[Milton-L] Generalizations about marriage; x-post ficino

Dr. Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 9 20:31:27 EST 2004

Dan, I would add two more thoughts to Prof. Schwartz' comments and reading
list, below: first, that as early as Chaucer, the Wyf of Bath challenges the
Pauline injunction to maintain celibacy ("it is better to marry than to
burn") -- see her Prologue -- and then, that one of the clearest expositions
of Milton's views on marriage is contained (if ironically) in _The Doctrine
and Discipline of Divorce_, which boasts some beautiful passages about what
marriage *should* be, and well as on what it *shouldn't*.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

----- Original Message -----
From: "Schwartz, Louis" <lschwart at richmond.edu>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, November 09, 2004 5:11 PM
Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Generalizations about marriage; x-post ficino

> Dan,
> The literature on marriage in the period is vast and varied, but a good
> place to start might be David Cressy's chapters on the subject in
> *Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life-Cycle in Tutod
> and Stuart England*.  He's primarily interested in the rituals
> surrounding marriages, but he uses a study of those rituals to make some
> general observations about marriage itself as a social institution, or
> more bluntly as a thing people did in a number of different ways and for
> a complex and varied set of reasons.
> As far as your questions are concerned, it is his (and my) understanding
> that throughout the period we're discussing most people thought of
> marriage as "for" three things (as the B of CP more or less lays it
> out):  1) procreation, 2) as a way to keep people from the sin of
> fornication by giving them a way to have sex in a sanctioned manner, and
> 3) for mutual society, help and comfort.  None of this is particularly
> "new" or "unique" to Protestant England (see Cressy 296-7 for a brief
> discussion).  What differences emerged over the course of the 16th and
> 17th Centuries in England have to do with how much *emphasis* particular
> groups or individuals (those who left some record of their thoughts or
> wrote treatises, handbooks, or sermons on the subject) tended to put on
> that last category.  It is true that some "Protestants" and "Puritans"
> tended to elevate the last category to a higher place of dignity than
> was common in earlier periods--Milton certainly did.  For some, this
> emphasis on mutual comfort tended to also suggest that sexuality itself
> should be thought of as having a higher dignity than that already
> suggested by its procreative function alone (Milton is, again, an
> obvious example).  Not all, however, would even have gone that far, and
> certainly very few would have gone so far as to make mutual solace the
> whole show.
> In other words, the way you put it in your first question is in some
> ways correct, but it overstates the case (the radical nature of the
> shift in thought and practice) and oversimplifies a complex and varied
> reality.  The way you put it in your last question certainly goes too
> far.  There were some sects, perhaps, and some individuals willing to
> think of marriage as exclusively the "solemnization of love between two
> people" (there were some, for that matter who wanted to get rid of
> marriage altogether!), but for most all three purposes would have been
> held to be more or less equally important, and even interdependent.  On
> the more radical sects, I think the best introduction is still
> Christopher Hill's *The World Turned Upside Down*, but I'm sure there
> are more recent things as well.
> I don't know the answer to your question about when marriage became a
> sacrament in Catholic practice, but in England by the time of the
> revolution the question of the sacramental status of marriage was
> certainly up for grabs, and during the interregnum (after Marriage Act
> of 1653) there were no church-sanctioned marriages at all in England (at
> least not legally). For a good discussion of that see Christopher
> Durston, "'Unhallowed Wedlocks':  the Regulation of Marriage During the
> English Revolution," *The Historical Journal*, 31, I (1988), 45-59.
> I think it's at least safe to say that over the course of the period the
> idea that celibacy was a higher path than marriage tended to wane, but
> more in terms of its real relevance to people than in an abstract sense.
> People still took personal vows of celibacy (some people think Milton
> took one for a period in the 1630's), and this might seem to some a
> dignified and holy thing to do, but it no longer had the kind of social
> and institutional status that it had when there was a celibate clergy
> they could join.  Most people married, and this conferred on them a
> special social status.  Those who didn't had no special status
> comparable to it, and this certainly affected what celibacy meant to
> people, even if it still retained some more abstract sense of holiness.
> I hope that helps.
> Louis
> ===========================
> Louis Schwartz
> Associate Professor of English
> University of Richmond
> Richmond, VA  23173
> (804) 289-8315
> lschwart at richmond.edu
> -----Original Message-----
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Dan Knauss
> Sent: Tuesday, November 09, 2004 3:16 PM
> To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
> Subject: [Milton-L] Generalizations about marriage; x-post ficino
> Dear Listmembers--
> A few questions arising from that rich source of inquiry--the broad
> claims of eminent scholars who supply neither argumentative nor
> citational support. References to secondary literature where this stuff
> is considered in detail will be much appreciated.
> 1) Is it a reasonable generalization to say that "Puritans" or
> "Protestants," in constrast to "Catholics," thought of an ideal marriage
> as being based in companionship in some new sense, especially a more
> "inward" intimacy--a "sharing of selves?"
> 2) Is it meaningful or accurate to say that by 1667 marriage in England
> was *no longer* thought of as being inferior to celibacy? (When did
> marriage become a sacrament in the Catholic church? Prior to that,
> hadn't it achieved a quasi-sacramental status over a long period of
> time?)
> 3) What basis is there for claiming that by the late 17th century--in
> contradiction to the prayer book from Cranmer's to the 1662--marriage
> was neither a doctrinally approved way of avoiding fornication nor an
> institution centered on procreation but rather a solemnization of love
> between two people? More specifically, what significant groups of people
> would have thought this way?
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