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Because the 14th century falls within the Medieval Age, there often are generalizations made about marriage that have not always applied to particular centuries within this era. Nevertheless, there were certain aspects of marriage established as standard in England:
- Consent of the couple was all that was needed to validate a marriage, but consent must have been freely given.
- By the age of 12, girls were eligible for marriage
- The couple should not be related
- Marriage vows could be made in front of the church, in the presence of a priest, or even privately.
Among the nobility, it was before the church door that arrangements between families were made with agreements about dowries and even political arrangements.
Within the 14th century setting of Romeo and Juliet, the role of women in the Italian Renaissance was that of subjugation: they were ruled by their parents, and then by their husbands. The setting of Verona, an important city in Renaissance Italy, presents an aristocratic society dominated by this customary patriarchy and a well-established wealth. As in England, a girl could be married at a very young age. When, for instance, Paris asks Lord Capulet for the hand of Juliet and Capulet objects because she is not yet fourteen, Paris replies, "Younger than she are happy mothers made" (1.2.).
That marriages were contracted for social or political purposes is also evident in Romeo and Juliet as Lady Capulet is eager for Juliet to consider the nobleman Paris as a husband. While she speaks to her daughter of the man's beauty, she also hints at the financial advantage of such a marriage with her allusions to "gold":
That book [metaphor for Paris] doth share the glory
That in gold clasps locks in the golden story (1.4).
Also, as in medieval England, the marriage vows that Romeo and Juliet take clandestinely without the consent of their parents in the presence of the priest, Friar Laurence, are, indeed, binding.
Marriage in the 14th century was completely different than it is now. Back then, most marriages were arranged by the family and the bride and groom often didn't meet at all until the wedding day. Women would marry young and mainly to older men who could financially support them. Wedding rings were still common in this century as well as being married in a church.
For Catholics, when you married you were married forever unless the husband died. After that it was acceptable to remarry. However, a women marrying several times was looked down on.
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