Feminist Analysis of Dryden's Marriage Term Paper

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Adultery and any sort of infidelity turns out to be a different story for men as Rosenthal stresses: "prohibition against adultery is not about property, pregnancy, misdirected male desire, or bloodlines, as one might have thought, but about the prevention of female comparison" (Rosenthal, 2008) as sharing men would be established by the size of their sexual organs.

A recurrent theme in the play from a gender perspective relates to the fact that the play is generally a patriarchal type of play in which paternal figures are predominant and the evolution of the other characters is a direct result of this way of using power. The women in this play, especially Doralice and Melantha are victimized as women had lesser rights to speak their minds or act according to their decisions. The paternalistic environment is also observed in the way Palamede and Rhodophil behave, as all four of them find themselves in arranged marriages from which they seek to escape. Also paternalistic is the way the two young ladies see men, and their subordination relation towards them. In a dialogue with Palamede, Doralice, dressed as a man, argues that a man should admire her, "cry up every word I said and screw your face into a submissive smile" (Dryden, 1981).

The interesting part of the play in what regards men-women relations in a paternalistic type of controlled world is that, towards the end the men realize that they actually do feel some sort of affection for their own wives, not only for the other one's: "Melantha: Let me die, but this solitude, and that grotto are scandalous: I'll go no further; besides, you have a sweet lady of your own / Rhodophil: "But a sweet mistress, now and then, makes my sweet lady so much more sweet" (Dryden, 1981). Perhaps in a world with lesser imposed rules, the relations between them would have even evolved to the point of strong feelings, yet as it happened, a certain spirit of rebellion and a need for breaking the rules to feel freedom led all four to have adulterous relations.

Looking at the play from the same type of paternalistic view, Dryden also sends a very important message related to the degree of which institutions, be them royalty or the institution of marriage, tend to suppress awareness of own feelings and needs. Similar to what Jason Denman argues in his "Erotic and Political Timing in Marriage a la Mode," it can be said that characters go around the same issues of time, timing and the need to accomplish their goals. The more they try to succeed in attaining something in their erotic or political types of desires the more coordination issues appear. (Denman, 2008) The lack of space and time could be seen as a significant challenge for characters to reach their goals due to a metaphorical limited space for those that choose to exit the hierarchical-paternalistic system. This is showed in a very comprehensive way by Palamede after the four meet and they discover the complexity of their situation: "…a pretty odd kind of game this is, where each of us plays for double stakes: I am to get his wife, and yet to guard my own mistress. But I am vilely suspicious, that, while I conquer in the right wing, I shall be routed in the left; for both our women will betray their party, because they are each of them for gaining of two, as well as we" (Dryden, 1981).

Dryden has created a very important piece of satirical comedy that speaks for many of the period's issues. Be them of political, sexual or gender nature, the issues he raises through the dialogues and songs he uses are as valid today as they were several hundreds of years ago. From a gender perspective, as stated above, the main issues that Dryden touches upon relate to women's condition in society and especially in the institution of marriage, in which too little importance is given to true feelings. Also, the play has a strong paternalistic approach as many of the young characters are evolving under the eyes of their brothers, fathers or husbands. Although not present directly in the play, the issue of equality between men and women is obvious from several of the key moments in the play, referring especially to freedom of choice. In a society such as Dryden's, such things were not yet accepted, although much discussed and debated in the public sphere.


Denman, J. (2008) "Too hasty to stay": Erotic and Political Timing in Marriage a la Mode. Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660-1700, Volume 32, Number 2, pp. 1-23

Dryden, J. (1981) Marriage a la Mode. University of Nebraska Press

Frank, M. (2002) Gender, Theatre, and the Origins of Criticism: From Dryden to Manley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Hansen, C. (1993) Woman as Individual in English Renaissance Drama: A Defiance of the Masculine Code. New York:…

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