All's Well That Ends Well
How we cite our quotes:
Why, then, young Bertram, take her; she's thy wife.
My wife, my liege! I shall beseech your highness,
In such a business give me leave to use
The help of mine own eyes.
Know'st thou not, Bertram,
What she has done for me?
Yes, my good lord;
But never hope to know why I should marry her. (2.3.4)
In the last passage, we pointed out that in a lot of quest-romance stories, a poor or unknown young man (a nobody) completes a seemingly impossible task and is rewarded with a beautiful princess. Here's the thing: in all those old folktales and fairy tales, we never hear a single peep out of the princess and nobody ever really asks her if she's cool with being a prize in a contest. Yet when Shakespeare takes the same plot and reverses the genders, all hell breaks loose. In this play, the prize (Bertram) is a man, and he's pretty vocal about being forced to get hitched against his will. What's up with that?
What's the matter, sweet-heart?
Although before the solemn priest I have sworn,
I will not bed her.
What, what, sweet-heart?
O my Paroles, they have married me!
I'll to the Tuscan wars, and never bed her. (2.3.31)
Like we said, Bertram is not happy about being forced to marry Helen. His solution is to "never bed her." Here, Paroles is sympathetic to Bertram's situation, but most of the characters in this play criticize Bertram for running away from his wife. Is it fair to criticize Bertram? Literary critic Jonathan Bate doesn't think so. He points out that, "if a woman were forced to marry in this way, we would rather admire her for withholding sexual favors from her husband" Citation? So, what do you think? Does Jonathan Bate make a good point? Why or why not?
In this passage, we also notice that Paroles calls Bertram "sweetheart" twice, which suggests to us that Bertram's friendship with Paroles is a classic Shakespearean bromance – the kind of super-close male friendship that's valued above all other relationships, especially a guy's relationship with his wife. Compare this friendship to that of Bassanio and Antonio The Merchant of Venice or Valentine and Proteus in Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Ay, that would be known. To the wars, my boy, to the wars!
He wears his honour in a box unseen,
That hugs his kicky-wicky here at home,
Spending his manly marrow in her arms,
Which should sustain the bound and high curvet
Of Mars's fiery steed. To other regions
France is a stable; we that dwell in't jades;
Therefore, to the war! (2.3.33)
Here, Paroles associates warfare with masculinity and also suggests that guys who stay home and have sex with their wives are basically sissies. ("Kicky wicky" is a rude term for wife and "box unseen" refers to a woman's vagina.) Paroles claims that men should be on the battlefield riding the god of war's "fiery steed" (horse), not cooped up at home like a "jade." (A jade is a female horse that's used for breeding and is also a slang term for whore.) We see this kind of attitude over and over again in Shakespearean drama. Just ask Hotspur from Henry IV Part 1.