Shakespeare's Sexual Comedy: A Mirror for Lovers

By Hugh M. Richmond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Sexual Norms Revised

"THE COMEDY OF ERRORS"
OR
THE PENALTIES OF VIRTUE

MARRIAGE has traditionally had little to do with passionate love or even simple sexual satisfaction. In this the institution perhaps reflects St. Paul's most limiting trait, his lack of any deep personal respect for sexual relationships, either in physical or in emotional terms. Medieval experts in courtly love were delighted at the opportunity afforded by this rejection of amatory experience to heighten sexual excitement by opposing it to the mediocre satisfactions allowed in "holy" matrimony. One medieval authority, Andreas Capellanus, illustrates the effects of the orthodox view of marriage: "I am greatly surprised that you wish to apply the term 'love' to that marital affection which husband and wife are expected to feel for each other after marriage, since everybody knows that love can have no place between husband and wife.... For what is love but an inordinate desire to receive passionately a furtive and hidden embrace." The modern "Anglo-Saxon" prejudice in favor of marrying one's beloved seems to have become fashionable around Shakespeare's time, when its characteristics were illustrated by a series of eccentric writers: Spenser actually had the "bad taste" to marry the woman to whom he addressed his sonnets, and Milton later affronted contemporary religious thought

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