Sex and Marriage: Then and Now (ATW 2015 Workshop #21)

by Jessica C. Murphy

Please see for the full program for this year’s ATW. Our workshop’s reading has some unreadable pages in it. Please see Sex and Marriage Then and Now Readings for the readings.

The questions that will be guiding our discussion are:

1. What can we deduce from examining the connection between the morning after in Romeo and Juliet and the specific early modern disease of virgins, greensickness?

2. What happens in early modern literature when women, such as the Duchess, do not follow the expected rituals, taking their marriages—and thus their bodies—into their own hands?

3. In what ways does the Duchess respond to her society’s expectations and restrictions? How does she respond to the consequences?

4. How is the pregnant female body portrayed in The Duchess of Malfi? How do other early modern texts treat motherhood and/or pregnancy?

5. What other examples of depictions/discussions/representations of irregular unions from the early modern era can you identify from your own field/background? How do they compare or contrast with these examples here?

6. One thing these texts are all interested in is debating who gets to decide. In what ways are these questions the same across time? In what ways are they different?

7. Do we see today a similar desire to control women’s bodies and sexuality? Compare and contrast our contemporary situation, with specific attention to issues of marriage and birth control, to the early modern period. What can the early modern period teach us about our contemporary situation? How might this discussion be applied to how we live/behave/teach/research now? How can we put what we have learned to work in the classroom?