Men in Early Modern England and Contemporary Romania

Early modern England was a complex society in which hierarchy, social roles and gender counted. They all had a serious impact on the lives of both men and women. The biblical advice was that women should keep to the house and men should see to the outside world, raising their children with the fear and love of God, according to feminist critic Patricia Crawford (18). In the past, the man was seen as the head of the woman, the leader of the family as, according to the Bible, the woman was the second one created by God and, thus, should be submitted to the man, and she was also the weak one by giving in to temptation.

In contemporary Romania, these statements are seen as being ancient and incompatible with the norms of a modern society, according to sociologist Raluca Popescu (17). However, most of the household chores are still done by women, while men take care of repairs needed around the household and to the cars. Both men and women share the same responsibilities with regard to the education of their children and they are equally involved in the process; going to school, doing the homework, explaining the values and the morals of the society they belong to represent some of the domains in which they have similar participation.

In early modern England, the man was perceived as having enough economic independence to provide for a family, having a good behaviour and an appropriate temperament in society. He was at the top of the hierarchy and, as a husband, he assumed a patriarchal role as governor of the family and household. Some man chose to be soldiers or representatives of justice, thus focusing on having a career that would grant them a very good social position and being well seen in the social circles they used to attend. As Goran Stanivukovic observes, in early modern England, man was perceived as the ” hero, the prince, the lawyer, the explorer and the master of the house” (232). Despite the differences between the two societies ( since the early modern society was a patriarchal one ), it is possible to find similitudes concerning the position of men in their family, in relation to children.

Inside a family, a man would have different roles and responsibilities depending on the level of wealth of his household; a rich man would benefit from more various domains of activity. Men were usually involved in academic, political, economic or social activities and played important roles in the parish and the local community. If they were members of richer families, men in early modern England would have the possibility to study at universities and they would take jobs of lawyers or physicians after graduation. When they decided upon marrying someone, they had to make sure they had the necessary financial possibilities to provide for his new family on his own. Otherwise, most men chose not to get married and waited until they reached that desired level of wealth.

Being a father was rather a ” valuable component of a man’s public persona”, according to Patricia Crawford (89). This status meant that men needed to be able to take care of their children. Some Elizabethan or Jacobean men chose to educate their boys from a very early age, while others waited until the little ones were seven years old in order to begin their education. The man of the household was also the one responsible for correcting the bad behaviour of male servants within his house; his wife was to inform him of a situation in which a male servant was involved, without taking action on her own. Similarly, if a man had a problem with a female servant in his house, he was not to correct her, but to inform his wife and let her take the necessary measures.

In poor families, a man would spend most of his time outside the house, separate from his wife and children, doing everything possible to find resources to provide for them. In most situations, all members of the poor families would go out and find work in order to have food and everything needed for at least a decent life. A lot of poor men were also helped by the parishes to which they belonged, either with food and clothes or with money. In certain cases, some parishes were more generous than others, and this led to great differences between lifestyles in one region or another. Later on, workhouses were founded for the poor in order to give them shelter and care for them and to correct those who chose illegal lifestyles.

The theatre was the place to which both the rich and the poor could go, a place in which people socialized and took the opportunity to see others and to be seen. However, the London theatre was not seen as an appropriate place for women, as they were supposed to be at home taking care of children and the house, according to Jean Howard’s The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England (97). All theatrical companies of the time, located at the London theatres, The Swan, The Rose, The Blackfriars Theatre, The Globe, The Hope, The Curtain, The Red Bull Theatre, had the same common feature – they included only male actors, so the female parts were usually played by young teenage boys who wore women’s costumes.

In contemporary Romania, the role of man has changed a lot throughout time. However, men’s roles are still similar to the ones of the early modern English man: they are providers for their families, but they are not the only ones; they have administrative, political, economic, cultural and social roles, responsibilities and jobs, but so do women nowadays; and they gain a special status by becoming fathers, but this status is equally shared with the women’s. Today, men do stay at home while their wives go to work, but this does not mean that they like the idea and most of them become frustrated. If, in the past, a woman was solely responsible for raising the children and taking care of the household, these two aspects are also in the care of men nowadays; it is no shame to feed their babies, or to go to the park with them, or take them to ballet, piano, or other lessons.

Despite the equal roles and shared responsibilities of contemporary men and women, more is still to be done to make other men accept women as their equals, especially in men-dominated professions such as engineering, industry, astronomy, law and economics. There is still the common belief that women are weak and incapable of handling themselves in difficult situations, or that they are too sensitive to carry out more problematic tasks. The modern period has started to change this perspective, and the way young men are brought up in different than in the past. In this way, men are determined to see things differently as regards their role in society.

When referring to the artistic domain, especially the theatre, contemporary Romania is opposed to the situation of the theatre in early modern England by granting access of both sexes to theatrical performance. The act of coming to the theatre is seen as an act of culture and education, in which people remain well-behaved throughout the play and show respect to the actors and actresses on stage. In this way, changed gender roles in society are reflected in the world of the theatre through the representations of male and female characters evolving in various circumstances. Moreover, the theatre can give an insight into the relation between parents and children, regardless of the period in which the play is set.



Crawford, Patricia. Blood, Bodies and Family in Early Modern England. New York: Pearson Education, 2004

Howard, Jean. The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England. London and New York: Routledge, 1994

Popescu, Raluca. ” Profilul familiei românești contemporane.” Calitatea Vieții XXI, 2010, pp. 17-37

Stanivukovic, Goran V. ” Between Men in Early Modern England.” Queer Masculinities, 1550-1800: Siting Same-Sex Desire in the Early Modern England. Edited by K. O’Donnel and M. O’Rourke. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, pp. 232-251

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