Sexuality In Elizabethan And Jacobean Society Notes
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Elizabethan and Jacobean Renaissance: Sexuality and Men
!Are men and women inherently different? Are there natural and unnatural forms of
!These questions were present in 1590ʼs and make that poetry relevant to us as readers.
A genre of its own - no contemporary name but still was aware of Its existence-
Elizabethan Erotic Narrative perhaps?
! Thomas Nashe "The choice of Valentine” very sexualized poem about Impotence.
Although the rituals / cultural view of sexual act have changed, the same physical aspects
remain the same - i.e impotence.
!Readers must be aware of dangers of viewing sexual poetry in the past as “different” -
this makes it seem clinical. Also danger of simpliﬁcation - how relationships "back then"
worked, etc. Any literature about this topic can never be simple!
!Elizabethan society was a patriarchal one, sex outside marriage was unheard of /
unacceptable. Virginity & chastity were praised.
!Gender - not a clear binary, perhaps even less so during the Renaissance. Now we have
medical and clear anatomical deﬁnition and descriptions which deﬁne us, however they
followed a more confusing Greek deﬁnition that female genitalia were the same as a manʼs
only inside out.
!Literature often features gender disguise - socially constructed gender roles are explored
and blurred. Signiﬁcant during a period in which a woman rules “I may have the body of
weak and female woman, but I have the heart of a king!” (Queen Elizabeth)
!Androgyny is ʻokʼ within this period. Sexuality and sex are therefore excited by this - role
play / disguise / confusion etc - See Shakespeareʼs Comedies.
!Theatre of 1590-1620: showed excitement of androgyny, male / boy actors playing
female roles. Also plays on the audiences ability to recognize sex and gender and how
they were supposed to react to ʻsexualʼ characters that were actually men.
!Homosexuality - not openly socially acceptable, sodomy was a capital offense and came
with connotations of treason, bestiality, rape, and Catholicism. Clearly very negative and
public associations, an act of slander to call someone gay.
!Alan Bray argues that the language of sodomy in the period was so severe in fact that
most men who perhaps were guilty of it in one way or another, believed that it was
ʻbeyondʼ the crimes they had committed or that such terms of bestiality and criminality
could not apply to them. Very few men for instance were actually prosecuted and many of
the records were from unreliable sources.
!The period did provide more opportunities for sexual encounters. Oxbridge
undergraduates used to sleep in the same room as their tutors. Men shared beds in
taverns and Innʼs. Reference in some sources of men sharing beds, reading together etc
are common - in some respects they were more open to these situations. Sharing a bed
with an unmarried woman was far worse than sharing with a man!
!Spencerʼs ʻThe Shepherdʼs Calendarʼ (1579) expresses the idea of love between men, in
the platonic sense but attempts to deny any corporeal associations.
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