Ger 312 Marriage


General reflections:

  • Love, sexuality, and marriage have always been a matter of public discourse
  • They have always represented problematic issues
  • They are a matter of labor
  • The person who does not invest much energy and commitment to love and marriage will not sustain either one
  • The joys of sexuality are an intimate and essential component of marriage, never mind what countless representatives of many different religions have preached throughout time
  • Love and marriage have always been easily associated with violence and death, and as medieval poets have constantly emphasized, there is no love without pain
  • It is our responsibility as mature adults to explore the meanings of love, sexuality, and marriage from a horizontal (contemporary) and from a vertical (historical) perspective
  • The discourse of love/marriage began about the early twelfth century, and we are direct heirs to this discourse
  • “There is consensus that the overall U.S. divorce rate had a brief spurt after WW2 followed by a decline, then started rising in the 1960s and even more quickly in the 1970s, then levelled off 1980s and declined slightly. (A decline in the divorce rate, however, does not necessarily reduce married people’s perceived exposure and vulnerability to the risk of a financially and personally ruinous divorce or decades-long custody war. It also reflects fewer and later marriages).” (
  • Divorce greatly increases, two- or three-fold, the incidence of all kinds of bad effects on children of divorce, including psychological problems, juvenile delinquency, suicide, undereducation, and teen motherhood. Problems arise from conflict during and after divorce more than from conflict during the marriage, and there is an increased incidence of detriment even if the divorce is low-conflict. Problems persist into early adulthood and affect the marriage and mating choices of children of divorce. These differentials mostly are not accounted for by other variables such as parents’ incomes. On the other hand, most children of divorce turn out O.K., without serious problems that show up as statistics of social deviance. Divorce probably increases the chances of everything from bad breath to being hit by a bus, but most children of divorce still won’t be hit by a bus.

5. Marriage is better than divorce or bachelorhood for the health, wealth and happiness of adults of all ages and genders.

6. Pre-marital counseling helps reduce the risk of divorce somewhat and can prevent many bad marriages. It depends on what kind of counseling, though. Some studies indicate that counseling given as part of “Community Marriage Policies” in certain cities is extremely effective.” (same source as above)

  • Marriage and the family are in crisis today, or should we say: gender relationships are in crisis?

Historical Perspectives:

  • Marriage and Love from the early to the late Middle Ages
  • David d’Avray, Medieval Marriage (Oxford: 2005)
  • Albrecht Classen, Der Liebes- und Ehediskurs vom hohen Mittelalter bis zum frühen 17. Jahrhundert. Volksliedstudien, 5 (Münster, New York, Munich, and Berlin: Waxmann, 2005)
  • Stay away from: Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage (London: Viking, 2005)
  • Marriage Debate among 12th-century scholars:

Abelard and Heloise
Abelard and Heloise

Marriage debate in learned scholastic circles, 12th c.: Andreas Capellanus: The Art of Love, ca. 1190


      [The Art of Courtly Love], Book Two: On the Rules of Love
         1. Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.
         2. He who is not jealous cannot love.
         3. No one can be bound by a double love.
         4. It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing.
         5. That which a lover takes against his will of his beloved has no relish.
         6. Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity.
         7. When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor.
         8. No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons.
         9. No one can love unless he is impelled by the persuasion of love.
        10. Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice.
        11. It is not proper to love any woman whom one should be ashamed to seek to marry.
        12. A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved.
        13. When made public love rarely endures.
        14. The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized.
        15. Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
        16. When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved his heart palpitates.
        17. A new love puts to flight an old one.
        18. Good character alone makes any man worthy of love.
        19. If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives.
        20. A man in love is always apprehensive.
        21. Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love.
        22. Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved.
        23. He whom the thought of love vexes, eats and sleeps very little.
        24. Every act of a lover ends with in the thought of his beloved.
        25. A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved.
        26. Love can deny nothing to love.
        27. A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved.
        28. A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved.
        29. A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love.
        30. A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved.
        31. Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women.

  • Courtly Love: Poetry and Art at the 12th-14th century courts (samples from the Manesse Songbook)
  • Medieval Marriage Practice: Physical Copulation as Public Performance:

marriage customs illustration

Shame Culture? Norbert Elias: The Civilizing Process, 1939 (transl. 1993)

Marriage and Law in the Middle Ages: Husband’s Right to Punish His Adulterous Wife (Sachsenspiegel):

marriage customs illustration

Miscegenation already in the Middle Ages:

Wolfram von Eschenbach: Parzival.  Gahmuret and the Black Queen Belakane (Ms. Cod. Pal. germ. 339, Heidelberg):

The Christian Church and Marriage:

Both Old and New Testament: Constant Concerns about Adultery

Matthew 5:27-28
27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (KJV)

1 Corinthians 7:8-9
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

Problems with sexuality:

Mystical Marriage image

Mystical Marriage image

Fifteenth-century bourgeois marriage: The Arnolfini Marriage, by Jan van Eyck, 1434:

close up of mirror in Eyck's painting The Arnolfini Marriage
close-up of the mirror in Eyck’s The Arnolfini Marriage

Late-Medieval Verse Narratives Probe the Meaning of Marriage, Love, and Sexuality

Giovanni Boccaccio: Decameron

Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury Tales

Franco Sacchetti: Novelle

Marguerite de Navarre: Heptaméron

The German Examples (14th to 15th centuries):

anonymous, The Little Bunny Rabbit

Heinrich Kaufringer: The Search for the Happily Married Couple

anonymous, The Knight with the Hazelnuts

Oswald von Wolkenstein (1376/77-1445)

Marriage poems by Oswald von Wolkenstein (1376/77-1445):

Kl. 77: Simm Gredlin, Gret

I. “Well, little Gret, Grete, my dear Gret,
my tender beloved, you most heart-pleasing beauty,
do not let off in your chaste honor that you show toward me!”
“As well as possible, little Ossi,
I will learn for ever
in your school to remain steady.”
“I will keep your words that have come from rose-colored lips
for ever in my mind
and write them deep down in my heart.”
“My treasure, that’s exactly what I am desiring from you,
because I will never waver [in my loyalty].”
Think of me, dearest Ossi;
your little Gret will make you happy!”
II. “You cannot please me more
than when I am lying in your arms,
hidden like an hermit.”
“In my concern to protect you I will never relent;
without the slightest hesitation I am keeping your warm.
This is no effort for me.”
“My thanks to you, my most beloved wife,
I will never forget this;
you are, after all, the one whom I love.”
“You will not have to worry, my heart-beloved,
about any misfortune coming from me.”
“I thank you for that, my dear!”
“Dear, most treasured man, I feel so happy,
when I embrace you lying at your chest!”
III. “More than any other delight your heart makes me happy
and so your beautiful body,
when it lovingly leans toward me.”
“My friend, I am jubilant about this delight,
and your wife is happy about it
when you touch my breast with your hand.”
“Oh lady, it is a sugar-sweet delight for me
and sweetly permeates all my limbs
that you always demonstrate your favor.”
“Totally confide in me,
little Ossi, for ever and ever!”
“Let there never be a change, little Gret!
May there never be
any change in our relationship, which would grant us happiness!”
  • The Grief of the Ackermann (Ploughman): Johann von Tepl’s debate poem between Everyman, the Ackermann, and Death (1400):

Ploughman illustration

Tepl's illustration

  • Late-medieval Easter plays, Shrovetide plays, and Christmas plays: the public performance of the marriage discourse