Love- the Old English Way

The history of love, marriage, and family relationships in the English society have changed over the centuries in leaps and bounds more so than any other aspect of society. Through poetry, stories, and diaries, the changes were well documented by writers and show the changing views of the time.

Courtly love introduced the elements of emotional relationships between men and women for the first time. This was a revolutionary concept in which love was based on mutual respect and admiration.

During the Renaissance, Courtly love mocked religion. Churchmen fought this new, form of love and St. Thomas, for example, stated that to kiss and touch a woman with delight, even without thought of fornication, was a mortal sin. Marriage held strong ties to physical and financial aspects. Love was cast aside for a greater good and marriage was a lifelong financial transaction. Marriage usually took place at ages as young as 14-16 years old. Often, family members arranged marriages with other families when children were 2-3 years old. Many times these arrangements included a dowry plus income and property guarantees all arranged by parents and family members.

During the parental control was slowly but steadily. Child betrothals, a favorite means of controlling marriage, had been abolished, and the minimum age required for marriage was steadily raised.” There were many problems with courting in the 17th century. In the Duchess of Malfi the change can be seen by the main characters independence and sexual prowess towards men. Her brothers, attempting to fill in for parents, forbid her to marry in fear of loosing status and wealth whereas the Duchess wanted to marry for love. Courtship itself was approached with caution and little romantic spontaneity. Straight forwardness and personal expressions of love was not accepted. The action of courting was very impersonal. (Murstein)

The lessening of parental control did not signify the entrance of falling in love as the preferred determinant of marital choice. Samuel Johnson said; “It is commonly a weak man who marries for love.” Interestingly, women, often thought to be at the mercy of their emotions, sometimes sneered at romance, perhaps to prove that they could be just as rational as men alleged themselves to be. (Boswell)

The Restoration was a time of celebration, of freedom and of life, and it was a time of great scientific discovery. Music and dancing, the theatre, card playing, colorful clothing, all of these things had been banned. Now they returned in abundance. Courtship is defined as wooing, but in the 17th century it was much more. It was a session that had stages, rituals, and procedures. The parents played a huge role in the courtship and even the marriage. Traditional courtship in the 1600’s was much more complex. Many were arranged or based on social status. There was also a large age difference between the men and women. Marriage and courting was often thought of as a brutal and painful ordeal.

“By mid-18th Century, emotional love had fallen out of favor among the upper classes and intellectuals. They wanted anew approach that would be more stable and productive. They turned from emotion to reason. They wanted women of intellect. ” Flirtation and romance were no longer an exclusive part of aristocratic tradition, but were common in the bourgeois or middle class. In the Beggars Opera and She Stoops to Conquer the women of the play are even more independent and free spirited with matters of the hart. Though the family situations of each play are completely opposite, the happy endings allowed the English society to see that marriage for love is possible and acceptable. (History)

Though the changes of love, marriage, and family intervention throughout English history have been carefully documented, the lack of women writers over the years leaves much open for debate. Families, societal constraints, and the ideals of marriage were mainly seen through the eyes of man. Women began and have continued to take control over their love lives and often defied society and family to find that special connection between marriage and love.

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