“Shall I Never See a Lusty Man Again?”: John Fletcher’s Men, 1608–1715
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In 2009 I wrote an essay on Cardenio.1 I argued that in considering the nature of any play called Cardenio, written by Shakespeare and Fletcher, then one important area of investigation might be the modifications made to the narrative of interrupted male friendship between its apparent source in Cervantes and its eighteenth-century adaptation in Double Falsehood. Where the former celebrates an idealized male friendship, at times through the kinds of homoerotic representations of male beauty common to the classical and Renaissance traditions, the latter eschews this in favor of a celebration of a more domesticated and bourgeois heterosexuality. Theobald’s adaptation sidelines the homoerotic potential of early modern male philia, associating it with the rapacious aristocratic sexual appetites of the villainous Henriquez, whose characterization might readily be identified with what Thomas King terms “residual pederasty.” In the later period statusdriven homoeroticism comes to be understood as tyrannical and corrupting and, crucially, as outmoded.2 In arguing that an original Shakespeare and Fletcher play could not have worked in quite this way but, as in the Cervantes original, would have afforded much greater affective power to the friendship between Cardenio and Don Fernando, my main touchstones were the powerful portraits of male friendship available in the Shakespearian canon, from The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Merchant of Venice, to the more generically comparable The Winter’s Tale and The Two Noble Kinsmen (the latter, of course cowritten by Fletcher).
KeywordsMale Friendship Masculine Identity Physical Beauty Male Protagonist Sexual Appetite
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- 2.Thomas King, The Gendering of Men 1600–1750, 2 vols (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004–2008), I: The English Phallus (2004), 6 and passim.Google Scholar
- 3.Jeffrey Masten, ]Textual Intercourse: Collaboration, Authorship, and Sexualities in Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 9.Google Scholar
- 7.There is a related disavowal of the emotive force of passionate love between men in Fletcher’s play The Humorous Lieutenant. In that play, the lieutenant of the title, as the result of mistakenly taking a potion, falls in love with his king, wishing that he “had been a wench of fifteene for” him (V.ii.21). This is part of a process of gulling the lieutenant and, during these scenes, the doting of one man on another is treated as effeminizing, and as a topic for ridicule. For an argument that reads the complex position of the lieutenant in this play as a subtle critique of Jacobean military and gender politics, see Vimala Pasupathi, “The King’s Privates: Sex and the Soldier’s Place in John Fletcher’s The Humorous Lieutenant,” Research Opportunities in Medieval and Renaissance Drama 47 (2008): 25–50.Google Scholar
- 9.T. L. Darby, “Resistance to Rape in Persiles y Sigismunda and The Custom of the Country,” The Modern Language Review 90.2 (1995): 273–84. Darby provides a very helpful table of correspondences between the narratives and characters of the two texts, illustrating the complexity of Fletcher and Massinger’s borrowing and adaptation.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 10.It is notable that, according to Cyrus Hoy’s assignment of authorship in The Custom of the Country, Fletcher is given the whole of the opening act, the act in which the sharp distinctions between the male protagonists are established. Cyrus Hoy, “The Shares of Fletcher and His Collaborators in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon (II),” Studies in Bibliography 9 (1957): 147.Google Scholar
- 15.Jeffrey Masten, Textual Intercourse: Collaboration, Authorship, and Sexualities in Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 58.Google Scholar
- 18.See Jonathan Goldberg, Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), Jeffrey Masten, Textual Intercourse,Google Scholar
- Valerie Traub, The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002),Google Scholar
- and David Halperin, How to Do the History of Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).Google Scholar
- 19.Carla Freccero, Queer/Early/Modern (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).Google Scholar
- 21.Philip J. Finkelpearl, Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 8.Google Scholar