Page:Elizabethan People.djvu/374

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.


modern reader should remember that the scene was comic to the Elizabethan audience merely because Capulet was overdoing a natural and customary rôle. In a milder way Ophelia is responsible for much of the pathos in Hamlet's situation because of her unquestioning obedience to her father's arbitrary decree. Yet this was what a well bred Elizabethan girl should have done and the action should not be interpreted as an indication of the colourless character of the heroine.[1]

Young women in Shakespeare's time were married at an earlier age than to-day, sometimes at such a tender age that it was necessary to wait several years before they were old enough to live with their husbands as man and wife. Juliet and her mother were brides at fourteen. Fifteen or sixteen was a common marriageable age. And the woman who reached twenty unmarried had justly earned the title of confirmed spinster.

  1. Though Ophelia is not, literally speaking, an Elizabethan girl, it should be remembered that Shakespeare in common with his fellow dramatists interpreted their characters in accordance with his own times regardless of the local time or place represented in the story. Thus Hamlet and the grave-diggers both speak of current affairs in London. In almost any play allusions to the customs of Elizabethan England can be discovered mingled with what little local colour the original of the play furnished. The idea of accuracy in this respect was not yet familiar to the Elizabethans.