαντες τῆς γυναικὸς ἐφ᾿ ἣν ἧκεν, αὐτὴν δὲ οὐ δόντες, ὅτι μαλθακίζεσθαι ἐδόκει, ἅτε ὢν κιθαρῳδός, καὶ οὐ τολμᾶν ἕνεκα τοῦ ἔρωτος ἀποθνῄσκειν ὥσπερ Ἄλκηστις, ἀλλὰ διαμηχανᾶσθαι ζῶν εἰσιέναι εἰς Ἅιδου.
Plato. Symposium, ed. by W. R. M. Lamb (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925), 179D.

210 Romeo and Juliet, 5.3.112–20.

211 Romeo is a kind of inverted Orpheus—one who loses his Eurydice, not because he looks back at her, but because he cannot get his head out of his songs.

212 Ibid., 5.3.167.

213 Callaghan (1994), 59.

214 In Gramsci’s thought, literary critics—at least as much as, if not more than, poets and playwrights and and novelists—are complicit in the dissemination of the ruling ideas of a given time and place. Gramsci proposed what he called “a study of how, in fact, the ideological structure of the dominant class is organized” (“Uno studio di come è organizzata di fatto la struttura ideologica di una classe dominante”), before noting that “the most remarkable and dynamic part of it is the press in general: publishers (that have implicit and explicit programs, and support a determined, or pre-given, current), political journals, and magazines of all kinds, scientific, literary, philological, popular, etc., various periodicals even down to church parish bulletins” (“La parte più ragguardevole e più dinamica di esso è la stampa in generale: case editrici (che hanno implicito ed esplicito un programma e si appoggiano a una determinata corrente), giornali politici, riviste di ogni genere, scientifiche, letterarie, filologiche, di divulgazione ecc., periodici vari fino ai bollettini parrocchiali”) (Antonio Gramsci. Quarderi del carcere, Vol. I, Quaderni 1–5, ed. by Valentino Gerratana [Turin: Giulio Einaudi, 1977], Q3§ 49, 332–33).

215 Romeo and Juliet, 5.3.291–95.

216 John Vyvyan. Shakespeare and the Rose of Love (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1960), 134.

Table des illustrations

Légende Edwin Henry Landseer, Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania and Bottom (1848–1851).110
Fichier image/jpeg, 28k
Légende Frank Dicksee, Romeo and Juliet (1884). Southampton City Art Gallery.142
Fichier image/jpeg, 20k


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