Performing Libertinism: An Introduction
This amatory poem’s1 conceit of a stage performance encapsulates a key feature of Restoration libertinism: a reputed skepticism of public institutions combined with a need for public attention. Like many of Rochester’s poems, this short lyric enacts the typically private act of a persona’s attempt to seduce a woman. Calling on his mistress to leave the “gawdy guilded Stage” of court life crowded by “fooles of either sex and age” and retreat with him to the private sphere of “loves Theatre the Bed,” Rochester’s persona maintains that their play will be a private performance for their own enjoyment where “neither overcomes,” making their pleasure all the “greater.” Despite its plea to “Leave [the] gawdy guilded Stage” of public life, this poem, like others written by Rochester, was probably circulated among his friends and other members of Charles II’s court, making this call for private love a public document of his sexual and aesthetic abilities. Consequently, this poem stands as a public testament to the poet’s desire, a return to that stage while wearing the laurel of a successful lyric poem.
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