The clergy and marriage in Restoration comedies
in Religion and life cycles in early modern England
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One life cycle event – the wedding – is central to the structure of many Restoration comedies, so marriage is a theme that is rarely out of sight. Although the comedies have positive things to say about marriage, there is also a darker side. This reflects the unsettled attitudes to marriage in the late Stuart period, when changes in the political, religious and social spheres brought debates about authority and morality in their wake. Anticlericalism runs deep in these comedies and this chapter argues that the portrayals of clerical characters in the plays degrade not only the reputation of the clergy but also the institution of marriage itself. We see this degradation in what the clerics say about marriage, their inaction in the face of attacks on it by other characters, their acceptance of concepts such as adultery, bigamy and polygamy, and their portrayal as highly disreputable figures, some of whom strike at the heart of marriage by indulging in ‘stolen fruit’ with married women. This chapter sees the married folk in the plays entering an institution that is irretrievably tarnished, in part by the attitudes of the very people who will conduct the wedding ceremony.

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