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In 1582, 18-year-old Will was romantically involved with Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior.
Late that November, the two obtained a special license to marry, two of Anne’s neighbors paid £40 to certify that the wedding was lawful, the banns were read once, and the couple were officially wed less than two weeks after they received the licence.
Juliet worries that Romeo, having overheard her protestations of love for him, will think she’s ‘too quickly won’ and offers to play hard to get if need be: ‘I’ll frown and be perverse and say thee nay, / So thou wilt woo.’ Indeed, since men were generally the wooers, the issue of female agency in the process was complicated, as Helena complains in Juan Luis Vives insists that, when it comes to choosing a husband, maidens should keep quiet: ‘it becometh not a maide to talke, where hir father and mother be in communicacion about hir mariage’, 1557.
In Shakespeare’s England, the process for getting married could be complex.
A couple wishing to marry had first to obtain the blessing of the church, either by obtaining a licence to marry, or by having the ‘banns’ read – that is, announcing the couple’s names and their intent to marry – on three successive Sundays from a church pulpits in the home parishes of both parties.
As Europe modernized, however, the Puritans and others began to champion the novel idea of marriages based on mutual inclination and love.
Time and again Shakespeare’s plays dramatise the conflict between the old order in which fathers chose husbands for their daughters and the new order in which daughters wished to choose their own mates based on affection.
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