All’s Hell If Things Don’t End Well

Irina Lessne
6 min readMay 30, 2020

Throughout Walt Disney’s Mulan, the warriors sought out to defend China proudly affirm that what they want most of all is to find “a girl worth fighting for.”(Disney’s Mulan) Throughout history, the concepts of love and war are at odds end and it seems virtually impossible due to this rigid dichotomy that somebody can identify as being both a lover and a fighter. During the Elizabethan era, men were either vigilant warriors, or sentimental sweethearts, while women were expected to be dainty mistresses who were quiet and did what they were told. Through this paper, I plan on focusing on Shakespeare’s “All’s Well that Ends Well” and utilizing other plays to support the claim that love and war are incompatible with one another. Additionally I aim to prove that while it is possible for a man to greatly enjoy fighting, he cannot, by means of this play, be loyal to his men AND display love and affection loyalty towards his lady.

What is love? Baby doesn’t hurt me. Well I guess it goes something like that. Love is supposed to be the purest of all entities and is intended to be everything that hatred, cruelty and violence are not. During Shakespeare’s time, love was perceived very differently than it is commonly viewed today. People typically didn’t marry for reasons of love, but did so for social standing and the benefits that coincided. Interestingly enough, it was considered foolish to marry for love, even though marriage and love are intertwined with one another. Once married, women were considered their husbands property and were supposed to do as they wished, in addition to tending to the children and maintaining the household. Parolles makes a valid claim when he warns that “A young man married is a man that’s marr’d” 2.3) Although love and marriage are intended to be joyous occasions, the constraints of being a lover can take toll on an individual. Men such as Parolles seek out adventure and want to live life without feeling confined to the rigid boundaries of marriage. This is not to say that marriage is all bad, but for men like Bertram, who wish to live vicariously and enjoy their youth, the prospect is comparable to being confined in a prison cell.

Bertram is without a doubt a spiteful individual who treats women poorly, but he also is quite personable as Helena falls deeply in love with him. He is also a worthy soldier but it appears that the confinement of marriage has tampered with his mind. Marriage, while it does ensure lifelong stability, it puts a damper on a young man’s youthful ways and forces him to grow up perhaps before he is ready. If he had refrained from getting married, Bertram might have had the opportunity to transition more smoothly from precarious boyhood into respectable, noble and honorable manhood. Maybe if Bertram was given more time to embrace his youth, make mistakes and grow from them, he would have been able to roam free and experience the world before being held captive in the constricting claws of marriage.

Likewise, to love is to harbor emotions and be selfless, to be open minded and think of one’s significant other first and yourself second. With this being said, it is highly unlikely that somebody can identify as being a lover as well as a fighter. Soldiers are conceited and fight to kill, putting emotions on hold in order to complete daunting tasks set before them. Throughout the play, men struggle with maintaining a marriage while perusing their dreams while partaking in battle. According to Bertram, “war is no strife to the dark house and detested wife.”(2.4) There are many times throughout the play in which characters suggest that running off to fight was preferable to settling down and getting married. Being able to fight enables men such as Bertram and Parolles to have a sense of freedom; one they would not be able to experience if married. Parolles supports Bertram’s ideas and believes wholeheartedly that the house is no place for a man, and that they should be out fighting.

He believes that men who tend to their wives are no better than “jades”, or female horses whose sole purpose is breeding. It is rather comical that men in this play and during the Elizabethan era held true to the belief that women were objects . . . intended for one purpose. Bertram and Parolles want to spend time being men, surrounding themselves with their soldiers, but are supposed to help their ladies reproduce . . . that is, according to their views, the most important thing about women. So how can they be off with their friends fighting, enjoying their freedom AND be at home, making love to their women? It just doesn’t seem possible. To support this claim, I have to note that a common view shared by men during this period was as follows; in order to uphold masculinity and be a good husband, a man must always be fighting. According to Bertram and Parolles, men need to fight in order to be perceived by their peers as being nobel, honorable and most importantly, as masculine. If “true men” remain on the battlefield, who is at home with women, ensuring their safety and providing for future generations?

So, I find myself at a crossroads, trying to determine the way in which lovers and fighters are to be perceived. If what Bertram and Parolles preach is the truth, then neither of them are lovers . . .they are self-centered fighters who think primarily about themselves and whose mission is to do whatever it takes to erect their masculinity upon others. The two men inadvertently suggest that true men fight, and only those who are weak at heart stay at home with their ladies. If I understand their words correctly, being loyal to one’s wife and loving her unconditionally is looked down upon. On the other hand, appearing physically tough and possessing a warrior’s mentality is a sign of strength and masculinity . . . and is preferred. Ultimately, I do not believe that men in this play can be described as being lovers as well as fighters. Bertram and Parolles are soldiers, and are loyal to each other and are distant from their ladies. The two men are self-centered, and think only of themselves, which in modern society would be perceived as a sign of weakness, not strength.

Parolles and Bertram are apparently the epitome of masculinity, which means that they are phenomenal warriors but are shitty husbands. They love fighting, but it is questionable whether or not they love women. Therefore they can be described as passionate fighters and incompatible lovers. They are more committed to their friends (soldiers) than they are to the women to whom they so desperately rely on to reproduce. To sum up, it is impossible to be both a lover and a fighter . . . one must choose where their loyalties stand. A man is either loyal to his men or to his wife and it seems unheard of to be loyal to both. It is up to each man as an individual to decide whether he wants to be a lover or a fighter. Once the decision has been made there is no going back . . . no middle ground or grey area between being a fighter or being a lover. Therefore, it is impossible to be a fighter as well as a lover, and as MacBeth would say, once a choice has been made, “Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done is done.”(MacBeth 3.2)

Works Cited

http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/mulan/agirlworthfightingfor.htm

Shakespeare, William. “All’s Well that Ends Well.” The Norton Shakespeare Based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. 2nd ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Shakespeare, William. “MacBeth.” The Norton Shakespeare Based on the Oxford Edition.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. 2nd ed. N.p.:n.p.,n.d. N. pag. Print

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Irina Lessne

Just a girl with a cup of coffee in one hand and a notebook in the other hoping to make an impact in the world