350 Years Ago: Choosing Childlessness?

"A Married State," a poem by Katherine Phillips published in 1667, provides evidence that women have long questioned the assumption that all women should marry and have children:

A married state affords but little ease; The best of husbands are so hard to please. This in wives’ careful faces you may spell, Though they dissemble their misfortunes well. A virgin state is crowned with much content, It’s always happy as it’s innocent. No blustering husbands to create your fears, No pangs of childbirth to extort your tears, No children’s cries for to offend your ears, No worldly crosses to distract your prayers. Thus are you freed from all the cares that do Attend on matrimony and a husband too. Therefore, madam, be advised by me: Turn, turn apostate to love’s levity. Suppress wild nature if she dare rebel, There’s no such thing as leading apes in hell.

The final line refers to the saying, common at the time and featured in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing, that unmarried women are condemned to lead apes in hell.

Quoted in Amy Froide, Never Married: Singlewomen in Early Modern England (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 214-215; on apes in hell, 157.

#writers #England #1600s

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© 2016 by Rachel Chrastil