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Adultery in Early Stuart England

Adultery in Early Stuart England

Pohlig, Veronika Christine

Dissertation, am Fachbereich Philosophie und Geisteswissenschaften der Freien, Universität Berlin (2009)

Abstract

This study received its first impulses roughly ten years ago. They derived from the two vantages of social history and literary studies. Reading John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore I was struck by the immediacy and pathos with which it had obviously been possible in the early 1630s to stage transgressions like incest and adultery. Then, still an undergraduate in English history, I researched what ‘respectable’ members of local communities perceived to be the most threatening form of sexual deviance. To my surprise, I arrived at the conclusion that it was not one of the more scandalous transgressions like ‘sodomy,’ or incest, to which recent criticism has given considerable attention, that caused particular social concerns in the early modern age, but rather extra-marital sex. My interest in early modern adultery and its significance in different medial and social contexts was piqued.

Adultery as a dramatic subject was remarkably common in Jacobean and Caroline plays, which portrayed sexual behaviour with “a frankness unprecedented in English drama, and rarely seen since.” Even tragedy increasingly turned towards sexual, and, notably, domestic themes; and comedies contained ubiquitous references to matters such as adultery.

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