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Shakespeare & Beyond

How much has parenting actually changed since Shakespeare's time?

Childhood and early modern parenting
Childhood and early modern parenting
Childhood and early modern parenting

The doll. Ostade, Adriaen van, 1610-1685, printmaker. 1679. Folger Shakespeare Library.

While “parenting” may not have been a word in early modern England—let alone the subject of best-selling books, magazine articles, and the occasional lawsuit—people nonetheless did it, raising generations of children to take their places in society.

In his 1960 work, L’enfant et la vie familial sous l’ancien régime, historian Philippe Ariès made the startling contention that childhood did not exist until the seventeenth century. Before then, he claimed, there was no appreciation for the general state of childhood or any particular feeling for individual children. His conclusion was based in part on the fact that children seldom appeared in contemporary paintings and, on those rare occasions when they did, they were depicted as miniature adults. Further, Ariès and his followers, most notably Lawrence Stone, theorized that prior to this time, parents were guarded in relation to their children, viewing them as property and failing to establish a bond so that they could insulate themselves from potential grief. With infant mortality rates estimated as high as fifty percent, attachment was simply deemed too risky. Stone argued that there was instead a “resigned acceptance of children” by both men and women and even posited a lack of a “maternal instinct” during the early modern period.


I very much appreciated this brief article, particularly because it was founded on competent review of the relevant scholarly literature. I would like to see more of these attempts to integrate the scholarly literature on a topic and carry it across to the general reading public. Thanks.

Dr. James Herbert — May 18, 2017