Remember when I went on my quest to figure out what the heck "giving my husband unconditional respect meant?" Well, I found a couple of definitions that brought tears of recognition to my eyes.
Here's one definition of respect neatly laid out by Shakespeare,
Girls, girls! Wipe those frowns off your faces and stop rolling your eyes. This disrespectful stance towards the man who is your lord, your king, your governor tarnishes your beauty the way the frosts of winter blight the land. It mars your reputation the way a whirlwind shakes fair buds. And in no way is fitting or attractive.
An angry woman is like an agitated fountain--muddy, unpleasant, lacking in beauty. And in this condition, no one-however dry or thirsty he may be--will stoop to sip or touch one drop of it.
Your husband is your lord, your life, your keeper, your head, your sovereign, one who cares for you and for your ease and comfort, commits his body to harsh labor both on land and sea. Long stormy nights at sea he stays awake, by day he endures cold while you lie safe and warm, secure in your beds at home.
And in exchange he seeks no more from you but love, kind looks, and true obedience--too little payment for so great a debt.
A woman owes a husband the same loyalty a subject owes his king. And when she is peevish and preverse, sullen, sour, and disobedient, what is she but a loathsome rebel and an ungrateful traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so foolish as to declare war when they should plead on their knees for peace, that they seek authority, supremacy, power, when they are under an obligation to serve, love, and obey. Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth, unfit for toil and trouble in the world, if not so that our soft qualities and our hearts should agree with our external parts? Come, come you weak, ungovernable worms!*
(Katherine's closing speech in Taming of the Shrew, Act 5, Scene 2, updated in Modern English at "No Fear Shakespeare")
Wow, there is a lot of things to chew over in this speech! Doesn't it sound totally strange to modern ears? I ask you, have you seen the Taming of the Shrew on the stage recently? I'm a Shakespeare girl, this is one of his most famous plays, yet I never remember seeing on stage, or reading it in school.
In defiance of the Devil, who killed the definition of marriage inside the only American State that bears the name of Mary, the Mother of God yesterday, read this passage to your husband when he comes home from work. Watch him melt. Most likely, he has never heard such a clear definition of respect, either.
I know some of this stuff seems outdated. Domestic violence is real. The Catholic church hands out annulments for valid reasons. You might be reading this post while you're at work yourself, and scoff at the medieval notion that women are considered "unfit for toil and trouble in the world!" Yet that's not what Shakespeare is saying.
Shakespeare assumes in this passage that a husband is a loving lord. He asks a wife to give true obedience. Sometimes a wife has to tell her husband a painful truth. However, that conversation should always be done respectfully and courageously. It's should be done with gentleness and love.
When Shakespeare's character says "plead on your knees for peace"--he's tipping his hand to us ladies. There is nothing my husband's wouldn't do for me, nothing!
I'm his everything.
The one payment my husband wants for all his unselfish service to me is to try my best to always remain a lady. A lady makes calm requests with the assumption of goodwill. (Think Mary at the Wedding of Cana).
My communication skills really stink. I'm fine when I'm in a good mood, but when I start to get unglued--watch out. My tongue starts lashing, and my eyes start rolling. I've got sarcasm, and witty come-backs and petty past grievances in spades.
Shakespeare reminds me in those emotionally difficult moments to-- Be an adult. Take some time to pray before I speak to my husband whenever I'm upset. Be humble, instead of self-righteous. Be little.
My name Abigail means "a fountain of joy" in Hebrew. I take delight in that apt description of myself, so bubbly, so joyous, so generally useless except for mere ornament in my Father's garden. Shakespeare reminds me to try my best to remain "an untroubled fountain".
There are a lot of people in my life who depend on me. I'm not much in the world, but to the few people who see me, I am their world. The more that I strive to become a lady, a true "gentle woman" in times of crisis, the better for all concerned.
*It's very interesting to reread this passage and think about our relationship to Jesus. He is our true "loving Lord." He has suffered so much for us, but all he asks is "loving looks and kind words" from us, His friends.