The Puritans constituted a very vocal influential minority during the time of Shakespeare. One of their more interesting ideas was the doctrine of the covenant, which explained why a transcendent God would care for fallen human beings. God, for Puritans, voluntarily bound himself in a covenant to man. The interrelations of elements of grace and works make it difficult to interpret what a covenant should be like: more like a modern contract or more like a feudalistic promise system? Unlike a contract, God never ends the covenant even when humans disregard their commitment, but instead helps humans fulfill their obligations by means of mercy. The covenant also sets out specific limitations that each party is required to fulfill like a contract. Puritans applied this pattern of the covenant not only to their relationship with God, but to other relationships like business, government, and most interestingly marriage. I will focus on how Shakespeare sets out this same covenantal pattern between man and God in his depiction in Portia's and in Helena's marriages respectively. I use sixteenth and seventeenth century Puritan treatises and sermons as well as secondary experts to illustrate Shakespeare's invocation of a Puritan marriage. This Puritan interpretation of the marriage covenant points toward equality by making the couple equally obligated in the contract, yet requiring more than mere obligation. These authors believed that the marriage covenant should not just be for procreation, but cohabitation and communion of the mind.



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Humanities; English



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Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well, Merchant of Venice, puritan, covenant