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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: July ::
Re: Female Birth-Order
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1401  Friday, 14 July 2000.

[1]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Jul 2000 09:42:31 -0500
        Subj:   female birth-order

[2]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Jul 2000 11:47:52 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1397 Re: Female Birth-Order

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Jul 2000 13:36:23 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Female Birth Order


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Jul 2000 09:42:31 -0500
Subject:        female birth-order

Many thanks for the useful responses that the subject has so far
elicited, esp. for Peter Hillyar-Russ's useful corrective detail. For
the record, the 1968 revised edition of Pollack and Maitland, Concise
History of the Common Law, confirms Blackstone: see 2.260 (cited by
Houlbrooke in The English Family 229)

The operations of primogeniture are an important and complex subject,
but very large indeed. Let me respectfully repeat that my own query was
more narrow, having to do with the status of the expectation of marital
priority as a reflex of female birth-order, and to what degree this was
a perceived or felt issue for early modern English men or women.

Thanks.

Frank Whigham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Jul 2000 11:47:52 -0400
Subject: 11.1397 Re: Female Birth-Order
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1397 Re: Female Birth-Order

"The clear course of a wise king, I take it, would be to establish the
rule of primogeniture now. "

Uh, that's what Duncan did. Got him sooo killed.

When Duncan declared that Malcolm was his heir by styling him Prince of
Cumberland, like the English crown prince was Prince of Wales, Macbeth,
who had a shot at the throne under the old system (the one operating in
Hamlet, also), assassinated the unfortunate reformer. Malcolm fled to
England and Donalbain to Ireland where his own sympathies lay. The
competing systems warred for years. English primogeniture won, as did
English-style Christianity when Malcolm's English wife, Saint Margaret,
"cleansed" the Scottish Church. (Don't you just shudder at that word,
"cleansed?")

A professor of mine once wrote the Shakespeare history play kings on the
board. Oddest thing became apparent: Usurper. Usurper's child. Bloody
unrest when it came time for the grandchildren to take over.

The aethling system of electing a king from a pool of nobles assured
that the king was at least supported by others. Which meant some minimum
of competence. Primogeniture assured none of those things. Your eldest
is an idiot? A baby? A senile old man? Doesn't matter. He's king!
Congratulations!

The instability of primogeniture is one of the roots of democracy, god
bless it.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Jul 2000 13:36:23 -0400
Subject:        Re: Female Birth Order

I think that Peter Hillyar-Russ has the common law rule correct, but, of
course, the common law of England did not apply in pre-Roman Britain.

It seems to me that there are at least two dramatic reasons for Lear's
decision to divide the kingdom, rather than select one of his daughters
to reign as sole queen (presumably Goneril):

First, Lear seems truly devoted to all his daughters, albeit he has a
preference for the youngest (not at all unusual in elderly fathers), and
was loath to prefer one over the others.

Second, Lear had no intention of abdicating the crown and the pomp that
went with it.  He wanted only to resign the cares and responsibility of
rule.  He wanted to be King Emeritus.  His scheme was designed to assure
that he could continue the good life by progressing from court to court
in monthly cycles, with the daughters vying with each other to keep him
in honor and comfort.  A priori, this does not seem foolish, as it would
appear much easier for a solitary queen to fob him off than for all
three (or even two) of his daughters to conspire against him.
 

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