Holy Estates: Marriage and Monarchy in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

Holy Estates: Marriage and Monarchy in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

Holy Estates: Marriage and Monarchy in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

Holy Estates: Marriage and Monarchy in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries


This volume examines analogies between marital and political ideology in early modern culture, analyzing sixteenth- and seventeenth-century marriage tracts and the appropriation of their rhetoric by Shakespeare, Mary Wroth, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, and John Webster. Just as the marriage tracts draw explicitly on political metaphors to prescribe marital decorum, early modern political treatises adopt the language of the marriage tracts, using their construction of the family unit as a model for exercising power. on important, often subversive, meanings when they are redeployed in prose fiction and drama. The woman's place within these marital and political discourses and how she fares within early modern domestic and political hierarchies are the book's primary concerns. Included here are detailed discussions of Wroth's Urania, Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, Titus Andronicus, Othello, and The Tempest, Beaumont and Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy, and Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. Sid Ray is Associate Professor of English at Pace University in New York.


A Housholde is as it were a little commonwealth.

—Robert Cleaver, A Godlie Forme of houshold Government,
carefully to bee practiced of all Christian householders

“What God hath conjoined then, let no man separate.” I am the
husband, and all the whole island is my lawful wife; I am the
head, and it is my body; I am the shepherd, and it is my flock.

—James I, speech to Parliament (1603)

In his collection of “BOULSTER” narratives, titled AR’T asleep Husband? (1639), Richard Brathwaite writes of the involuntary bride who, to avoid marrying a man of her father’s choosing, cuts off her hand so she can give it instead to her own beloved. in the bride’s literalization of the “giving one’s hand in marriage” metaphor, she appropriates marital rhetoric and redeploys it, which allows her, at great cost, to subvert her father’s authority and marry her choice. in 1579, more than sixty years before this story appeared in print, John Stubbs, his publisher William Page, and the printer Hugh Singleton produced a pamphlet decrying the proposed marriage of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alençon. Outraged that her subjects would challenge her decision and thus her authority, Elizabeth banned the pamphlet and had the copies seized. She then ordered the amputation of Stubbs’s and Page’s right hands. When judges questioned the severity of the punishment, Elizabeth refused to mitigate it. the amputations proved to be compelling theater: Stubbs delivered a powerful speech on the scaffold that began, “What a grief it is to the body to lose one of his members” and then, in a pun worthy of the Shakespeare who would later write Titus Andronicus, he said, “Pray for me, now my calamity is at hand.”

A superficial comparison of the Stubbs story to that of the handless bride would suggest that Page and Stubbs were playing the role . . .

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