Asexuality, Queer Chastity, and Adolescence in Early Modern Literature

  • Simone Chess


What if, at least in some cases, representations of early modern chastity and abstinence were about the disinterest itself, as an orientation and practice? This chapter argues that early modern authors used tropes of youth, chastity, and virginity to explore the option of asexuality in their works. When adolescent characters resist or opt out of sex and marriage, that resistance articulates a queer option outside of hetero- and homosexual constructions of sexuality. The existence of asexual adolescent characters in early modern texts (including Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis” and Merry Wives of Windsor and Brome’s The Antipodes) presents the possibility of sexual preference and practice that, by its very definition, undermines the assumption that sexual desire is natural and biologically inevitable.



This chapter emerged in part out of an almost-forgotten seminar paper that I presented in the “Early Modern Boyhood” panel organized by Gina Bloom for the Renaissance Society of America 2007 conference in Miami. Thanks to Gina, panel chair Lucy Munro and co-panelists Will Fisher, and Marie Rutkoski for their feedback on that very early version, and to Jennifer Higginbotham and Mark Johnston for offering me this opportunity to revisit and revise it with their smart suggestions and editorial support.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simone Chess
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishWayne State UniversityDetroitUSA

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