The Life and Death of J. Why do so many of his tragic plays involve injuries and betrayals committed between parents and children, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers? How do these plays respond to changes in the understanding and organization of the family during the English Renaissance?
Historians such as Lawrence Stone have identified the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries as a crucial period in the history of the family in Britain. At the beginning of this period, most marriages were arranged, not by the two people getting married, but by their parents and other relatives.
The primary purpose of marriage, especially among the upper class, was to transfer property and forge alliances between extended family networks, or kin groups. A marriage might provide a way of combining adjacent estates or of concluding a peace treaty. Gradually, during these centuries, these understandings of marriage and family changed. The conjugal or marrying couple became more important and, increasingly, people came to think of the family as centered on parents and their children—what we refer to as the nuclear family.
In sixteenth century England, most marriages were arranged, not by the two people getting married, but by their parents and other relatives. Over the next two centuries, these understandings of marriage and family would change.
Historians attribute these changes, in part, to the Protestant Reformation. While historians might look to this period for the emergence of the modern family, it is important to note some distinctly pre-modern legal and social conventions which lasted into the nineteenth century. A married couple was regarded by the law as a single entity and that entity followed the will of the husband. The social and cultural transformation of the family took place gradually and unevenly.
Works by Shakespeare and other Renaissance writers rarely provide a straightforward expression of either older or newer beliefs about the family and marriage. What their texts can show us, instead, are the conflicts and contradictions that emerged as writers examined family relationships during this period. The documents include advice manuals and crime literature as well as Biblical family trees, all of which shed light on the many ways that Renaissance people thought about and participated in the family.
Please consider the following questions as you review the documents How did Renaissance writers define the family? Which relationships seem to them the most important? What makes these relationships important? To what extent do writers seem concerned with emotions like love or happiness and to what extent do they seem more interested in ideas of duty, property, lineage, or Christian faith?
What are the obligations of family members to one another, according to these documents? How do the writers expect husbands, wives, parents, children, and siblings to behave toward one another? What differences or contradictions appear between these writers? What are the perceived threats to the family?
How should these threats be addressed? What does writing on the family tell us about the history of gender, or the expectations and experiences of women and men during the English Renaissance? Biblical Genealogies The Protestant Reformation fueled efforts to translate the Bible into modern, vernacular or spoken , European languages from its original Hebrew, ancient Greek, and Latin. Only the clergy and a small elite knew how to read ancient languages. In King James directed a group of nearly 50 scholars to undertake a new translation of the Bible into English.
It was not the first English translation of the Bible—two others had appeared in the previous century—but it was the first designed specifically to conform to the teachings of the Church of England. Their translation, eventually known as the King James Bible, was published in By the next century, it had become the standard translation used in Anglican and Protestant churches.
The edition presented here opens with 34 pages of Biblical genealogy—family trees which trace an unbroken line of descent from God, Adam, and Eve on the first page to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus on the last. How is the information on each page organized? What does the organization suggest about family structure? Why do you think these family trees were included?
What do the family trees suggest about how people thought about the family and lineage during the Renaissance? Newly Translated Out of the Originall Tongues