6 May 2013: Get thee a wife?

First thing “supine angel” workout, Congee (watery today), completed the Grand High Reread of All’s Well That Ends Well.

All’s Well a pleasant surprise. Not only was AWTEW written at a relatively late date in Shakespeare’s life it bears no marks (unlike its companion piece considered superior, Measure for Measure) of co-authorship and as such seems to flow, with characters that announce their personalities in language. But like Measure for Measure and unlike Twelfth Night or As You Like It, AWTEW could have been quickly field stripped and made into a tragedy with Bertram and Parolles as two good old boys that do Helena in.

But we like Helena too much, along with Diana and most of the significant characters in the play including Parolles. Shakespeare therefore followed the comedic rule (“nobody dies”). I cannot think of any Shakespeare play designated “comedy” in which a character dies as his or her punishment for villainy. But this reasoning might be circular; Shakespeare never said “the Tempest, All’s Well , … are to be called “comedies”. The designation, unlike “tragedy” never appears in the known titles of Shakespeare quartos nor in the first Folio; comedy is the default, so the mere appearance of “The Taming of the Shrew” announces a comedy, whereas Romeo and Juliet had to be “marked” as Lamentable. But this test is also flawed; the Winter’s Tale is a comedy by this test in which the counselor of Leontes is eaten by a bear. My head as well as my butt hurts.

But let’s drop these speculations (in the “textual ontology” of the Shakespearean canon) or now and turn to a lighter matter: Shakespeare’s attitude towards marriage.

It is strange indeed that Shakespeare was so pro-marriage in his plays; at the end of Much Ado About Nothing a profoundly contented Benedick happily recommends marriage to all and sundry:

First, of my word; therefore play, music. Prince,
thou art sad; get thee a wife, get thee a wife:
there is no staff more reverend than one tipped with horn.

His favorite female character, Rosalinde of As You Like It, eagerly pairs people up in the penultimate “act” to the finale, one of marriage. In Shakespeare, illicit romance and shacking up without a prospect of marriage never thrives. Yet he abandoned his wife…perhaps.

It is thought to take a cold bastard to pull a stunt like that, but a deeper Wisdom admonishes us here, asking if the cold bastard might not want to take a step with such salvific/redemptory potential, preferring pickles and wines in Stratford to supporting two households.

Perhaps, and I write with considerable bias since I took Shakespeare’s step in 1981, it takes the better man to face the truth of love’s absence. A married man looks forward to coming home from work; in ’81 I needed a double martini to face the guilt and pain of home. Shakespeare’s poetry is written by someone equally “sensitive”, which is to say useless until he mans up and does what is necessary, from leaving his wife (while supporting the kids) or facing a cancer diagnosis.

Merely “sensitive” men turn into rats under what TS Eliot called “the pain of living and the drug of dreams” like Pasternak’s Pasha in Dr Zhivago, a Trotsky figure who flees Lara’s love but dies a mile from her home. He’s like Zhivago when young in his idealism but unlike Zhivago doesn’t follow the path of love. Shakespeare I think did so; for one thing a job in theater may have allowed him to remit money to Anne Hathaway through trusty friends traveling to Stratford.

Today likely shall be a dual workout day for after this morning’s workout I look forward to physio this afternoon.


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