I wrote back in January about how rarely Shakespeare writes an unhappy marriage, but his suitors don’t always take the simplest route there, and sometimes have to be – shall we say – encouraged…
Closest to my heart, of course, is Beatrice and Benedick, who only get married because the Prince decides they should, and his willing accomplices persuade each of them that the other is in love. I am firmly convinced that the Prince et al are correct and they are in love (even though they don’t believe it themselves) and am fully on board with all productions which start with Beatrice and Benedick’s back story…
The fabulous Rosalind in As You Like It also persuades two people into marriage – albeit ones which seem a less certain pair than Beatrice and Benedick. Phebe consents to marry Silvius (her devoted suitor) if she refuses to marry Ganymede with whom she has fallen in love. Since Ganymede is actually Rosalind Phebe professes herself happy to be marrying Silvius
PHEBE. I will not eat my word, now thou art mine;
Thy faith my fancy to thee doth combine.
I must admit to some lingering doubt as to whether it is lasting enough to carry through a lifetime together…
Helena in All’s Well that Ends Wells manages to trick her husband into consummating a marriage he made most unwillingly. He goes off to Italy and leaves her with this vow
When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband; but in such a “then” I write a “never.”
Helena follows him to Florence, takes the place of the maid he intends to deflower (first asking her to claim from him the ring) and then pretends she is dead until a final unmasking in front of the King.
HELENA. There is your ring,
And, look you, here’s your letter. This it says:
‘When from my finger you can get this ring,
And are by me with child,’ etc. This is done.
Will you be mine now you are doubly won?
BERTRAM. If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly,
I’ll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly.
I suspect making such an apparent clodpole as Bertram understand what’s happened may be a greater feat than everything else she has managed.
In Measure For Measure Angelo is similarly kept in virtue by being led to bed Mariana rather than Isabella – as fits the tone of the whole play, it raises more questions than it answers as to why Mariana isn’t seething with rage at Angelo, and whether they could possibly be happy. I am rather with the Duke when he plans to kill Angelo.
DUKE. It is your husband mock’d you with a husband.
Consenting to the safeguard of your honour,
I thought your marriage fit; else imputation,
For that he knew you, might reproach your life,
And choke your good to come. For his possessions,
Although by confiscation they are ours,
We do instate and widow you withal
To buy you a better husband.
But I suppose a corpse onstage would make a rather unusual end to a comedy…