Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

The Homoerotics of Early Modern Drama

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

The Homoerotics of Early Modern Drama

Article excerpt

Mario DiGangi, The Homoerotics of Early Modern Drama, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997, pp. 230, hb. £35 ($54.95), pb. £12.95 ($18.95) ISBN: 0521583411

Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture, of which this is volume 21, is a collection of American doctoral theses mostly sharing a predictable new historicist and cultural materialist agenda. It is not clear why Cambridge University Press (which is a British charity) should have decided to exclude British work from the series, and confine it to promoting a fairly uniform, and now rather dated, methodology. As it is, Professor DiGangi begins his book in the usual way with a demonstration of his politically correct stance, his familiarity with American films and court cases, and his knowledge of the required terminology: all the tiresomely familiar counters are moved around again ('marginalized', 'oppressed', 'subversive', 'denaturalize', 'transgression'), though I think that he must take credit for one coinage, 'anal economy'. It is a phrase which the world could perhaps have managed without.

Jargon apart, there are some good points made in this book. DiGangi argues that the scholars who have studied sexual relations between men in the early modern period have distorted the picture by their emphasis on 'sodomy', a problematic legal term, rather than on homoeroticism. 'Sodomy' is always and inescapably condemned as inimical to human and divine order, whereas homoeroticism can be a way of supporting certain social structures (master/servant relations, for instance) while challenging others (such as companionate marriage). DiGangi then proceeds to offer close readings of Renaissance drama which explore the ways in which homoeroticism impinges on four areas: on courtship and marriage in Ovidian comedy; on relations between masters and servants in satiric comedy; on rulers and their favourites in tragedy; and on martial masculinity in tragicomedy. …

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