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Power of Women in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

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Female sovereignty was uncommon in Renaissance England. The social structure of the family assured the subjugation of woman under man. Daughters remained under the care of their fathers until they were married, at which time they became subject to their husband's authority. Economics ensured the wife's dependence on her husband. Unmarried and widowed women retained far more legal rights than married women, therefore, "for a woman, marriage meant the loss of her legal and economic rights, and therefore a dependence on the (chosen) man" (Motte 29). Even though marriage often meant a loss of legal rights, those daughters who had the good fortune to choose their mates faired better than those whose marriages were arranged. Arranged marriages most commonly occurred "among London-born daughters of gentlemen or wealthy tradesmen" while "marriages of personal choice took place farther down the social scale and were more egalitarian" (Diefendorf 669).

Property was a central concern in most marriages. Among the upper classes, marriage meant the transfer of a great sum of money through the dowry. Renaissance England lacked a well-defined mode of marriage. They followed canon law, which "declared marriage a sacrament dependent only upon the consent of the man and woman to be wed, secret marriages - marriages without the presence of parents or other witnesses and even without priests - were legal" (Diefendorf 670) and allowed for much ambiguity and personal freedom. Even though such marriages were legal, sanctions were often imposed against priests who performed secret ceremonies as well as the couple. Renaissance parents took preventative measures to ensure the security of the family name and property by ...

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Diefendorf, Barbara. "Family Culture, Renaissance Culture." Renaissance Quarterly 40:4 (1987): 661-681.

Massai, Sonia. "From Pericles to Marina: 'While Women Are to Be Had for Money, Love, or Importunity.'" Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespeare Studies and Production 51 (1998): 67-77.

Matchinske, Megan. "Legislating 'Middle-Class' Morality in the Marriage Market: Ester Sowernam's Ester

Hath Hang'd Haman." English Literary Renaissance 24:1 (1994): 154-83.

Motte, Brunhild de la. "Shakespeare's 'Happy Endings' for Women." Nature, Society, and Thought 1:1 (1987): 27-36.

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---. Romeo and Juliet. Greenblatt 865-941.
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