Isabella has just met the rich ward whom her father insists she must marry, in order to add his wealth to her already considerable inheritance. Her only words in the scene (and the play) to date have been three syllables of protest – “Dear father!” – which the latter swiftly cuts short. Now, appalled by her husband-to-be’s grossness and inanity, she turns to the audience and unburdens the distress that overwhelms her.
Marry a fool!
Can there be greater misery to a woman
That means to keep her days true to her husband
And know no other man? So virtue wills it.
Why, how can I obey and honour him, 165
But I must needs commit idolatry?
A fool is but the image of a man,
And that but ill-made neither. O the heart-breakings
Of miserable maids where love’s enforced!
The best condition is but bad enough: 170
When women have their choices, commonly
They do but buy their thraldoms, and bring great portions
To men to keep ‘em in subjection,
As if a fearful prisoner should bribe
The keeper to be good to him, yet lies in still, 175
And glad of a good usage, a good look
Sometimes. By’r Lady, no misery surmounts a woman’s.
Men buy their slaves, but women buy their masters.
Yet honesty and love makes all this happy
And, next to angels’, the most blest estate. 180
That providence that has made every poison
Good for some use, and sets four warring elements
At peace in man, can make a harmony
In things that are most strange to human reason.
O, but this marriage! 185