The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0500  Friday, 14 March 2003

From:           Steve Roth <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 13 Mar 2003 22:20:00 -0800
Subject: 14.0188 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0188 Re: Claudius' Incestuous Marriage

I've been meaning to contribute (though late) on this topic, but first
had to lay hands on David Cressy's Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual,
Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England. (*Great*

He's got a section on "Prohibited Degrees" for marriage in Tudor and
Stuart England (pp. 313-315). Some excerpts:

"Near the beginning of Elizabeth's reign the Church of England set forth
its 'table of kindred and affinity' specifying which relations by blood
or by marriage a person was prohibited from marrying.... promulgated by
Archbishop Parker in 1560, and the further modified for general adoption
in 1563.... Every church was required to display this table, and its
restrictions were vigorously enforced.... a total of thirty
relationships which barred marriage.... [including a dead brother's

"...Reading the records of episcopal administration one might think that
the table of degrees of kindred and affinity was almost as important to
some bishops as the table of the ten commandments.... Bishops repeatedly
expressed frustration when parishes were inadequately equipped... in the
Diocese of Norwish in 1597 as many as 10 per cent of the parishes were

That the same prohibitions had long been observed by Catholics is clear
from Henry VIII's papal machinations for his first marriage and first

So to an Elizabethan or Stuart audience, Claudius and Gertrude's
marriage would have looked unequivocally incestuous. But you know those


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