Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Non-Weddings in Shakespeare

This question came up again this morning - why doesn't Shakespeare ever write an actual wedding ceremony into any of the plays?

The simple answer (historians, fill in the details for me) is that he wasn't allowed. Marriage was a holy sacrament, a big deal, and having actors depict one would have been considered sacrilege.  The Master of Revels wouldn't let it happen.  Although, what the punishment would have been I don't know - would it just get edited out, or would even attempting it have been a swift trip to the Tower?

Anyway, this post is not about that. I started to list in my head all the different ways that Shakespeare gives us "everything but" the actual ceremony.  I'm sure I'll miss a few, but we have:

  • The "eye witness testimony" in Taming of the Shrew where we get to hear, but not see, how Petruchio ruins his own wedding (made very confusing by the fact that most movie versions just go ahead and turn this first-hand account into an actual wedding scene).
  • The "wedding that doesn't happen", in Much Ado About Nothing.  "Do you, Claudio..." "You're a whore!"  "Eeeek! *faint*" *chaos* ...
  • The "rehearsal dinner" scene (well, that's what we'd call it, but for Shakespeare we'll call it the "scene before the wedding") also from Much Ado, which ends literally with a bunch of people saying "We're going to get married, but first, let's dance!"
  • The Reception.  Midsummer Night's Dream, of course - a wedding reception scene so hysterical that while I was researching my book I actually found a bride who was trying to get her bridal party to act it out.
  • The "does it still count if the marriage is performed by a non-human entity?" dodge.  Well how would you describe As You Like It, where the goddess Hymen comes down to bestow her blessings on the new couples?
  • The "blink and you'll miss it, oh look we're married now" wedding.  I don't think that Romeo and Juliet is the only example of this, but it's the most obvious.  High school students for generations try to figure out where in the play that Romeo and Juliet get married, because for the life of them they can't find that scene.  That's because it happens between scenes, kids.  One scene, not married.  Next scene?  Married.
What am I missing?

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1 comment:

kj said...

I'm wishing I had time to comment on this more fully. This is a field I'm particularly interested in.

For now, just note that the words of the wedding ceremony are spoken in the right order in As You Like It, Act IV, scene one. In one way of looking at it, the two of them are married at that point (even though Orlando has no idea that the person he's exchanging these vows with is not only a woman but also the woman he wants to marry).

And there's much food for thought in Measure for Measure. Wow!

Thanks for the subject!