The fathers and daughters relationships in Shakespeare drama and literature have attracted a great deal of scholarly attentions specifically in the influence of feminist criticism. There is an apparent shifting affection towards fathers and daughters when the latter struggle to negotiate a passage into adulthood and marriage with their father’s blessings, and when the fathers struggle to surrender or relinquish their young daughters to other men—their future husbands.
Most of the time the fathers, who often belongs to royalty or upper class, rejects the men that their daughters choose because of their lower standing. Apparently, some fathers judge the appropriateness of the men through their properties, strength and social positions. Also Shakespeare incorporates fathers from the middle life who are also reluctant to release their daughters at the threshold of adult commitment in marriage. The conflicts, fears, and insecurities, as each faces a crucial challenge of adulthood, cast new light on questions of moral development, male and female sex roles, and traditional and progressive social norms.
In earlier marriage, the father is the one who mostly manipulate his daughter’s decision making and thus making a woman’s sense of free will powerless. Meanwhile, some appraisals in fathers and daughters relationship in Shakespeare’s literature are typically more sympathetic to the fathers. Some daughters manifest tyrannical possessiveness taking advantage to her social standing and the excess parental affection of her father. Some are being manipulated by the daughters’ exemplary conduct such as capriciousness, coldness and disloyalty.
While some rebels against father’s possessiveness towards them “as a love corrupted by the power a patriarchal society confers on him”. Juliet and her father Old Capulet in the story of Romeo and Juliet, Desdemona and her father Branbantio in the story of Othello, Portia’s submissiveness to her father’s standard in The Merchant in Venice, though she knows it is quite wrong, all consciously or unconsciously moves to the whims of patriarchy. Meanwhile the character of Cordelia, the youngest daughter of King Lear, refused to go over board in her statement of love towards her father, and Jessica shows her disobedience and rebellious nature towards her father Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.
Apparently, there are two facets of fathers and daughters relationships in Shakespeare literature; first, some of his literature shows daughters’ submissiveness towards the standards of patriarchy as the daughters allow their fathers to dominate their lives to the extent that they are helpless to change their fate, and second, some daughters boldly oppose their fathers’ standards through escape and rebellion. These two facets creates such ambiguity as to whether Shakespeare is a pro feminist as he presents sexist oppression or did Shakespeare somehow remains within the tradition of patriarchy?
Most of the tensions and conflicts between the fathers and daughters revolve around the impending marriages of the daughters. In various Shakespearean plays, the father is often the one who chooses his daughter’s husband, which normally goes against the daughter’s will. “The daughters in some Shakespearean literature break the emotional strings that tie them to childhood, defying paternal authority to assert emotional independence” (Dreher 5).
One good example that shows defiance in paternal authority is when Juliet proceeds to marry Romeo event though Capulet, her father, strongly disagrees since Romeo is a Montague, the family’s rival clan. This action from Juliet creates conflict between her and her father which eventually leads to added drama throughout the play. Capulet is forced to disown his own daughter because of her act of disobedience;
“Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch/ I tell thee what: get thee to church o’ Thursday/ Or never after look me in the face/ Speak not, reply not, do not answer me!/ My fingers itch. Wife, we scarce thought us blest/ That God had lent us but this only child;/ But now I see this one is one too much,/ And that we have a curse in having her/ Out on her, hilding.” (Shakespeare 207).
Capulet feels like he is not being just rejected as a father but her patriarchal role has been rejected as well. As for Juliet, her opposition towards her father especially in terms of love illustrates her need for emotional freedom and desires for life transition that will give her opportunities for personal growth.
But Juliet apparently holds her father’s opinion in high regard and respect because after receiving her father’s judgment, she says; “Good father, I beseech you on my knees,/ Hear me with patience but to speak a word (Shakespeare 207). She apparently does feel badly for disappointing her father. Therefore, some Shakespeare’s female characters think very highly of their father’s opinions as part of their tradition, but proceed to do what they feel is in their own best interests and advantage.
Though Juliet disobey her father after falling in love with Romeo but her love for the man develops her sense of independence and maturity since Juliet in the initial part of the play plays the role of an innocent child who comes at her parents command immediately and who perceives marriage “an honour that I dream not of” (Shakespeare 48).
Similarly, Juliet and Lord Capulet have a strong relationship in the beginning of the play wherein the latter treats her daughter with so much love and compassion but not until he wishes her to marry Paris in Scene 5 of Act III. When Juliet disobeys, he put his judgment against her daughter with rage. But when Juliet returns apologetically to her father, and agrees to marry Paris, he once again returns to being the loving and caring father the readers initially identified.
This also shows that Juliet, though has an independent mind, is still attached to the belief that she has a responsibility as a daughter to obey her father. Basically, the play Romeo and Juliet shows how the limitations set forth by the father in a patriarchal society can affect a daughter’s life while she lives under his roof.
The patriarchal or authoritarian demands made by Juliet’s father, Juliet’s marrying Paris, in combination to Juliet’s secret marriage to Romeo, her father’s most hated enemy, greatly contributed to Juliet’s suicide and tragedy. “Although Capulet is genuinely distraught over his daughter’s suicide at the end, leading us to believe that his love for her was greater than his dictatorial display of affection for her throughout the play, he is nevertheless one of the chief culprits for her demise”.
Desdemona and Brabantio’s relationship has one of the most unique father and daughter relationship in all Shakespearean’s plays. The subtle conflict between the two starts when Desdemona fallen in love with a man of a different race, culture and color. She marries Othello even though she knows that her father will greatly oppose on it. She conceals her intentions and weds without her father’s consent which as a result, she loses her father’s affection.
Brabantio is a Venetian Senator with definite ideas on the subject and behaviour of his daughter. He, as much as possible, wants her daughter to choose a husband who he feels is of her caliber, someone that will fit her complex psychological traits and as well as someone who will raise their family’s esteem in Venetian society.
But Desdemona acts contrary to what is expected of her. She instead marries a Moor and not a Venetian man and an army general who does not have a lot of money but only prestige. Furthermore, Othello is also old nearly like her father’s age since the two are friends. Brabantio apparently wants her son in law to have a long life expectancy to inherit the family’s wealth and so that Desdemona would not be widowed or have to return to her father’s dependence.
Meanwhile, Desdemona’s father doesn’t also understand Desdemona’s judgment in marrying Othello since her actions are so out of keeping with his sense of her character. He apparently believes that Desdemona’s decision to marry Othello is so incongruous with both the social norms and Desdemona’s usual self. Thus Brabantio then believes that she must have been bewitched since he couldn’t believe that his actions are all voluntary,
“For I’ll refer me to all things of sense,/ If she in chains of magic were not bound,/ Whether a maid so tender, fair and happy,/ So opposite to marriage that she shunn’d/ The wealthy curled darlings of our nations,/ Would ever have (t’ incur a general mock)/ Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom/ Of such a thing as thou—to fear, not to delight” (Shakespeare “Othello” 10).
Though Othello says that Desdemona was captivated by his tales of adventure and suffering not bewitched, “ My story being done/ She gave me for my pains a world of sighs/ She swore, in faith, t’was strange, ‘twas passing strange;/ ‘Twas pitiful, ‘twas wondrous pitiful” (Shakespeare “Othello” 16). But nonetheless, whatever the intentions behind Desdemona’s decision, her actions illustrates disobedience to social norms and ultimately to her father’s expectations.
In the Merchant of Venice, two separate father-daughter relationships play an integral role in the central narrative of the play. The play illustrates the strained relationship of Venetian and Jewish money lender Shylock and his daughter Jessica and the non existent association on Portia’s relationship with her deceased father.
Shylock, devastated with the death of his wife Leah many years earlier, kept his house and environment with great mourning out of her respect for her. The continuous dedication or even obsession of Jessica’s father to her mother created distance between Shylock and his daughter Jessica, who can never completely understand the great love her parents shared. Jessica’s father is strictly puritanical too, wherein he keeps Jessica locks up in their small world isolating her from the outside.
Moreover, Shylock also shows little love and affection towards his daughter that perhaps motivated the latter to be rebellious and disloyal. She meets secretly with Lorenzo who is a Christian. When the two fled together, Shylock becomes even more upset discovering that his valuables disappeared with them,
“My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter ! / Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats! / Justice! The law! My ducats and my daughter! / A sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats, / Of double ducats, stol’n from me by my daughter! / And jewels—two stones, two rich and precious stones, / Stol’n by my daughter! Justice! Find the girl! / She hath the stones with her, and the ducats!” (Shakespeare “The Merchant of Venice” 40).
Jessica is not a good daughter at all since she let her rage against her father to dominate her actions and decisions. Likewise, Shylock is not a good father since he gives more importance to tradition, mourning and wealth giving little attention to his daughter. Portia’s father on the other hand is just as controlling as Jessica’s father however, Portia approach her father’s wishes with submissiveness. Though Portia is one of the strongest female characters in all Shakespearean’s plays, she respects her father’s wishes.
King Lear, who is old enough to retire from power, decides to divide his royalty amongst his three beautiful daughters. He offers the largest share to the one who loves him best.
Goneril and Regan, who significantly give importance to position and royalty, proclaim passionately and with all hypocrisy that they love their father more than anyone and any material thing in this world. Their statements completely please the King. However, Cordelia, the King’s youngest daughter, refuses to flatter him exaggeratedly, displaying a mild and forbearing temperament. Cordelia’s honest assertion annoys and offends the King.
Easily persuaded by the hollowness of his two daughters’ pretensions due to his blindness and wrong judgment of character, King Lear then decides to disinherit Cordelia and divides the kingdom only between the two. The subtle conflict of the Cordelia and King Lear starts on this. King Lear is basically hurt with what he perceived as an insult. He is expecting a flattering affirmation for him by his daughter but the latter’s genuine statement insulted him.
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