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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: December ::
Re: Penalty for Murder
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2294  Monday, 10 December 2000

[1]     From:   Manuela Rossini <
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        Date:   Friday, 08 Dec 2000 19:55:09 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2282 Re: Penalty for Murder

[2]     From:   David Stair <
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        Date:   Friday, 08 Dec 2000 22:59:47 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2282 Re: Penalty for Murder


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Manuela Rossini <
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Date:           Friday, 08 Dec 2000 19:55:09 +0100
Subject: 11.2282 Re: Penalty for Murder
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2282 Re: Penalty for Murder

>Wouldn't the more exact particulars be a husband murdering a wife whom
>the arresting officials knew NOT to be adulterous, with the (possibly)
>mitigating circumstance that the husband firmly believed that she was,
>indeed, so?

Sure. I guess the person who asked the question originally is aware of
the difference.

As to your "quibble", I can only quote the marquis of Halifax who wrote
the following to his daughter in 1700: "Remember, that next to the
danger of committing the fault [= adultery] yourself, the greatest is
that of seeing it in your husband ... Such an undecent complaint makes a
wife much more ridiculous than the injury that provoketh her to it".
This, in a nutshell, is the double standard of morals. Defamation by the
husband, I can imagine, would not have been "ridiculous" or why else is
Leontes forgiven (by the audience at least)?? There's more to that
ending than generic convention, I think. In the case of Othello, I'm not
so sure though whether his position as a black person and foreigner
would not have made it more difficult for him to find sympathetic
witnesses ...

Laura Gowing's book DOMESTIC DANGERS treats court cases of "suspicions"
and the damaging effect slander had for married wives. Again, the critic
points to the fact that women's credit, unlike men's was not devalued by
sexual rumours. A man's honour is not related to his sexual behaviour,
which explains why at the courts the great majority of women sued men
for cruelty (26 per cent successfully, bringing along mostly women as
witnesses) while the great majority of men sued their wives for adultery
(46 per cent successfully, bringing along mostly men as witnesses). She
concludes: "While both men's and women's faults were understood to
damage the marital bond, it was women's fault that had the largest and
most well-established ramifications.  Women's adultery was predictable,
disturbing, and dishonest; men's violence was, arguably, tolerable,
rational, and honest. With the elaboration of the fault of adultery into
a much larger danger [= dissolution of the whole household and the
social order at large], the conceptualization of disturbed marriages
placed the weight of the fault much more squarely on women than on men.
Women [. . .] were also pictured as constitutionally more disruptive to
marriage than men, prone to adulterous longings, and readily susceptiple
to the whiles of handsome apprentices", etc.etc.

Best,
Manuela Rossini

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Stair <
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Date:           Friday, 08 Dec 2000 22:59:47 +0000
Subject: 11.2282 Re: Penalty for Murder
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2282 Re: Penalty for Murder

> Wouldn't the more exact particulars be a husband murdering a wife whom
> the arresting officials knew NOT to be adulterous, with the (possibly)
> mitigating circumstance that the husband firmly believed that she was,
> indeed, so?
>
> Just a quibble.  Sorry.

Karen,

I think my colleague (for whom I originally posed this question) was
less interested in real-life parallels to _Othello_ (though she wouldn't
mind hearing about them if anyone knows of some) than in trying to find
out whether the Jacobean judicial system typically looked the other way
in cases of (adulterous) wife-murder and thus tacitly encouraged this
"practice."

Thanks, though, for quibbling.

David Siar
 

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