As men and women in Shakespeare’s plays struggle to find happiness through romantic love, one of the obstacles that blocks their path is fidelity. More specifically, female characters are often forced to endure the conduct of men whose sense of commitment wavers alarmingly. As Friar Lawrence, Romeo’s confidante in Romeo and Juliet, says after Romeo proclaims his newly discovered affections for Juliet:
Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear,
So soon forsaken? Young men’s love then lies
Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.
(II, iii, 65–68)
The young man to whom these words are spoken, Romeo, never turns away from Juliet, but other romantic heroes prove less devoted. As a result, many of the women in Shakespeare’s plays, particularly the comedies, must settle for the best of an assortment of mediocre suitors, while their male counterparts appear lucky to marry as fortunately as they do. Shakespeare’s unmistakable implication is that women hold more stead-fastly to their love than men do, one reason why we often feel that Shakespeare’s women are superior, both intellectually and morally, to the men they marry.
In Shakespeare’s first comedy, The Comedy of Errors, Adriana expresses concern over the whereabouts of her missing husband, Antipholus, but her sister, Luciana, dismisses such worry:
Time is their master, and when they see time,
They’ll go or come; if so, be patient, sister.
(II, i, 7–9)