In medieval Europe, the troubadours poets of the southern part of France, like Guilhem IX, or Cercamon, first began to write poems about humble men falling in love with women who were admirer and adored by their lovers. Furthermore, intense love between men and women became a central subject in European literature, like between Tristan and Iseult, Lancelot and Guinevere, or Aeneas and Dido. But it was not question of marriage. Actually, marriage and love did not match very well together but then Renaissance literature developed the concepts of love and marriage and recorded the evolution of the relation between them. In the Renaissance poetry, Donne, in The Good Morrow, celebrate love and sexuality in marriage. However, the aspects of love and marriage were not always linked in life but they became to unify first in literature. Actually we could notice that there were two sides in marriage and one of these sides was linked with love — and this part became more and more important.
Indeed, we can to distinguish the two different sides of marriage in the Renaissance period. Indeed, it was both secular and sacred — this could appear paradoxical, because these two words seem to be contradictory. On the first hand: Secular, because it served as a union of two parties which searched for the acquisition of money or properties. Indeed, like in the Middle Ages, property right was very important. Besides, because of this right, the younger of the sons for example had to marry a woman who possessed lands because, land descended to the eldest son, so the younger often received nothing. Furthermore, following this tradition of inheritance, if there was no son in a family, land descended to the daughter and if there were several daughters, the heritage was shared between them. Besides, the widows had a large common law right which became very well protected in the 16th century. So the financial need to marry was present, it meant that the alliance was a possibility to increase the families” richness.
However, a certain link between marriage and love began to appear in the Renaissance period, with the great William Shakespeare, for example. Indeed Shakespeare created lovers whose main concern was not what they would inherit, but rather the love thy felt for each other. In many of his plays, Shakespeare created couple who sometimes were not allowed to love each other and above all whose main concern was not the well being of their families. Thus, Lysander and Helena in A Midsummer Nights Dream Romeo and Juliet, or Othello and Desdemona, married for love rather than financial conveniences and inheritances.
In Shakespeare”s plots, there were usually two forms, but the lovers were always disapproved by their families and societies. Anyway, in one of these two forms, the families tried to select the future wife thanks to economic features mainly. It did not represent a forced marriage because the family wanted them to be well together that was why they brought the couple together. And the concept of freedom of choice was developing. However it was not equally dispensed between young men and women. Indeed it varied for each child in families — the eldest son was under the greatest pressure since he inherited the bulk of the estate.
His marriage was often critical to the family”s survival because they depended on him for financial support. The youngest son had the most freedom because he often had to make his own fortune, because of the inheritance law and because his family did not depend on him. A girl had less freedom over her choice because her real future depended on this marriage. After a couple consented, the settlements were signed and the formal church wedding was arranged.
The second form of courtship was handled for the most part by the parties involved. After a man fell in love with a woman, he went to ask for her hand to her family — Keith Wrightson suggests in his documentation of 17th century marriage practices that it seems reasonable to conclude that among the greater part of the common people marriage partners were freely chosen, subject to the advice of friends and a sense of obligation to consult or subsequently inform parents if they were alive and within reach. In Shakespeare”s play entitled A Midsummer Nights Dream, in the couples, the mates were chosen on their own will.
Theseus, at the beginning of the play, is talking with his wife, Hippolyta, about their upcoming marriage. He so, demonstrates that the marriage was not a forced duty but that he wants it and even Hippolyta shows her happiness to marry him. Shakespeare went against societal norms and showed love as the only desire of a couple. And this began his central and favourite theme: the lovers who cannot be together because that goes against their families” will. Besides, the societal norms of the marriage were quite strict in regard to the church. Indeed, before a couple could officially be considered married by the church and common law, there were four basic requirements.
First, the bride”s family had to consent and a dowry had to be offered. Second, both parties had to be of equal social class. The third requirement was for the parties to publicly declare the wedding and to have witnesses. Finally, the couple had to consummate the marriage. In Shakespeare”s Measure for Measure, Claudio and Juliet are, thus married by common law standards — however, their marriage was secret and so, not considered as a legal marriage. Actually, it was very important that the marriage was witnessed. And in this play, Shakespeare focalized on the importance of the requirements of marriage and, with the issue of Claudio”s possible death, the author pointed at the consequences and the risks of not following these requirements. Indeed, the church severely sanctioned those who did not respect its law, for instance in the laws about the age of marriage.
Thus, in most Shakespeare”s famous play: Romeo and Juliet, we could notice that the age in the Renaissance marriage had a bid importance. In this play, Juliet was thirteen, and even if her mother wanted to marry her soon. Besides the age minimum was fourteen but usually young people married several years after. Actually, Shakespeare used the knowledge of the church-sanctioned age to create Romeo and Juliet, and pointed out the characteristics of young lovers.
To put it in a nutshell, in the medieval ages, marriage was not always linked with love. But little by little theses two themes gathered. Indeed the word Renaissance represented the rebirth of art and culture it comes from the French word which comes from the Italian word “rinascita” which has the same meaning. So the development of Renaissance literature occurred in parallel with the development of social and cultural features. Furthermore, literacy and life always exchanged influences, so to better understand marriage and love in Renaissance, the most pertinent mean would be to study Shakespeare”s plays and comedies. Indeed, his period marked a time where marriage was an important aspect of people”s life and Shakespeare managed to depict the important elements of marriage: the ancient and material elements but above all, love and relationship that developed between men and women.