Consider the customs of marriage as they are presented in Thomas More's Utopia. Are they sound?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Marriage in the new society that the narrator of this text presents to the reader is conducted in a very different way to marriage in Tudor England. It is important to remember that this supposed society that the narrator describes is actually based on the shortcomings of society in England in the early 16th century, and clearly More felt that attitudes to marriage needed to be critically examined, and used this text to prompt a discussion about how marriage was conducted in his day and time. Note the biggest difference in marriage customs in this ideal society:

Before marriage, a grave matron presenteth the bride (be she virgin or widow) naked, to the bridegroom; and after that, some grave man presenteth the bridegroom naked to the bride. We laughed at this, and condemned it as very indecent. They, on the other hand, wondered at the folly of mankind in all other countries; who, if they buy but an inferior horse, examine him all over and take off his trappings; yet a wife, on whom dependeth the happiness of the remainder of life, they take upon trust, regarding only her face, and leaving the rest of her body covered, where contagious and loathsome disorders may lie concealed.

On the one hand, to a modern day reader, the idea of viewing your future spouse naked and inspecting them as if they were some kind of "inferior horse" to be scrutinised is something that seems rather appalling. It focuses on the physical appearance and ignores the character and mind of the individual. However, taken in the context of the day, where marriage was as much of a transaction as it was anything else, perhaps this rather extreme measure could be understood. Taken symbolically, the revealing of both bride and bridegroom to each other before marriage could be read as a sign of the kind of radical openness that is necessary for a true and lasting marriage to be created. Clearly More felt that marriage customs of his day allowed families to conceal various blemishes and diseases that would prevent marriage, whereas the sanctity of marriage requires total honesty and openness. Therefore the principle behind the action is sound, though the application of that principle is something that deserves to be questioned.


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