See Marriage, Love, and Courtship Through the Eyes of William Shakespeare

Famous Venician courtesan Veronica Franco.

Courtship Through the Eyes of the Elite and Courtesans

Most of what is known about marriage, love, and courtship are from the growing society at the time, property-owners. Though England was ruled by a powerful woman, Queen Elizabeth I, women were not typically seen in careers of power. A woman’s typical role in society was marriage to motherhood. A wife’s job was to rear children, take care of them and run the household work. Elite women had the luxury of servants to help with the children and household duties, but lower-class women had no help and must do the work herself.

There were certain women during the sixteenth century that were entirely at leisure and free from motherhood and household duties. These women were courtesans – today known as prostitutes. During the sixteenth century, it was a much different profession than today. Courtesans were taught politics, read literature, and were the most knowledgeable women in the world. Courtesans also suffered a cruel fate near the end of their prime. Once used up, they could either find a man to marry or be unwanted by anyone.

A depiction Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare Online.

Courtesans chose to pursue this profession because of having no other option open for them. Many were too delicate to become a scullery maid or work in the winery. This gave them an option to use their beauty to their advantage and move their way up in social ranking, though they still could not marry a man above their station. Sixteenth-century ways of thinking are seen as repugnant to modern day thinking. Men were seen as superior beings over women due to physical nature. It was said that because males had greater physical strength, higher intellectual ability, and capacity for feeling they were more dominant over women. The Renaissance was, of course, a time of upheaval. Literacy, faith, politics, and social values all were challenged, molded and changed to what they will eventually become in the twenty-first century.

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