Love in the 16th century – Far from “A Midsummer night’s dream”
Talking of love and courtship of the 16th century, a lot of people answer with glimmering eyes “Shakespeare”. But we wanted to know what it was in reality. We don’t want to hear stories about gorgeous weddings and wonderful gifts. We want to look “behind the scenes”: Beginning from the courtship, over to the reasons for marriage and last but not least coming to the role and functions of a woman, we try to show the real image of love in that age.
We all should be thankful for the courtship in modern age: we can decide ourselves who we want to marry – doesn’t matter if he is rich or poor, Italian or Russian or black or white. In contrast to nowadays, the courtship was very impersonal, the lovers often didn’t know each other. Unbelievable, isn’t it? Well, nothing special for that time. It was very important that the families had the same social status – royals could never get together with an employee or farmer. The parents played a huge role in courtship and marriage. They were the ones who decided, who was worth marrying their son or daughter. The word “adolescence” was unknown in Tudor England, the childhood was ended by the marriage and then full adulthood began with romantic activity and marriage.
Men used to marry at 27 and women at 25, in average. In 1987 the author Hibbert said that “until a man grows into the age of twenty-four years he is wild, without judgment and not of sufficient experience to govern him. If unable to govern himself, how could he govern a wife and children?” As we know so far the marriage was just a question of when and where – not whether it should happen at all.
At that time, women had nothing to decide. They had just one function: giving birth to the children (at most a son, who could earn the money for the family) and raise them, so that the man can go hunting or – in poorer circumstances – feed his family. But we all know that none of the women was pleased with this situation. But what should they do? Divorce was disdained and forbidden by the Catholic Church in England.
King Henry VIII with his new fiancée Jane Seymour and his wife Catherine of Aragon (foreground, black dress)
In addition to the women, also the men were dissatisfied. Especially King Henry VIII had his struggles with the Church.
In his young age of 17 he married Catherine of Aragon – the widow of his brother Prince Arthur to seal a martial alliance between Spain and England. Also political advantages were reasons for marriages. But after14 years of marriage and 3 children, Henry VIII wanted to get divorced of Catherine. That was the point when his issues with the Roman Church began and the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church was arranged.
After Catherine he had five other wives. Some marriages were annulled and some wives had been beheaded because they couldn’t give him what he asked for – a son.
A woman in the 20th century – What’s to become of her?
In a relationship, everyone should have the right to speak his/her mind and to be treated with respect, as a matter of course – whether you’re male or female. That’s the modern concept of love.
But equal rights haven’t always been there: women in the 20th century were dependent on their husband in every way. But it was also the time of emancipation attempts. Women in suffrage movements fought for their right to vote. The beginning of the change of society, of relationships between men and women, and of love…
Eliza Doolittle attacking Mr. Higgins
This picture belongs to a scene, taken from the play "Pygmalion", written by George Bernard Shaw, which premiered in 1913 and evoked controversy because it criticised the society. This scene shows Eliza Doolittle rebelling against Mr. Higgins, because she can't bear his ignorance anymore.
The scene takes place in Higgins' house, when he, his friend Colonel Pickering and Eliza return from a party. On this evening, Eliza won Higgins' bet with Pickering: a professional considered her to be a princess because she acted like one, obeying Higgins' devices which he taught her for the past months. Since she succeeded, she expects him to be proud of her and to appreciate what she's been working for so hard. But as always he doesn't even notice her, talking about what had happened as if it had only been an experiment, like she had no meaning to him as a human being and as a woman.
That disappoints Eliza and it makes her furious. When Higgins asks for his slippers, she loses her temper and throws the slippers at him, swears at him and attacks him. She's desperately trying to make him understand her dilemma, asking "What's to become of me?" But Higgins still doesn't understand her feelings and doesn't seem to be able to think about what he might have done wrong. Instead, he accuses Eliza of acting heartless as she finally announces to leave him.
Eliza Doolittle used to be a poor common flower girl until she met Mr. Higgins who's passionate about the science of phonetics and speech. He finds Eliza’s sounds interesting and claims he could teach her to speak like a real duchess within three months. That sounds tempting to Eliza, so she visits him the next day to ask him for giving her lessons. Higgins bets he will succeed in his project he told about the day before.
Three months of hard work follow: Eliza practices pronounciation and articulation. She lives in Higgins' house, he buys her new clothes and soon she looks like a lady. Her life changes completely, Higgins is important to her and she even falls in love with him. In the beginning she's happy to be no flower girl anymore, but soon she feels like Higgins is taking her for granted, he's acting selfish, ignorant and disrespectful.
But she never complains about it - until the evening he wins his bet and he hears him, saying "Thank God it's over!" She notices that she means nothing more to him than an experiment, he doesn't care about her feelings and that he isn't able to fall in love or to have a close friendship because he's too selfish and because of his intolerance towards people from lower classes. The only woman who seems to be good enough for him is his mother, and Eliza knows she can't rival her. She feels sad, disappointed and angry. All her frustration, fears and disappointment lead to her attack against Higgins.
After the dispute, Eliza moves out of Higgins' house, confessing that she'll never be a real lady, no matter how much her look and phonetics might change. The only way to reach a higher social level would be to marry a rich man. But it's not said in the book whether she's marrying Higgins or not.
The early 20th century was the time of the suffragette movement in Britain. Those women – predominantly middle class members – were seeking the right to vote. They were frustrated by their social and economic situation.
Women began to emancipate from men. Husbands used to decide on their wives’ lives, women were supposed to cook and care for the children, neither allowed to earn their own money nor to vote. For a woman, especially for the poorer ones, it was important to marry, the richer the better. A woman was always subordinated. She hadn’t the same status as her husband and she wasn’t supposed to rebel against him.
The author Shaw defied the right of women, and shows social grievance. In his opinion, women should have more rights, that’s also a reason for the controversy in society “Pygmalion” caused.
Eliza isn’t taking part in the game Higgins plays, she’s no symbol of a typical woman of that time. She’s a symbol of a woman who dares to speak her mind instead of acting conventionally for that time by accepting Higgins mistreating her. When she can’t take his ignorance anymore, she shouts at him, even attacks him and throws slippers at him. She’s also using a lot of swear words.
Usually no woman would have done that to a man at that time. Eliza is a symbol of emancipation of women. Despite of her love for Higgins, she doesn’t want to marry him – but refusing to marry Higgins, she also skips the chance of becoming a member of the upper class.
But she’s got her pride and she doesn’t want to be his slave all her life (“fetching his slippers”). She prefers staying poor, but being loved by an honest man (Freddy Eynsford-Hill).
In the end, Higgins seems to love Eliza, or should we say, the lady he’s made out of her. The question is whether he would have loved her as a poor dirty flower girl as well. Probably not, because he’s too superficial. You can see him as a symbol of a typical man in the beginning of the 20th century: acting selfish, because he’s supposed to. Love sure has existed in that time, too. Not every marriage was marked by a dominant man and an unhappy woman. But love still was a minor matter, that’s a fact. What counted was the usage of a marriage. Well, nevertheless, this time was also marked by a change of that concept: the emancipation of women.
(author: A. Eggert)
Modern way of loving - An exclusive interview
Our journalist Olivia Miller visited the couple Yasmin and Mary at their place in York, England. See what they tell her about their life and experience their romantic story.
Hello Yasmin, hello Mary. Tell me, for how long have you been together now?
Y: About 2 and a half year already.
Wow, that’s quite a long time, where did you get to know each other?
M: We met during our studies of engineering. We had a lot of courses together, and she used to help me with the whole math stuff.
Y (laughs): I still think it was only an excuse, you know, eventually she always achieved better grades in math than me.
But it seems as if it has worked out quite well. So, you spent a lot of time together, when did you notice that there is more than just friendship?
Y: I think it was when we had this project together. For about 6 weeks we spent day and night working on it. It was a pretty intense time.
M: Yes, we really got to know each other during it and I couldn’t help but falling in love with her (smiles fondly).
Who’s the leader in your relationship?
M: We are equal.
What do you love the most about the other?
M: Huh, where do I start? I would say.. It’s her lively personality. While I am more the introvert type, she’s very outgoing. I admire that.
Y: From time to time I forget over myself. That’s when she remembers me to slow down a bit. She always brings me back down to earth.
Is there something you don’t like?
M: Oh, that’s a tough question. I guess.. yeah, it takes her hours to get ready in the morning. Seriously, sometimes we have to skip breakfast to avoid running late(with a smile).
Y(laughing): Ook, I admit. But at least you don’t have to keep tidying up my stuff all the time. You leave your clothes and dishes everywhere in the flat. Just recently I almost broke my neck stumbling above one of your shoes.
Yasmin, I see you’re wearing an Islamic headscarf, what’s the religions view on homosexuality?
Y: Unfortunately it is still considered a sin in my religion. Islamics take the view that only a man and a woman should be together. Homosexuality goes against the way of love and sexuality god wanted. Luckily there are some, who think differently and are more open-minded. Society is changing and reproduction isn’t the most important point in a relationship anymore.
How does your environment react to your relationship?
Y: Mainly positive. Of course, sometimes people stare but they don’t mean to be rude.
M: It depends on where we are. In university for example, no one’s staring. I think the younger generation is much more open for alternative lifestyles.
Did you make any bad experience, like prejudice against or even racism?
M: Oh well, there was this one situation which really shocked me.
Y: You’re talking about the one time we went to the park?
M: Exactly. We took a walk in the park and sat down on a bench to rest a little. There was a mother with her little daughter next to us. And when we kissed, the mother stood up, took her daughter and murmured she doesn’t want her child to see “something sick like that”.
Y: And there was this other situation with the old man…
M: Yeah,right. There was this old man whos yelled at us like mad.
Y: Just because I was wearing an Islamic headscarf.
Unbelievable… Since when did you know you’re lesbian?
Y: I discovered it in puberty. I fell in love with a girl a year over me, and I felt good with it.
M: Actually I didn’t know before I met Yasmin. I had a few boyfriends, even long-term relationships, but it always felt as if something was missing. Now I feel like I found the missing piece in Yasmin.
How did your family react?
M: They were really surprised. I mean I can understand, like I said, I only brought men home before and then suddenly there was Yasmin. But they liked her at once, I think my little brother even has a crush on her (laughs out loud).
Y: I have to confess I haven’t told them yet. Although my family lives a modern lifestyle, they still have traditional views on some things…
Do you want children?
M: That’s nothing we think about right now. But who knows, maybe when you ask us 5 years from now, we already have a child adopted?
And what about marriage?
Y: That’s definitely something we are planning. I am sure to have found my soulmate in Mary. But one-gender-marriages aren’t allowed yet in England.
What are your plans, hopes and wishes for the future?
M: That society will continue becoming open-minded and accept people who do not live like the great mass.
Y: And finally to have the opportunity to see her in a wedding dress and call her “my wifey”.
The picture the cute couple gave to Olivia