The Law Against Lovers: Dramatizing Civil Union in Restoration England

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


To recover the centrality of gender institutions in seventeenth-century England’s
emergent discourse of civil society, I suggest that William Davenant’s The Law Against Lovers (1662), a Restoration adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure that seems politically anodyne, becomes clearly topical once marriage is recognized as its driving concern. Davenant’s “Law” against lovers takes in the entire history of Commonwealth marriage legislation that, between 1641 and 1653, attempted to replace the Anglican marriage ceremony with a civil ceremony. By staging the failure of state control over matrimony, the play imagines marriage as a civil association nonetheless still tied, by public preference, to the Anglican rite. For readers today, the play offers a reminder—as modern states attempt to redefine the political conditions of lifelong partnership—that the institutions of gender are always under construction, for better and for worse.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationGender Matters
Subtitle of host publicationDiscourses of Violence in Early Modern Literature and the Arts
EditorsMara R Wade
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherBrill | Rodopi
ISBN (Print)9789401210232
StatePublished - 2014

Publication series

NameInternationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft Online


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