The Renaissance Englishwoman in print: counterbalancing the by Anne M. Haselkorn

By Anne M. Haselkorn

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Arranged marriage, a not uncommon, if sometimes debated practice, demonstrates this point. It is true that upper-class men, like women, were often bound by their parents' (read fathers') choices of "suitable" marriage partners. But it is also true that men had both professional and sexual opportunities for relieving needs that were unmet in their marriages, while most women were rigidly confined to a private life and held to a more rigorous standard of chastity than men. Even if affective family ties were often strong, a point that twentieth-century scholars debate fiercely, no one debates the relatively restricted position of women within the family.

Was the courtier, resplendent with all the highest human powers and graces, to which only a court could give full scope. 18 Page 10 Such events as Henry's long struggle to repudiate and divorce Catherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn, his other notorious marital difficulties, and his succession of replacement queens sensitized the English to questions concerning marriage. They partially account for the enormous amount of writing on this subject which characterizes the period; they led the kingand Englandto break with the Roman Catholic church and to an effort, later validated by a commission Henry called for the purpose, to promulgate an authorized Anglican position on questions of marriage and divorce.

Scholars vary in interpreting some of the phenomena in this period that relate directly to women, but I believe that if we examine some of the broader trends and realities of the society of Shakespeare's age, donning Joan Kelly's spectacles to couple this examination with some of the consequences of these trends for women, we emerge with a picture of the time that is often chilling. " While the country lacked a professional police force, the ever-stronger central government maintained a fairly efficient surveillance over even the distant parts of the kingdom, partly with the help of domestic spies and partly through the assize courts.

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