falstaffDeviant Sexuality in Early Modern England

This site explores the behaviors, ideologies and representations of deviant sexuality in early modern England. Specific attention is given to the relationship between sexuality and commodity and how this relationship functions in a culture of “exchange." In addition, we portray the perceptions and implications of the grotesque female body in its cultivation of contempt and desire for liberation. Moving away from prostitution and into the realm of adultery, we then examine how deviant sexuality attributes to the disruption of the household, and how such "deviant behaviors" are punished in terms of both legal ramifications and social humiliation. Taking punishment a step further, we complicate the notion of "measuring morality" by examining the futile attempt of one fictional government to legislate ethics in a city plagued by vice and hypocrisy. Finally, we investigate the role of the theater as a form of sexual common ground, providing a physical arena for all kinds of suppressed, deviant "entertainment." These topics incorporate various literary works of Renaissance popular culture, including Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan, Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, Dekker’s The Honest Whore, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, and Skelton’s "The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng," among others.

Escapism in Early Modern England

Renaissance England was a place where society, culture, and life were both ordered and disordered. The lines between social classes were drawn with broad strokes, people lived and moved accordingly with the rhythms of the calendar and seasons, and of course, the hierarchical system of government ordered society as well. Disorder manifested itself in many ways, especially through escapism. Escapism, then, is any outlet that people may have utilized to (temporarily) detach themselves from reality. It comprises entertainment, such as theater and song. It comprises events, such as fairs and feasts. In all these avenues, reality, to some extent, is distorted or warped. Norms such as laws, customs, or tradition are either skirted or completely broken. Here, we hope to explore the dynamic of "escape" for the denizens of early modern England and the methods they might have taken to find that moment of revelry or license.

renaissance stagePerforming Life: Gender and Sexuality in Renaissance Popular Culture

Performing Life provides the opportunity to explore the complexity of performance in Renaissance popular culture by analyzing gender and sexuality in the theater, the household, and the church. The complexity of performance pertains to the ways in which social constructions of gender and sexuality clash with personal thoughts and desires. The site explores the “scripts” that society gives people and how individuals interpret and ad-lib the “performance” of their roles. Thus, performance functions as the process by which individuals mediate their various identities from the self to others. In the theater, gender roles were complicated by the fact that men played both male and female roles. Notable works such as Shakespeare’s As You Like It have men playing women who then masquerade as men. However, even with such amorphous gender roles onstage, offstage gender roles were stringent on identity performance. In addition, it is important to note that the household was one of the most fundamental spaces from which gender roles developed. It is the primary site of childhood development, heavily influencing how individuals learn to perform their specific roles within society. Lastly, organized religion serves as a space in which to understand the construction of gender roles in English society during the Renaissance.

Country versus City in Renaissance England

In the Renaissance, the distinction between country and city was becoming more apparent. London as a city was growing and, as Raymond Williams explains, the term “city” had taken its modern meaning by 1526. “Country” had already acquired its meaning by this time and was being pitted against the city. In this site we explore the popular culture in the Renaissance that allowed the country to be contrasted by the city and vice versa. Using the important genres of “domestic tragedy” and “citizen comedy,” we analyze key aspects of the “popular” individual's domestic and laboring space. The four facets we focus upon include: women’s roles, youth involvement, food as it was an occasion for social gathering, and the laborers that provided early modern England with its needs. The key works used to support our analysis include Thomas Dekker’s A Shoemaker’s Holiday, Thomas Middleton’s Chaste Maid in Cheapside, the anonymously written Master Arden of Faversham, Thomas Deloney’s Jack of Newbury, and Robert Herrick’s "The Hock Cart."