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love and marriage, English cycle plays


Much scholarship concerning the concept of “companionate” marriage traces its origins to the early modern period as clergymen, especially Protestant ones, began to publish “guides” to the relationships and respective duties of husbands and wives in the 1500s and 1600s. Studies of marriage in the Middle ages concentrate on marriage among the nobility, since there is more documentary evidence about the medieval elites. Examinations of sermons reveal that the Church, especially after the twelfth century, stressed the sanctity of marriage as an institution created by God and blessed by Christ at the marriage at Cana, but sermons say little about the day-by-day relationship of husband and wife. Yet there are clues in the play scripts of the English cycle plays that some notion of marriage as a “companionate” relationship may have existed among the common classes during the Middle Ages.