Sexuality in the Age of Shakespeare

Sexuality in the Age of Shakespeare

Sexuality in the Age of Shakespeare

Sexuality in the Age of Shakespeare


This book examines the important themes of sexuality, gender, love, and marriage in stage, literary, and film treatments of Shakespeare's plays.

• Includes excerpts of four English early-modern marriage manuals

• A bibliography contains sources regarding Greek, Roman, medieval, and early-modern European sexuality as well as Shakespearean criticism

• A glossary clarifies unfamiliar terms


Sexuality in the Age of Shakespeare is intended largely as a reference book whose function is to introduce the topic of sexuality in Shakespeare’s plays and poetry to advanced high school students, undergraduates, and a literate general public. Sexuality in the Age of Shakespeare’s primary concerns are the theatrical, cinematic, and academic reception and interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry largely within the last 200 years. This text in no way presumes to be exhaustive in its survey of theatrical productions, motion pictures, or literary interpretations of these plays and poetry, but rather its intention is to give college students as well as the general public an overview of English and various European countries’ social customs as they relate to marriage and sexuality as a context against which to understand Shakespeare’s plays and poems.

In the introduction to the “Background” section, I survey the various reasons historians propose as to why sexuality developed as it did in Greek culture, especially regarding homosexuality, a term which some historians caution us about using because the ancient Greeks that we encounter at the Parthenon understood the issue of sexuality and its inherent power dynamics differently than we do today or even those who lived in medieval and early modern England and Europe for that matter. Therefore, we need to think about sexuality in their terms rather than ours.

Analogously, the ancient Romans too understood sexuality in much the same terms as the Greeks. We learn that the sexual dynamics in Roman sexual relations as in Greek revolved around the dichotomy of passivity and dominance. Freeborn youth were closely watched so that their social status would not be violated by any untoward sexual actions. Therefore, the Lex Scatinia was passed so that the sexual behavior of its citizens would be controlled, particularly same-sex practices. At the same time Rome did allow for female and male prostitution.

With the arrival of Christianity, the Catholic church’s clerics changed sexual practices so that there were now prescribed times during which married couples were allowed to engage in sexual relations as these regulations were promulgated through religious manuals. Church councils met throughout the Middle Ages . . .

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