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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: February ::
A Wedding Ring Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0073  Sunday, 26 February 2006

[1] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 	Monday, 20 Feb 2006 10:00:56 -0600
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0055 A Wedding Ring Question

[2] 	From: 	Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 	Monday, 20 Feb 2006 14:39:37 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0055 A Wedding Ring Question

[3] 	From: 	Jack Heller <
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	Date: 	Monday, 20 Feb 2006 16:27:42 -0500 (EST)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0055 A Wedding Ring Question

[4] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Friday, 24 Feb 2006 19:43:44 +0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0041 A Wedding Ring Question


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Monday, 20 Feb 2006 10:00:56 -0600
Subject: 17.0055 A Wedding Ring Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0055 A Wedding Ring Question

Let me second John Briggs's very sensible response:

 >"Don't get too excited - Shakespeare was no doubt aware that in many
 >European countries it was the custom for bride and bridegroom to present
 >each other mutually with rings as a pledge of fidelity (the origin of
 >the modern custom, mostly unknown in England until the late twentieth
 >century."

The bestowal of rings-like other marriage rituals-has varied a great 
deal from century to century, region to region, and class to class. I 
was sure I had seen other references, but could only find one (double 
ring ceremonies in 14th century Italy). In my own defense, I only had 
time for a cursory look at very limited resources. If it's important I 
could try harder (finals are over for another term).

We have, however, a very complex issue here:

1) Whether the ring business in MOV is supposed to represent a formal 
marital ceremony or merely a loving exchange between two parts of a 
united couple. (I would say the latter)

2) What the common custom was in 16th Century England (regardless of the 
Book of Common Prayer).

3) What the common custom was in 16th Century Venice.

Unless this matter is very important, I'd leave it alone. Looks like a 
Slough of Despond (or gator-infested swamp) to me.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Monday, 20 Feb 2006 14:39:37 -0500
Subject: 17.0055 A Wedding Ring Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0055 A Wedding Ring Question

Anyone interested in the history and customs of wedding rings (and 
betrothal rings) would do well to get a copy of "Wedding Rings" by Osnat 
Gad , published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang.  This charming little book 
is chock full of fascinating facts, beautiful pictures and appropriate 
literary quotations, including from WS.

In the interest of full disclosure, the author is my wife.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jack Heller <
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Date: 		Monday, 20 Feb 2006 16:27:42 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 17.0055 A Wedding Ring Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0055 A Wedding Ring Question

I am grateful for the replies to my wedding ring inquiry. It makes me 
think of an idea for a book. I have a collection by Philip Schaff of the 
creedal statements of Christendom compiled through the twentieth 
century.  Perhaps a similar work is available Christian rituals across 
time-baptism services, wedding services, the Eucharist from a variety of 
Christian traditions. I find the 1559 Book of Common Prayer very useful 
in my research, but I would like to be able to easily compare its 
services with other contemporaneous practices.

Jack Heller

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Friday, 24 Feb 2006 19:43:44 +0000
Subject: 17.0041 A Wedding Ring Question
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0041 A Wedding Ring Question

Jack Heller raises an interesting issue in the subarration of Portia, 
Nerissa, Leah, and Jessica by their respective betrothed. As already 
noted, in the England of the period the ring gift was ordinarily 
one-way, man-to-woman, reflecting the Biblical dominance of the male.

Henry Swinburne in his 17th C. TREATISE OF SPOUSALS identifies the Old 
Testament's Tubal Cain as the ring's originator. Tubal fashioned an 
iron/adamant ring for his son to use as spousal lure, on Adam's advice. 
In the MERCHANT Tubal's namesake is the first to alert the forlorn 
Shylock of Jessica's disposal of her mother Leah's ring. Also of 
interest, Portia's ring is a "golden hoop" (linking it to the golden 
casket of false appearances) and not the durable iron/adamant ring of 
Tubal Cain, symbolic of the marriage union's permanence.. Swinburne 
fondly recounts the days of old when rings were restricted to the 
nobility or were unmistakable signs of betrothal or marriage. He 
grumbles at the youth of his own day, every "skipping Jack" and 
"flirting Jill", donning ring and jewel, wed or unwed.

The formula for submission of body and wealth Portia uses to accompany 
her initial ring gift to Bassanio is unmistakably one of formal 
betrothal or even marriage, the church service being confirmatory. Yet 
in offering him the ring, she has assumed the dominant male role, thus 
belying her very words. Contemporary tracts never wearied of warning 
young men like Bassanio against marrying up, to women of greater wealth 
and power like Portia. The inevitable tensions would not bode well for 
marital harmony. Bassanio et al are almost puppets in her hands. He 
breaks the strings and gives way the ring, thus defying her (Old 
Testament?) "commandment." Also of interest, at play's end Portia, using 
Antonio as a mediator, does not directly place the ring on Bassanio's 
fourth finger. Such mediation may be seen as weakening and undermining 
the ring's validation and sanctification of the union.

Portia may even be seen as an early prototype for Prospero. Clearly she 
is somehow mystically involved in bringing Antonio's three lost ships 
home "safely to road." Anagogically, in Christian terms, I see these 
three ships as the voyaging souls of Bassanio, Antonio, and even 
Shylock, all undergoing perils that test and ultimately force them to 
symbolically lose "life and living", only to be reborn (Portia as 
midwife) to a new spiritual life of antinomian Christian grace. Portia, 
the ultimate RingMaster has brought these lost souls home, safely to Rood.

Joe Egert

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