The plays in this study cover nearly one hundred years, from 1570, the earliest possible date of Clyomon and Clamydes, to 1662, the publication date of the plays Margaret Cavendish wrote during the Interregnum. However, they provide little evidence in the way of a chronological argument. They neither clearly support nor obviously refute the view that social constraints against female homoeroticism increased as the eighteenth century neared. Such an argument presumes that English culture approached depictions of female homoeroticism consistently within a given historical moment and that the acceptance or rejection of female homoeroticism depended on its appearance within a historical progression. The evidence from dramatic literature, however, does not endorse this kind of chronological argument. Rather, dramatic narratives of female homoeroticism varied widely throughout this nearly hundred-year period and suggest that constraint did not emerge as a historical consequence but that differing depictions of desire were always more or less acceptable. Playwrights always exercised careful control over depictions of female homoerotic desire within already established metaphors of love. In short, playwrights condemned lust but constructed laudatory scenarios of selfless, romantic love between women.


Female Character Romantic Love Heterosexual Marriage True Love Feminine Persona 
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  1. 1.
    Maurice Charney, Shakespeare on Love and Lust (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 211.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Michael J. B. Allen and Valery Rees, eds, Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, His Philosophy, his Legacy, with Martin Davies (Boston: Brill, 2002), 107–09.Google Scholar
  3. Marsilio Ficino, Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love, trans. Sears Jayne (Dallas: Spring Publications, 1985), 118–19.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Comic theories by both Henri Bergson and Umberto Eco argue that one function of comedy is to correct unsociable behavior. They both find certain kinds of comedy to be an instrument of social control. See Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, trans. Cloudesley Brereton and Fred Rothwell (New York: Macmillan, 1924), 197Google Scholar
  5. Umberto Eco, “The Frames of Comic ‘Freedom,’ ” in Carnival!, ed. Thomas A. Sebeok (New York: Mouton Publishers, 1984), 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 4.
    On romantic friendship see Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-Century America,” Signs 1.1 (1975): 1–29. While Smith-Rosenberg’s work focused specifically on Victorian America, it has generated debate on the scholarship of relations between women across historical and geographical locations. At one time unfairly critiqued for what later scholars assumed was an insistance on the asexuality of female relationships before the twentieth century, Smith-Rosenberg is now considered a pioneer in the historical exploration of female sexuality and queer history. See Leila J. Rupp, “Women’s History in the New Millennium: Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s ‘The Female World of Love and Ritual’ after Twenty-five Years,” Journal of Women’s History 12.3 (2000): 8–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Denise A. Walen 2005

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