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Old Anti-Marriage Essay

This is an essay I wrote in Feb 2002 criticizing marriage. Oh God, the writing style is so bad! I hope this will show you that no one is a lost cause!

I bet some of you FI bros are already better writers than this... So things are looking good for you!

I do like the use of italics and the connections between Shakespeare's play and my points. But lots of this is a mess, and it's got tons of that awful school essay style.

Can anyone refute some of these arguments? Reply in the comments below!

Marriage in Measure for Measure: A Destructive Force Revealed

The depth of Shakespeare's commitment to marriage is shown by the fact that he continues to take it for granted as an institution even while the action of his play, Measure for Measure, systematically reveals its ability to hurt people. Marriage even leads a number of characters to immoral ideas! The characters in the play seem to think marriage is very important, but at the same time they are constantly pointing out flaws. Their inability to notice the flaws they elucidate strongly supports the thesis. Hence, some of their statements will be highlighted, and the flaws examined.

In most societies, ideas about love and marriage do terrible damage. Marriage is a form of vertical, or contractual, relationship that functions as a control mechanism. Horizontal visions of marriage, in essence marriage as a true friendship or ARR (Autonomy Respecting Relationship), could utterly destroy the tradition. The more ARRs catch on, the more people would realise that no personal relationship needs contractual obligations, or state approval. This would lead to a more dynamic society, and even while the ideas are on the whole unpopular, some people would certainly begin to question their local dictator. Therefore, said tyrant cannot allow this process to begin; relationships must be painful obligations without truth-seeking. However, it must be noted that the ruler does not consciously understand this. He, too, acts on anti-rational memes which contain knowledge about what he must do. Some of them tell him to protect marriage. He does not know why he does this; there is no conspiracy. In Measure for Measure, the Duke goes to elaborate lengths to create a number of marriages, and enforce the contractual obligations inherent in them.

One of the issues Shakespeare goes into is distorted ethics; marriage contributes fairly well to confusing people ethically. For example, Isabella would choose highly immoral actions such as allowing her close friend and brother Claudio to die, before she would violate the rigid rules outlawing premarital sex. Any good person would make a minor, inconsequential sacrifice of some temporary discomfort to save the life of a valued friend. However, Isabella says, “I had rather my brother die by the law than my son should be unlawfully born” (Measure for Measure, Act III, Scene I, Lines 187-189). Isabella makes the same mistake as many others in her society, placing false importance on marital contracts. She cannot see the inherent harm, even when it hits her in the face by forcing her to sacrifice her brother. And, transitively, Shakespeare also misses the harm, or he would abandon marriage.

One of the issues Shakespeare goes into is reason; marriage causes people to act unreasonably. It is common to hear such lines as You will find true love someday or Your soulmate is out there, somewhere, waiting. The message is to cheer up, because the listener will find love. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In most people, such a strong desire for love is instilled, that they will often convince themselves a relationship is love, despite reality. They then hang on to this so-called “love” for fear of losing their soulmate. For example, the Duke says of Marianna, “[Angelo’s] unjust unkindness, that in all reason should have quenched her love, hath, like an impediment in the current, made it more violent and unruly” (238-241). When reason dictates that Marianna should hate Angelo, she instead loves him more. Even the Duke (and transitively Shakespeare) admits that love causes people to act against reason!

Marriage blinds its followers to its own harm. For instance, the Duke says, “[Angelo] swallowed his vows whole…bestowed her on her own lamentation, which she yet wears for his sake” (224-227). He associates breaking vows with causing suffering. However, if Angelo and Marianna had a healthy relationship—a friendship or ARR--this would not have happened. When Angelo decided he did not want to marry Marianna, he would have gone his own way, and neither party would have felt bad. It would be wrong of Marianna to attempt to control Angelo, or force him to do things against his will, and as a friend she should not even want to; however, marital ideas have confused her. Marianna, if she were rational, would correctly feel sad because her brother and her wealth were lost at sea, which was a true loss. Angelo’s changing wants should not cause such grief. The Duke continues, “and he, a marble to her tears, is washed with them, but relents not” (227-228). The Duke feels Angelo should self-sacrifice, following an obligation long after his desire to do so has left him. Again, a character in Measure for Measure advocates harm over any action contrary to marriage. The Duke—quite explicitly—would rather harm Angelo than allow him to do anything against the marital status quo.

The Duke must advocate immoral ideas to achieve his desired outcome of protecting the establishment of marriage. Consider a proposition: if we grouped people into sets of three, then randomly slew one in each group, and gave his wealth to the other two, two people would benefit greatly for every one that lost, therefore the world would be a better place. It’s absurd! Trading two benefits, which may only be benefits in the Duke’s eyes, for one wrong is terribly immoral. However, the Duke says, “[If you choose to do this,] the doubleness of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof” (253-255). Basically, he says it’s ok to do one wrong because he gets two things he wants, or to put it graphically, it would be justified to rape one person if you had two orgasms. The Duke (and transitively Shakespeare) understands that his marriage laws harm some people, but prefers that to any contradiction of marriage as perfection.

What if some horizontal marriages were allowed? What would be so terrible about a few outcasts? The real question here is this: What happens to authority figures who make exceptions? The answer is simple, there is a real possibility a haze will clear from the eyes of the ruled, and they will realize their leader’s fallibility. If his laws are not always the best in all situations, perhaps that time a law hurt me, I should have had an exception! some peasant might think. Small freedoms lead down a slippery slope towards people requesting then fighting for freedom. However, the Duke (and Shakespeare) do not consciously understand it. This knowledge is embedded in anti-rational memes, so they act as if they know this, but are actually simply meme-controlled. That is one of the tricks of marriage that keeps Shakespeare so committed to it: a number of anti-rational memes tell him it’s terrific.

Measure for Measure could be a strong critique of marriage that exposes it as the harmful idea it is, contrary to autonomy. However, if Shakespeare understood marriage as such, he would not have clung to it. For instance, he ends the play with more marriages! Marriage as an important part of the social structure is firmly entrenched in Shakespeare’s mind. The Duke himself is caught admitting that love makes people act against reason. Isabella prefers immoral actions inline with the no-premarital-sex commandment to her brother’s life. Marriage, in her view, is more important than ethics! Only an utterly taken in Shakespeare could write this play without realizing what he had revealed. It is fitting that the Duke uses marriage as a punishment to end the play, for it truly is a terrible thing.

Elliot Temple on January 3, 2016


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