The previous chapter examined training in the art of fence primarily to understand class distinctions as they might be manifested by the proxemic assumptions resulting from such training. This chapter shifts the focus to two other ways of conceiving manhood: manliness in opposition to womanliness and manliness in opposition to boyishness. Neither axis should be perceived as a simple adequate / inadequate dichotomy. The contrast between the dicta of women’s conduct books and those of the fencing manuals reveals an implicit analogy between the feminine body and the conquered body. The language of combat in fencing manuals furthers implications about the gendering of leakiness and permeability that recent scholars have noted in medical texts. The resulting association between conquest and effeminization suggests that masculinity may be understood as a sign not only of sexual difference but of sexual maturity—that the conquered body is most literally affiliated not only with the passive, permeable woman but also with her alternative, the immature male. This suggestion is borne out in the anonymous Swetnam, the Woman-Hater, in Massinger’s The Unnatural Combat, and in Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV—plays that depict fighting between neophytes and more experienced men, or between youths who perceive combat as a rite of passage in which a victory designates them adult males.


Male Body Personal Space Immature Male Medical Text Early Modern Period 
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© Jennifer Low 2003

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