In addition to what they suffer through jealousy, women in Shakespeare have also to cope with many other problems. The most peculiar perhaps is that of Helena in All’s Well that ends Well, who is desperately in love with Bertram, the son of the Countess of Roussilon, the patron of her father. She expresses this with astonishingly forthright passion, in the very first scene –
Carries no favour in’t but Bertram’s.
I am undone: there is no living, none,
If Bertram be away. ‘Twere all one
That I should love a bright particular star
And think to wed it, he is so above me:
In his bright radiance and collateral light
Must I be comforted, not in his sphere.
The ambition in my love thus plagues itself:
The hind that would be mated by the lion
Must die for love. ‘Twas pretty, though plague,
To see him every hour; to sit and draw
His arched brows, his hawking eye, his curls,
In our heart’s table; heart too capable
Of every line and trick of his sweet favour:
But now he’s gone, and my idolatrous fancy
Must sanctify his reliques.
At the end of the scene she expresses her determination to get her man
our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to heaven: the fated sky
Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull
Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull.
And in the end she succeeds. First she marries Bertram after she cures the King of France, who promises her that she can choose any husband she wants. Then, after he has abandoned her, she follows him to the wars and changes places with a girl he had tried to seduce. Since Bertram had promised to accept her as his wife if she obtains from him his family ring and gets pregnant by him, she is able to get him to accept her in the last scene of the play. But the cynicism with which he has talked about the girl he thought he had slept with suggests a less than happy ending for Helena
certain it is I liked her,
And boarded her i’ the wanton way of youth:
She knew her distance and did angle for me,
Madding my eagerness with her restraint,
As all impediments in fancy’s course
Are motives of more fancy; and, in fine,
Her infinite cunning, with her modern grace,
Subdued me to her rate: she got the ring;
And I had that which any inferior might
At market-price have bought.
Much Ado about Nothing also involves gross humiliation of a woman, when Claudio abandons Hero on their wedding day. He has been tricked into believing her to have been unfaithful, and he is soon disabused and marries her, but again the impression the play leaves is that women in love are at the mercy of their loved one’s whims. Conversely, the idea that men can freely stray is set by an early song –
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny