Predatory Lesbian Erotics

  • Denise A. Walen
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


In “Female-female Eroticism and the Early Modern Stage,” Douglas Bruster cautioned against the tendency of scholars to focus on “affirmative aspects” of female homoeroticism.1 Arguing that power and the interrelation between dominance and submission excite desire as much as mutuality, Bruster focuses on aggressive episodes of female homoerotic subversion. That is, he examines instances of “triangulated eroticism” in which a female character, often older and worldly, gains erotic pleasure by seducing or forcing a younger, innocent woman into a sexual relationship with a man.2 Bruster offers his discussion of erotically manipulative female characters in early modern drama as a contrast to the trend in contemporary criticism to focus solely on utopian pairings—relationships characterized by mutual affection between women and the idealization of female-female attachment. Bruster cites Rosalind and Celia from As You Like It, Helena and Hermia from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Emilia and Flavina in The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Gallathea and Phyllida from John Lyly’s Gallathea as examples of utopian relationships. Bruster further argues that a number of these scenes were meant to arouse the audience but were not illustrative of a homoerotic subject—the actions of the scene might be homoerotically coded, but the characters are not.


Sexual Violence Sexual Interest Sexual Attraction Female Character Sexual Aggression 
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. 4.
    Catharine Stimpson sees this as a moment not of nascent or repressed homoeroticism but as an instance of “sublimated incest.” It seems, in fact, both. Tamora enjoys the pleasure her sons gain from the rape and relishes the sexual control she commands over Lavinia through them. See Catharine R. Stimpson, “Shakespeare and the Soil of Rape,” in The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1980), 60.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    [John Dymock], Il Pastor Fido: or The Faithfull Shepheard. Translated out of Italian into English (London, 1602). Subsequent quotations are from this edition. The text opens with three dedications to Sir Edward Dymock as the translator’s kinsman; therefore, scholars ascribe the play to John Dymock.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, “Tactile Places: Materializing Desire in Margaret Cavendish and Jane Barker,” Textual Practice 13.2 (1999): 337–39. Finally, Emma Donoghue thinks the play is noteworthy both for its explicit eroticism and for its positive depiction of a secular female community. Donoghue, Passions Between Women, 226–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 12.
    E. J. Burford, Bawds and Lodgings: A History of the London Bankside Brothels c. 100–1675 (London: Peter Owen, 1976), 96–97.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Prostitutes did service female clients for in 1482 the courts charged a Florentine prostitute for attending a group of female customers. See Patricia Simons, “Lesbian (In)Visibility in Italian Renaissance Culture: Diana and Other Cases of donna con donna,” Journal of Homosexuality 27.1/2 (1994): 89. Simons’s article reads visual representations of female homoeroticism in Italian Renaissance paintings, especially images of the goddess Diana, and she argues that the relative invisibility of female homosexuality in legal or medical documents allowed painters to explore female same-sex desire without condemnation.Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    [James Mabbe,] The Spanish Bawd Represented in Celestina: or The Tragicke-Comedy of Calisto and Melibea. Wherein is contained, besides the pleasantnesse and sweetenesse of the stile, many Philosophicall Sentences, and profitable Instructions necessary for the younger sort: Shewing the deceits and subtilties housed in the bosomes of false servants, and Cunny-catching Bawds (London, 1631). Subsequent quotations are from this edition.Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    Edward Jorden, A Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother, London 1603, The English Experience 392 (Amsterdam: Da Capo Press, 1971). I am grateful to Gail Kern Paster for introducing this text to me.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    Gregory S. Hutcheson, “Leonor Lópex de Córdoba and the Configuration of Female—Female Desire,” in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages, ed. Francesca Canadé Sautman and Pamela Sheingorn (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 252.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    J[ohn] Rickets, Byrsa Basilica; A Latin Academic comedy of the Early Seventeenth Century by J. Rickets, ed. and trans. R. H. Bowers, Materials for the Study of the Old English Drama, New Series, vol. 17 (Louvain: Louvain Librairie Universitaire, 1939), 120.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    James Shirley, The Bird in a Cage. A Comedie. As it hath beene Presented at the Phoenix in Drury-Lane. The Author James Shirley, Servant to Her Majesty (London, 1633). Subsequent quotations are from this edition.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    Thomas Heywood, The Golden Age: or, The lives of Jupiter and Saturne, with the defining of the Heathen Gods. As it hath beene sundry times acted at the Red Bull, by the Queenes Majesties Servants (London, 1611).Google Scholar
  12. 26.
    Elizabeth Howe, The First English Actresses: Women and Drama 1660–1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 148.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Denise A. Walen 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Denise A. Walen

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations