After marriage: The literature and culture of divorce in England, 1515-1650

After marriage: The literature and culture of divorce in England, 1515-1650

Skura, Meredith A.

Berger, Ronit Esther

Doctor of Philosophy, Rice University, May (2006)


Many recent studies have investigated the significance of early modern marriage, but none consider divorce and the debates it generated, although both were of central importance to the period. This dissertation demonstrates that Protestant debates about divorce following Henry VIII’s annulment and subsequent religious break from Rome facilitated England’s larger negotiation between medieval and modern values, institutions, and attitudes toward the state. Analyzing poems, plays, and courtly and religious literature by More, Sidney, Shakespeare, Jonson, Milton and others, I argue that the early modern debate over divorce became a vehicle for exploring both the role of marriage in the state and the freedom of individuals within marriage. Through imagining the possibility of divorce, early modern English writers further explored questions about the individual’s relation to God, law, government, and society. “After Marriage” fills a gap in scholarly discussions of early modern marriage. Although many critics have addressed the importance of ideas about marriage in literature and culture, almost none has explored the period’s conflicting ideas about divorce or its significance for the literature and drama.

Click here to read this article from Rice University

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