MARRIAGE SUPERSTITIONS AND CUSTOMS
THE ENGAGEMENT RING
Courtship, prior to actual marriage, has been described as a biological preparation for nuptial union, in addition to being a social custom. Some of us would prefer to call it a mental preparation; for the fact that two people of opposite sex are drawn together is in itself some evidence of biological fitness. But the social element concerns us here, and the engagement ring seems to have had an interesting history. As an outward sign, rings have figured prominently in marriage and pre-marriage rites from a very remote antiquity; but an engaged couple in the old English period were accustomed to exchange rings; there was a gift from the man to the woman and the woman to the man; the ring being an outward bond of fidelity between the two. Prior to the exchange of rings, it was accounted sufficient if the contracting parties broke a piece of gold or silver (each keeping a half), and drank a glass of wine. This is seen in an old play called "The Vow Breaker" (1636), Act 1. Scene 1., where Young Bateman and Anne are speaking:--
"Ba. Now, Nan, here's none but thou and
I; thy love
"An. Amen, say I;
Afterwards, on young Bateman's return from the wars, during whose absence Anne has been induced by her father to marry another person, Anne says, "I am married."
"Ba. I know thou art, to me, my fairest
And afterwards, Act iii. Sc. 1, Anne, seeing the ghost of young Bateman, who had hanged himself for her sake, exclaims:
"It stares, beckons, points to the peece
Sometimes a piece of money was broken, a practice referred to in Gays's What d'ye call It?
"Yet, justices, permit us, ere we part,
The actual interchange of rings is seen in Shakespeare's Twelth Night. The priest, who had been privy to all that had passed, is charged by Olivia to reveal the circumstances, which he does in the following lines:
"A contract of eternal Bond of Love,
As to why or when the man refused to wear an engagement ring, there does not appear to be any reliable information. Possibly the wearing of a marriage ring by the woman, and the masculine aversion to visible signs of bondage, may have had something to do with it; at any rate the cause must be sought in psychological sources rather than in anything purely social.