Marriage Contracts from Chaucer to the Renaissance Stage

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9780813021027: Marriage Contracts from Chaucer to the Renaissance Stage
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"A fine historic exploration of why marriage treatments in literary texts are transformed between the 14th and 16th centuries. . . . This volume has the power and evidence--both historic and textual--to revamp our understanding of crucial texts. . . . I will never read Chaucerian texts of wives and widows the same again!"--Jean E. Jost, Bradley University

"An extremely readable study of literary responses to changing marriage law, including an in-depth study of Chaucer and a wide-ranging examination of Renaissance dramatists."--Emily A. Detmer, Millikin University


From the 14th century to the middle of the 17th, changes in marriage law affected literary depictions of marriage in marked ways, according to Kathryn Jacobs's astute interdisciplinary treatment of nuptial contracts. She relates the changes in marriage law and also the enforcement policies of church courts to the changing literary treatment of marriage in Chaucer’s work, in medieval mystery plays, and in the Renaissance plays of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. 

 When Chaucer was writing his Canterbury Tales, Jacobs argues, the marriage contract was well known to his audience. He could therefore count on them to recognize the parallels he draws between this familiar contract and the extramarital or postmarital “contracts” he designed. The mystery plays, meanwhile, were popular precisely because they violated the marriage contract as it was commonly known.

 By the Renaissance, however, church law had changed drastically, and the drama reflected public resentment and confusion about the new policies. One of the unexpected results of this was the birth of the "lusty widow" as a stage fantasy figure. 

 Focusing first on Chaucer and then on drama, Jacobs offers a bridge between the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, showing how the lives of everyday people in each age were affected by the handling of marriage law in the ecclesiastical courts.
Kathryn Jacobs, associate professor of literature and languages at Texas A&M University in Commerce, Texas, is the author of articles in such journals as Chaucer Review and Mediaevalia.

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