A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
Get Thee Wedded: Shakespeare’s Advice on Finding a Wife
July 29, 2020
If it has been awhile since you’ve read The Tempest, it is definitely worth a re-read. If you haven’t ever read The Tempest…then how can you call yourself a gentleman?
The play is about a man named Prospero. He is the former Duke of Milan who was betrayed and exiled by his brother to a lonely island in the middle of the ocean. The only other family member on the island is his young daughter Miranda.
The overt action of the play is about restoring Prospero to his dukedom. However, as this plan is being worked out, the inner workings of providence come to bless the lives of almost every other character in the play–in a way that is good for each of them individually. It’s quite beautiful to see how Shakespeare, the master storyteller, depicts all this in something you can read in about two hours.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on the character of Ferdinand, the young prince of Naples. He is shipwrecked on Prospero’s island, and providentially meets Miranda, the young woman who will become his wife. There is much to learn from Ferdinand, especially regarding how he prepares himself for marriage to Prospero’s daughter.
First things first: Move out of your parents’ house
The play opens with a dramatic storm at sea. Separated from the rest of the survivors, Ferdinand washes up on the very same island where Prospero and his daughter Miranda have been living in exile for the past twelve years.
Having been separated from his father and the rest of the group, prince Ferdinand wakes up alone, and he must, for the first time in his life (presumably), figure out what he is going to do with himself. This should remind us of Genesis 2:24, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife” [italics mine].
The idea is that before you can be relied upon you as a husband and father, you must first discover what it means to rely on yourself. Prove to yourself that you can get things done, lead a stable life, pay your bills, manage a schedule. You must be able to manage your own life (without your father and mother doing everything for you) before you can manage living in a house with other people. Living up to these basic responsibilities is a precursor to the role you will need to play in your own domestic life.
In Ferdinand’s case, he was abruptly separated from his family. But in your own life, if you are starting to desire marriage, then step one is probably to start figuring out how to live on your own. You’ve got to transition to life outside of your parents’ home…that is, unless you want your parents to choose your wife for you. (That was a joke. Perish that thought immediately!)
Take an honest look at your habits
So what kind of life is Ferdinand living before he arrives at the island? Spoiler alert, it isn’t very good. The picture of a foppish young prince leading an indulgent, luxurious life around the palace comes to mind. We get a glimpse of his habits when he says,
Full many a lady
I have eyed with best regard and many a time
The harmony of their tongues hath into bondage
Brought my too diligent ear: for several virtues
Have I liked several women. (III.i.49-53)
Dandyish prince or not, these are the same challenges facing each of us as men today. (Thank goodness Ferdinand didn’t have a smartphone, right?) According to his own testimony, his eye wanders from woman to woman. He’s seduced into bondage by “the harmony of their tongues,” i.e., they tell him only what he wants to hear.
In the social scene of Naples, prince Ferdinand would be a prize catch. How many temptations must the young prince have faced, given the power, wealth, and celebrity that are his? It’s easily understandable that he has become enslaved to his lust, willing to forget about his future inheritance in exchange for the pleasures of women in the present moment.
Lest we deceive ourselves, we all do exactly the same thing every time we sin. Remember, like Ferdinand YOU–the gentleman reading this article–are also a prince:
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship….Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)
The son of a king is a prince. You stand to inherit a kingdom, too. No matter how menial your job on earth may seem, you are a son of God, and that means you are an heir to His kingdom. No matter how humble you may feel, there is much at stake in your life. There would be a metaphysical hole in the created universe if you did not exist.
Like Ferdinand, we are each tempted every day to forget our future inheritance for the pleasures of the present moment. The lesson here is that it’s time to confess the ways in which we are not living up to our dignity as heirs of the kingdom and begin working on these bad habits.
Start Carrying Your Logs
As soon as Ferdinand sees Miranda, we have a classic “love at first sight” moment. Ferdinand beholds the beautiful Miranda, and she “sighs for” him (I.ii.536). She’s ready, right then and there, to bring him into the family. Sounds romantic, right?
That’s because it is, and her father Prospero knows it. He doesn’t want his daughter to get swept away in the moment and make a mistake that could change the direction of her life forever. He wants her genuine happiness. The same applies to Ferdinand. Of course he falls “in love” with this beautiful woman. He’s been training his mind to fall in love with a new beautiful woman every thirty seconds for years! (Well, I speculate.)
After this first meeting, Prospero is not totally against the idea of Ferdinand and Miranda’s marriage. However, just like your own future father-in-law, Prospero is going to have some questions in mind before he gives you his daughter: Sure, this young man may be handsome, but who is he? Is he a virtuous? Is he prepared to be the head of a family? Can I rely on him to take care of my daughter?
Keep in mind that God is not just your Father, but he is also your father-in-law. If you want to marry one of His best daughters, then become one of His best sons.
How does Ferdinand go about proving that he is ready to marry? He starts carrying logs. Prospero literally asks him to gather wood. It sounds like this is the first time he has ever done manual labor, but to his credit, his love for Miranda inspires him to service. Ferdinand says,
I am in my condition
A prince, Miranda; I do think, a king;
I would, not so!–and would no more endure
This wooden slavery than to suffer
The flesh-fly blow my mouth. Hear my soul speak:
The very instant that I saw you, did
My heart fly to your service; there resides,
To make me slave to it; and for your sake
Am I this patient log-man. (III.i.71-79)
If you want to marry an awesome, beautiful wife then it’s time to start carrying your logs. The allusion here is so obvious, it’s hiding in plain sight.
Then Jesus said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
To prepare for marriage, start embracing the cross. Start carrying your logs. Start doing things for the sake of Christ. Put your phone away. Stop looking at pornography.
Get used to serving because marriage will also challenge every last ounce of your pride. It is pride that tells us that we can hold back certain things from our wife and children, that we don’t have to go “all in” on our marriage and family. It is our pride that hurts when we can’t spend our money the way we want; it is our pride that hurts when we have to wake up in the middle of the night to give medicine to a sick child; it is our pride that hurts when we can’t play video games for 10 hours every Saturday.
Marriage is different
Preparing for marriage is not the same as preparing for your first communion or the other sacraments you received when you were a child. Your mom is not going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “You’re going to get married this April.”
Marriage is the sacrament of your vocation, and nobody else can do the work for you. Nobody else can prepare for you. I think this is in part why it is such a beautiful, amazing, life-changing sacrament! Living in a virtuous marriage will add incredible dimensions to your life–infinitely more than you can possibly imagine.
Thinking ahead, realize that there are going to be periods of time in your marriage when you can’t have sex with your wife. (For example, during her monthly menstruation, the six weeks after she gives birth, when you’ve done something to irritate her, etc.) The habits of chastity you and your future wife build together during your engagement prepare you to be chaste during these times of restraint that will be required in your marriage.
The Final Ingredient: Prayer
Pray. Any time you fail to live up to your dignity as a prince, or feel anxious, pray. “Lord, I have faith You will find me a wife.” I said this short prayer over and over again, sometimes a hundred times a day, for almost a year before I met the amazing “Miranda” who would become my wife.
“Lord, I have faith You will find me a wife.” God, our Father, has a Miranda in mind for each one of us. Your future wife is your “Miranda,” the miraculous one who ought to strike you with wonder and amazement.
Meditate on this. Who is the Miranda God has reserved for you? Who is the Miranda God had in mind for you when He laid the foundations of the world? Your Miranda is beautiful. She is wonderful. She is the one whom you should be marveling at–not a new girl on the internet every 30 seconds.
So set your heart on the way. Miranda is your destiny. Be faithful to your future wife right now, even if you haven’t met her yet. Pray for her. Pray for your marriage.
In the end, it’s pretty simple. Carry your logs and pray. It‘s what God has been asking us to do all along.
And for heaven’s sake, read The Tempest.
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