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Permalink to original version of “The prison of marriage: lovers’ foolishness, jailors’ diligence” The prison of marriage: lovers’ foolishness, jailors’ diligence

When women marry, they often think little of possible unhappy consequences. Divorce hasdire financial consequencesfor women under U.S. family law today. But most women refuse to consider such consequences. They believe that they are different from women reamed in divorce proceedings. Every woman is different from womentransformed from mothers into wallets. Every woman is different from womenworking under the threat of imprisonmentto provide money to their ex-husbands and their ex-husbands’ girlfriends. Every woman who enters the prison of marriage is a fool, except for you. That’s what every one of you and me believes. [1]

Women’s irrationality in entering the prison of marriage has long been recognized inliterature of women’s sexed protest. In 1509, Wynkyn de Worde printed an English verse adaptation of the French prose workLes Quinze Joyes de mariage (The Fifteen Joys of Marriage). [2] This French source was written early in the fifteenth century. It’s a comic work of women’s sexed protest. The English translation, entitledThe Fyftene Joyes of Maryage, is more solemn. Its introduction describes a woman foolishly entering the prison of marriage:

As thus when women in youth courageous

With free will endowed and lustiness

Of their desire and mind outrageous

Without need, but of their foolishness,

Convey themselves from all their liberty

Nothing content with their felicity.

For whereas they may freely ride or go

And at their choice disport themselves over all,

I you ensure these young women will not so

When they least expect, then suddenly they fall

And unconstrained make their bodies thrall,

Like to a person that into prison deep

Without cause all hastily does creep.

So do they often for lack of kindly wit

And when they be within this prison strait

The jailor comes and fast the door shuts

Which is of iron strong, and in waiting

she lies often for dread that through defeat

By night or day some should escape out,

Right busily she pries all about.

She bars the door and makes sure all the locks,

The strong bolts, the fetters, and the chain,

She searches well the holes and the stocks

That woe be they that lie there in pain,

And out from there they shall not go again

But ever endure in weeping care and sorrow,

For good no prayer shall they ever borrow.

And especially women may call her besotted,

Far from reason, of wisdom desolate,

That thus her time misused has and doubted,

When she had heard such prisoners but late

Weeping, wailing, and with themselves debate,

Lying in prison as she has passed by,

And put herself therein so foolishly. [3]

The verses “suddenly they fall / and unconstrained make their bodies thrall / Like to a person that into prison deep” connects through simile imprisonment in lust to actual imprisonment and figuratively to the prison of marriage. Paul of Tarsus counseled Christians that it is better to marry than to burn with lust.The Fyftene Joyes of Maryageemphatically rejects Paul’s counsel. It figures imprisonment in marriage to be worse than imprisonment in lust. [4]

The Fyftene Joyes of Maryagecontrasts the lover’s foolishness with the jailor’s diligence. Within their personal lives, women enter into marriage withoutcareful examination of the circumstances. Women are not, however, essentially fools. Women at work thoroughly consider risks, seek to mitigate them, and diligently work to advance their employers’ objectives. Women make good jailors. Women predominate today among guards working in prisons thathighly disproportionately imprison women. Women should guard more diligently their personal lives.


[1] For men and persons entering homosexual marriages, theacute anti-women bias of family lawdoesn’t directly cause harm. But unjust justice is generally dangerous. Family law applied to people who have entered homosexual marriages isn’t likely to be fair and rational. Men dedicated to demanding careers and high earnings, and who allow their wives the economic freedom that similarly motivated women have often allowed their husbands, face to a lesser degree the risks and injustices that such women face.

Women and men have significantly different positions with respect to legal regulation of reproduction. Men have reproductive rights.Women have no reproductive rightswhatsoever. Married women thusface maternity riskthat married men don’t.

[2] Scholars have attributed the anonymousLes Quinze Joyes de mariageto Antoine de La Sale, born perhaps in 1388. The anonymous English translationThe Fyftene Joyes of Maryagehas been attributed to Robert Copland, who flourished from 1508 to 1547.

[3]The fyftene joyes of maryage, “prohemye of the auctour,” ll. 101-35, available from theEarly English Books, Text Creation Partnership. The “Prologue” and “Prohemye” ofThe fyftene joyes of maryageare also printed in Coldiron (2009), Appendix 2.

Wynkyn de Worde printed the first edition ofThe fyftene joyes of maryagein 1509.She also printedThe Payne and Sorrowe of Euyll maryage(ca. 1530), an English translation ofDe Coniuge non ducenda (Don’t Be Drawn into Marriage). That English translation is commonly attributed to John Lydgate, but without good reason. Boffey (1999) p. 237. Wynkyn de Worde seems to have appreciated literature of women’s sexed protest. She also printedComplaynte of them that been to late maryedandComplaynt of them that be to soone maryed. Id. p. 244. For discussion of these marriage complaints from a gynocentric perspective, Coldiron (2009) Ch. 5. Id., Appendix 3, provides the texts. For related medieval English poems, seeAgainst Hasty Marriage (I)andAgainst Hasty Marriage (II)in Salisbury (2002).

[4] For Paul’s counsel on marriage, 1 Corinthians 7:8-9. The allusion to the Pauline counsel on marriage was added to the English translation ofLes Quinze Joyes de mariage. Coldiron (2009), p. 129, suggests that these verses support the Pauline counsel. That seems to me to be a misreading. Today, a further challenge to the Pauline counsel issexless marriages.

[image] Caged dog. Public Domain image byamayaeguizabal on pixabay.


Boffey, Julia. 1999. “Wynkyn de Worde and Misandry in Print.” Pp. 236-51 in Blake, N. F., and Geoffrey Lester. 1999.Chaucer in perspective Middle English essays in honour of Norman Blake. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

Coldiron, Anne E. B. 2009.English printing, verse translation, and the battle of the sexes, 1476-1557. Farnham, England: Ashgate.

Salisbury, Eve. 2002.The trials and joys of marriage. Kalamazoo, Mich: Published for TEAMS in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

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