Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: May ::
Re: Juliet's Age
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0854  Thursday, 13 May 1999.

[1]     From:   Bruce Young <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 12 May 1999 10:50:48 +0000
        Subj:   Re: Juliet's Age and "Average" Age at the Time

[2]     From:   Dana Shilling <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 12 May 1999 10:55:23 -0400
        Subj:   Too Young, By Heaven!


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 12 May 1999 10:50:48 +0000
Subject:        Re: Juliet's Age and "Average" Age at the Time

Clinton Atchley quoted a passage from "Jacob's Well, an early 15c sermon
cycle" as evidence that marriage could take place as early as 14 (for
men) and 12 (for women).  As I read the passage, the author is not
recommending youthful marriages but is advising that marriage not take
place any earlier than the indicated ages: in other words, a young man
or woman should be at least the "lawfulle age" of 14 or 12 before
marrying.  Those were, I believe, legally the ages of consent, and since
the consent of the bride and groom was the legal essence of marriage, a
valid, binding marriage could not really take place at any earlier age.
(I could cite many sources on this;  for evidence that the requirement
of consent extended back into the Middle Ages, see John T. Noonan,
"Power to Choose,"  Viator 4 [1973]: 419-34.)

I don't know how things were in the 15th century, but around 1600,
marriages at age 13, though they took place, were very rare-they
happened in perhaps 1 out of 1000 cases (see Laslett, The World We Have
Lost).

I was especially interested in one sentence in the passage from Jacob's
Well indicating that even in the early 1400s marrying (only) for money,
though it undoubtedly happened, was frowned on and marrying for love was
encouraged.   That is, if I'm right in reading "Be weddyd for loue no3t
for mook" as "Be wedded for love, not for muck [OED: 'Contemptuously
applied to money']."  There's a similar passage in Hoccleve using "muck"
in the same sense: "But _ey _at marien hem for muk & good Only, & noght
for loue" (De Regimine Principum, c1412, line 1632).

I'm familiar with such attitudes in 16th and 17th century England.
Finding the same attitudes in the early 15th century may be a bit of a
surprise for some.  It suggests that people in Shakespeare's time didn't
suddenly get "enlightened" on the matter of marriage but felt much the
same way their ancestors did a century or two earlier.

Bruce Young

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 12 May 1999 10:55:23 -0400
Subject:        Too Young, By Heaven!

Juliet's age may not necessarily have any relevance to actual or
perceived English marriage patterns. Shakespeare was not without his
little-Englander Colonel Blimp attributes, and "hot-blooded Eyeties"
were part of the catalog of Funny Foreigners (foppish Froggies, pompous
and naive Moors, blowhard Welshmen, etc.) Not-quite-14-year old girls
who arrange their own marriages could be a kind of Verona Babylon
"exposure" of why Abroad is Beastly.

A very common pre-modern marriage pattern was multiple marriages, each
lasting about 7 years (also the pre-divorce duration of the average
contemporary marriage!). Typically, a girl's first marriage would be to
a much older man, with her subsequent spouses getting progressively
YOUNGER-i.e., a widow with a good inheritance might marry a tradesman,
then after his death, marry the likeliest of the apprentices. Or, a man
would remarry after death of one or more wives in childbirth or of
disease.

So Juliet's actions might have been shocking not just because of her
autonomy, or Romeo's status as an enemy of the Capulets-but because he
isn't really old enough to marry, and Juliet should "still take an older
than herself" by a significant number of years.

Dana Shilling

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
 

Other Messages In This Thread

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.