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Love and marriage | Shakespeare and love | Birmingham City Council

Love and marriage

Love between a woman and a man in Shakespeare reaches its culmination in marriage, seen as a natural state of happiness – ‘Prince, thou art sad; get thee a wife, get thee a wife’ - Benedick advises his patron Don Pedro in Twelfth Night.

Shakespeare is very realistic in his view of love in Romeo and Juliet and the three early comedies. He has sensed its grand power and transformational force, but he has not yet given its right place in the grand scheme of things in life. This is what he does in one of his later tragedies. In King Lear Shakespeare mixes love and affection with the even bigger passions for property and power and sadly, it is not the love that triumphs.

‘The Tragedy of King Lear’ has become a symbol of family disintegration and the pain of losing the affection of close relations at old age. The depth of expression of tragic loss of love is striking in its comparison with the natural storm:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout till you have drench’d
Our steeples, drown’d the cocks!

The themes of love and power are set on the background of the medieval patriarchal society where men are the rulers and the women follow – ‘O, let not women’s weapons, water-drops, Stain my man’s cheeks’. However, society is captured in the process of change and Shakespeare’s women are becoming more independent and free to express their true identity. Cordelia, the youngest of king’s daughters, refuses to measure her love for her farther in words:

True love cannot be put into fine words.

It could be argued that words are important when it comes to reassuring the old father of respect and understanding. Ultimately, however, it is through each of the daughters actions that true feeling is distinguished from hypocrisy.

On another level, the theme of tragic filial love is enriched with the lines devoted to the troubled relationship of Duke of Gloucester, his son Edgar and his illegitimate son Edmund.

The suffering, at times unbearable, of all the characters in King Lear takes on the proportions of a Greek tragedy, leaving the spectator with feeling of sorrow for the old king, and understanding the power of material temptations and the beauty of filial love. Just as in real life, Shakespeare mixes these feelings with thoughts on hypocritical love, unfaithful nature of women and the ugliness of false marriages.