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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 sexual desire?
!These questions were present in 1590's and make that poetry relevant to us as readers. A genre of its own - no contemporary name but still was aware of Its existenceElizabethan 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 man's 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 'ok' within this period. Sexuality and sex are therefore excited by this - role play / disguise / confusion etc - See Shakespeare's 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 'sexual' 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
'beyond' 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 Inn's. 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!
!Spencer's 'The Shepherd's Calendar' (1579) expresses the idea of love between men, in the platonic sense but attempts to deny any corporeal associations.

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