Elizabethan widows and their status

Jonathan Bate offers this interesting portrait of the social standing of the widow in Elizabethan England.

…before marriage she was expected to be chaste and during [marriage] she was supposed to be submissive; once widowed she had more freedom. A widow even had a degree of financial autonomy that set her apart from daughters and wives, who in law were chattels belonging to their fathers and husbands. Widows, by contrast, could carry on their husband’s business. The legal fiction was that they were just minding the shop until they remarried, but the reality was that they often controlled their own affairs fo trhe rest of their lives… The widow, then was the joker in the pack, the wild card who was not obliged to play by the sexual and social rules. [In Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, this character] is a free agent. She acts instead of being acted on; she delights in setting a plot. She has the same kind of boldness as Iago and the Edmund of King Lear has.

It’s useful info for class and could be used to introduce a study of widows in our literature.

The quote is from This Blog Sits, which gives the original reference.

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