Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.
(From The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare)
Many, many women I know react with a shudder when they hear the speech made by the character of Katherina in the final act of Shakespeare's “The Taming of the Shrew.” Because of current society's view of men and women and marriage, I was once a woman of a similar mind. Throughout the sixteen years of my marriage, I have done much study and reading on the subjects of womanhood and what it means to be a good wife. I have found for myself, that Katherina's words are not only accurate, but that if they are applied in a marriage, greater happiness can come to the home and family.
When we, as wives, ask ourselves how we would like to be treated, can we honestly say that we would enjoy being nagged or corrected? Why has “shrewishness” become the normal state of wives in the media, and even in our homes? As women, we have the role of mother to play, but we should never begin to use those methods with our husbands. If we expect marriage to be an equal, loving partnership, then we should never overstep our bounds and push our husbands in to the role of a child. Nagging, complaining, and correcting our spouse places them lower on the family hierarchy, and serves only to erode and destroy the relationship between husband and wife.
Some might say that when a wife plays the feminine role and submits to her husband, that she is becoming the “child” in the relationship. The difference I see, is that when one chooses to become humble and meek like a little child, they are following the path that Christ has set when he said,
“... Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4 KJV)
We can choose to stand, arms crossed, and insist that the other person is the one who needs to change. The result of that experiment would manifest itself rather quickly in the form of hostility, resentment, heartbreak– but never can produce change, love or respect. We can choose to be “right”, or we can choose to heal that most important and precious of relationships—our marriage.
In the play, “The Taming of the Shrew”, Shakespeare points out a great truth of human nature: People live up to the expectations others have of them. And that truth reverberates not only in the Bard's work, but also in Proverbs, “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7 KJV) I feel that the role and story of “Sly” in the beginning of the play open our thoughts up to the logic behind the above philosophies. Then later, Katherina changes of her own free will and choice into a person that can have much more influence and power in her home and marriage than being a shrew ever could give her. (And more than it ever gave her in her childhood home.) To my mind, Katherina saw the opportunity to turn over a new leaf, and found the love that always had evaded her in the past as a result of her choice to be humble.
Over time, in the midst of my study and pondering on the role of wives within a marriage, I came to the conclusion that I contribute more to my marriage, home and family when I fill the role that God has given me. I love my husband, and I want to stay happily married. If I were to try and take on his role, or to attempt to reduce his role to that of a child, our relationship would strain, then crumble, then die. Love begets more love, and sarcasm, complaints, and general “shrewishness” creates hard feelings and avoidance.
I have asked myself, on several occasions, “Do I allow my husband to fill his God-given role as provider and protector? Do I treat him as a MAN, the head of our family, or do I follow the trends of society at large, and leave my husband feeling useless? Do I expect him to step in and take over my work, when what he needs from me is soothing, loving care that will give him the courage to face another day outside our home “slaying dragons”?
Men want to provide for their families. They want to protect us, and they want us to let them be who God designed them to be. We can show our love and appreciation for all they do by creating a haven for them at the end of a long day of “painful labour both by sea and land” for us and our children.
One of my favorite stories portrays this idea beautifully. I want to include an excerpt from it here:
“Men are such queer things, husbands especially. For instance, they want us to be economical, and yet they love to see us in pretty clothes. They need our work and yet they want us to keep our youth and beauty. And sometimes they don’t know themselves which they really want most. So we have to choose. That’s what makes it so hard.”
“Just after we were married, my husband decided to have his own business so he started a very tiny one. I helped my husband in the store, but we would both be tired and discouraged after a hard day at the office and we didn’t seem to be having any great success. The house got run down and dinner was always a hasty affair, and soon we both started complaining and bickering with each other.”
“Finally, we decided that maybe I should stay at home and let him take care of his work at the office as best he could. And then I worked in my house to make it a clean, shining, happy place. My husband would come home dead tired and discouraged, ready to give up the whole thing. But after he had eaten and sat in our bright little living room, and I had told him all the funny things I could invent about my day, I could see the change in him. By bedtime, he had his courage back, and by morning he was all ready to go out and fight again. And at last he won.”
“There was a queen once, who reigned in troubled days. And every time the country was on the brink of war and the people ready to fly into a panic, she would put on her showiest dress and take her court with her and go hunting. And when the people would see her riding by, they were sure all was well with the government. So she tided over many a danger.”
“And I’ve tried to be like her. Whenever a big crisis comes in my husband’s business, or when he’s discouraged, I put on my prettiest dress and get the best dinner I know how, or give a party! And somehow it seems to work. That’s the woman’s part, you know, to play the queen.”
(“When Queens Ride By” By Olive White Fortenbacher, published by Walter H. Baker, Co., 1932, Agnes Slight Turnbull, editor and compiler.)
I also want to share one last quote that I came upon the other day. It was given by a woman I admire very much, who was married to her sweetheart for well over 60 years before she passed away:
“I know it is hard for you young mothers to believe that almost before you can turn around the children will be gone and you will be alone with your husband. You had better be sure you are developing the kind of love and friendship that will be delightful and enduring. Let the children learn from your attitude that he is important. Encourage him. Be kind. It is a rough world, and he, like everyone else, is fighting to survive. Be cheerful. Don’t be a whiner.”
(Marjorie Pay Hinckley, Small and Simple Things , 31; emphasis mine)
I hope that I am the kind of wife my husband needs most. I try to put his needs before my own, and build him up to my children. I strive to make our home a haven where his efforts are loved and acknowledged. I show him affection in the ways that he needs and appreciates. I do my best to be frugal and careful with the hard-earned money he provides for our family. And though I have a way to go, I try to let him occasionally see me at my best, and not always at my worst. (*grin*)
I sincerely hope that I am becoming more like the reformed shrew, Katherina, from “The Taming of the Shrew.”