Family Life in the Age of Shakespeare

Family Life in the Age of Shakespeare

Family Life in the Age of Shakespeare

Family Life in the Age of Shakespeare

Excerpt

For centuries Shakespeare’s readers and viewers have been intrigued by his treatment of family life. Modern readers in particular wonder how changes in family life since Shakespeare’s time should affect our interpretation of the plays. Were brides commonly as young as Juliet? Did parents normally force their children into unwanted marriages as the Capulets try to do with their daughter? Would an early modern father have been content, as Egeus seems to be in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to see his daughter die or become a nun because she failed to accept the husband he chose? Were families generally as miserable and self-destructive as Hamlet’s and King Lear’s are made out to be?

The purpose of this book is to answer such questions and in general to provide historical and other kinds of information about family life that will enhance readers’ appreciation and understanding of Shakespeare. The book is intended especially for students and general readers, who often come to the plays and poems eager to learn but inadequately prepared to appreciate and understand all Shakespeare has to offer. For many, obstacles to full appreciation and understanding include misconceptions about marriage and family life in Shakespeare’s time— misconceptions that, unfortunately, Internet sites, popular books on Shakespeare, and even some professional critics and scholars have aided in promoting. Some misconceptions, such as the mistaken view that Shakespeare’s contemporaries married very young and that marriage arrangements were commonly forced on couples against their will, are still widespread among students and general readers, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. And other erroneous beliefs, such as in the supposedly common brutality of fathers and husbands, are maintained by many writers who should know better.

The information provided here is divided into chapters in such a way that the book can serve as a reference. The first two chapters present historical information about family life, the first with background on its development up to the Renaissance, the second looking in detail at family life in Shakespeare’s time. Besides correcting misconceptions, the information in these chapters should help readers understand both specific practices and general attitudes related to family . . .

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