Love against Substitution
Seventeenth-Century English Literature and the Meaning of Marriage
Eric B. Song



Even after being ordained in the Church of England in 1615, John Donne was uneasy with the existence of multiple Christian denominations. His Holy Sonnet 18 begins with a request: “Show me deare Christ, thy Spouse, so bright and cleare.”1 This opening line relies on a familiar biblical metaphor, and Donne’s readers would have immediately understood that Christ’s spouse is the church. Yet confusion arises in the poem because the speaker does not know where, exactly, the true church should be found—in Catholic Rome, in Protestant Germany, or somewhere else. In the course of the sonnet, the speaker’s bafflement about the divisions within Christianity turns into the basis of a surprising, even scandalous, conclusion. The poem ends by proposing to Christ that his wife

is most trew, and plea sing to thee, then

When She’is embrac’d and open to most Men.2

The final couplet asks Christ to take pleasure in his wife’s promiscuity. In expressing a longing for Christian inclusivity, Donne makes exclusively monogamous marriage feel incompatible with the higher meaning of Christ’s love.

The conclusion of Donne’s sonnet might be surprising, but it manipulates a confusion that already exists in the New Testament. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul redefines biblical marriage around Christ’s love. Yet he eventually resorts to the language of mystery to acknowledge the unresolved problems within his redefinition:

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:22–32)3

Paul bases the meaning of Christian marriage on an unstable simile. Wives are instructed to revere their imperfect husbands as if they were like Christ. Gender is supposed to be the decisive factor that dictates which spouse should be regarded as Christlike. Yet if Paul teaches clear-cut gender hierarchy within individual marriages, he crisscrosses gender identifications when he makes marriage the sign of a higher, collective truth. Husbands and wives alike take part in Christ’s corporate body. The same husbands who are supposed to be regarded as Christlike by their wives should also understand themselves to be members of Christ’s bride. This confusion may seem like the coincidental effect of a metaphor.4 Yet as scholars such as Melissa Sanchez and Will Stockt on have recently shown, the instability of Pauline teaching about marriage has a wide-ranging effect on early modern understandings of love and desire.5

In this book, I show that seventeenth-century English writings test the tenability of Pauline teaching by elevating a love that remains stubbornly fixed between two individuals. This kind of love threatens to short-circuit the dynamism between personal experience and corporate truth that Paul describes as a central feature of Christian marriage. Gender asymmetry matters for all the writings that I consider. Yet they do not straightforwardly describe male subjects seeking affirmation from female objects, or husbands being revered as Christlike by their wives. Instead, these writings describe husbands and wives (or would-be husbands and would-be wives) who mutually deem each other to be unique, to the point of being irreplaceable. This book proposes that a recognizably heteronormative pattern of individuality, gender asymmetry, and exclusivity takes hold in the literary imagination partly as a response to the incoherence of biblical teaching. A fixation on the personal register of love might seem to be entirely opposed to the longing expressed in Holy Sonnet 18. Donne questions whether fidelity within marriage is appropriate as an expression of Christ’s inclusive love. Yet at the same time, the scandalous suggestion at the end of the sonnet restricts gender identification more narrowly than Paul does in redefining biblical marriage. The poem opens with a generically male speaker’s desiring to see Christ’s implicitly female spouse; it ends with the proposition that Christ’s wife should be available to all men. This conclusion does make an erotically charged identification between Christ and Christian men possible by inviting Christ to take pleasure in being a cuckold. Yet this identification is triangulated through a heterosexual embrace at the metaphorical register.6 Even while unsettling the norm of monogamy, Donne straightens crisscrossed patterns of gender identification. The speaker never has to identify himself as a member of Christ’s wife but, instead, identifies himself as one of the men who seek to embrace her within Christ’s view.

When it comes to the lived reality of marriage, Donne’s biography and religious poetry make clear that a deeply personal love can be both a vehicle for and an obstacle to Christian devotion. By all accounts, Donne deemed his own wife to be singular in his affections. His insistence on marrying Anne More secretly in 1601 (which cost him his preferment and even led to brief imprisonment) is a key part of the biographical lore of Donne’s transformation from a philanderer to a divine. This lore includes Izaak Walton’s report that Donne, after his wife’s death in 1617, vowed to their children never to remarry.7 Whatever the exact nature of this vow might have been, Donne would never replace his late wife in remarriage. Yet in his religious poetry, he grapples with the way that fixed husbandly devotion can be incompatible with Christian devotion. He writes openly about the way that the intensity of his love for his wife, even after her death, competes with his love for God.

Donne struggles with problems that might be familiar to us in some form even if we do not share his religious outlook. Throughout this book, I take it as axiomatic that love requires some degree of belief—however impressionistic or nebulous—in a beloved person’s singularity. Individual uniqueness is an enabling fiction of love. I also take it as axiomatic that we are replaceable. If this were not true, no human institution would outlast a single generation. We might find ourselves being replaced in the workplace, in the classroom, or in our families and other intimate relationships. In some of these roles or offices, being replaced can be a straightforward matter; in others, the notion of our replaceability is difficult to accept or even unbearable. Being loved saves us from feeling that we are simply or entirely replaceable. This book focuses specifically on the alignment of Christian marriage and the loving affirmation of individuality. This alignment is historically contingent, and—for reasons that I describe in the next section—it becomes increasingly prominent in seventeenth-century English writings.

The alignment of love, unique personhood, and Christian marriage generates friction rather than coherence. This book turns to seventeenth-century writings about marriage to study the affective clash between individual love and the idea that one person can take the place of another. I use the term substitution to refer to the idea of human replaceability and different forms of replacement. These forms are disparate in nature, but marriage is called on to accommodate them within a tenable experience of love. One form of substitution is reproductive and intergenerational. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul cites the rationale for marriage originally found in Genesis: “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:23–24). Marriage is defined by its capacity to motivate a transfer of attachments across generations. Biblical commentators often note the oddity of Adam speaking about the experience of leaving a father and mother behind. Martin Luther, for example, interprets Adam’s utterance as “in the nature of a prophecy” because “[t]here were no fathers and mothers yet, and no children.”8 If the original definition of marriage looks beyond the specific context of Adam and Eve’s union in Eden, then the task of intergenerational replacement comes into even clearer focus. After the Fall, marriage does not only foster new, intimate bonds, from one generation to the next. Marriage is a vehicle for replacing mortal people and regulates the reproduction of children who should, if they survive, expect to replace their parents upon their deaths.

When Paul imposes a new meaning on marriage, he replaces an intergenerational rationale of substitution with a sacrificial one. The passage from the Epistle to the Ephesians offers no explicit Christian rationale for reproduction—no statement of a spiritual analogue to the imperative, found in Genesis, to populate the earth. The historical development of Christianity reveals how important this silence is. In the second century, Marcion taught that marriage and reproduction belong to a Hebraic past that is entirely negated as the expression of a deity who differs from the Christian God. In this view, Christians have no need to marry or to bear children. Their proper orientation is to reject the corruption of the physical world. Marcion was rejected by the Church Fathers as a heretic. Yet as Judith Lieu observes in a reconsideration of Marcion’s i mportance, when it comes to the rejection of marriage and reproduction, the “rhetorical antithesis between the heretics and the Church is absolute, but it is evident that the social reality remains less so.”9 The question of whether a Christian needs to have children would continue to matter in seventeenth-century England, even for Protestants who should (according to clear-cut understandings of sectarian differences) reject the value of clerical celibacy. We know, to mention an example that recurs later in this book, that John Milton seriously considered a life of celibacy before eventually marrying. Scholars intrigued by this biographical fact tend to focus on the mythic power of virginity in Milton’s imagination.10 Yet Milton’s consideration of lifelong celibacy contains the tacit assumption that there is no strict requirement for a Christian to reproduce. When Milton would later emerge as a proponent of companionate marriage, he would explicitly privilege the spiritual bond between a husband and wife over the practical realities of reproduction and childrearing. The prevailing view in seventeenth-century England was that Christians should marry and reproduce. Yet upholding this view required an oscillation between the definitions of marriage found in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

Paul’s redefinition of marriage sidesteps the practical matter of intergenerational replacement and teaches that the higher meaning of marriage has been revealed through Christ’s self-sacrificing care for his bride. Yet the question of how, exactly, Christ “gave himself for” the church, so “that he might sanctify and cleanse it,” is one of the fundamental problems of Christian theology. In the late eleventh-century Why God Became Man (Cur deus homo), Anselm of Canterbury offers an influential account of the atonement. “By what rationale does God forgive the sins of men?” Anselm asks.11 He theorizes that sin is a debt of honor that all creation owes to God. Christ fulfills this obligation on behalf of humanity through a life of perfect obedience. He confers on his church a goodness it could not achieve on its own. Most relevant to my book is the way that much of Protestant theology, starting with Luther, would go on to adapt Anselm’s soteriology to formulate a penal doctrine of atonement. This doctrine promotes a more overtly substitutionary logic of sacrifice. Christ does not just fulfill a debt on behalf of others but takes upon himself a displaced form of punishment.12 Christ suffers corporal and capital punishment as an innocent substitute. All the writings studied in this book negotiate an affective problem generated by Pauline teaching, especially when it is interpreted through a doctrine of substitutionary atonement: what it means for the affection between two spouses to be defined by the sacrifice of an innocent Son taking on a displaced form of punishment. The penal theory of atonement might have been a widespread teaching in seventeenth-century England, but even some ardently Protestant writers, like Milton, can express misgivings about this teaching and its implications. This book considers how writers from a range of doctrinal convictions imagine a form of intensely personal love that resists easy assimilation to biblical teaching in general and to substitutionary atonement in particular. These writers tend to make it harder rather than easier to feel the supposedly higher truth of Christian marriage.

The mystery of Pauline marriage also generates more straightforwardly practical problems. Paul leaves it unclear why any Christian husband would love a specific wife. This question is resolved neither by the story of Adam’s loving Eve (who is created from his flesh and bones) nor of Christ’s loving his corporate bride as his own body. Pauline teaching makes it even less clear why any wife would revere her particular husband or would-be husband as Christlike. Christian wives are instructed to live under a form of gender hierarchy that is based on an inexact simile. This burden of untruth placed on women features prominently in the debates over gender published in early seventeenth-century England. In the 1617 treatise Muzzle for Melastomus, Rachel Speght rebuts her misogynistic interlocutor by presenting her case that biblical marriage calls for loving union rather than inflexible hierarchy.13 When interpreting Genesis, she concludes that God granted Adam and Eve joint authority over all the other creatures of the earth.14 When turning to the Christian redefinition of marriage, she embraces one aspect of Paul’s exhortation: “for men ought to love their wives as themselves, because hee that loves his wife, loves himselfe.”15 Yet she qualifies Paul’s alignment of Christ and husband. She does admit that the husband’s place at the head of a marriage is “a truth ungainesayable.”16 Before making this concession, however, she reminds the reader that “the benefites of [Christ’s] death and resurrection, are as availeable, by beleefe, for women as for men; for hee indifferently died for the one sex as well as the other.”17 A husband and a wife are “indifferently” alike insofar as both are imperfect but redeemed.

We can find clear admissions that the alignment of husbands with Christ is not grounded in stable truth in William Gouge’s 1622 treatise Of Domesticall Duties, a work that reaffirms gender hierarchy even while registering the spiritual benefits of companionate marriage. Gouge grounds his case for male-centered marriage in an extended reading of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. When it comes to the Christlike status of the husband, he remarks, “The note of comparison (*Even as) requireth no equality, as if it were possible for an Husband in that measure to loue his wife, as Christ loued his Church; (for as Christ in excellency and greatnesse exceedeth man, so in loue and tendernesse).”18 Gouge acknowledges that Pauline teaching promotes an imperfect simile. Yet his goal is to have wives accept this simile nonetheless. Relying on Pauline precedent, he warns the reader to “conceive no carnall, no earthly thing” concerning the meaning of marriage, “because it is a mysterie.”19 He devotes considerable effort to turning the distinction between the divine meaning of marriage and its imperfect earthly expression to the advantage of men. Much later, he returns to the question of a husband’s imputed Christlikeness. Gouge insists that between an imperfect husband and Christ “there may be similitude, resemblance, and fellowship: inequality is no hinderance to these.”20 He needs to be defensive for much of his treatise because the husband’s claim to Christlike superiority has proven to be vulnerable as a normative fiction.

My opening example of Donne’s Holy Sonnet 18 suggests how the misalignment of individual marriage and Christ’s love for the church could threaten not only sexist norms but also the compatibility between familiar experience and higher truth claims. Donne’s rationale for putting Christian marriage to the test involves another important dimension of Paul’s teaching in the Epistle to the Ephesians: the realities of exclusion that frame the dynamism between individual and corporate experience. The context of the Epistle to the Ephesians reveals how Paul attempts a balance between incorporation and exclusion. In the second chapter, Paul reminds his Gentile readers that they were once “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Paul seeks to address the tensions between the Jewish and Hellenic Christians within the church at Ephesus. He does not fully renounce the distinctive privilege of Jewish believers, who were not previously aliens from Israel. Yet Paul relies on the typological transition from the literal to the spiritual Israel to underscore a new spirit of inclusivity—at least among all those who have accepted Christian teaching. By the time Paul redefines marriage in the fifth chapter, he does not mention the distinction between Jewish and Gentile members of Christ’s corporate body, which is also his wife.

In Holy Sonnet 18, Donne articulates a desire for a Christian inclusivity that does not seem to exist anywhere in his world. To challenge the impulse toward sectarian exclusivity, he pits Pauline teaching against monogamy itself. For an example of the kind of exclusionary impulse that Donne seeks to subvert, we can turn to John Calvin’s remarks about the second commandment. In that commandment, Yahweh forbids Israel from the worship of idols by declaring himself a jealous God. Calvin (to quote from a 1561 English translation) likens God’s “feruently burnyng ialousie” to the anger of a husband “yf he see his wiues minde encline to a strang louer.”21 For Calvin, Christians should not simply consider divine jealousy to be relegated to a supposedly outdated Hebraic past. Instead, they should apply the feeling of jealousy toward an affirmation of God’s narrow covenant with an elect church. Donne’s sonnet, by contrast, surprises the reader into asking why a communal and supposedly universal truth should be expressed in a form that privileges exclusive fidelity.

Crises of Substitution

When I study seventeenth-century English writers who elevate a love that affirms uniqueness, I do not mean to suggest that they invent an entirely new way of writing about marriage. Celebrations of unique love leading to marriage existed long before the seventeenth century.22 One key precedent for affirming the stubborn fixity of desire lies in comedy—more specifically, in the New Comedy of ancient Greece and its Roman adaptations.23 Another precedent lies in romance, a genre full of dangerous proxies and doubles that threaten quests for individuation. Ludovico Ariosto’s sixteenth-century Orlando furioso was influential in showing that a conjugal celebration might achieve a recognizably Virgilian form of closure even at the end of a sprawling romance narrative. Yet in seventeenth-century England, the promotion of a love that rejects all substitutes becomes ascendant across genres, and in a way that would alter cultural history. The sense that loving marriage might permanently affirm the uniqueness of individuals, who may be neither noble in birth nor heroic in battle, begins to register not just as a generic device of closure but also as a desirable and potentially viable mode of domestic life—just barely viable, and in a disruptive or transgressive fashion.

In early modern England, marriage was increasingly promoted as a spiritual bond between a husband and a wife even as it continued to function as a contractual and disciplinary instrument. Frances Dolan offers a summary of the major historical factors involved in the rise of companionate marriage: “the Reformation promoted a direct relationship between the individual and God, as well as increased introspection and self-documentation; political change promoted an increased awareness of individual rights and responsibilities; urbanization ruptured ties to the extended family and local community; and capitalism promoted a sense of the individual as the proprietor of himself and his capacities.”24 These large-scale developments have offered historians and historically minded scholars much to reexamine and to debate. Debates recur about when, exactly, religious and demographic shifts led to changed behaviors and outlooks, and for which segments of the population.25 In this book, I pursue questions that are less directly about the lives of seventeenth-century English people but focus more on literary history: why and to what end did writers increasingly identify marriage with a love between two individuals who deem each other to be irreplaceable? The answers to these questions are historical in nature, but not simply because literary writings passively reflect shifting attitudes about marriage and personhood. All the writings that I study respond to religious and political upheavals by revisiting the meaning of marriage, and by imagining possible modes of feeling that can arise out of the contradictions in Christian teaching.

The chapters in this book consider writings about marriage by six authors: Edmund Spenser (1552?–99), William Shakespeare (1564–1616), William Davenant (1606–68), John Milton (1608–74), Lucy Hutchinson (1620–81), and Aphra Behn (1640–89). These authors write from different religious viewpoints (from Protestant to likely Roman Catholic, devout to disillusioned), and from opposed political convictions (royalist to republican). Yet they all contribute to a vocabulary that sets the feeling of conjugal love against the notion of substitution. This vocabulary serves as a resource for testing not just the viability of marriage as Paul defines it but also the link between Pauline marriage and hereditary succession. The relationship between marriage and succession needed to be reexamined repeatedly during the numerous upheavals of the seventeenth century. My book begins in the final decade of the sixteenth century, when the unmarried and heirless status of Queen Elizabeth I heightened anxieties about national stability. In 1603 James VI of Scotland ascended to the English throne already married and the father of heirs. The establishment of the new Stuart dynasty in England was certainly not uncontroversial, but the practical function of royal marriage seemed to be restored at last. Yet the middle of this century would be defined by the civil wars that resulted in the public execution of King Charles I in January 1649. This shocking event was followed by an eleven-year experiment in nonmonarchical governance. (Despite the starting point of the book’s chapters, I refer to the seventeenth century in the title to refer to the centrality of these events for my argument.) The English republic proved incapable of securing a viable alternative to hereditary succession at the highest level of authority; the Stuart monarchy was restored in 1660. Toward the end of the seventeenth century, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 disrupted the patterns of the Stuart dynasty once again—not by executing King James II but instead by replacing him with his daughter and foreign son-in-law. Across all these crises, fundamental matters of belief and authority were being contested: how one ruler should be replaced by another, whether monarchy is compatible with Christ’s kingship, whether God calls his believers to submit to human rulers or to appoint and even replace them. According to Christopher Hill’s formulation, this was a period in which not just kingship but even “God was on trial.”26

This book shows that, in seventeenth-century English writings, Christian marriage had to be put on trial as well.27 At stake is marriage’s capacity to function as an instrument for legitimizing hereditary heirs and, simultaneously, as a religious form that directs intimate experience toward communal belonging. I have already suggested that a stubbornly individual love unsettles the balance of the personal and the corporate that Pauline marriage demands. At the same time, an insistence on individual singularity underscores the absence of a reproductive rationale for marriage within Pauline theology. A vocabulary defining love against substitution undercuts the prestige of marriage’s practical role in producing heirs who should seamlessly replace their parents upon death. In this book, I detail how writers from opposed political positions turned to this shared vocabulary as a way to respond to different moments of turmoil in the seventeenth century. My first two chapters on Spenser and Shakespeare, respectively, describe how a literary vocabulary defining conjugal love against replaceability takes hold across the genres of the Petrarchan sonnet, romance, epic, tragedy, and tragicomedy. The subsequent chapters consider how this vocabulary serves as the basis of more overtly partisan thinking. Royalist writers lament how Christian marriage cannot achieve a balance between the individual and the communal in the absence of a stable hierarchy, with royal marriage setting the precedent for others to follow. Republican writers, by contrast, decry the demands of hereditary succession as being inimical to the genuine love between a husband and a wife. As this book goes on to show, royalist and republican writers reshape, for their own perceived ends, the kernel of untruth within Pauline marriage and the appeal of a personal love that seeks to reject or rise above the realities of replacement.

My work in this book is historically minded, but I believe that the writings I study offer forward-looking lessons about the ongoing negotiation of personal experience with shared truth claims, an intimate feeling of love with communal belonging. Under the pressures of seventeenth-century English history, writers start to imagine the Pauline definition of marriage giving way to impassioned affirmations of the individual. When I look back to these earlier writings, I do so from a vantage point in which individual uniqueness has become entrenched as an enabling fiction, not just for the idea of loving marriage but also for an entire liberal form of life. The role of marriage in balancing individual personhood with corporate belonging does not merely persist now as a quaintly outmoded tradition.28 We can observe how, across many countries, norms concerning love shape immigration policies that determine when marriage should and should not offer a pathway to naturalized citizenship. In these negotiations, the adjudication of genuine affection can play a decisive role in determining when marriage should be a vehicle of national incorporation and when marriages can be discredited as mere unions of convenience. Feminist legal scholars have detailed the harm that can arise out of policies ostensibly seeking to affirm a liberal and equitable view of marriage.29

For a specific example, we can refer to the “attachment requirement” that was in effect in Denmark from 2000 to 2018, as part of the Danish Aliens Act, to restrict the conditions of spousal and familial reunification. Certain marriages could be deemed insufficient as grounds for admission to Denmark for the sake of reunification. In response to this requirement, sociologists have relied on the Foucauldian theory of governmentality to describe marriage and love being deployed as state instruments.30 This recent example makes it clear that restrictions on naturalization and the perceived illegitimacy of certain marriages are thoroughly bound up with the desire to limit civic acceptance according to views of religious and racial differences. There are certainly valid reasons to safeguard marriage from illiberal arrangements such as forced marriages or child marriages. At the same time, the attempt to defend love, family, and nation from perceived illiberal threats can function as a pretext for excluding immigrants from various African, Asian, and Middle Eastern populations. In 2016 the European Court of Human Rights found, albeit with serious reservations expressed, that parts of the Danish attachment requirement were discriminatory and violated articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.31 This is just one instance in which marriage continues—even in nominally secular contexts—to regulate who can be affirmed within communal belonging (in this case, the Western liberal nation rather than Christ’s body) and which populations might be excluded from the pattern of individuality and incorporation.

Given my desire to balance a historicist outlook with forward-looking concerns, I have found it important to conclude my study of seventeenth-century conjugal narratives with a reading of Aphra Behn’s prose fiction Oroonoko (1688). Behn locates her conjugal tragedy within the transatlantic slave trade. My chapter does not read Oroonoko as expressing any abolitionist sentiment on the author’s part. Instead, I describe how Oroonoko, published months before the Glorious Revolution, expresses the author’s royalist views and decries the imminent ouster of King James II. By fictionalizing the realities of slavery, Behn describes how noble and faithful love meets a tragic end when royal marriage cannot rise above the most starkly literal form of human substitution—the outright commodification of people. When I use the language of fungibility in this last chapter, I rely on the work of scholars who have detailed the racist logics of human fungibility in the histories of American slavery and its long aftermath.32 My reading of Oroonoko discusses how Behn revisits the precedent of Othello, a work studied at length in chapter 2. These two readings form the portions of my book that consider a specifically racial understanding of replaceability. In both Othello and Oroonoko, the demand for personal singularity within loving marriage is framed by the awareness that Black lives are more susceptible to being stripped of personhood—with personal singularity being a tenuous, even marvelous exception.33 Between the time of Othello’s composition in 1603 and that of Oroonoko’s, this awareness intensifies owing to England’s heightened and more systematic activity in the enslavement of African people. When Othello recounts an earlier experience of being enslaved, it remains unclear by whom and under what pretext he had been enslaved and then freed.34 In Oroonoko, by contrast, the underhanded dealings of English slave traders and colonial administrators form a key basis of Behn’s lament—not about the slave trade in the 1660s, necessarily, but about the perceived debasement in English politics in 1688.

In other portions of my book, the form of exclusion that shapes the dynamism between individuality and belonging concerns Jews within the Christian typological imagination. My chapters on Davenant and Hutchinson in particular consider how Jews function as a convenient foil or scapegoat when the project to affirm individual love within Christian marriage runs into incoherence. Since my book studies seventeenth-century English writings about marriage, the realities of transatlantic slavery and more modern forms of antisemitism can only come into partial view. Yet my book as a whole aims to show how a literary form of marriage shapes collective impressions about individual worth and communal belonging within a framework of exclusivity. Seventeenth-century English writings offer us an opportunity to examine how the affirmation of uniqueness develops out of a religious teaching that calls on personal love to point to a shared truth. Within biblical teaching, Christian typology shapes a sense of who is included in the collective experience of a new truth and who remains on the outside. In the writings that I study in this book, we witness one form of overt mystification (the great mystery of Pauline marriage) just starting to give way to another—a nascent liberal form, in which the worth of individuals might be universally affirmed, but only of certain individuals who have the privilege of belonging. This literary reimagining of Christian marriage would exert a long influence in shaping perceptions about the necessity of exclusion—religious, racial, civic, and otherwise—in achieving some elusive balance between the feeling of personal singularity and of communal participation.

Political Theology Is Dead! Long Live Affect Theory!

To study seventeenth-century writings while also looking ahead, this book engages with scholarship that falls under the heading of political theology. Marriage has been a politico-theological form that mediates between practical realities and mythic appeals. As the vehicle for producing legitimate heirs, marriage plays a key role in reconciling what Ernst Kantorowicz labels “the King’s sempiternity and the king’s temporariness.”35 Christian marriage also accommodates a mythology of undying kingship by conferring religious sanction on what is a regulated cycle of intergenerational succession. When the newly crowned James I addressed the English Parliament in 1603, he did not merely appeal to his literal status as a husband and father but reshaped the higher meaning of Christian marriage to suit his purposes: “‘What God hath conjoined then, let no man separate.’ I am the husband, and all the whole island is my lawful wife.”36 Kantorowicz quotes James to observe that he adapts the corpus mysticum, the holy union between Christ and the church. James’s reliance on marriage as an expression of Christlike kingship is innovative insofar as this metaphor had been “all but non-existent” in medieval theories of monarchy.37 Yet this image of the Christlike English king would actually reach its zenith later in the century—and apart from the metaphor of marriage—when James’s son Charles I was depicted as a Christlike martyr awaiting his execution, in isolation from his exiled wife.

Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies (1957) is one of the foundational texts of political theology, but it has an uneasy relationship with a genealogical project of discerning the prehistories of modern politics. In the preface, Kantorowicz articulates his unease with a forward-looking orientation. He admits that his study of medieval political theology “may be taken” as an attempt to understand the medieval origins of a “political theology which mutatis mutandis was to remain valid until the twentieth century.”38 Speaking of himself in the third person, however, he cautions, “It would go much too far, however, to assume that the author felt tempted to investigate the emergence of some of the idols of modern political religions merely on account of the horrifying experience of our own time.”39 Despite this hedging, The King’s Two Bodies would have a lasting significance partly because of its role in genealogical accounts of modern sovereignty—and, specifically, in Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.40

Yet scholars seeking to uncover links between a religious past and modern politics often cite Carl Schmitt’s work as the more powerful precedent. When Graham Hammill and Julia Reinhard Lupton attempt to clarify the term political theology, they remark, “The norms and forms of religious life are . . . not exactly what concerns political theology, which finds its questions rather in the moment where religion is no longer working—but neither are the secular solutions designed to replace it.”41 Within this provisional definition, Schmitt’s widely circulated dictum, “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts,” can function as a rationale and inducement for politico-theological inquiry.42 Hammill and Lupton observe that political theology is “associated above all” with Schmitt, whose work shows that “the modern age redefines and rebinds politics and theology in an attempt to manage its deepest tendencies toward chaos and dissolution.”43 Other scholars taxonomize political theology into “stronger” and “weaker” modes: the so-called stronger mode is affiliated with Schmitt and licenses seemingly anachronistic connections between a religious past and modernity, whereas the weaker mode is affiliated with Kantorowicz and is more narrowly historicist in its focus.44

When early modern scholars work under the shadow of Schmitt, the onetime Nazi jurist and longtime proponent of fascism, they need to qualify the way he legitimizes authoritarianism by appealing to earlier theories of absolutism. Schmitt legitimizes forms of sovereignty that respond to the perceived threats of chaos. Politics are defined around the perception of enmity; sovereignty is defined by the power to decide when to suspend the normal rule of law. The recuperation of Schmitt’s reputation in the latter half of the twentieth century would eventually make it common practice to describe him as singularly incisive.45 My dissatisfaction with these tendencies has intensified alongside the developments that have taken place since I initially began writing this book. In 2016 Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. In the following year, emboldened by Trump’s racist nationalism, an assemblage of neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and right-wing militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, ostensibly to protest the proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. The affiliation between Nazism and American White nationalism was on display, not only in the form of Nazi paraphernalia but also in the collective chant “Jews will not replace us.”46 The resurgence of racist fascism has made it clear that the late twentieth-century scholarly recuperation of Schmitt has gone too far.47 Even without it, gestures to Schmitt’s thinking would likely have circulated in right-wing circles that aim to give a sheen of credibility to jingoism and xenophobia. Yet it strikes me as unacceptable to continue participating in a mode of scholarship that venerates Schmitt as uniquely brilliant. Being honest about the contradictions of liberal democracy should not serve as an alibi to the legitimization of fascist politics.

When I adapt the slogan “The King is dead!” to declare that political theology is dead, I signal my awareness that this mode of thinking will not remain dead but will persist in some revitalized form. In the chapters that follow, I engage selectively with both Kantorowicz and Schmitt, as well as with more recent work in political theology. By examining a literary vocabulary of marriage that mediates between large-scale political and religious matters and intimate experiences, I seek to take up a proposition that Eric Santner offers. Santner suggests that “there is more political theology in everyday life than we might have ever thought.”48 He makes this claim while tracing how the theory of the king’s two bodies gives way to a modern understanding of the body politic as bifurcated. He describes the people, in whom power should reside through political representation, as having two bodies. The people are defined both by subjecthood and by bodily forms of life (which he labels as the flesh) that remain irreducible to political representation. By pairing an early modern understanding of the king’s two bodies with the fate of the flesh in the modern state, he addresses some fundamental questions: “(1) the relation of parts to whole within a social formation; (2) the way in which the functionality, vitality, or flourishing of the formation is conceived; (3) the successful survival of the formation as self-identical across time, its organization of temporal succession; and (4) the sources of legitimacy of the formation: what justifies its existence, makes it more than utterly contingent?”49 My book turns to seventeenth-century marriage as a form in which all these questions are being renegotiated at once. The writings that I examine test the capacity of marriage to harmonize political and religious mythologies, to balance individual experience with corporate belonging, and to legitimize succession as a valid instrument of stability. What links early modern marriage to modernity is a divided sensibility concerning the allure of personal uniqueness and the realities of replacement. The clash between love and the premise of substitution has politico-theological significance in seventeenth-century writings, and that clash continues to operate in forms of feeling that are at once quotidian and politically charged. In this book, I do not advance the facile claim that pitting love against substitution offers the solution of elevating the personal over the political. Instead, this book traces how the form of marriage is a problem that requires affectively binding solutions that political power can neither provide nor secure for its purposes.

When I continue with “Long live affect theory!” I signal my belief about the viable scholarly successor to political theology. I have suggested that my book focuses on the affective clash produced by a literary definition of marriage as a love between unique individuals. Yet pairing early modern scholarship with affect theory is not a simple matter. The most illuminating analyses within the scholarly turn to affect appeal to shared forms of feeling available within a capitalist social mode. This is true even when affect theory turns to previous centuries. When, for example, Sianne Ngai revisits Herman Melville’s 1857 The Confidence-Man, she shows why that novel should have proven so alienating to contemporary and future readers (in a way that “Bartleby the Scrivener” has not). Ngai reads the novel as unrelentingly aware of the economic ploy of circulating fake feelings; this ruse is central not just to the marketing of literary fictions but also to market capitalism in general. She is able to make Melville’s story newly comprehensible by describing a pattern of affective and monetary circulation that we still recognize because we inhabit a later outgrowth of capitalist society.50 My book, by contrast, attends to what is still an overtly religious form of feeling about personhood and corporate belonging. If my book is to mediate effectively between a study of political theology and a study of affect, it will do so by mounting a case for a sensibility that emerges out of a theological worldview but would eventually become intertwined with a capitalist, liberal mode of life.

Was This Face the Face?

I close this introduction by offering a concrete example of the thinking that this book offers. I propose one specific occasion for pairing an early modern mystification of marriage, love, and political substitution with a modern confusion concerning heterosexual norms and their relationship to politics. I do this, first, by revisiting what Kantorowicz ignores in Shakespeare’s Richard II (1595), despite devoting the first chapter of The King’s Two Bodies to a reading of the play. It is striking that Kantorowicz ignores the female characters in this play and the function of marriage in the unfolding tragedy. Both as a vehicle of reproduction and as a Christian metaphor, marriage is crucial to the play’s dramatization of the theory of the king’s two bodies. On his way to the Tower in the play’s final act, a defeated Richard utters,

Doubly divorc’d! Bad men, you violate

A twofold marriage—’twixt my crown and me,

And then betwixt me and my married wife.—

Let me unkiss the oath ’twixt thee and me;

And yet not so, for with a kiss ’twas made. (5.1.71–75)

Richard claims that his literal and metaphorical marriages have been forced into a double divorce. This claim shapes the impression that he emerges as a martyr in defeat. To cast Richard as a bereft and loving husband, Shakespeare’s play reimagines the historical Isabella of Valois (nine years old at the time of Richard’s death) as an adult queen with whom the king can share a protracted farewell. This scene may be maudlin, but its pathos might work against all the evidence offered previously that Richard has been a bad husband—both to his wife and to his kingdom. The play is now showing or even abetting Richard in an act of political mythmaking through appeals to love. This appeal, in turn, helps to establish the grounds for presenting Richard as a specifically Christlike martyr in defeat. The language of kissing reinforces Richard’s multiple outbursts that he has been betrayed by Judases.

Yet Richard II reveals how the mythology of Christlike kingship not only functions alongside the reality of marriage but also discredits the roles of women caught within the demands of hereditary succession. The play makes it clear that the tragedy of the king’s two bodies is, at the same time, a tragicomedy of noble and royal women. In the second scene of the play, the Duchess of Gloucester serves as a confidant for John of Gaunt, her brother-in-law. The widowed duchess implores John of Gaunt to seek just vengeance on behalf of her late husband. To appeal to John of Gaunt’s brotherly duty, the duchess describes all of Edward III’s sons as

seven vials of his sacred blood,

Or seven fair branches springing from one root. (1.2.12–13)

These metaphors of male kinship entirely efface the reality of mothers. The duchess does go on to acknowledge that Gloucester did not only share a father with John of Gaunt but was also born from

[t]hat bed, that womb,

That mettle, that self mould, that fashioned

his brother (1.2.22–23). Yet the duchess continues to elide the full person of the mother through a synecdoche (“that bed”) and a chain of metaphors that liken the womb to inanimate vessels. By subordinating real motherhood to patriarchal filiation, her speech accommodates a pervasive metaphor in the play—the earth itself as a common mother to Englishmen. The duchess’s fate confirms the impression that she has neither a place nor a role of her own. The next time we hear of her, she has died for no other reason than grief over her late husband.

In the final act, however, the Duchess of York emerges as a character who insists on motherhood’s importance, even if it means being a disobedient wife. When the Duke of York plans to expose his son Aumerle as a traitor against the newly crowned Henry, the duchess pleads,

Wilt thou not hide the trespass of thine own?

Have we more sons? or are we like to have? (5.2.89–90)

Again, Richard II distorts history for the sake of family drama. The historical Aumerle was not the son of the duke’s second wife. In Shakespeare’s adaptation, the mother clings to her son by deeming him biologically irreplaceable. The duchess’s intervention on behalf of her son brings to the play a series of late correctives. She rejects the demands of male kinship insofar as they deny the role of women. In her defiance toward her husband, she resists the effort to make married love a basis of political mythmaking. These recalibrations, in turn, offer Henry Bolingbroke an alternate way to gain adoration as a new king—a political myth that sidesteps both the reality and the metaphor of marriage. The Duchess of York pleads with Henry for clemency on behalf of her son. The scene lapses in to farce through punning on the “pardon” that the duchess seeks for Aumerle and the “pardonne moy” that she does not want to hear from Henry’s lips before he politely condemns her son (5.3.114–31). Yet Henry does pardon Aumerle, and the duchess responds by proclaiming, “A god on earth thou art” (5.3.136). This salute momentarily blurs the line between hyperbole and reverence. If the duchess manages to cut through this scene’s farcical nature, she does so through an intensity of maternal care that leads her to deify the king who has exhibited grace toward her son.

At the same time, the questions of gender, reproduction, and marriage that underlie Richard II’s tragedy remain disconnected from Henry’s provisional triumph. The scene of the duchess securing Aumerle’s pardon is followed by Richard’s soliloquy in the dungeon at Pomfret Castle. Richard clings to a fantasy of being able to populate his own world in miniature:

My brain I’ll prove the female to my soul,

My soul the father, and these two beget

A generation of still-breeding thoughts. (5.5.6–8)

Earlier in the play, after returning from Ireland, he salutes the English earth with a maternal metaphor:

As a long-parted mother with her child

Plays fondly with her tears and smiles in meeting,

So weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth. (3.2.8–10)

In contrast to the patriotic appeals to the earth as a common mother that recur in the play, he imagines him self as a mother to emphasize his intrinsic bond to his kingdom. At the end of the play, despite having recognized the fragility of kingship, he cannot fully let go of the fantasy of generating subjects on his own. When, by contrast, King Henry extends grace to the Duchess of York, he finds a way to receive adoration while avoiding any direct entanglements with maternal care or conjugal love.

If we return to Kantorowicz’s reading of Richard II, we can discern some of the reasons why he might have neglected the topic of marriage. The play’s presentation of marriage and of maternal care shows that the tragedy of the king’s two bodies can (or even needs to) coexist with tragicomic and farcical rhythms. In Henry Bolingbroke’s story, the late swerve into farce confirms that a political mythology of godlike kingship can function even if it has been evacuated of any clear purchase on belief. Only by ignoring such complications can Kantorowicz straightforwardly present Richard II as the tragedy of the king’s two bodies. Even if Richard temporarily plays the fool in Kantorowicz’s account, the tragedy is still a solemn, even hierophantic one that confirms the significance of the politico-theological concept.

To look ahead beyond early modern England, I want to pair Richard II’s orchestration of marriage, maternal care, and political mythmaking with a moment in twentieth-century psychoanalytic thinking. I have in mind a section of Sigmund Freud’s 1914 “On Narcissism,” a signal work in the transformation of the myth of Narcissus into the modern condition of narcissism. This seems like a great leap. Yet I justify it in part by recalling that Richard II contains the most explicit display of what we would call wounded narcissism in all of Shakespearean drama. The play replaces the historical reports of Richard signing his own deposition with a mirror scene. In Shakespeare’s adaptation, Richard demands a mirror so that he can look at his face as he is stripped of kingship. He asks,

Was this face the face

That every day under his household roof

Did keep ten thousand men? Was this the face

That like the sun, did make beholders wink? (4.1.281–84).

Shakespeare’s engagement with the myth of Narcissus generates a particular form of self-reflexivity and self-misunderstanding. In this scene of shattered narcissism, Henry Bolingbroke corrects the error that persists in Richard’s thinking. When Richard declares that breaking the mirror before him amounts to breaking his face, Henry remarks,

The shadow of your sorrow hath destroy’d

The shadow of your face. (4.1.292–93)

Richard is willing to accept even this cruelly pointed lesson about mediation, simulacrum, and misrecognition. He concedes that he has continued to mistake his reflected shadow for his being. Yet in contrast both to the Ovidian myth of Narcissus and to the modern theory of narcissism, Richard’s difficult lessons about self-recognition and error exist at a remove from gender difference, erotic desire, and reproduction. As we have seen, Richard’s demystified view of himself as king manages to coexist with his confusion about gender and reproduction to the very end. The wounding of Richard’s narcissism is religious and political in nature, but he proves incapable of directly confronting related questions about motherhood.

In Freud’s 1914 essay, we can witness a modern understanding of narcissism generating a different pattern of confusion. Gender difference, intergenerational substitution, and self-misrecognition are some of the dynamics being explicitly theorized, but their purchase on politics tends to remain obscured. Freud’s essay begins with the provocation that narcissism should not merely be associated with the supposed pathologies of autoeroticism and homoeroticism. Freud proposes that narcissism plays a key function in heterosexual subject formation. In this essay, the name of Narcissus begins to merge with Freud’s emergent theory of the ego ideal. Yet when Freud seeks to explain how, exactly, narcissism can foster heterosexual attachments by promoting the right kinds of ego ideals, he confronts basic contradictions. If all objects of desire are substitutes for the maternal body, as Freud claims, it is unclear why women would normatively desire men. Freud reverts to the existing association of narcissism with “perverts and homosexuals” to explain that “they have taken as a model not their mother but their own selves.”51 He makes the search for a mother substitute the basis of a heterosexual norm, with male desire typically exhibiting “[c]omplete object-love” whereas women typically remain narcissistic.52 Freud then offers “a short summary” of the account of heterosexuality he has provided:

A person may love:—

(1) According to the narcissistic type:

(a) what he himself is (i.e., himself),

(b) what he himself was,

(c) what he himself would like to be,

(d) someone who was once part of himself.

(2) According to the anaclitic (attachment) type:

(a) the woman who feeds him,

(b) the man who protects him,

and the succession of substitutes who take their place.53

Under the label of summary, Freud introduces ideas he has not previously discussed. For the first time in this essay, he proposes that the narcissistic sense of self can be split across time—filtered through nostalgia for a past self and a proleptic longing for a future self. This is a crucial distinction because it accommodates the relationship between the ego and the ego ideal being pursued. Yet he introduces it here in slipshod fashion, as part of a post hoc attempt to render heterosexuality coherent. In the foregoing section of the essay, he does discuss a narcissistic desire for “someone who was once part of himself”—but only as part of the claim that motherhood provides an outlet for a woman’s tendencies toward narcissism.54 In the so-called summary, he adds the new idea that attachments can seek a substitute not just for a missing mother but also for “the man who protects.” The suggestion that an object attachment can be based on a protective father figure is only a placeholder explanation. It papers over the recurring problem of why any woman would seek a male object to replace a maternal object of attachment.

I have turned to Freud’s essay on narcissism at the end of my introduction for reasons that pertain to this book as a whole. Freud offers a highly influential twentieth-century account of the relationship between love and substitution. In this account, all outward-oriented desire is a quest for a substitute for an elusive lost object. My concern in this book is to trace how the contradictions within the Pauline definition of Christian marriage shape a literary vocabulary pitting love against the premise of substitution. Pauline marriage shares some important conceptual elements with Freud’s theory of heterosexuality: a dynamism of the self, identification that promises to reshape the self, and confusion concerning the gendered patterns of desire and identification. Paul exhorts all husbands to adopt Christ as their ego ideal (with wives affirming that identification) while, at the same time, understanding themselves as members (along with their wives) of Christ’s corporate bride. Even though Freud is obviously elaborating a different theory of heterosexual norms, his terminology helps to clarify why self-love cannot function as the stable form of a love that rejects substitutes. If the singularity of the self is to become a tenable fiction, it must be stabilized through the love of another—while, at the same time, the asymptotic movement toward the self’s idealized version is affirmed. This is true both in Pauline marriage (in which husbands and wives define each other with respect to Christ) and in Freud’s unstable account of heterosexuality.

Freud’s 1914 essay only begins to grapple with the political implications of the dynamic constitution of the self through desire. The narrowly political significance of his account of heterosexuality and narcissism initially seems to be little more than the basis of a small joke. After offering the deceptive summary in the second section of “On Narcissism,” Freud elaborates on the way reproduction functions as an inducement for heterosexual union. In contrast to his earlier claim about typically narcissistic women, he now describes babies as fostering in fathers and mothers alike a narcissistic sense of satisfaction. He notes that this is why parents regard their child as “‘His Majesty the Baby.’55 This phrase is, curiously, in English in the original essay. The notion of a royal baby offers him the grounds for a passing quip about the narcissistic satisfaction to be found in parenting. His developmental narrative of heterosexuality may be confusing insofar as it describes both men and women seeking substitutes for missing maternal objects. Yet the gendered confusion within the rationale for reproduction does not seem in any genuine way linked to the political utility of succession—a concept that is quaint in its outdatedness and also cast as foreign-sounding.

For most of “On Narcissism,” Freud remains silent on the modern political implications of his theoretical claims. Yet in the final paragraph, he adds, “The ego ideal opens up an important avenue for the understanding of group psychology. In addition to its individual side, this ideal has a social side; it is also the common ideal of a family, a class, or a nation. It binds not only a person’s narcissistic libido, but also a considerable amount of his homosexual libido, which is in this way turned back to the ego.”56 He ends by suggesting the positive dimensions of the way identification and idealization underlie communal formations, including the nation. This optimism is premised on a notion that his essay had tried to overcome in the name of a normative heterosexuality. He believes that the pursuit of one’s own ego ideal is fundamentally homosexual because it is a libidinous attachment to some version of oneself.57 The sense that self-love and self-development are essentially homosexual in nature (because they are directed at a version of the self) recurs at the end of the essay so that he can propose that narcissism can be useful in motivating communal forms such as national belonging.

As I complete this introduction in 2021, I feel compelled to remember that Freud would go on to confront the irrational and murderous forms of nationalism energized by libidinal misidentifications and idealization. If I had completed this book several years earlier, I might have sided more thoroughly with Victoria Kahn’s conclusions about political theology in The Future of Illusion, published in 2014. When it comes to the beliefs that underlie political fantasies, Kahn argues for a break with religion in the name of a secular poiesis. She turns to Freud as a thinker who, up to the brink of World War II, relied on psychoanalysis to diagnose the intractable forms of illusion, including religious faith, at play in nationalism. Fantasy and illusion remain indispensable, but in her account, art proves to be a more beneficial form of poiesis when it breaks away from politico-theological legacies. Psychoanalysis and art proved too weak to counteract twentieth-century fascism and genocide, and yet art remains the mode of making that “interprets our fantasies in a form that liberates rather than constrains.”58 I write at a moment characterized by a resurgence of racist nationalisms and an impulse toward authoritarianism. It is easier than ever to psychoanalyze the narcissism, the misrecognitions, the libidinal attachments, and the workings of the death drive that underlie ethno-nationalism.59 Yet it is also less clear than ever what purchase psychoanalysis and constructive poiesis might have in repudiating twenty-first century fascism and in redirecting us toward liberating forms of collective belonging. It is also unclear how viable a decisive break from the politico-theological legacies of the past might be when Christian zeal continues to prove capable of forging alliances with irreligious forms of reactionary politics. A book studying seventeenth-century writings about marriage can offer no direct political prescriptions. Yet I have written in the hope that accounting for how we have inherited ways of feelings about love—in a form that mediates between inclusion and exclusion, between singular lives and ones deemed negotiable in value—might help us understand why irrational forms of exclusion and hatred can circulate effectively in the name of cohesion and personal belonging.


1. John Donne, The Variorum Edition of the Poetry of John Donne: The Holy Sonnets, ed. Paul A. Parrish, vol. 7, part 1 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 19; line 1. Helen Gardner, in John Donne: The Divine Poems, corrected 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 77–78, established the conclusion that Holy Sonnet 18 was composed after Donne’s ordination. Gardner is among the scholars who have downplayed this sonnet’s indecorousness. For a reconsideration of this sonnet’s textual and critical histories as they relate to Donne’s desire for ecumenism, see Lukas Erne, “Donne and Christ’s Spouse,” Essays in Criticism 51, no. 2 (April 2001): 208–29.

2. Donne, Variorum Edition, 19; lines 13–14.

3. Unless otherwise noted, quotations from the Bible throughout this book are taken from the Authorized 1611 Version.

4. The Epistle to the Romans also strains gender-specific identification to describe the corporate experience of marriage to Christ. Paul turns remarriage after the death of a spouse into a metaphor for the condition of being redeemed: “if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead” (7:3–4). Paul exhorts all Christians—with adelphoi, translated here as “brethren,” functioning as an inclusive term—to identify with the hypothetical widow.

5. See Will Stockton, Members of His Body: Shakespeare, Paul, and a Theology of Nonmonogamy (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017); and Melissa E. Sanchez, Queer Faith: Reading Promiscuity and Race in the Secular Love Tradition (New York: New York University Press, 2019). Stockton studies how the dynamism between plural love and the couple found in Paul’s definition of marriage informs Shakespearean drama. Sanchez pairs Pauline theology with Renaissance love poetry. Turning to Holy Sonnet 18, she concludes that Donne recognizes how religious fidelity, as the New Testament describes it, “unfixes and dematerializes the positions of gender and agency on which its accommodatory logic relies” (33–34). Both Stockton and Sanchez discern the queerness of Paul’s unstable definition of marriage. Stockton finds the use of this label to be strategic because it “locates the ostensibly anti-Christian institution of plural marriage” within biblical marriage itself (5).

6. The pattern of male desire for a woman serving to reinforce a homosocial bond has been described influentially by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, in Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985). As Sedgwick explains, the primacy of homosocial and homoerotic bonds between men reinforces gender hierarchy in a patriarchal culture.

7. Walton reports, in The Life of John Donne (London, 1658), 52, that after Ann Donne died, John gave their seven surviving children “a voluntary assurance never to bring them under the subjection of a step-mother, which promise he kept most faithfully” until his own death at the age of forty-four. Scholars remain uncertain about the accuracy of this account and the meaning of Donne’s reported vow. For the claim that Donne eventually turned away from earthly love in favor of spiritual concerns, see Ramie Targoff, John Donne, Body and Soul (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 76–78; and Posthumous Love: Eros and the Afterlife in Renaissance England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 22–23. For a discussion of Walton’s description within a broader case for the importance of asceticism in Donne’s religious imagination, see Patrick J. McGrath, Early Modern Asceticism: Literature, Religion, and Austerity in the English Renaissance (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2020), 34–48.

8. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 1, Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1–5, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1958), 139.

9. Judith M. Lieu, Marcion and the Making of a Heretic: God and Scripture in the Second Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 142.

10. For some examples, see E. M. W. Tillyard, Milton, rev. ed. (London: Macmillan, 1966), 318–26; David Quint, “Expectation and Prematurity in Milton’s Nativity Ode,” Modern Philology 97, no. 2 (November 1999): 195–219; and Brooke Conti, “Milton, Jerome, and Apocalyptic Virginity,” Renaissance Quarterly 72, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 194–230.

11. Anselm of Canterbury, Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, ed. Brian Davies and G. R. Evans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 282.

12. On Anselm’s theory of atonement and the penal doctrine developed by Protestant theologians such as Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, see Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 4, Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300–1700) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 155–67. Pelikan notes that it is accurate to describe Luther’s doctrine as an extension of Anselm’s. Yet Pelikan also cautions against conflating the two, given the meaningful differences between the payment of a debt of honor, as described by Anselm, and the displaced form of divine punishment that the penal doctrine describes.

13. For feminist scholarship that has recuperated the importance of Speght’s writings and the querelle des femmes in England more generally, see Ann Rosalind Jones, “Counterattacks on ‘the Bayter of Women’: Three Pamphleteers of the Early Seventeenth Century,” in The Renaissance Englishwoman in Print: Counterbalancing the Canon, ed. Anne M. Haselkorn and Betty S. Travitsky (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), 45–62; Diane Purkiss, “Material Girls: The Seventeenth-Century Woman Debate,” in Women, Texts, and Histories: 1575–1760, ed. Clare Brant and Purkiss (London: Routledge, 1992), 69–101; Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Writing Women in Jacobean England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), esp. 153–75; Helen Speight, “Rachel Speght’s Polemical Life,” Huntington Library Quarterly 65, nos. 3–4 (2002): 449–63; Christina Luckyj, “Rachel Speght and the ‘Criticall Reader,’English Literary Renaissance 36, no. 2 (Spring 2006): 227–49; and “A Mouzell for Melastomus in Context: Rereading the Swetnam-Speght Debate,” English Literary Renaissance 40, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 113–31.

14. For accounts of Speght’s reading of Genesis in relation to the gendered thinking of Paradise Lost, see Mary Nyquist, “The Genesis of Gendered Subjectivity in the Divorce Tracts and in Paradise Lost,” in Re-membering Milton, ed. Mary Nyquist and Margaret W. Ferguson (New York: Methuen, 1987), 99–127; and Shannon Miller, Engendering the Fall: John Milton and Seventeenth-Century Women Writers (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 21–47.

15. Rachel Speght, The Polemics and Poems of Rachel Speght, ed. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 18.

16. Ibid., 23.

17. Ibid.

18. William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties: Eight Treatises (London, 1622), 44.

19. Ibid., 125.

20. Ibid., 344.

21. John Calvin, The Institution of the Christian Religion, trans. Thomas Norton (London, 1561), 2:51r.

22. C. S. Lewis was deliberately overstating the case when he declared, in The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936), 13, that medieval marriage “had nothing to do with love, and no ‘nonsense’ about marriage was tolerated. All matches were matches of interest.” I do not seek to make overly emphatic claims about historical periods to describe meaningful cultural changes.

23. Northrop Frye’s schematization of comedy has become so influential that his ideas are sometimes referred to without being cited. See “The Argument of Comedy,” in English Institute Essays, ed. D. A. Robertson, Jr. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1949), 58–73; this argument was subsequently incorporated into the “Third Essay” of The Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957), 163–86.

24. Frances E. Dolan, Marriage and Violence: The Early Modern Legacy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 4. For discussions of how classical ideals of friendship present a partial alternative (often, but not always, a same-sex alternative) to the inequality that persists within companionate marriage, see Laurie Shannon, Sovereign Amity: Figures of Friendship in Shakespearean Contexts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Thomas H. Luxon, Single Imperfection: Milton, Marriage and Friendship (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2005); and Penelope Anderson, Friendship’s Shadows: Women’s Friendship and the Politics of Betrayal in England, 1640–1705 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012).

25. Lawrence Stone’s work on the nature of attachments within families has been important for this body of scholarship. See The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558–1641 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965); The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977); and The Road to Divorce: England, 1530–1987 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990). Most relevant to my argument is Stone’s account of the rise of affective individualism, which is described as taking hold at the end of the seventeenth century and more firmly in the eighteenth. Stone’s claims have been the object of much scrutiny and disagreement. As Christopher Hill remarks in an early review of The Family, Sex and Marriage in The Economic History Review 31, no. 3 (August 1978): 457, “Much of what Prof. Stone has to say about the upper 10 per cent of the population is fascinating and convincing. . . . For classes below that level it is difficult to find evidence.” It has become common to cite Stone primarily to question his findings. In the introduction to The Family in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 16, Helen Berry and Elizabeth Foyster ask, “Overall, was Stone right?” They conclude that recent work shows that “the answer must be no” in part because “the pattern of gender relations was neither as straightforward as he suggested, nor the sole axis of power at play between family members.” Historians have provided more detailed views of early modern domestic life in part by reexamining archival records. See, for example, Amy Louise Erickson, Women and Property in Early Modern England (London: Routledge, 1993); and David Cressy, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). Cressy, 261, remarks that “the notion, recklessly set forth by Lawrence Stone, that early modern marriage was barren of love, has been thoroughly rejected by studies of diaries, letters, and church court cases.”

26. Hill uses this phrase in Milton and the English Revolution (1977), paperback ed., (London: Verso, 2020), 359, and, subsequently, in “God and the English Revolution,” History Workshop 17, no. 1 (Spring 1984): 26.

27. An important line of thinking about marriage in seventeenth-century England concerns the coexistence of consensual contract and gender inequality. As the marriage contract becomes deployed as a metaphor for political contracts and obligations, this coexistence furnishes a basis of heated debate. For a brief but influential consideration of this topic, see Mary Lyndon Shanley, “Marriage Contract and Social Contract in Seventeenth Century English Political Thought,” Western Political Quarterly 32, no. 1 (March 1979): 79–91. In Wayward Contracts: The Crisis of Political Obligation in England, 1640–1674 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), Victoria Kahn provides an authoritative account of contractual thinking within the upheavals of the seventeenth century. Kahn frequently mentions marriage as a metaphor for political obligation; see 149–69 for sustained discussion.

28. We can find evidence of the lasting importance of marriage in the prominence that advocating for same-sex marriage has assumed within the contest for queer rights. In the United States, arguments that the right to same-sex marriage should not be an objective because queer desire promises different forms of sociability and desire have circulated both in theoretical discussions as well as arguments aimed at a more general readership. At the broad level of national politics and popular sentiment, however, such arguments have not tended to prevail over the impulse to secure the right to marry (and the range of benefits that comes with it) for same-sex couples.

29. See, for example, Uma Narayan, “‘Male-Order Brides’: Immigrant Women, Domestic Violence and Immigration Law,” Hypatia 10, no. 1 (Winter 1995): 104–19; Helena Wray, “An Ideal Husband? Marriages of Convenience, Moral Gate-Keeping and Immigration to the UK,” European Journal of Migration and Law 8, nos. 3–4 (January 2006): 303–20; and Catherine Dauvergne, “Gendering Islamophobia to Better Understand Immigration Laws,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 46, no. 12 (2020): 2569–84.

30. See Anne-Marie D’Aoust, “In the Name of Love: Marriage, Migration, Governmentality, and Technologies of Love,” International Political Sociology 7, no. 3 (September 2013): 258–74; and Mons Bissenbakker, “Attachment Required: The Affective Governmentality of Marriage Migration in the Danish Aliens Act 2000—2018,” International Political Sociology 13, no. 2 (June 2019): 181–97.

31. See Biao v. Denmark, no. 38590/10 (ECHR), May 24, 2016. The case in question involved a Ghanaian-born Danish citizen seeking a residence permit for his Ghanaian wife. The attachment requirement was in effect as a rising number of asylum seekers—from countries including Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, and Somalia—led to a surge in nationalism in Danish politics. In July 2019 the European Court of Justice found that provisions of the attachment requirement violated the 1980 Association Agreement between the EU and Turkey by restricting the movement of people. Bissenbakker, in “Attachment Required,” discusses how the so-called ghetto clause of the Danish Aliens Act continues to do the work of the attachment requirement; this clause denies the right of anyone living in a “problematic” or “vulnerable” neighborhood to apply for spousal reunification (193–94).

32. Saidiya Hartman, in Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), esp. 17–32, 52–54, 61–65, and 115–24, describes fungibility as shaping not only the experiences of slaves but also the lives of emancipated Black Americans. In Investing in Life: Insurance in Antebellum America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), Sharon Ann Murphy recounts how, in the early nineteenth century, life insurance was a new practice that many White Americans deemed distasteful because it asked them to calculate the worth of their loved ones. Murphy presents case studies such as the history of the Baltimore Life Insurance Company, which initially aimed to sell life insurance to White Americans but ended up finding greater demand for slave insurance. C. Riley Snorton, in Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 55, reminds us that the first recorded use of the English word “fungible” lies an 1818 statement that anxiously denies that slaves are actually fungible even while admitting at they may be (like cattle and horses) “subjects of compensation.”

33. Throughout this book, I capitalize both Black and White when referring to racial categories. I find convincing the arguments set forth by Kwame Anthony Appiah, in “The Case for Capitalizing the B in Black,” Atlantic, June 18, 2020, and by Eve L. Ewing, in “I’m a Black Scholar Who Studies Race. Here’s Why I Capitalize ‘White,’Zora, July 2, 2020,

34. Othello’s remark that he had been enslaved and then liberated is brief and leaves it unclear how his racial and religious identities figured into this experience. See William Shakespeare, Othello, in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), 1256; act 1, scene 3, lines 71–75. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Shakespeare’s plays are taken from the Riverside and will be cited parenthetically by act, scene, and line numbers. As Daniel Vitkus observes, in Turning Turk: English Theater and the Multicultural Mediterranean, 1570–1630 (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave / St. Martin’s Press, 2003), 92, Othello may have been abducted as a Christian Moor by Muslim corsairs or he might have been enslaved as a Muslim Moor but then later redeemed physically and also spiritually through religious conversion.

35. Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology, reprint ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 20.

36. Ibid., 223. Constance Jordan, in “The Household and the State: Transformations in the Representation of an Analogy from Aristotle to James I,” Modern Language Quarterly 54, no. 3 (September 1993): 307–26, revisits James’s declaration within a broad survey of the analogy between marriage and monarchical rule, and the incoherence it contains.

37. Kantorowicz, King’s Two Bodies, 223.

38. Ibid., xviii.

39. Ibid. For a discussion of what may be lurking behind this disavowal, see David Norbrook, “The Emperor’s New Body? Richard II, Ernst Kantorowicz, and the Politics of Shakespeare Criticism,” Textual Practice 10, no. 2 (1996): 329–57. Norbrook reminds us that even in the 1640s, appeals to the logic of the king’s two bodies were not nearly as pervasive as Kantorowicz suggests. Norbrook’s critique of Kantorowicz on the grounds of accuracy is framed by a pointed biographical argument. Kantorowicz composed The King’s Two Bodies in the United States as a Jewish emigré who had fled Germany in 1938. Yet in his earlier scholarship, Kantorowicz had taken part in a spirit of German nationalism. In 1927, Norbrook reminds us, he had published a romanticized biography of the thirteenth-century Holy Roman emperor Frederick II. Norbrook argues that The King’s Two Bodies exhibits the residual sway of that tendency toward political mythmaking.

40. See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan, 2nd ed. (New York: Vintage, 1995), 28–30.

41. Graham Hammill and Julia Reinhard Lupton, introduction to Political Theology and Early Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 1.

42. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. George Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 36.

43. Hammill and Lupton, introduction, 3.

44. See Anselm Haverkamp, “Richard II, Bracton, and the End of Political Theology,” Law and Literature 16, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 313–26; and Jennifer R. Rust, “Political Theology and Shakespeare Studies,” Literature Compass 6, no. 1 (January 2009): 175–90.

45. For an important work in this recuperation, see Joseph W. Bendersky, Carl Schmitt: Theorist for the Reich (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983). Bendersky regularly blurs the line between explanations of and excuses for Schmitt’s work on behalf of Nazism. For an example of the later tendency to single out Schmitt’s brilliance, see Chantal Mouffe’s opening statement, in introducing the volume The Challenge of Carl Schmitt (London: Verso, 1999), 1: “That Schmitt is one of the great political and legal theorists of this century is now widely recognized.” The inverted syntax subordinates the awareness that Schmitt is thought of in this way only now—that is, after a project of recuperation—to the proclamation of his intellectual greatness. For a very different example, see Jacob Taubes’s autobiographical reminiscence of visiting Schmitt after some correspondence in The Political Theology of Paul, ed. Aleida Assmann et al., trans. Dana Hollander (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 1–5. Taubes’s vignette is barbed insofar as it is the story of a Jewish scholar teaching Schmitt something new about Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Yet Taubes still begins by narrating his exciting encounter with Schmitt, “the greatest state law theorist [Staatsrechtler] of our time” (2).

46. The use of this chant was discussed in numerous media and commentary outlets. For examples, see Yair Rosenberg, “‘Jews Will Not Replace Us’: Why White Supremacists Go After Jews,” Washington Post, August 14, 2017; and Emma Green, “Why Charlottesville Marchers Were Obsessed with Jews,” Atlantic, August 15, 2017. The chant reveals how the connection between antisemitism and racist nationalism operates within paranoia about demographic replacement. Insofar as these protestors were rallying in support of Confederate iconography, their motives would have been anti-Black racism. Insofar as their racism reacts to shifting demographics in the United States, their fear of being replaced (a key feature of White nationalist discourse) could have centered explicitly on Asian and Latin Americans. Yet antisemitism provides the long-established form in which racist fears continue to find expression.

47. Reminders of the way Schmitt’s thinking has informed far-right-wing thinking in the United States have circulated in public-oriented commentary outlets. See, for example, Andrew Kolin, “Politics above Law: How Trump Channels Far Right Icon Carl Schmitt, without Knowing It,” Informed Comment, September 9, 2017; Joseph Owen, “Why Journalists Reviving Carl Schmitt Are Playing a Precarious Game,” Prospect Magazine, September 11, 2019; and Tamsin Shaw, “William Barr: The Carl Schmitt of Our Time,” New York Review of Books, January 15, 2020.

48. Eric L. Santner, The Royal Remains: The People’s Two Bodies and the Endgames of Sovereignty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 46.

49. Ibid., 34.

50. See Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 38–77. We can also recall that the first volume of Lauren Berlant’s national sentimentality trilogy, The Anatomy of Fantasy: Hawthorne, Utopia, and Everyday Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), details how Nathaniel Hawthorne examines and works against patterns of nineteenth-century American belonging. Berlant’s approach to gender, the body, the law, and citizenship draws on theoretical accounts relating the discursive possibilities of the modern nation to capitalism. It would become clearer what affect theory could do in Berlant’s handling in the subsequent installments of her trilogy and then in Cruel Optimism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011). These later works attend to contemporary American society, and Berlant increasingly focuses on the affective and aesthetic constitution of the present as such.

51. Sigmund Freud, “On Narcissism,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. and ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1957), 14:88.

52. Ibid.

53. Ibid., 90.

54. Ibid., 89.

55. Ibid., 91.

56. Ibid., 101.

57. On the confusion involved in Freud’s assumption that attachment to the same gender is tantamount to an attachment to the same self, see Michael Warner, “Homo-Narcissism; or, Heterosexuality,” in Engendering Men: The Question of Male Feminist Criticism, ed. Joseph A. Boone and Michael Cadden (New York: Routledge, 1990), 190–206. Warner shows how Freudian psychoanalysis transmits that homophobic confusion in a modern form. Yet Warner still finds value in Freud’s alignment of homosexual libidinal attachment with the positive, progressive impulses of liberal values.

58. Victoria Kahn, The Future of Illusion: Political Theology and Early Modern Texts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 177.

59. I have completed this book as the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to over half a million deaths in the United States. The Trump administration stoked a widespread denial of sound public policy (and even basic medical advice) in the name of economic activity and personal freedom. Not just in the United States but also in other places around the world—including Brazil, Hungary, India, and the United Kingdom—the willful mismanagement of the pandemic has been of a piece with reactionary and nationalistic forms of political leadership.