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date: 22 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This essay traces close links between socialized desire and social death, and asks what is lost if we accept marriage as the necessary end of comic processes. Marriage sacrifices flexible, multifaceted relations to narrower and more durable contracts. Both for those included in marriage and for those excluded from it, situational attachments—whether pragmatic or affective, exigent or incidental—cannot survive exclusive unions. Shakespearean comedies put these consequences on display, creating articulate subjects of loss who speak for alternative modes of connection. Priorities forged by local desires and needs interrupt the drive towards a single exclusive choice. Rather than stand as a naturalized outcome, marriage becomes a contested artefact, challenged by characters whose presence is supplemental, anachronistic, and melancholic. While I do not argue that Shakespeare is against marriage, I do suggest that the plays invite us to count its costs, and to envision more capacious and consensual bonds.

Keywords: marriage, comedy, death, melancholia, contract, consent

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