Staging the Market Mechanisms of Medieval Mating in Den utro hustru


Mads Larsen


Scandinavia’s only extant Shrovetide farce, Den utro hustru (The Unfaithful Wife), embodies a unique ethos in regard to mating and gender relations. The school play, presumably written by a university-educated teacher around 1500, dramatizes humanistic, pre-Lutheran views on sex and marriage—yet from a perspective of marginalized urban men. The European Marriage Pattern (EMP) had relegated apprentices to a life phase without copulation or pair-bonding. The Church’s Marriage and Family Practices (MFPs) were promoted by the ideology of courtly love, but medieval romances and ballads offered suboptimal guidance for low-status males on the stratified urban mating market. Den utro hustru, which builds on plays written by German craftsmen, reveals the hypocrisy of courtly love, yet still encourages young men to accept the status quo. The crude farce was written to elicit charity from drunk craftsmen, perhaps in particular from their marginalized apprentices. Using low-brow, physical humor, the playwright stages courtship as being driven by market mechanisms, conveying insights that align with present-day evolutionary research on male and female mating psychology.

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