This course begins by asking a deceptively simple question: what is marriage for? While the question might seem at first tied to the recent political and legal battles over same-sex marriage, this course explores a number of important ways this question has been at the heart of social and political change across a wide swath of Anglo-American history and examines how tension and conflict inherent in that change show up in literature. Students first encounter this question in the plays of William Shakespeare and John Webster, and in John Milton's impassioned plea for the right to divorce. The inquiry of the course is shaped by Stephanie Coontz's sweeping historical text Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage. Students examine the brief period of post-WWII America where "traditional" marriage can be understood as having been the norm, at least for some classes. Equipped with a better grasp of the history of marriage, at the end of the semester students turn their attention to the way extending marriage to same-sex couples does or doesn't raise the question: what is marriage for? They might also wager an answer. Affiliate department: English.