See Marriage, Love, and Courtship Through the Eyes of William Shakespeare
See Marriage, Love, and Courtship Through the Eyes of William Shakespeare

See Marriage, Love, and Courtship Through the Eyes of William Shakespeare

Shaina Lucas - February 12, 2019

See Marriage, Love, and Courtship Through the Eyes of William Shakespeare
The marriage of the Virgin fresco in the Tournabuoni Chapel. Wikimedia Commons.

Italian Renaissance And the Changing Ideals of Marriage

The Italian Renaissance (which happened years before the cultural change hit England) had some different views of marriage during this time. During the Renaissance in Italy, friendship was not a quality in marriage. Italian women were much more visible in the social world, educated, and more closely connected to civil and political life. These women could hold their own in a social gathering with informal diplomacy and witty conversation.

Wives of princes had even more of a difficult time for they were called upon to act as a deputy while their husbands were away, which was quite frequent during this time. Florentine traditions had elderly or mature men marry adolescent and barely literate girls. With an elite marriage being used to stave off war, it was not uncommon for the newlyweds to be of different ages or even dislike one another. Later in years, elite women would write about how the circles in court would recognize that men needed to take into account the sensitivity of their parents who were just as intelligent and closer in age as their significant other.

Property-owning classes of the early modern period saw marriage as a collective decision. It was a decision of family and kin, not the individual. Considerations for marriage were due to political patronage, property preservation and accumulation, past lineage associations, and extension of lineage connections. The greatest fear in society was that of a marriage alliance that melded a family together with a lower-class family or family of lower degree than the other. Primogeniture was the preservation and protection the entail was designed for. The study of the English family of this era is shrouded in confusion unless the principle of primogeniture, and practice of it, is consistently born into the mind. Under this system, the elder and younger children of the family suffered. Younger children received no title or estate unless they happened to be heir to their mother’s property. Some of these children were kept around the estates as a sperm-bank in case the elder son died childlessly and had to be replaced.

See Marriage, Love, and Courtship Through the Eyes of William Shakespeare
Queen Elizabeth primogeniture painting by Delaroche. Since the queen did not have an heir, the throne went to the first closest blood relative. Wikimedia Commons.

With the primogeniture system, a factor that lasted from the sixteenth century up until the nineteenth century was the dowry. In England, landed heiresses who provided property to their husbands was substantial enough of a dowry. Brides that didn’t have land property provided a cash sum called a ‘portion’. During the Renaissance, the dowry money went directly to the father of the groom. The father would then use this as a dowry for his own daughters to marry them off if he had any.

In return for this, the father of the groom would provide for the bride if she happened to survive her husband and become a widow. During the sixteenth century, this was called a ‘jointure’ which made marriage even more of an economical transfer rather than a transfer of love and friendship. This furthered the reason why women married men of their own class and own station for these men would be able to provide for their lavish expenses.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Franson, J. Karl. “`Too soon marr’d’: Juliet’s age as symbol in Romeo and Juliet.” Papers On Language & Literature 32, no. 3 (Summer96 1996): 244-262.

James, Carolyn. “Friendship and Dynastic Marriage in Renaissance Italy.” Literature & History 17, no. 1 (Spring2008 2008): 4-18.

Macfarlane, Alan. Marriage and Love in England 1300-1840. 1986.

McDonald, Russ. The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Boston, Palgrave MacMillan Ltd, 2001.

Nelson, T.G.A. “Doing things with words: Another look at marriage rites and spousals in renaissance drama and fiction.” Studies in Philology 95, no.4 (Fall98 1998): 351.

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. 1597. In The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare, The Complete Works Annotated, edited by Howard Staunton, 155-222. New York, NY: Gramercy Books, 1979.

Shakespeare, William. Taming of the Shrew. 1594. In The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare, The Complete Works Annotated, edited by Howard Staunton, 225-280. New York, NY: Gramercy Books, 1979.

Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. 1598. In The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare, The Complete Works Annotated, edited by Howard Staunton, 691-746. New York, NY: Gramercy Books, 1979.

Sokol, B.J, and Mary Sokol. Shakespeare, Law, and Marriage. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1977.

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