A decade ago, the consensus among scholars was that while early modern literary forms carried representations of male homoeroticism, few texts of any kind, including drama, presented female homoeroticism. Literary critics failed to identify a significant cultural discourse surrounding desire between women.1 Within the past ten years, in an attempt to amend the deficiency, scholarship on female homoeroticism in early modern literature has attempted to recover and interpret unknown, neglected, or forgotten texts.2 This book participates in that recovery. By exploring representations of love and desire between female characters in dozens of plays, it argues that the dramatic literature of late-sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century England recognized and constructed richly diverse tropes of female homoerotic desire.


Female Character Romantic Love Erotic Interest Feminine Woman Female Homoeroticism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    See Valerie Traub, “Recent Studies on Homoeroticism,” ELR 30: 2 (2000): 284–329.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    I have adopted the theories that Smith applied to male homosexual poetic discourse. See Smith, Homosexual Desire, 14–24. See also Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (London: Routledge, 1992), 106Google Scholar
  3. Anna Clark, “Anne Lister’s Construction of Lesbian Identity,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 7.1 (1996): 27.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Terry Castle, The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Lesbian Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 1–19.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Lillian Faderman, “What is Lesbian Literature? Forming a Historical Canon,” in Professions of Desire: Lesbian and Gay Studies in Literature, ed. George E. Haggerty and Bonnie Zimmerman (New York: MLA, 1996), 57.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Marilyn R. Farwell, “Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Subtexts: Toward a Theory of Lesbian Narrative Space,” in Lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical Revisions, ed. Karla Jay and Joanne Glasgow (New York: New York University Press, 1990), 91–103Google Scholar
  7. Marilyn R. Farwell, Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 1–25.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Martha Vicinus, “ ‘They Wonder to Which Sex I Belong’: The Historical Roots of the Modern Lesbian Identity,” Feminist Studies 18.3 (1992): 467–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Randolph Trumbach, “London’s Sapphists: From Three Sexes to Four Genders in the Making of Modern Culture,” in Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity, ed. Julia Epstein and Kristina Straub (New York: Routledge, 1991), 112–41Google Scholar
  10. Randolph Trumbach, “The Origins and Development of the Modern Lesbian Role in the Western Gender System: Northwestern Europe and the United States, 1750–1990,” Historical Reflections/ Reflexions Historiques 20.2 (1994): 287–320Google Scholar
  11. Lisa Moore, “ ‘Something More Tender Still than Friendship’: Romantic Friendship in EarlyNineteenth-Century England,” Feminist Studies 18.3 (1992): 499–520CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Emma Donoghue, Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668–1801 (New York: HarperPerennial, 1996), 16–24Google Scholar
  13. Theo van der Meer, “Tribades on Trial: Female Same-Sex Offenders in LateEighteenth-Century Amsterdam,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 1.3 (1991): 424–45Google Scholar
  14. E. Ann Matter, “My Sister, My Spouse: Woman-Identified Women in Medieval Christianity,” in Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, ed. Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989), 51–62Google Scholar
  15. Valerie Traub, “The Perversion of ‘Lesbian’ Desire,” History Workshop Journal4l (1996): 23–49.Google Scholar
  16. 8.
    Martha Vicinus, “Lesbian History: All Theory and No Facts or All Facts and No Theory?” Radical History Review 60 (1994): 60.Google Scholar
  17. 14.
    Theodora A. Jankowski, Pure Resistance: Queer Virginity in Early Modern English Drama (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 8.Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    Kathryn Schwarz, Tough Love: Amazon Encounter in the English Renaissance (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 6–7.Google Scholar
  19. 17.
    Harriette Andreadis, Sappho in Early Modern England: Female Same-Sex Literary Erotics 1550–1714 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 1–3.Google Scholar
  20. 18.
    Valerie Traub, The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 158–87.Google Scholar
  21. 22.
    Tracey Sedinger, “ ‘If Sight and Shape be True’: The Epistemology of Crossdressing on the London Stage,” Shakespeare Quarterly 48.1 (1998): 78. Sedinger writers that “the spectator’s relation to the cross-dresser becomes crucial when we turn to plays in which crossdressing is a significant plot device and in which the split between ignorant spectators (within the play) and spectators-in-the-know both forwards the narrative and produces aesthetic and erotic pleasure.” Unfortunately, Both Sedinger and Bruster see homoerotic constructions as voyeuristic representations solely for the pleasure of the audience and deny that the characters are meant to experience or possess homoerotic affinities. While that may be true in certain situations, it is by no means true of all plays that present constructions of homoerotic desire and severely limits the narrative function of the construct.Google Scholar
  22. 24.
    Brantôme, Lives of Gallant Ladies, trans. Alec Brown (London: Elek Books, 1961), 128–37. For the date of this work see Georg Harsdörfer, Introduction, Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies, trans. A. R. Allinson (New York: Liveright, 1933), especially xxviii.Google Scholar
  23. 26.
    Elizabeth Susan Wahl, Invisible Relations: Representations of Female Intimacy in the Age of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 45–52.Google Scholar
  24. 27.
    See Agnolo Firenzuola, On the Beauty of Women, trans., ed. Konrad Eisenbichler and Jacqueline Murray (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), 16–17. Firenzuola’s speaker, Celso, tells the story of Jove cleaving in half the earliest men and women, who he created double. Most of these first beings had both male and female sides, but some were entirely male and others exclusively female. Humans naturally desire to return to this original state and so seek their other half, either an opposite or same sex partner. Celso explains: Those who were female in both halves, or are descended from those who were, love each other’s beauty, some in purity and holiness, as the elegant Laudomia Forteguerra loves the most illustrious Margaret of Austria, some lasciviously, as in ancient times Sappho from Lesbos and in our own times in Rome the great prostitute Cecilia Venetiana. This type of woman by nature spurns marriage and flees from intimate conversation with us men. And, we must believe, these women are those who willingly become nuns and willingly remain so, and they are few, because the majority of women are kept in monasteries by force and live there in despair.Google Scholar
  25. 28.
    One of Aretino’s biographers argues that this “pornographic” text, that includes scenes of orgies, bestiality, and flagellation, did not startle its sixteenth-century audience. See James Cleugh, The Divine Aretino: Pietro ofArezzo, 1492–1556: A Biography (London: Anthony Bland, 1965), 209–15.Google Scholar
  26. Ian Frederick Moulton, Before Pornography, Erotic Writing in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 119–57.Google Scholar
  27. 29.
    Pietro Aretino, The Ragionamenti: The Lives of Nuns, The Lives of Married Women, The Lives of Courtesans (London: Libra Collection, 1970), 31. Moulton (Before Pornography, 130) identifies this scene as the bawdiest in the text.Google Scholar
  28. 31.
    Pietro Aretino, Dialogues [Ragionamenti], trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Marsilio, 1994), 350.Google Scholar
  29. 33.
    Saad El-Gabalawy, “Allusions to Aretino’s Pornography,” American Notes andQueries 13 (1974): 35–36.Google Scholar
  30. 34.
    H. S. D. Mithal, ed., An Edition of Robert Wilson’s Three Ladies of London and Three Lords and Three Ladies of London (New York: Garland, 1988), xxiGoogle Scholar
  31. Irene Mann, “The Text of the Plays of Robert Wilson” (Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1942), 212. Gosson reads: “Whether this be the practise of Poets in these dayes you may perceiue by the drift of him that wrote the play termed The Three Ladies of London, which in the Catastrophe maketh Love and Conscience to be examined how thrie good ladishippes like of playes? Love answeres that she detesteth them, because her guttes are tourned outward, and all her secret conueighaunce, is blased with colours to the peoples eye. Conscience like a kindharted gentlewoman doth alow them” (sig. Dlv—D2). See Stephen Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions (London, n.d.).Google Scholar
  32. 35.
    See Lloyd Edward Kermode, “The Playwright’s Prophecy: Robert Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London and the ‘Alienation’ of the English,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 11 (1999): 60–87Google Scholar
  33. Daryl W. Palmer, “Merchants and Miscegenation: The Three Ladies of London, The Jew of Malta, and The Merchant of Venice,” in Race, Ethnicity, and Power in the Renaissance, ed. Joyce Green MacDonald (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997), 36–66.Google Scholar
  34. 36.
    Robert Wilson, A Right Excellent and Famous Comcedy Called The Three Ladies of London (London, 1584). Subsequent quotations are from this edition.Google Scholar
  35. 37.
    Henry Glapthorne, The Hollander, A Comedy written 1635. The Author Henry Glapthorne And now Printed as it was then Acted at the Cock pit in Drury Lane, by their Majesties Servants, with good allowance. And at the Court before both their Majesties (London, 1640).Google Scholar
  36. Beaumont, Francis and John Fletcher, Comedies and Tragedies. Written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Gentlemen. Never printed before, And now published by the Authours Originall Copies (London, 1647).Google Scholar
  37. 39.
    Philip Massinger, The Picture A Tragecomedie, As it was often presented with good allowance, at the Globe, and Blacke Friers Play-houses, by the Kings Majesties servants (London, 1630). Subsequent quotations are from this edition.Google Scholar
  38. 40.
    George Chapman, Monsieur D’Olive. A Comedic, as it was sundrie times acted by her Majesties children at the Blacke-Friers (London, 1606). See also DiGangi, Homoerotics, 97.Google Scholar
  39. 41.
    Jasper Mayne, The Amorous Warre. A Tragi-Comedy (London, 1648).Google Scholar
  40. 44.
    Fiona McNeill, “Gynocentric London Spaces: (Re)Locating Masterless Women in Early Stuart Drama,” Renaissance Drama 28 (1997):222, 233.Google Scholar
  41. Thomas Harman, A Caveat or Warening For Commen Cursetors Vulgarely Called Vagabones (London, 1567).Google Scholar
  42. Heather Dubrow, Shakespeare and Domestic Loss: Forms of Deprivation, Mourning, and Recuperation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 36, 78.] The phrase “alone to gether” highlights, in its oxymoronic way, the fact that these women remained separate from the men in female pairs. However, it is not clear that they have done so for sexual gratification, even though Harman explains that the activity in the barn ends in general debauchery.Google Scholar
  43. 45.
    Margaret Cavendish, Playes Written by the Thrice Noble, Illustrious and Excellent Princess, The Lady Marchioness of New Castle (London, 1662).Google Scholar
  44. 46.
    Philip Massinger, The Bond-man: An Antient Storie. As it hath been often Acted with good allowance, at the Cock pit in Drury-lane: by the most Excellent Princesse, the Lady Elizabeth her Servants (London, 1624), emphasis mine. The scene, which focuses on Corisca’s incestuous seduction of her stepson Asotus, has further engagement with female homoerotics in a complicated fabrication between Corisca, her maid Zanthia, and Asotus. Zanthia, in the guise of Asotus’s lover’s maid, tells Asotus: “Some times/I lie with my Ladie, as the last night I did,/Shee could not say her prayers, for thinking of you,/Nay, she talked of you in her sleepe, and sigh’d out,/O sweet Asotus, sure thou art so backward,/That I must ravish thee, and in that fervor/She tooke me in her armes, threw me upon her,/Kis’d me, and hug’d me, and then wak’d, and wept,/Because ‘twas but a dreame” (sig. E2). The scene suggests that in segregated societies or in the absence of a particular male companion women turned to other women for sexual fulfillment, whether consciously or not.Google Scholar
  45. 47.
    Richard Brome, The Antipodes, ed. Ann Haaker, Regents Renaissance Drama Series (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), 20. Subsequent quotations are from this edition.Google Scholar
  46. 48.
    Thomas Dekker, Satiro-mastix; or, the untrussing of the Humorous Poet, As it hath bin presented publikely, by the Right Honorable, the Lord Chamberlaine his Servants; and privately, by the Children of Paules (London, 1602). I am grateful to Ann Imbrie for directing me to this quotation.Google Scholar
  47. 51.
    Mary Beth Rose, “Women in Men’s Clothing: Apparel and Social Stability in The Roaring Girl,” ELR 14. 3 (1984): 368.Google Scholar
  48. 52.
    For example, Jo E. Miller, “Women and the Market in The Roaring Girl, Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Reforme 26. 1 (1990): 11–23Google Scholar
  49. Jane Baston, “Rehabilitating Moll’s Subversion in The Roaring Girl,” SEL 37 (1997): 317–35Google Scholar
  50. Lloyd Edward Kermode, in “Destination Doomsday: Desires for Change and Changeable Desires in The Roaring Girl,” ELR 27.3 (1997): 421–42Google Scholar
  51. Patrick Cheney, “Moll Cutpurse as Hermaphrodite in Dekker and Middleton’s The Roaring Girl,” Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 19. 2 (1983): 120–34Google Scholar
  52. Jonathan Dollimore, “Subjectivity, Sexuality, and Transgression: The Jacobean Connection,” Renaissance Drama 17 (1986): 53–81Google Scholar
  53. Susan E. Krantz, “The Sexual Identities of Moll Cutpurse in Dekker and Middleton’s The Roaring Girl and in London,” Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 19.1 (1995) n.s.: 5–20Google Scholar
  54. Valerie Forman, “Marked Angels: Counterfeits, Commodities, and The Roaring Girl, Renaissance Quarterly 54 (2001): 1531–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 53.
    Stephen Orgel, “The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl,” in Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, ed. Susan Zimmerman (New York: Routledge, 1992), 15–18.Google Scholar
  56. 54.
    Jean E. Howard, “Sex and Social Conflict; The Erotics of The Roaring Girl,” in Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, ed. Susan Zimmerman (New York: Routledge, 1992), 175. See also Jankowski, Pure Resistance, 185–93, who, agreeing with Howard, identifies Moll on the highest plain of “queer virginity” because she rejects patriarchal sexual economy and has the means to avoid marriage altogether.Google Scholar
  57. 55.
    Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, The Roaring Girl, ed. Paul A. Mulholland, The Revels Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987), 109. Subsequent quotations are from this edition.Google Scholar
  58. 56.
    Marjorie Garber, “The Logic of the Transvestite: The Roaring Girl,” in Staging the Renaissance: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, ed. David Scott Kastan and Peter Stallybrass (New York: Routledge, 1991), 223–24.Google Scholar
  59. 58.
    See Elaine Hobby, “ ‘My affection hath an unknown bottom’: homosexuality and the teaching of As You Like It,” in Shakespeare in a Changing Curriculum, ed. Lesley Aers and Nigel Wheale (London: Routledge, 1991), 125–42Google Scholar
  60. Laurie E. Osborne, The Trick of Singularity: Twelfth Night and the Performance Editions (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1996), 96–104Google Scholar
  61. Casey Charles, “Gender Trouble in Twelfth Night,” Theatre Journal 49. 1 (1997): 121–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Theodora Jankowski, “ ‘Where There Can Be No Cause of Affection’: Redefining Virgins, Their Desires, and Their Pleasures in John Lyly’s Gallathea,” in Feminist Readings of Early Modern Culture: Emerging Subjects, ed. Dympna Callaghan, M. Lindsay Kaplan, and Valerie Traub (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)Google Scholar
  63. Phyllis Rackin, “Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage,” PMLA 102 (1987): 29–41; DiGangi, Homoerotics, 39–41, 50–4 and Traub, Desire and Anxiety, 122–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Denise A. Walen 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Denise A. Walen

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations