The idea is this: Shakespeare’s insanely accurate understanding of human nature allows him to observe the people of his day, and the worries they have about the constancy of their lovers. Women of his time worried that if they committed themselves too much (expressing physical love) the man in their life may grow fickle and tire of her company. Thus, in the examples cited, Rosalind and Juliet demand tomes upon tomes of odes and promises of truth and love (Romeo and Juliet; II, ii).Despite the intensity of Juliet’s passion, she demands true love from the start or not at all. Now it is known fact that the teenagers of today are known for their immense angst, emotion, and horniness. It was most likely a similar situation in Shakespeare’s times. So Juliet’s demand is quite impressive.
Obviously her will power was being driven by some pretty powerful things.When these plays are first read, one might think all these demands for constancy a bit much. But one should consider the context. Nowadays you either love someone or you don’t. There is no great travesty or danger if your relationship ends. It might feel that way, but it is not so.
It is legal; people won’t kill or exile you in this country if you have premarital sex or get divorced. There are groups that have been established to help women financially and emotionally who are getting out of marriages or relationships. And now there are even groups for men coming out of long term relationships or divorces.Another example of this demand for steadfastness of men appears in Shakespeare’s play As you Like It, in which the character Rosalind (who is in disguise) makes the character Orlando (her love) agree to be “cured” of love. She tells him that actually being in love cures people of it because it is so arduous and dour a task (As You Like It; III, ii).Rosalind rants about love being madness. She expresses doubt at Orlando’s love simply because he doesn’t look like an ascetic.
His clothes are in good repair and he doesn’t look dirty and starved, thus he must not be that much in love. Rosalind must prove to herself that her man will stay faithful no matter what happens. As the play continues, we see her lobbing all she can at him so that he will tire of love.
She will not reveal her true identity to him until she is sure that he is as much in love with her as she is with him. Once more, this reminds us of the times that this play was written in. Women didn’t have as many freedoms and rights as they do now, and so had to protect those rights and freedoms much more harshly than is done in today’s time.So we have examined the trials women put men through to ensure safety in love, but what of the men? They can’t all be satyrous incubi without heart or feeling. Let’s examine some sonnets to hear what Shakespeare, as a man, said about love.
In Sonnet 152, Shakespeare shows the feared nature of man. He has deceived his way into a married woman’s bed. Afterwards, he can do nothing but rant on about how ugly and deceptive she is. If she was as ugly, mean, and full of lies as this sonnet suggests, then there should be no reason for the pursuit of this conquest in the first place. Perhaps Shakespeare is venting to suppress the shame in his sullied act?Sonnet 75 is a sonnet that would make Juliet and Rosalind both kneel for want. A man so torn with his immense love that he cannot decide whether to keep it to himself or show it off to anyone who would see. The woman in this sonnet is the only thing that Shakespeare can think about.
There is no one else, only the idea of how to best be with his love.In Sonnet 117 we’ve got a mixture of sorts. Shakespeare admits to being lukewarm, but only because of his passion. He may have been with strangers and wasted away the hours when he was supposed to be with her, but it was all “a test.” Now this is quite cruel and lends volumes of understanding into why Ophelia went fatally mad.
There are many more sonnets that have gone unexamined, but this trio explains much. Shakespeare, as a man of the renaissance, loved false, loved strong, and played games. These sonnets must also describe other men from his time, because Shakespeare’s works always ring so true when it comes to human nature. With these sonnets examined, The arguments in favor of Juliet and Rosalind should be doubled. They knew the freedoms of men, and they also knew the whimsy of men.
And with this knowledge, they grilled their prospective lovers until they were certain of absolute constancy. Bravo!