Revisions of an Old Institution: Controversial Takes on Marriage in Late Medieval England
Given the current controversy on marriage in the U.S. it seems an appropriate time to revisit the marriage debate of the late Middle Ages. Who should marry? Under what circumstances should they marry? How is marriage validated? Why is it necessary? These are some of the questions that we will ask in this seminar. We will also examine controversial late-medieval notions of marital sexuality, and debates on clerical celibacy and same-sex union, as well as conflicting attitudes toward emotions understood to be “sins” (such as anger and jealousy) found at the center of violent domestic disputes as recorded in late-medieval court documents. We will focus primarily, though not exclusively, on late-medieval England.
We will begin by looking at the long and controversial history of marriage in order to identify and understand how the tensions between the process of idealization and social praxis evolve over time. From the mythological foundational texts—Greek epithalamia, Genesis, the Song of Songs, for example—to the late Middle Ages when the Latin Church officially sanctifies marital union, discussions of the meanings of that union—both literal and figurative—have been infused with ambiguity and doubt. Close readings of exemplary texts recently made available to students in the Middle English Text Series from a range of genres in Middle English—satire, fabliau, didactic treatise, homily, drama, and romance—written by canonical as well as non-canonical authors will constitute some of the primary source material. When read in conjunction with relevant sections of canon law and applicable court documents (some of which are in Latin), this material will enable us to understand how marriage was imagined by some to be an ideal stabilizing social force, and also how the shortcomings of that ideal are debated and occasionally resolved in these influential venues.
Students will be encouraged to explore primary sources, particularly those on canon law held by the Newberry Library, in preparation for a research project. Some knowledge of Latin is necessary and experience with Middle English is desirable. Students will write a final research paper of about 20 pages and will make two informal classroom presentations – the first on some of the primary and secondary sources, the second as a progress report on the research and development of the final project.
Participants: Ben Caldarelli, Northern Illinois University; Nicole Clifton, Northern Illinois University; Beverley Crockett, Northwestern University; Kristi Diclemente, Western Michigan University; Helen Doss, University of California, Santa Cruz; Dana Gavre, University of Chicago; Timothy Henningsen, University of Illinos at Chicago; Beth Jacobs, University of Illinois at Chicago; Terri Jenkins-Suggs, Western Michigan University; Stephanie Lundeen, Loyola University Chicago; Elisabeth McCaffery, Western Michigan University; Tory Pearman, Loyola University Chicago; Bryan VanGinhoven, Western Michigan University; Lora Walsh, Northwestern University
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