three pairs of lovers with space

Return to the beginning of the thesis




Chapter TwoThe metaphysics and politics of androgyny in Shakespeare’s age.


Chapter One has shown that the physical, historical existence of boys in early modern drama was extremely complex.  It has also gone a long way towards establishing a large gulf between the performance of the comedies, then, and now.  This chapter will show that the female character’s spiritual existence was also extremely complex and that if that fact is accepted, the gulf between our age and theirs is thereby widened even further.

The concept of physical androgyny is, paradoxically, the best place to begin.  Now, we tend to think of the state of a person being an hermaphrodite as an exclusively physical or medical category.  On the other hand, people of the late-Tudor age, who, after all, invented the word itself in its English form would have had a much more complex construction of an Other.[1]  Grace Tiffany, particularly, describes the origin of the Renaissance Other-concept as lying in Greek and Roman perceptions of indeterminate gender, appearance, and existence.[2]  We, informed by modern science, will see the state of hermaphroditism as an interesting physical phenomenon.  Renaissance poets, on the other hand—most individuals being deeply religious and yet with powerful superstitions to act as a level of metareligion—would, rather, have seen a mysterious chimera.  As Tiffany points out, the terms androgyne and hermaphrodite were then used interchangeably.

More to the point, following Phyllis Rackin, Tiffany defines two extremes within the perception of the androgyne.  On the one hand, the Other could be perceived as an almost ethereal creature which transcended “the human condition in a fallen world”.  On the other, “the androgyne could be an object of ridicule, or an image of monstrous deformity, of social and physical abnormality”.[3]  With the medieval age only just behind them—with the proviso that no age truly ends—and with an acceleration of true knowledge of the universe just ahead of them, the people of then had many warring factors to deal with.  These constituted a contest between the rational and the superstitious in their moments of deep thought and in their reflexive cultural reaction to an instant of sight, or hearing.  We, with all of our knowledge of science may only try to imagine how gladly they grasped at the flashes of light, yet shivered in their backward glances into the shadows of old beliefs.  No account of the representation of females by males upon the Elizabethan stage, then, could be complete if it did not include the intellect of the Elizabethan playgoer, rather than merely his surface, physical enjoyment of the plays.  

Bertrand Russell pointedly observes that Thomas Hobbes was a man who could not be compared with “earlier political theorists”.  Existing towards the end of the period that is so full of essential change; and in radical variance from most of his precursors, Hobbes’s free-vision caused him to say such things as: “Fear of invisible power, if publicly allowed, is religion; if not allowed, superstition”.[4]  This was an amazingly brave statement, considering the times, but it establishes that clear thought, not fettered by religious observance, was emerging.  In a nutshell, Russell expresses the growth of an outward-looking awareness which was to embrace both science and a socio-political sense of the individual’s conscience and will:

At the beginning of the [17th] century, Sir Thomas Browne took part in trials for witchcraft; at the end, such a thing would have been impossible ... in 1700 the mental outlook of educated men was completely modern; in 1600, except in a very few, it was largely medieval.

Though this is a highly simplified view, it may be seen as establishing the fact of deep changes in the Tudor-to-Jacobean period which preceded Hobbes.  The question as to what, to use a modern expression, was indicative of the mind-set of Shakespeare, and others—his audience, and others—is vital in this discourse, but the culture of that society clearly contained a fascination with the arcane.  People of education, clearly, were drawn to alchemy as well as the mysterious variations from orthodox religions represented by neoplatonism and hermeticism.  It is here suggested that intelligent people drawn to a relatively simple orthodoxy, existed among others who delighted in less orthodox, more complex and mysterious pursuits of the reasoning mind.  Most importantly, the age that this work strives to define is demonstrably a time of intellectual expansion, rather than contraction.

Heliocentrism explained by Copernicus in his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium 1543

Within these many intellectual pursuits lay ready-made imagery which broached the metaphysical, the non-corporeal aspect of androgyny.  These are the next thing to consider.  The part that neoplatonism played is yet to be fully explored, but as John Hale argues: for most Elizabethans the bedrock of their knowledge of heavenly bodies contained the certainty that the earth was “heavy and motionless”, and the centre of the universe.  It was also “the stage appointed for the playing out of the Christian drama”.[5]  Alchemy and Astrology sought to explain the motions of the Sun, the Moon and the planets, but it was not until 1543 that the astonishing—in some places, heretical—On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres of Nicolaus Copernicus began to circulate.  Copernican theory was achieved by mathematical calculations and, it is perhaps remarkable to state, was hardly new at that time.  John Hale suggests that the idea “emerged from a fifteenth century trawl of Greek texts”.  Radically, the theory proposed was that it might be the sun, rather than the earth, that lay at the centre of the universe.  Though arrived at as early as 1530 by Copernicus, he was on his deathbed in 1543 before the theory was published.[6]  As Hale darkly reports: “it was not until 1566 that a printer risked a second edition”![7]  This theoretical knowledge only began to be available in England in direct references by Robert Recorde, whose scientific lectures and works were widely circulated at both Oxford and Cambridge in the 1540s to the 1560s.[8]  Later, Galileo Galilei establishes the fact that the Earth moves around the Sun.  As John Hale says, tying in other mathematicians of the time:

It was Galileo, armed with his improvement to the recently developed telescope and his interest in mathematical physics, who most disturbingly re-examined Copernican heliocentricity in the light of Brahe’s and to some extent Kepler’s findings.  His publications from 1610, with their deliberately iconoclastic asides, challenged classical authority in the skies so pungently that the theological structure which had leaned on it was seen as in danger of collapse.[9]

This must have caused a wave of excitement among the deeply curious in the early seventeenth century.  The forbiddenness of the discourse itself would certainly have had the reverse effect that the inquisitors, in their 1633 efforts to make Galileo recant, would have hoped for.  From the church’s point-of-view, a complete suppression of this new heresy would have been preferred, yet it is clear that this central theory only served to inspire others to enquire into the nature of the universe.  Even so, as François Laroque expresses it, the discoveries of Copernicus, “confirmed by Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei” in 1609 and 1610, had swept across Europe as a wave of new information.  Yet “only a few learned Elizabethans knew of his theories” and these “formed no part of the consciousness of the age”.[10]  Again, the different levels of education in the theatre-going populace establishes the strong likelihood that only a few in Shakespeare’s audience would be able to decipher the abstruse references to the new truth about celestial bodies, were they to be present in the play-texts.  Even these educated people, though, would have found themselves suspended between their knowledge of the power and significance of the sun and the planets in old myths and the newer, starker sphere of truly scientific knowledge.  The poetic metaphor of alchemy and neoplatonism would still have struck deep among the educated few, yet the attractive icons that were woven into the arcane mysteries, were also contained in the newly-emerging scientific knowledge where proof was not simply a matter of faith.

At the beginning of the period of this study, Art and Nature had been seen as binary opposites.  Now, Art—or Science, as it later became known—was realized as the primary tool for unravelling the unknown in Nature itself.  Increasingly, the answer to one sphere of mysteries lay in the other sphere.  Where, before, the Bible and the scholastic divines had been the only sources of information, now, with the great explosion of free thought caused by the rediscovery of Greek and Latin texts during the late medieval and early Renaissance eras; the observational abilities of individuals began to make discoveries not fettered by Holy Writ.  These elements caused an inevitable weakening of the church’s teaching and authority, and a more human-centred sphere in which keen minds could break old images and create new ones.

The above new concepts must only have been slowly absorbed by the general populace.  What we would see as serious science is hereby established as being lodged in a difficult, problem-filled area for those of the Renaissance who, as individuals, habitually thought about things that lay beyond the obvious surface of the corporeal world.  Alternatively, it would certainly have been easier and safer by far, simply to have accepted Aristotelian and clerical thought that established Earth as the centre of all existence.  Yet this alone leads to an extension of the problem of our understanding of the wavy borders between science and alchemy.  The mysteries presented by alchemy and neoplatonism—indeed by orthodox religion itself—were made the more attractive by being mysteries in themselves.  Our attraction to those same obscurities is an echo of the Elizabethan uncertainty that is exacerbated by the gulf that four hundred years creates for us.  Yet it is extremely interesting to think of the battles that must surely have raged in the minds of many intelligent individuals who had been trained to think that God, the Church, and Aristotle could not be wrong.  Yet, despite old, ingrained beliefs, some of these people still must fervently have wished to know about far more exciting and diverse truths that, slowly but constantly, were emerging during the latter half of the sixteenth century.  After all, that which was thought of as the Old Religion had scarcely been toppled.  We may only imagine how people must, privately, have struggled with the remnants of those old beliefs—in both their dogma and their practice—while publicly bowing before simpler, more starkly decorated altars.  As religious outlooks were changing, mainly in man’s personal relationship to his god; alchemy was also a constantly developing in its discipline.  It was still in full song as an adjunct to the newly burgeoning science.  As John Hale relates:

In spite of the cranks and charlatans that gave it a bad name, its suspect secrecy and the mystical mumbo-jumbo of its language and symbolism ... alchemy was a natural science.[11]

Further, if an Elizabethan wished truly to know:

how to produce compounds, solutions, distillates, crystallizations and fusions — practical chemistry, in fact ... or, of how pur sang was to be found; how beakers, retorts, condensers, filters and heat sources worked

If he wanted to turn base metals into gold, or simply to enquire into what now we would call serious chemical-analysis, much enlightenment lay in the 1597 Alchemia of the German physician Andreas Libau.[12]

As a remark in passing, the complexity and the secrecy surrounding what we may now regard as an arcane art, must surely have made it an attractive adjunct to philosophy of a more general kind in which humanist ideas had progressively begun to challenge the teachings of the medieval schoolmen, and, incidentally, play hazard around the margins of the heretic’s pyre!

Strongly linking these ideas with what follows in this thesis, and addressing alchemy’s influence upon what we now know as the arts, Frank Kermode suggests:

It is easy to see how it might appeal to poets, whether they used it as an image of perpetual disappointment or even fraud on the one hand, or of mysterious natural and spiritual transformations on the other.[13]

Poets have always grasped at icons and placed them in textual spaces and times to tell stories, to be rhetorical of, and with, ideas.  For these poets, Kermode explains, alchemy had not yet been discredited and “was not a romantic alternative to science” nor was it “an eccentric pseudoscience”.

The title page of The Alchemist by Ben Jonson, 1610

There can be no better example of this complex awareness than a passage from Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist.  Subtle’s tone is utterly reasonable in explaining that there is no single truth about the properties of the elements used in alchemy, the actual gender of them, their state in respect to perfection; their place in the cosmos being either earthly or aerial:

                        Nature doth, first, beget th’imperfect; then
                        Proceeds she to the perfect.  Of that airy,
                        And oily water, mercury is engender’d;
                        Sulphur o’ the fat and earthy part: the one,
                        (Which is the last) supplying the place of male,
                        The other of the female, of all metals.
                        Some do believe hermaphrodeity,
                        That both do act, and suffer.

First and foremost, he allows that “some do believe” these things.  Yet one can almost hear Surly’s hectoring tone as he retorts:

                        Rather than I’ll be bray’d, sir, I’ll believe
                        That alchemy is a pretty kind of game,
                        Somewhat like tricks o’ the cards, to cheat a man
                        With charming.

This then sets up the discourse of humanism upon meeting scorn, whether Jonson intended it, or not.  Subtle gently counters:

                                                            Was not all the knowledge
                        Of the Egyptians writ in mystic symbols?
                        Speak not the scriptures, oft, in parables?
                        Are not the choicest fables of the poets,
                        That were the fountains, and the first springs of wisdom,
                        Wrapp’d in perplexe'd allegories?

The fact is that this discourse has so many elements for discussion that it might justify a chapter of its own, but for the moment let it be stated that the known elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water were beginning to be seen as not enough adequately to describe the subtleties of the cosmos.  For Jonson’s Subtle, at least.  In this, of signal interest is Subtle’s clearly drawn parallel between the human condition and those of the constituent parts of alchemy in his words Some do believe in hermaphrodeity,/ That both do act, and suffer” (2.3.164-165).  This would have rung bells in the minds of those listeners of sufficient education and an interest in alchemy and neoplatonism in Jonson’s audiences both to amuse them as people seeking amusement; and to flatter their knowledge of things beyond the obvious surface of existence.

For Andrew Marvell, and for other artist-thinkers of his time, alchemy was an important part of philosophy.  Even as late as the middle-watches of the eighteenth century it was “still part of the intelligent explanation of the world, and to a remarkable extent the material of poetic figuration”[15]  On the one hand, then, it was a part of the icon-in-space-and-time of poetry, the very mechanism of creating images for readers and hearers to see figurations in the gaps between the words; on the other hand, it was a serious pursuit for the deeply curious minds of Marvell, his contemporaries, and many later poets.  These figurations were then of primary use in the rhetoric of their poetic imagery, or in adding colourful emphasis in the form of metaphor.  The following fragment from Andrew Marvell’s The Garden proposes a representation of hermaphroditic bliss:

                        Such was that happy garden-state,
                        While man there walked without a mate

A deep-seated yearning for a more notionally innocent humankind emerges in this imagery.  It is also highly political within the up-to-the-minute thoughts of a Restoration poet who delighted in the passing of a notionally corrupt Catholicism and also the fall of a deluded king.[16]  Hoped-for is the glorious rise of a new, purer, better world, a longed-for return to innocence.   The coupled words, “garden-state”, in the above lines was a direct reference to the ideal state: that which had been bitterly fought-over; as well as a new England without King or Pope.[17]  In referring to Marvell’s poem, Upon Appleton House, Lyndy Abraham adroitly explains that:

the garden at Appleton House, the microcosm of England, is united with the eternal garden.  Heaven and Earth are joined to make a perfect whole, symbolized by the hermaphroditic Adam.[18]

It is clear that the imagery and the philosophy that unites these two examples, above, are directly related to the notion of a return to an Adamic innocence.  As always, scholars vary in minor detail in explaining the above poems, but Maren-Sofie Røstwig makes the connection between two disciplines: “Alchemy and Neoplatonism shared a number of key images, one of which is the Adamic ‘hermaphrodite’ ”.[19]  It is also interesting that Røstwig makes a strong connection between Marvell’s The Garden and the notion of the “Happy Man ... beatus vir”; a construct, also, of the later “beatus ille[20] poetry of the eighteenth century.[21]  These concepts combined imagery of “the partly Hermetic, partly neo-Platonic theme of Nature”.  Specifically, Røstwig commits herself in the strong opinion:

Andrew Marvell, in The Garden invested these themes with perfect poetic form, and by so doing bequeathed to posterity one of the most intriguing lyrics to come to us from an age renowned for its gift of poetic utterance.[22]

From all of the above—that which might exist between the deeply philosophical ideas and the stark necessity to adapt to the convention against women taking part in plays—we may now see highly variable forms and perceptions.  Simply, it was not just the all-male expedience which caused the many-sided androgyne idea.  Making the best of being denied real women upon the stage, the cross-dressing could be proposed as pure fun for the boy within the bawdry; yet clearly there was also the androgyne display that had a much deeper meaning for those who wished to see it.  Shakespeare, as always, allowed for these two visions.

Yet, in variance, it is also certain that the comedic authors of then did not fail to take advantage of the natural high spirits, the energy and the irreverence of the most youthful of their male actors.  Clearly, they used the blatant bawdry of the play-texts to create situations in which the youngsters would delightedly have made their audiences laugh.  Yet emerging here is the seminal idea that the joyful gamin/gamine now appears as a participant in a protean contest with a notionally higher level of neither female nor male representation in the previously-defined awareness of the perception of a need for a return to a more innocent state; or at the very least, the creation of characters who accessed the notion and the sphere of the divine androgyne.  This spiritual being could exist in the form of the mysterious man-not-woman-not-man that Marvell so clearly saw, to act as a second level of understanding, and this not just upon the stage.  As Lindy Abraham expresses it: “Many of the great works of the seventeenth century, both scientific and literary” shared the common desire to restore the ancient Adamic/Hermetic state.  In demonstrating the breadth and depth of this thinking, Abraham includes such thinkers as Milton, Leibniz and Bacon.  The latter, incidentally, knew Thomas Hobbes well and there is ample evidence of a clear circulation of philosophical ideas across the international borders at that time, with Leibniz, Locke, Gassendi, Newton and Spinoza as some of the main interactors.[23]  Those thinkers among many others, Abraham might well have added, yet tightly she focuses upon the essence:

In the mystic marriage of opposites, the marriage of heaven and earth, man is able to discard corruption and mortality caused by tasting the apple (I. 327), and rediscover immortality.[24]

In this sphere, then, many visual and ideational examples create stances that even a child of the times would easily have understood.

The frontispiece to the 1634 edition of Donne's Devotions

An example in variance to the re-joining, or the creation of the Other, the frontispiece of the 1634 edition of John Donne’s Devotions, a series of cameos flank a figure of Donne in his funeral shroud.  The first panel shows Adam and Eve, the apple-tree, and, in the background, Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden.  The last panel is a direct quotation from St Matthew: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”.[25]  Unavoidably, the ideal ambition of an Elizabethan or Jacobean would have been to reverse the process and to create a cameo that was referent to Adam before his thirteenth rib had been taken to form Eve.  Donne’s highly visual example, we must be careful to observe, deals only with humankind in its duotypic state.  Even more importantly, it sees humankind in a totally corporeal state, from beginning to end.  On the other hand, for the Hermetics, a state of non-corporeal existence had preceded the corporeal.  For them, the Adamic “fall”, in eating the apple of knowledge at the behest of the serpent, was not the first.  For them, the first fall was from spirit into flesh.  For the Tudor consciousness, though, the teachings of St Paul made it otherwise.[26] What follows acts as an ideal reference in confirmation of all of the foregoing, but in relation to neoplatonic thought, it strengthens the idea that the Renaissance idea of androgyny was, in its final analysis, extremely complex and multi-sourced.[27]

After all, it is clear from Libellus I of the Hermetica that the hermetic understanding of both gender and existence; the very basis of the two falls-from-grace depends upon a perception of a wide dichotomy between the entities of spirit and body.  Up to that point, words that spring out of the text are: “the word is son, and the mind is father of the word”[28]  Libellus I is very much in the vein of continuing the Biblical idea that “In the beginning was the Word”, but from the view-point of another time and place.  This, as it seeks to explain the creation of> firstly things, then spirits, then corporeal humankind.[29]  “Man, who ‘bore the likeness of God’ ” is very much like the Judeo-Christian assumption of the same idea.[30]  Ultimately, the first Libellus becomes really interesting in the description of the mortality and the foibles of Man, who is bisexual.  If:

earth was the female element, and water the male element and from the aether they received their vital spirit.  But their incorporeal part was made after the form of Man and the Man in them changed from Life and Light into soul and mind, soul from Life, and mind from Light[31]

This quintessence continued to be the form in which human life was fashioned, the Hermetics believed, “until the end of a period”.  Then it became necessary for hermaphroditic Man to be “parted asunder” into female and male elements so that “they”—now duotypic—could “ ‘Increase and multiply abundantly’ ”.  Man, at this stage, is still immortal, but “the cause of death is carnal desire”.  Self-recognition fends off this dire fate, but he who “has set his affection on the body, continues wandering in the darkness of the sense world, suffering the lot of death”.  Those who did not succumb to fleshly desire would live in eternal happiness in an asexual state, thus achieving a peaceful, worthy life.[32]   Heterosexual humankind must reproduce but it must not feel sexual desire.  The latter leads only to death.

But to re-focus: how did these thoughts about divine androgyny impinge upon the Elizabethan?  In the earlier Italian Renaissance the idea of androgynous bisexuality was strong.  There was both purpose and demonstrable effect in this, as James Saslow argues in his close study of examples in Renaissance pictorial art:

This alternative ideal of an androgynous being who transcends sexual longing occupied an important place in the intellectual and artistic interests of Renaissance artists[33]

This was particularly so in Correggio and Leonardo da Vinci.  Alchemy and neoplatonism were common fare for most of the prominent artists of the Renaissance, Michelangelo being foremost among them.  While being devoutly Christian, Saslow says, Michelangelo was acutely aware of both the “medieval glosses on classical myth, and antique concepts as resurrected and reinterpreted by Renaissance humanists”.  Both “sets of meanings” were represented in his works.[34]  There was also practical reality that he, like Correggio and da Vinci, would have gone hungry without patronage.  Whatever it was that he, the artist, wanted to represent, he had firstly to accommodate his patrons' tastes.  Flattering their intellect, their self-image, and their desire to be rhetorical within some specific idea, would have been a strong element in their works.  Yet these factors, as always in this conjectural discourse, muddy the water of the concept of authorial intent in any artistic sphere.  The main point, though, is that both alchemy and neoplatonism comes down to us in reverberations that influenced a great deal of the art in written-texts and sculpture, in painting and even in the music of that time; that intensely forward-looking age.  We must not forget that, Janus-like, it also looked back to ancient religion and superstition, not just in the Southern, but also in the later Northern Renaissance.

As in all things to do with the arts, there is no single truth, no constant perception.  As a basis, though, the neoplatonic bisexual creation is seen as a transcendence of bodily desire.  Saslow, particularly, strives to define Andreas Libau’s “alchemical ideal of hermaphroditic personality and the Renaissance notions ... of homosexuality as a psychic hybrid or third gender”.[35]  Inevitably, this creates far greater complexities.  Distilled from this, though, a possible third classification effectively creates a link between some of the precepts of alchemy and neoplatonism.[36]  As Saslow argues, Libau published his work in 1597, and in his intellectual group existed such diverse people as the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, as  well as the mystic adept John Dee and the Rosicrucian Michael Maier.  In this maelstrom of thought, it is not surprising that these seemingly “divergent metaphors” were still to be seen as a continuous, unified set of philosophical truths”, despite their apparent contradictions.[37]  Further, Saslow demonstrates the eclectic nature of the hermaphrodite in also accessing Elias Ashmole’s 1652 Theatrum chemicum britannicum.  Ashmole makes clear reference to the male element of the divine hermaphrodite as solar, the female as lunar, and the “twain” having:

contrary qualities: nevertheless, there is such a natural assistance between them, that what the one cannot do, the other both can and will perform.[38]

This concept of coniunctio also, elsewhere, defined corporeal sexual union and also, elsewhere, defined a blissful escape from such a mean and despised thing as sexual desire.  This, even when it was not meant to define congress solely for the purpose of procreation.  In a multitude of widely-varying ideas, then, the two main concepts lie.  Firstly, the hermetic ideal of blissful oneness.  Secondly, as Saslow expresses it: “the ultimate alchemical goal” which was the “fusion of opposites, the sexually ambiguous product” of the above coniunctio: that is to say, the ultimate combination of “masculine and feminine substances and forces”.[39]

Finally, Giordano Bruno’s journey to England and the consequent conjecture as to what effect his teachings had upon the insular poets is an example of the physical, historical confusion in this discourse.  F.H. Yates, in her Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, quite properly states her doubts on her own ability to provide any notion of clear truth on the subject.  It appears to be that many different philosophical stances existed in those who may have met him and who later heard of his frightful death at the stake.   Here, the factor of greatest interest would have been what influence his presence had upon English thought where that impinged on drama, but it will be found that any possible effect is very hard to trace.  What Yates does is to guide the scholar in the direction of yet more scholars.  Ultimately, she remains starkly sceptical about her own efforts to throw some light on the “ways of thinking so unfamiliar and obscure as those of the Renaissance Hermetists”.  A full study, she says, “has yet to be written; it should include the Middle Ages”.  She feels that any effort, will inevitably involve an “over-simplification of such an immensely complex theme”.[40]

Simply, it is not known if Bruno influenced Sir Philip Sidney in any major way, and therefore William Shakespeare by possible association.  On the other hand, E.M.W. Tillyard has it—and this can clearly be seen—that Sidney’s neoplatonic sentiment appears clear in An Apologie for Poetrie of 1595.  This had been written in 1579, therefore it was finished too early to have been influenced by Bruno.  Even so, Sidney seems to be reflecting the spirit of the times in stating that poetry was “man’s effort to rise above his fallen self and reach out towards perfection”.[41]  Certainly, in the way that Sidney himself describes the dreamed-of greatest efforts of poetic humankind, neoplatonic influence is transparent in his thought as:

Sir Philip Sidney, poet and courtier

Neither let it be deemed too saucy a comparison to balance the highest point of a man’s wit with the efficacy of nature, but rather give right honour to the Maker of that maker, who, having made man in his own likeness, set him beyond and over all the works of that second nature; which in nothing he showeth so much as in his poetry, when with the force of the divine breath he bringeth things forth, far surpassing her doings, with no small argument to the incredulous of that first accursed fall of Adam, sith our erected wit maketh us know what perfection is and yet our infected will keepeth us from reaching unto it.[42]

What most certainly can be said of this after reading 1 Corinthians 15: 44-48, is that Sidney was guided in almost every word by that part of the Bible in which St. Paul is said to speak directly to his followers.  Tillyard, on the other hand, draws attention to “divine breath” and “perfection” as deriving from Plato, via Plotinus.  In a direct reference to the parallel creation depicted in Libellus I, the opinion that the parallel icons: “Maker of that maker” and “made man in his own likeness” creates a clear sense of these things existing in the parallel worlds of the first and second natures.  The first world was the province of the Maker alone, the second world was the province of the second maker; that is to say, that very poet striving towards an ultimately unattainable perfection from the standpoint of Sidney’s own sense of devout humility.  The plangent iconography that Sidney uses creates the dichotomy between the “erected wit” that “maketh us know what perfection is”, and the “infected will” that “keepeth us from reaching unto it”.  This, surely, now appears as central to the entire discourse where it appears in Elizabethan thought and must also be seen as adding a further dimension to the Christian dichotomy between the spirit being willing and the flesh being weak.  The former is active, the latter passive.  The former adds attribute to the latter’s accepted nature.  It forms also, a notional truth that contemporaries of Sidney—among whom was William Shakespeare—might wholeheartedly have accepted these engaging mysteries.  It must also not be forgotten that the act of being humble before one’s God was then virtually reflexive and scarcely required conscious thought before the act, or the word, of that familiar process. 

If for no other reason than to show that European influence was strong in late-Tudor England, it must be recorded that disciplines other than sophisticated philosophy became extremely strong in the late sixteenth century.  In the last great days of the sword, the Italian fencing-masters introduced the rapier and dagger method of combat to the English gentry.[43]  Specifically, the ancient weaponry of sword and buckler were largely replaced by the rapier and dagger.  These weapons were proposed as, and became important as much for their notional nobility rather than their practicality.[44] Ruth Kelso argues, and it is certainly not too great a leap to claim, that Sidney was at least one of the links for much of the expansion of the Southern Renaissance, the penetration of its thought and its style into England, and that this wave of new style recruited Shakespeare as a kind of second voice of the Northern Renaissance.

In this vein, and expanding the ideas about outside influence in the above, the area that had been named Christendom was now known as Europe and within that continent, Shakespeare’s England had from it received many influences .[45]   And from places far beyond it.  Bernard Lewis theorizes that the inspiration for Othello was a Moroccan ambassador to London.[46]  At about the same time, European powers were sending envoys to Persia and the Ottoman Empire to propose alliances.  All of Europe was opening up to the world; not only to the New World of the Americas, but to the nether regions of the Old World as well by travelling both East and West.  A sphere of existence in geographical and cultural terms in which racially and culturally diverse people are thought to exist together, yet who constantly display their differences, is still, at this time in question, coalescing into a broadly corporate entity by some mysterious means.  The relatively narrow quality of the medieval spirit is everywhere being subsumed into spheres of thought containing the ancient ideas of classical philosophy and the very new elements of human-centred thought.  The vastness of the universe may now be contained in the tiny area of the smallest child’s thoughts.  Yet Renaissance humankind still saw thought and body as separate things.  For now, though, we must return to a focus upon the body.



From a continent to a body: from geography in a macro-view to geography in a micro-view, Dympna Callaghan’s “ ‘And all is semblative a woman’s part’ ” is signal among the research in this field.[47]  This paper will be seen as a very important adjunct to the arguments about the representation of the female body in this work.  Her further essay, “The Castrator’s Song” is equally important in the discourse, but in a more specifically political way.  Its scope, therefore, lies in this second chapter.[48]

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth played by boys of 18 and 14 in the Eton College school play of June 1978

In this later paper Callaghan argues that the boy’s body beneath the female robes may be referred to in the double-meaning-bawdry, but it is always to be seen as secondary to the woman’s body that it represents. Her insistent high-lighting of the abuse that lies within this representation of the female body might seem to be contradictory in this respect, since the woman’s body was not actually present, but if you accept that momentary “textual incisions” are made in the womanly façade, the picture clears.  When the boy is revealed, the viewer has a chance to laugh at the liminal changeling before moving on.  Yet whether the viewer laughs at the painted boy, or at the woman for whom he stands, the essential woman’s body is most definitely held up for ridicule in this way.  That this process may be seen as an abuse is strengthened by what Callaghan also makes clear; that is to say, in the paradox that the exclusion of women from the stage was equally as denigratory as the inclusion of the bawdy boy.  As well, there is the constant textual innuendo that refers to female and male body-parts and to the male-ascendant humour in the implied collection of images of notionally beautiful bodies.  This is particularly so, Callaghan argues, in the sexually-charged situations in which they are placed in the drama — the very things that men habitually take away home with them when the play has ended.  These elements alone form strong unions with Callaghan’s theme in this later paper, and they also strongly echo her earlier work.

Viewed in the light of what Ann Blake says, above, this denigration is also a gross distortion of the self of women.  Yet Callaghan’s “The Castrator’s Song” changes direction in a marked way.  As Professor R.S. White expresses it, this is due to new evidence.  Certainly, Callaghan’s access to the Folger Library’s texts may well have been responsible for some new views that may later be seen as extremely important and this is no more evident than in an opening survey that Callaghan makes into a passage from John Marston’s Antonio and Mellida.[49]  Here, she highlights the rueful laughter of Antonio on discovering that he is required to play both male and female parts in a play.  There is much joking about “trussing hose” and doubts about his having a “voice to play a lady” — as well as his worries as to whether he will lose his place at some point in the play and not know which gender he is supposed to be at any one moment.  A less obvious sub-text is also revealed in which the spectre of his being an “hermaphrodite” — an “Amazon ... virago-like”, comes to the fore.  Much is made of Antonio having—as Callaghan points out—to “bear two subtle fronts under one hood”.  This creates a world of sexual innuendo and also constitutes metatheatrical comment of the highest order.

Callaghan also reveals the puns on Marston’s name, “Marstone”, that for her, introduces the subject of castration.  She comments that the English knew of the Continental practice that produced castrati for the stage and the church liturgy in mainland Europe, but she maintains that there is no evidence to suggest that they took this radical step themselves.   This seems to end the notion of castration at that point, but Callaghan insists that her essay concentrates on “the relationship between castration and representation, especially the representation of femininity in its vocal aspect” as its ideational equivalent.[50]  Thus the reality of castration is deposed by the crowning perception of it.  After analysing the extremely bawdy associations of ideas in the excerpt from the Marston play, and, incidentally, pointing out that it was the Children of Paul’s who first performed it, Callaghan goes on to argue that:

it is not the perfect similitude of woman that was the goal of early modern English dramatic representations of femininity, but the production of an aesthetic of representation that depicts sexual difference as the presence of male genital sexual equipment.[51]

Further, she claims that “it is only masculinity on the stage that has to be enacted in order to exist”.  Significantly, she defers to Laura Levine’s view that: “ ‘it is as if femaleness were the default position, the thing one were always in danger of slipping into’ ”.[52]  This is, in Callaghan’s own words, caused by femininity being “defined in and as a relation to masculinity”.  This works both for and against a modern perception of misogyny because the actual demonstration of it must have been highly variable between plays.  Yet in all of these perceptions Callaghan argues that we cannot escape the reality that femininity, in Shakespeare’s time: “comprised a subspecies of masculinity”.[53]  This utterly binds the discourse to the politics of a patriarchal society.  In the thoughts of another modern scholar, but from a different point-of-view, the same truth emerges.  Roland Barthes opens his The death of the author with:

In his story Sarrasine Balzac, describing a castrato disguised as a woman, writes the following sentence: “This was woman herself, with her sudden fears, her irrational whims, her instinctive worries, her impetuous boldness, her fussings, and her delicious sensibility”.  Who is speaking thus?[54]

Without getting involved in the complex discourse of Barthes’s theories about authors, their place in literature and the systems of signs in which they exist—or do not, depending on one’s viewpoint—the fact is that a nineteenth century view of women has emerged in his example.  This might seem to present a particularly Gallic reversal of Callaghan’s insistence on women being represented as a subspecies of the male person in the English Renaissance stage tradition.  Yet, in the oddest and most unbidden way, Balzac’s words do shore up Callaghan’s view that femininity was always seen “in and as a relation to” an ascendant masculinity.  The castrato is a male person in the realism of Balzac’s eyes, yet, dressed as a woman he becomes the woman of all eternity — full of wiles and foibles — fascinating and forever the source of passion in men.  Balzac’s view, though loving of the nature and of the image of women, is deeply patronising of the womanly person herself.  He echoes Keats’s rather more gentle, but no less patronising:

                        Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
                           Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
                              And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.[55]

Inevitably, though, both Balzac’s and Keats’s viewpoints require that the male speaks from the tacit stance of his own maleness and this demonstrates how strong that idea has been over the centuries.  They love, but they measure that which they love by the yardstick of their own physical existence and their own natures.  Both body and mind, in fact.  Even though Barthes and Callaghan speak of a kind of surgically-created median-being—the castrato—they are still in fact seeing these people in terms of man-superior.  Man is therefore the equivalent of modern science’s statistical control.  Thus, the element used as the unchanged for comparison with the changed in the statistics of surveys and studies, also appears as a central perception in drama, in poetry and in prose as well.  Sculpture and painting also contain this essential truth.  In the language of the arts, women are thus the glorious Other.  That which, paradoxically, defines the control itself, or himself.  Yet included in the classification, woman, are those other mysterious Others, too.  The castrato is neither fish nor fowl: the boy actor is neither hare nor hounds, yet both may be seen as worthy substitutes for the body and the voice of the woman whom they represent (whether willingly or not).[56] 

To demonstrate how extreme the act may be in shoring up a sovereign perception: in the mainland Renaissance tradition, the castrato was considered superior in voice to either man or woman.  It was “on the vocal rather than the visual register that the spectacle of femininity” reached “its breaking point”.  The un-castrated boy, sadly, simply had to pass through the sea-change of puberty and then speak in a man’s voice.  Hence the castrato and the preservation of the perceptual ideal. 

Then, having radically mutilated the boy:

The crisis produced by the broken voice does not concern a failed simulation of woman, but a simulation superior to woman herself: the artistic endeavour to grasp and articulate an aesthetic ideal.[57]

Were this aesthetic to be successful, Callaghan argues, it would be seen and heard as the apogée of theatrical art.  Strengthening her argument, she quotes Lesley Ferris in claiming that: “males substituted their own bodies to create the female other”.  This brought to life “an aesthetic substitution which was considered superior to the real, unaesthetic woman”.[58] 

Yet despite the strength and clarity of those ideas, Ann Blake’s concerns about some aspects of feminist scholarship that have tended to deny the worth and the ability of the young male person who performed within the Elizabethan theatrical convention, are of signal interest.  On the one hand, as Callaghan states the case, the all-male performances produced a notionally superior aesthetic in the perceptions of the early modern audience, and was an accepted androcentric convention in action.  On the other hand, this aesthetic, and the reason for it, not only excluded women but denigrated them by both the act of exclusion and in the very nature of the aesthetic itself.  Even where the variant views of the above do not actually mesh, they still exist in this discourse as highly-informed comment upon the paradoxical existence of the woman in Shakespearian drama, both in her sometimes savagely denigrated presence and, paradoxically, in her sometimes highly-praised absence.

In passing, “The Castrator’s Song” also studies the sometimes brutal impressment of boys into the choir-schools; their exploitation, their place in the drama, and the fact that they were often used in the kind of biting satire that adult troupes would not risk performing themselves.[59]  The genital mutilation of boys to produce permanent soprani and alti for the continental church and stage may also be seen as a measure of the extreme lengths that a patriarchal society is willing to travel in order to exclude women from their secular and sacred stages.  The mainland custom demonstrated that a patriarch was willing to castrate a future patriarch in order to achieve a present end.  The capture of boys in the London streets, on the other hand, may be seen as a mild abuse in comparison to the continental barbarism.  Yet, supported by the sovereign’s approval, the cold purpose of these forced-removals was to have only boys of the best appearance and the best voice available for the English secular stage.  At whatever the cost.[60]

In rounding this argument off, attention must be drawn to aspects of both Callaghan’s and Blake’s studies which reveal that the exclusion of women resulted in several conclusions and effects that freely we may choose from.  Among these it is concluded that the textual mockery of women was permitted by the philosophy of the times, and that the ingrained androcentricity of the politics of early modern England made the exclusion inevitable.  Yet the single purpose in relating this is to draw attention to the gulf between the Elizabethans and ourselves for which the passing of four hundred years is only partly responsible.  An essentially patriarchal culture is responsible for most of the remaining gulf between our perceptions and theirs. 

Very much to the point in the political arena of the Elizabethan-Jacobean nexus, those female authors with the courage to think of publishing their work could savagely be attacked.  This, despite their social position.  In historical documentation, the complexity of the concept of monsters could include the author herself in this inimical discourse.  Ann Rosalind Jones reports that the Renaissance courtier, Lord Denny, responded to the publication of Lady Mary Wroth’s 1621 prose-romance Urania by insulting the aristocratic author in the most overbearing way.  He wrote a verse-epistle to Wroth.  This contained the lines:

                        Hermaphrodite in show, in deed a monster
                            As by thy work and words all men may conster
                        Thy wrathful spite conceived in Idell book
                            Brought forth a foole which like the damme doth look.
                                                                        ... leave idle books alone
                        For wise and worthier women have written none.[61]

Not only does Denny’s abuse link the ideas of a hermaphrodite-displayed as a monstrous “deed”, but it links “wrathful spite” with “foole”.  All of this is couched in the familiar pronoun-address and this adds a second layer of insulting severity to the intrinsic sarcasm of the piece.  Jones allows that Lord Denny, and others, may have been attacked by Wroth in satirical reference that she appears to have made to several court-personages in the Urania, but his use of the familiar style may only be seen as a deliberate insult overlaying his linking of denigratory ideas about female-authors.  Most importantly, though, it is his use of the idea of hermaphrodite-character as a strong and concomitant association with the notional hermaphrodite-author, a person equalling “monster”, that is of signal interest, here.[62]   In this sphere, a monster might be anything that a man may conceive, but that person who may be seen to threaten his position at court, or his naturally-assumed male-superiority in the arts, is a justifiable target for Denny’s spite.  The best defence is attack.

Much more of this, later, but in the meantime an acute insight into the problems attendant on spanning the many years between the creation and the present performance of Renaissance works.  From a different point-of-view, David Norbrook offers:

To read historically is not to reduce texts to a dead past but to heighten our awareness of the complex transactions between past and present that occur whenever we read a text, whether it be a poem or a historical narrative.[63]

Norbrook’s “poem” and “historical narrative” may then be seen as an intrinsic part of that Renaissance whole, yet he does not mean to invest “past and present” with the status of animate entities between, and within which, “complex transactions occur”.  It is in the mind of the reader that these things happen.  A modern viewer of, say, the film-version of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando will feel this happening as the film unfolds.  It spares no-one in portraying the grimmer aspects of Tudor life and exhibiting the enormous power, the strength and the occasional cruelty of those who ruled.  A convincing picture of the notionally worst aspects of life with the best of those times emerges, yet a strong link with the present pantomime-tradition is created by giving Quentin Crisp the part of Queen Elizabeth.  The stage presence of this elderly man was utterly convincing.  Though definitely not performed as comedy, Crisp made a wonderfully strong, yet sadly-ageing sovereign.  We cannot know exactly how Queen Elizabeth behaved, or spoke, but in the pictures that we have of her we see an upright, brave figure that has very little of the purely feminine about it.  This is aided by obvious features of the courtly fashion throughout Elizabeth’s age.[64]

Barbara Sidney, Countess of Leicester, with six of her children, by Marcus Gheeraerts the younger, ca. 1596

This striking similarity between male and female dress is strongly linked with the Renaissance custom for the wearing of adult clothes by children.  In the portraits of, particularly, aristocratic family groups, the children of both sexes are often depicted as wearing almost identical and highly elaborate adult female dress.  Significantly, this adds parallel threads of both the visual homogenizing of boys with girls with an inescapable element of implied androgyny, in dress at least, for the very young of those times.  Anthony Burgess’s Shakespeare presents a typical portrait of that era which shows Lady Sidney with one son and four daughters.  They stand in stiff, formal poses.  The most visually-striking thing that distinguishes the boy from the girls is a sash that he alone wears to support a miniature rapier.  Apart from that, he alone holds a feathered bonnet.  It is true that his hair is slightly shorter than that of the girls’ style, but the visual details of the four younger children propose an almost cloned appearance.  Only Lady Sidney and the eldest girl have elaborate collars and hair-styles, yet leaping out of the picture is the very odd—to our eyes—juxtaposition of the boy’s sword in conjunction with the boy’s frock.  Only the sword defines the boy’s presence upon the picture’s tiny stage.  The stage being the picture within its frame.

The androgynous-looking unknown woman by Isaac Oliver, ca. 1615

Generally in the period, the Tudor ruff appears in both men and women at court, and hats were of very similar style across the sexes.  Rich displays were commonplace in which both long hair and a great deal of jewellery was used by both the men and the women.  Women then sometimes sported daggers or short swords to complete a kind of visual androgyny that was, very strikingly, a deliberate effect.  Only below the waist was there a radical difference in male and female dress.  If there was an element of deliberate imitation of the sovereign’s personal fashion in all of this, then the idea of imitation being the most sincere form of flattery justifiably enters the discourse.  In this sense, Quentin Crisp added sadness and humanity to the jewel-like sovereign’s appearance of power and stature; but this most importantly proposes that the idea of male courtiers willingly imitating the sovereign in style of dress, most definitely would bear further study in this strongly political field.  For the moment, though, Graham Holderness and Carol Banks frame a picture of the queen that holds irresistible power.  Speaking of the presence of the sovereign being notionally above the populace, Holderness and Banks observe that the English had been:

Ruled by a woman for as long as most people could remember, in the 1590s the kingdom, the power and the glory of this sceptred isle remained singularly hers—Elizabeth I’s—for the virgin Queen chose never to marry and share her estate with a husband.[65]

Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton, ca. 1592. Attributed to John de Critz

Further, men in England could sometimes be both effeminate in appearance and soft in their demeanour.  Thomas Platter, with some amazement observed: “the women-folk of England” could “have far more liberty than in other lands”.  The English men were seen to “put up with such ways, and may not punish them ... indeed the good wives often beat their men”.[66]   It is not merely clutching at straws to say that this observation highlights a sense of awareness in the women of England that their sovereign was a woman like themselves.  Why should they not have at least some liberty and a voice in their female sovereign’s society?  This perception wars with much of the above, but it does at least prove the rule that there are no absolutes where people are concerned.  Even so, the perception arises that not only was there the image of the immutably strong queen to imitate, but also there was the paradigm of cross-dressed boys upon the stage to give those men who were amenable to such displays, and the philosophy behind them, the inspiration to dress down their manliness, while women might dress up theirs.  As Holderness and Banks also point out, Shakespeare’s own patron, Henry Wriothesley, habitually wore just such wasp-waisted, long-haired styles they have been described, above.  In this period the long hair in the dress-style of aristocratic men caused deep disquiet among radical protestants, yet it may be seen that Wriothesley’s effeminate appearance was quite common among the leaders of the realm in that particular century’s end, and Shakespeare and his peers depended upon such people for their protection and indeed, their living.[67]

In this same period of glorious display, the antitheatricals were driving towards what would eventually be a complete ban on the theatres and a ban on the perceived immorality of using male actors in female roles and female dress in public display.  In the public common-weal of tradition, as in the medieval period, the Elizabethan’s outward self was still required to display piety in a publicly acceptable manner, yet it is clear that there was a growing perception that what the inward self felt was now beyond political or philosophical strictures.  Among the radical antitheatricals, though, there began to be efforts to draw the darkest possible pictures of the enacted immorality in stage-plays.  As Bruce Smith argues:

Puritan attackers of the stage were smart enough to know that not everyone who set out for Arcadia was willing to make the trip back home.  The true ending to stage-plays, Phillip Stubbes complains, is played out in bed.[68]

This might seem to be an extreme view but it most certainly is anchored in the actual observations made by the polemical observers of Shakespeare’s own day.  Stubbes was foremost in opposing what must have been highly overt exhibitions as well as private enactments of immorality in the above sense.  This, both on and off the stage, respectively.[69]  From The Anatomie of Abuses:

marke the harking and running to Theaters and curtens, daylie and hourly, night and daye, tyme and tyde, to see Playes and Enterludes; where such wanton gestures, such bawdie speaches, such laughing and fleering, such kissing and bussing, such clipping and culling, Suche winckinge and glancinge of wanton eyes, and the like, is used, as is wonderfull to behold.  Than, these goodly pageants being done, every mate sorts to his mate, every one brings another homeward of their way verye freendly, and in their secret conclaves (covertly) they play the Sodomits, or worse.  And these be the fruits of Playes and Enterludes for the most part.[70]

If this example, and those fragments variously from Craik and Smith above, establish only one thing, it must be seen as proving that the antitheatricals implacably detested virtually every aspect of stage-plays.  Stubbes’s passionate invective points a trembling finger at, particularly, the dancing involved in the plays, during which:

what smouching & slabbering one of another, what filthie groping and vncleane handling is not practised euery wher in these dauncings? ... But, say they, it induceth looue—so I say also—but what looue?  Truely, lustful looue, a venerous looue, such as proceedeth from the stinking pump and lothsome sink of carnall affection and fleshly appetite, and not such as distilleth from the bowels of the hart ingenerat by the spirit of God.[71]

Despite the anger and hatred present in every line of the above, it is certain that the anti-theatrical polemicists largely stood alone.  Also, despite the fact that John Rainoldes’s Th’Overthrow of Stage-Playes of 1599 sets out to test the actual legality of the plays themselves, these public displays continued very much in the same vein until the theatres were finally closed in the 1640s.  Here it is sad to observe that the most negative aspect of a philosophical viewpoint is that a thread within it may be used as a weapon as repressive and as brutal as this religious polemic was proposed to be: later to be inflicted on the play-going public with the full force of its prejudice backed by the immutable power of the new-state itself.

It is important also to observe, though, that one of Stephen Gosson’s main objections to the androgynous usage of boys in women’s clothes, was that the act of cross-dressing itself actually “effeminate” (v) the mind as well as the appearance of the male person.[72]   This therefore brought the future patriarch to a notionally lower status in a strongly patriarchal society; notionally as low as the girls and the women whom he represented.  This effect was seen as an evil both at the time of the act, and for the future of the boy actor whose God-given task was to become a man “in God’s good time”.

Yet an ebb and flow of opinion was generated by Sir Philip Sidney’s reply to Gossons’s Schoole of Abuse of 1579.  Though Sidney wrote his Defence of Poesie in 1579-1580 it was not published until 1595, and though Sidney’s tragic death in the Low Countries in 1583 long predated the main polemic that followed, the spirit of his work was in the style and discourse of a defence of art within that period.  It may also fairly be seen as a rebuttal of Gosson, even though Sidney himself was taken to be a puritan of no mean stature himself.[73]

The spectre of the cliche; art for art’s sake seems now to emerge in this discourse, so it is timely to report that Thomas Lodge also wrote an early reply to Gosson, anonymously, in A Defence of Poetry, Music and Stage Plays, in 1579-80.  This stirred Gosson to write Playes Confuted in Five Actions, which is prefaced:

Proving that they are not to be suffered in a Christian common weale, by the waye both the Cavils of Thomas Lodge, and the Play of Playes, written in their defence, and other obiections of Players frendes, are truely set downe and directly aunsweared.[74]

As with everything to do with human affairs, there is a wide range of views for us to consider.  In the to-and-fro of the times, on the one hand, we have what Michael Shapiro expresses as there being:

Fulminations against play-boys ... common and virulent in antitheatrical tracts by such writers as Stephen Gosson, Phillip Stubbes, and William Prynne grow shriller and more voluminous over time ... They also cite the Deuteronomic injunction against transvesticism ... “That unnaturall Sodomiticall sin of uncleanesse”[75]

On the other hand we also have Thomas Heywood’s contemporary claim that the audience never forgot that they were seeing boys playing the parts of women.  He claimed—as it has already been remarked upon in this thesis—that in some cases the audience knew the boys’ names and followed their careers with interest.  This latter argument tends to defuse the polemic with an implied familiarity combined with a sense of customary usage and the wide acceptance that comes with full knowledge.  On the one level, there was moral outrage, on the other, there is Heywood’s contemporary statement that seems to reveal that many play-goers may have seen pure fun in the cross-dressed urchin on the level that the bawdry existed, together with an occasional portrayal of an ethereal creature on the level of a contemporary perception of divine androgyny.[76]  Since Heywood was himself not only an actor but a playwright, this significant fragment adds a ring of truth to what he says.  This, most obviously, since he made his living in the profession while the radical protestants most certainly did not.[77]  It is true that Heywood wrote this work for the purpose of popularizing the stage, yet he also pointedly states that “plays portray useful moral lessons”, which seems to negate any idea that he was proselytizing his readers towards immoral conduct.[78] 

For Thomas Heywood, cross-dressing and moral lessons could go amicably together, it must also be observed that Heywood would have been scandalized by any proposal that women be allowed upon the stage.  In this vein, the all-male world of dramatic practice is shored-up by the purpose behind at least some of the performances in the Elizabethan period.  William Tydeman firmly asserts that: “Tudor dons and schoolmasters encouraged their charges to engage in live performances” as part of their training in “ ‘good behaviour and audacitye’, that is to say ‘ease of bearing and self-confidence’ ”. 

“Moral and even psychological benefit were believed to accrue” and, “plenty of classical precedents advocated the notion that comedy had” specifically, “a moral function to discharge”.[79]  It does to this day.  A careful analysis of most of the television situation-comedies would reveal that they are almost always cautionary-tales which bring erring characters back to the notional centre of our society’s accepted behaviour.  Despite the laughter in these comedic studies of marginal behaviour, the modern television censor will hardly ever have anything to complain about in modern comedic situations.

From all of the above where it addresses concepts of morality, it must be re-affirmed that the level of skill that the Elizabethan boy actor achieved must have been very high indeed.  If Stubbes and his ilk were not exaggerating too wildly about the boys’ immoral antics, as well, upon the stage—and afterwards—and the reactions of the crowd, it is possible equally validly to surmise that the level of their commitment to the drama must have been total.  At the very least, though, “Any erotic element in boys’ impersonations of women must surely have varied from actor to actor, from author to author, from play to play”, as Bruce Smith points out.[80]  If nothing else, this confirms the idea of the wide variability of authorship, direction, performance and audience reaction in the reign of the first Elizabeth.  And literally, from day to day.

Returning to a former theme: it is well known in this age that one of the main aspects of alchemy was the search for a method to change base-metals into gold.  It is here strongly suggested that the sheer artifice of turning boys into women and back again was then possibly thought to be not only related to alchemy as a worthy undertaking, but also a goal that was sufficient in itself.  Renaissance alchemy was not considered mere magic, yet Bruce  Smith is able to argue that magical element of the plays of that period existed as conscious retreats to “a liminal landscape where social identities, and sexual identities” were made to “dissolve in the half-light” [emphasis mine].  In pursuit of these ideas it is valid to argue that the deliberately-created androgynous imagery and action of Shakespeare, Lyly, Marston, Jonson and others, simply must be at the core of this study.  As well, an essential part of this discourse will be the subtleties of gesture and stance that clearly existed in Elizabethan plays.  In their fine detail, these performative features will probably remain a matter of conjecture forever. On the other hand, we do have the texts themselves, and these, combined with the overall span of recorded historical facts of the play-tradition, will establish the basis of this work.

Finally, in this latter light, John Marston wrote that: “Comedies are writ to be spoken, not read.  Remember the life of these things consists in action”.[81]  To have a comment of such importance as a direct reference to the views of even one person in that distant age is of great value.  Appropriately, Frances Teague brings this into her view of Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair.[82]  Snatched out of Marston’s age and in direct reference to his own 1605 play, The Fawn, this comment is taken to be of great relevance.  As an example of its use, the double-ended jokes in Jonson’s 1609 play, Epicoene, or The Silent Woman will only really appear in their full force when acted in the original manner.  On the one hand, the moment when the text requires that Morose discovers that the wife he had so fervently hoped would be silent, is most definitely not silent, will wear well when simply read.  On the other hand, an actual performance of the scene would be needed to get the most out of the boy-disguised being discovered as just that—the boy-disguised.  Returning to a reading of the text alone, though, we still—allowing for sufficient knowledge in the reader—we may fully access the crowning joke of the entire play.  Of course the noisy wife was a boy disguised!  He could not be otherwise, and here the play-reality runs on a happily-mocking parallel path to the everyday-reality of Renaissance drama and results in a metatheatrical joke that appeared many times in the plays of that period.

Is it going too far to suggest that Ben Jonson, secretly, might fervently have wished to have real women upon his stage to play his female characters?  Perhaps—but since he could not have real females, he made the maximum possible use of the intrinsic irony in the cross-dressed boy’s place upon the stage in wringing the very last drop of laughter from any situation.  One might argue that Epicoene could now be performed with a woman taking the central part, yet, essentially, one entire level of the humour simply must be missed by those who know of the original transsexual form, and therefore, the very basis of Ben Jonson’s essentially wry jokes.

In 1622, Sir Francis Bacon looked back at the reign of Henry VII.  He was able to say that the sovereign “was religious, both in his affection and observance.  But as he could see clear (for those times) through superstition; so he could be blinded now and then by human policy”.[83]  This has a wonderful ring to it that is not only due to it being an assessment by a late-Tudor scholar of the first Tudor king.

That Bacon would judge the Medieval by Renaissance standards is inevitable, but clear above all, is the fact that Bacon was speaking in an age in which most things and most perceptions had changed in radical degree.

In the next three chapters, I shall put all of these carefully considered ideas to the test within the plays themselves.

Continue to Chapter 3


[1]From the Greek, hermaphroditos, from Hermes-Aphrodite. Leo Spitzer, “Linguistic Perspectivism in ‘Don Quijote’ ” in H.S. Babb, ed., Essays in Stylistic Analysis (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972), p. 169, n. 28, raises the word androgyne to a further level.  Spitzer demonstrates that when binary-opposites such as andro-gunés, man-woman,  are fused, the fusing is powerful in creating a statement of radical difference as an actual attack upon the equilibrium of the listener/reader at any particular moment.  In its comedic usage it is surely no less powerful than its possible occurrence in tragedy.  Neither the idea, nor the expression of the idea, androgyny, are early-modern in origin.  In studying hybrid words that stemmed from the hybrid linguistic ideas of the Spanish Renaissance, Leo Spitzer remarks upon the work of Miguel de Cervantes as containing a rich field of paradigms that stem from far older cultural distinctions.  As an example there is Cervantes’s own use of marimacho, a masculine woman.  The joining of classifications in this manner often fuse binary-oppositions and perhaps demonstrate surface-thought as sometimes concealing the far more subtle ideas of deeper thought.  These linguistic devices may be traced back, ultimately, as Spitzer demonstrates, “to the Greek, in Latinized form> masculo-femina, hirocervus, and tunico-pallium, etc”.  This principle extends into the idea that “Cervantes has expressed his perspectivistic vision in a word-formational pattern of the Renaissance” that was “reserved for hybrids” of this kind.

[2]Grace Tiffany, Erotic Beasts and Social Monsters: Shakespeare, Jonson and Comic Androgyny (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1995), p. 13. 

[3]Tiffany, p. 11, cites Phyllis Rackin from the book version of “Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the Renaissance Stage” in Elaine Showalter, ed., Speaking Gender (New York: Routledge, 1989), p. 113.  This idea of extremes within a perceptual classification is closely studied in my Chapter One.

[4]Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, 2nd edn (London: Routledge, 1961 [1924]), p. 534, after Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651.

[5]John Hale, The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance (London: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 566.

[6]Hale, p. 569-75.  If this long delay in publication was the wish of the author, the delay itself might be seen as great wisdom. 

[7]Hale, p. 571.  Even being the publisher of such a work must have been dangerous.

[8]Hale, p. 574.

[9]Hale, pp. 571-572.

[10]François Laroque, Shakespeare: Court, Crowd and Playhouse (London: Thames and Hudson, 1993 [Paris, Gallimard, 1991]), pp. 100-101.

[11]Hale, p. 565.

[12]Also known in other sources as Andreas Libavius.  A later German chemist was Johann Joachim Becher (1635-1682).  He conducted serious scientific experiments that resulted in Subterranean Physics in 1699, a work which caused him to enjoy a widening reputation.  Particularly, he wrote that a constituent part of earth was combustible: that the previously-thought base-constituent, earth itself, was composed of three elements.  These were vitrifiable, mercurial and combustible.  At one point he undertook to transform Danube sand into gold and was forced to flee to Holland, then England, where he died.

[13]Frank Kermode in a foreword to Lindy Abraham’s, Marvell and Alchemy (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1990), p. ix.

[14]My citations are taken from F.H. Mares, ed., the First Folio of Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist,  (London: Methuen, 1971)

[15]Kermode, p. ix.

[16]Charles the First had often stated his belief in the divine right of kings and the fact that this caused so much anger points to an egalitarian political awareness that had moved a long way from the medieval.

[17]Lindy Abraham, Marvell and Alchemy (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1990), p. 96.

[18]Abraham, p. 96.

[19]Abraham, p. 98, quotes Maren-Sofie Røstwig, “Andrew Marvell, The Garden: A Hermetic Poem”, English Studies 40, 1959, pp. 65-76.

[20]I translate ille as “that” in this context.  Thus, beatus ille becomes “the happy, blessed that”: a graceful, yet humorous way of addressing something indefinable.

[21]Beatus vir being a happy, blessed man.  Maren-Sofie Røstwig, The Happy Man: Studies in the Metamorphoses of the Classical Ideal, 1600-1700 (Basil Blackwell, 1954 [Oslo: Akademisk Forlag]), pp. 7, 9, 256-266.

[22]Røstwig, p. 438.

[23]Abraham, p. 92.  Hobbes translated several of Francis Bacon’s works into Latin and took dictation from him.  He also met Galileo, Descartes and Harvey on his travels.

[24]Abraham, p. 92, after Martin Ruland the Elder’s Lexicon of Alchemy, mentioned in n. 13, p. 98, and John Dee, The Hieroglyphic Monad (1564, trans. J.W. Hamilton-Jones and Samuel Weiser, New York, 1977), p. 17; Thomas Tymme, A Light in Darkness which illumineth for all the ‘Monas Hieroglyphica’ of the famous and profound Dr John Dee (Oxford: The New Bodleian Library, 1963), p. 29.  Also, Paracelsus, His Aurora, p. 51, and the Hermetica, Libellus I, p. 123.

[25]Rivers Scott, ed., No man is an island: A Selection from the Prose of John Donne (London: The Folio Society, 1997), p. 67.  The latter sentiment appears much later in J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion as “Der Geist is willig, aber das fleisch ist schwacht”.  The idea of the spirit as being starkly separate from the body is commonly expressed in this very quotation, today, despite modern science having long ago revealed that nothing that happens in the mind is truly separate from the body.  See also The King James Bible, Matthew 26:41 for the source of this expression of a concept of duality between thought and body.  Descarte’s “cogito ergo sum” was most certainly not the first expression if this dualism.

[26]John Donne’s last sermon adds a confirmation in perception to the above duotypic, corporeal state of Christian humankind.  On the 25th of February, 1630, Donne delivered his last sermon.  In the last moments, he utters: “God breathed a soul into the first Adam, so this second Adam breathed his soul into God, into the hands of God.”  See John Donne, “Death’s Duel” in Rivers Scott, ed., p. 198.  This may seem like a moderately obscure statement until we see that Donne is strengthening and confirming his relationship with his God by giving Him back his soul at the very end.  The act of confirming this in public, and naming himself as Adam-after-the-fall, is the final levelling of himself in Christian humility.  This is a commonly-occurring litanic process, a mantra-like need to repeat the tenets of one’s faith.  The compulsion is shared in other religions, with variations of bodily subjugation from fully prostrate to standing before the spiritual might of a notional Creator.  Finally, it is the idea that God breathes a soul into humankind that is of importance in this context.  Christian iconography, particularly, is rich in visual representations of the fall.  An engraving in William Blake’s  The First Book of Urizen is a very good example.  Against a black field, a tree-like Adam falls head-first, tightly coiled in the serpent&s length.  The serpent, the agent of the fall, falls with Adam.  William Blake, “The fall: As the stars are apart from the earth” in Désirée Hirst, Hidden Riches: Traditional Symbolism from the Renaissance to Blake (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1964 [F.T. Palgrave copy, British Museum]), facing p. 193.

[27]There is a frequent return to the fall in much of Renaissance poetry.  This, where specifically the Pauline view of the flesh is concerned.  Pointedly, in Spenser’s Hymns, “flesh’s frail attire” is put away, but only when the debt of sin is paid.  At that point, man might “restore unto that happy state”—the beatus vir idea—which had existed before the fall.  Man’s position as varying between beast and angel in the cosmos was also very strong in the Elizabethan imagery.  Methods of conveying these ideas varied.  Spenser’s argument, in E.M.W. Tillyard’s words, was “abstract and logical”, while Shakespeare’s view is “so concrete, so particularized into objects of creation that”, for the beasts especially, “we are apt to forget that the abstraction” was there at all.  Please see Tillyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972 [Chatto & Windus, 1943]). pp. 26-27, 83-84.

[28]Walter Scott, ed., Hermetica (London: Dawson’s of Pall Mall, 1968 [Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1924]), pp. 117, 123.  The intensely analytical definition of  “logos exists in the Greek Lexicon as: I. the word by which the inward thought is expressed: also, II. the inward thought or reason itself”.  It appears that for the Greeks, it was not enough to think of the concept, “word”, as a simple utterance, meaning just an utterance

[29]Libellus I, p. 119.

[30]Libellus I, p. 121.

[31]Libellus I, pp. 123-125.

[32]Libellus I, p. 125.

[33]James Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 85.

[34]Saslow, pp. 21-22.  See also Saslow’s, “Homosexuality in the Renaissance: Behaviour, Identity, and Artistic Expression” in Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus and George Chauncey eds., Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1991 [New American Library, 1989]), pp. 99, 101.  “Michelangelo’s Neoplatonic passion for several young men was widely known through his poems and drawings; although he insisted on his pious celibacy”.  From Saslow’s book, above, and this later paper, it is possible to construct a picture of a cultural sphere in which even the most perceptive artist might sometimes feel elemental tensions between concepts of the divine androgyne and the ganymede, the ingle or the catamite.  Saslow strongly argues that Michelangelo, among many others, was “deeply torn between chaste Christian ideals and the temptations of the flesh”.  This, in an era during which “Ganymede alone” as both an idea and a figure in myth “appears in several hundred artworks”.

[35]Saslow, p. 92.

[36]Saslow, p. 92.

[37]Saslow, p. 90.

[38]Saslow, p. 92, after Elias Ashmole, ed., Theatrum chemicum britannicum (New York and London, 1967 ªLondon, 1652º).

[39]Saslow, p. 125.  How utterly dull would Shakespeare’s representations have been had he not drawn his characters as being possessed of a physical, bodily reality; without also creating a metaphysical, spiritual plane of existence to elevate them into other spheres of existence and interest?  Reflexively, this happened in any case?

[40]F.H. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964), p. xi.  The historical fact that Queen Elizabeth’s Paris ambassador warned her chief spy of Bruno’s intention to cross the channel in 1583.  This message, from Henry Cobham to Francis Walsingham is couched in words that focused on the “Hermetic magician” whose religion might well be suspect.  It is in Yates’s tracing of Bruno’s crossing into England that the maximum possible confusion is unwittingly stated.  In a single page that describes the end of his sojourn in France and the beginning of his visit to England, words such as “magician”, “philosopher”, “religion” describe the metaphysical of his known characteristics and his aspirations.  The “mission” describes the physical reason for the crossing.  International and inter-religious machinations were probably, though not certainly, present as an inspiration for what must surely have been no slight risk to Bruno himself in those dangerous times.  What is clear from what Yates has already told us, up to this point, is that Bruno was already in trouble for his adaptation of Copernican theory.  Now, the man is being sent “…on some mission, albeit sub rosa”, leaving doubt as to his journey’s real purpose along the ephemeral trail.

[41]E.M.W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972 [Chatto & Windus, 1943]), p. 30.

[42]Tillyard, p. 30, after Sir Philip Sidney, An Aplogie for Poetrie (1595).

[43]Kelso, p. 153, after Silver, pp. 9, 32-3< 51-56. Viewed with deep suspicion and scorn by many older Englishmen, the “jugling gambalds, Apish devises ... squint-eyed tricks” of Saviolo, and others, did gain a place among the younger gentry.  This despite the fact that the slender weaponry, so much lighter and more agile than the heavier sword and buckler of knightly combat, were called “bird spit”.  and was deemed “utterly useless in war, where men observed no nice rules of when and where to strike, but killed as they saw the chance”.  Ruth Kelso is clear that the Italian masters gained ascendancy over the old might and main method that was so practical in battle.  The most important element of this is that in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, the rapier took over from the sword not because of its worth as a weapon, but because it constituted a new and very stylish re-birth of the already ancient ideals of chivalry.  The rules of engagement with this gentleman’s weapon were elaborate and graceful.

[44]Kelso, p. 154, after Sir Philip Sidney, Apologie for Poesie (1599).  A weapon that was of no use in war still became extremely important as one aspect that defined the lives and thoughts of those who learned the skill and obeyed the rules of honourable conduct that went with it.  Music and poetry, hawking, tilting, academic pursuits, and duelling—the starkly-new with the very ancient—were all part of Renaissance man’s existence, and the Italian influence was of essential importance in all of this.  Sir Philip Sidney “learned horsemanship from Pugliano in Italy” and was unstinting in his praise of the noble beast, “the great horse ... of huge size in order to carry a rider in complete armour”.  Used in war and tournament: arts that were then almost extinct in practice, yet for a while ran in parallel; the lists beside the piste.   That Sidney included his unstinting praise of the “beast of most beutie, faithfulness, courage” in his Apologie for Poesie of 1599, is revealing of the status that the skill held for him.  The fact that he playfully and self-deprecatingly admits that a clever “Logician” might have “perswaded mee to have wished my selfe a horse”, the overall picture requires that the very old combined with the much newer in the creation of an Elizabethan rebirth in chivalry.

[45]Hale, pp. 7-8.

[46]Bernard Lewis, The Muslim Discovery of Europe (London: Phœnix, 1994 [London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1982]), p. 110.

[47]Dympna Callaghan, “ ‘And all is semblative a woman’s part’: Body Politics and Twelfth Night” in R.S. White, ed. Twelfth Night (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996a).

[48]Dympna Callaghan’s “The Castrators Song” in Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 26, 1996b.

[49]John Marston, Antonio and Mellida, Reavley Gair, ed. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991 [1599]), 2.63-85.

[50]Callaghan, 1996, p. 322.

[51]Callaghan, 1996, p. 323.  Laura Levine’s Men in Women’s Clothing: Anti-theatricality and Effeminization, 1579-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) is accessed, here.

[52]Callaghan, 1996, pp. 323, 347, n. 7, also quoting Levine,

[53]Callaghan, 1996, p. 323.

[54]Roland Barthes, “The death of the author” in David Lodge, ed. Modern Criticism and Theory (London: Longman, 1989), p. 167.

[55]John Keats, Ode to Melancholy, May, 1819.

[56]Callaghan, 1996, pp. 323, 347, n. 3, after Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1993 [New York: Routledge, 1992]), p. 33. Garber speaks in support and amplification of the above, stating that in the Renaissance historical span, “Castration was thought less morally problematic than the presence of women”.  Neither the voices nor the physical presence of women, then, were actually required for the drama of either the stage or the church to work effectively.   In a demonstration of these sensibilities being present in Balzac’s France, the Roland Barthes focus is the case that proves the point.

[57]Callaghan, 1996, pp. 323, 347, n. 11.  In support of the above it must be pointed out that the continental practice of the castration of immature males as a method of producing a permanent effect on the voice may now be see as an ogre of threat over the immature males of the insular stage.  It had been a reality on the mainland of Europe since Roman times and was revived in the Roman Catholic Church from the early Renaissance because of St Paul’s edict against women taking part in the church liturgy.  From the time of, roughly, Palestrina, when church music became increasingly complex and required great skill in its soprano and alto parts, the castrato proved to be infinitely better and more capable of beautiful renderings of those parts than a grown man singing in falsetto-style.  Lesley Ferris offers the fact that: “The first recognized castrati performed in the Sistine Chapel in 1599”.  Further, “Castrati dominated opera in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries” and were “introduced to the English public in 1667 by the theatrical entrepeneur, Thomas Killigrew”.  See Lesley Ferris, ed., Crossing the Stage: Controversies on cross-dressing (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), pp.15-16.  Ferris quotes M.D. Melicow and M. Meyer, “Castratis singers and the lost ‘chords’ ” in Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, October 1983, pp. 744-764.

[58]Lesley Ferris, “The Female Self and Performance: The Case of the First Actress” in Karen Laughlin and Catherine Schuler, eds., Theatre and Feminist Aesthetics (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson, 1995), p. 252.

[59]See Gerald Eades Bentley, “A Good Name Lost: Ben Jonson’s Lament for S.P.” in The Times Literary Supplement (London: Times Newspapers, 30th May, 1942).  Bentley records that Henry Clifton had complained to the Court of the Star Chamber on the 16th December 1601 that his son Thomas had been seized “by Nathaniel Gyles, James Robinson and Henry Evans” and had been detained and forced to rehearse as “one of the boy actors of the company of the Queens Revels”.  Among other children seized appeared: “Salmon Pavy, apprentice to one Peerce”, this youngster being mentioned in my Chapter One.

[60]See also Callaghan, 1996, pp. 338, 350, n. 72, after Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearian Stage, 1547-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 54-55.

[61]Ann Rosalind Jones, “City Women and Their Audiences: Louise Labe; and Veronica Franco” in Margaret Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan and Nancy Vickers, eds., Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 300-301; n.7, p. 391.  This reveals Jones’s source as Josephine Roberts, “An Unpublished Literary Quarrel Concerning the Suppression of Mary Wroth’s Urania” in Notes and Queries 222, 1877, p. 533.

[62]Here, there are extremely interesting tensions between the idea of “hermaphrodite” and “effeminate”.   “Effeminate”, particularly, is both verb and adjective in Renaissance usage.  Alan Bray has astutely pointed out John Donne’s thoughts on this verb-usage from among his epigrams.  In Manliness, he fires this revealing shot:

                              Thou call’st me effeminate, for I love women’s joys:
                              I call not thee manly, though thou follow boys.

The inference is obvious that a love of women was seen to “effeminate” a man by association with their feminine world.  OED gives a late sixteenth century meaning as “Excessively amorous; addicted to womanizing”.  This meaning is now defunct, but it is confirmed in its effective context, here as a process of attraction and association.  Shakespeare’s several references to soldierly men who apologize for their bluff, too-direct approach with women stand as opposites who thus define this principle.  Theseus, in this play, and Henry V, in that play, both explain their lack of grace with women as a quality that has come upon on them by their past, habitual-as-necessity association with men alone.  See Bray’s Homosexuality in Renaissance England (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995 [1982]), pp. 134-135, n. 77.  Of great interest is the use of the word and the perception, “effeminate”, in Romeo and Juliet.  In the duel-scene, Romeo explains his own lack of readiness as being partly due to his being almost completely distracted by his passionate love for Juliet.  He is furious with himself for failing to prevent Tybalt from killing Mercutio:

                                                                   O sweet Juliet,
                              Thy beauty makes me thus effeminate,
                              And in my temper softens valour’s steel.

Interestingly, this is by far the closest usage to the modern sense of the word, effeminate, as meaning a softening of a man’s true nature that this research has uncovered.  Even so, it still does not imply that Romeo is effeminated in the sexual sense.  See Jill Levenson, ed., The Oxford Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 257, 395. 

[63]David Norbrook, “Introduction” in H.R. Woudhuysen, ed., The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse, 1509-1659 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1993), p. xxii.

[64]See Anthony Burgess, Shakespeare (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970), p. 34.

[65]Graham Holderness and Carol Banks, “Bravehearts: Images of Masculinity in Shakespeare’s History Plays”, Parergon 15, 1997, p. 138.

[66]Holderness and Banks, p. 138, after Thomas Platter, The Journal of Two Travellers in Elizabethan England in Peter Razell, ed., (London: Caliban Books, 1995), pp. 45-46.

[67]Holderness and Banks, pp. 140, 155-160.  The 1600 portrait (Plate 3) of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton in the National Portrait Gallery is striking similar in a “shaping style” to the image of Elizabeth herself (Plate 8) in the collection that these authors assemble.  Parody, bordering upon travesty, exists in Plates 2 to 5 of the earlier male portraits from just that period that they exhibit.

[68]Bruce Smith, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare’s England: A Cultural Poetics (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1991), p. 154.

[69]With Stephen Gosson and William Prynne.  Gosson’s The School of Abuse, of 1579 and his Playes Confuted in Five Actions, of 1582, are among the earliest anti-theatrical tracts, though the introduction to the 1841 edition of his first polemical work points out that John Northbrook’s Treatise Wherein Dicing, Dauncing, Vaine Playes or Enterluds &c., predated Gosson by two years.  Prynne’s Histriomastix of 1632 not only attacked the plays and the players but was seen as seditiously libellous of King Charles and Queen Henrietta-Maria, the latter crime resulting in his cruel imprisonment, fining, ear-cropping and branding.

[70]Smith, p. 154-155, after Phillip Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses in F.J. Furnivall, ed. (London: New Shakespeare Society, 1877-1879 [London: Richard Jones, 1583]), pp. 144-145.

[71]Stubbes, pp. 154-156.  See also Peter Thomson, Shakespeare’s Theatre, 2nd edn. (London and New York, Routledge, 1992 [1983]), pp. 105 & 184, n. 14.  Thomson acknowledges Alan Brissenden’s Shakespeare and the Dance as the source of this “splendid passage”.  Also, Arthur Kinney, Markets of Bawdrie: The Dramatic Criticism of Stephen Gosson (Salzburg: Institut für Englishe Sprache und Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1974) for many other contextual references to the anti-theatrical sentiment of the era.  Where the above examples of profligate exhibition may mainly be seen as representing heterosexual and homosexual activities, Shapiro is able to call upon at least two further examples of openly homosexual display.  The above, as whole, seems clearly to establish the broad span of public awareness in theatrical practices that could scarcely exist today.  Yet it may fairly be claimed beyond question that the openly erotic fun of then, composed and directed by authors, seen by thoughtful critics, and enjoyed by the viewing-public, was completely accepting of such things. See Shapiro, 1977, p. 39, in studying Ben Jonson, Cynthia’s Revels, Induction II, 165-166; also Henk Gras, All is Semblative a Woman’s Part (Utrecht: Rijksuniversitat, 1991), pp. 120-251, 529-530; and J. Cooke’s “A Common Player” in Elizabethan Stage 4, pp. 255-277; and finally John Rainoldes, Th’Overthrow of Stage-Playes (London, 1599).

[72]Stephen Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions (London: The Shakespeare Society, 1841 [1582]), p. 48.

[73]The Defence of Poetry (published by Ponsonby) is another title, and An Apologie for Poetrie (published by Olney) is yet another.

[74]See David Mann, The Elizabethan Player: Contemporary stage representation (London and New York> Routledge, 1991), p. 95.  Mann follows the reasoning of the above in the Deuteronomic sense and adds a shrewd blow from so-called Anglo-phile Eutheo’s A Second and third blast of retrait from play and theatres, of 1580.  In this work it was claimed that women were particularly susceptible to being corrupted into “light housewives” from seeing such cross-dressed displays. Straightforward fear-mongering exists in the threat of life-long effects already recorded among the city’s otherwise virtuous women.  Specifically these “filthy infections” were alleged to have “turned their minds from chaste cogitations”.

[75]Shapiro, 1977, p. 38, after William Prynne (London, 1633, the Garland photoprint, 1974), p. 208.  Several other works, cited by Shapiro, “contrast Gosson’s fear of effeminization and Prynne’s essential homophobia”, p. 246, n. 23.

[76]This is the general sense of Shapiro, p. 39, after Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors (London, 1612).

[77]Many of his plays have been lost, but among the best-known, The Four Prentices of London of 1600 fits best into this discourse.

[78]J.W. Binns, “Intoductory Notes” to Thomas Heywood’s An Apology for Actors (New York and London: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1972).

[79]William Tydeman, ed., Four Tudor Comedies: Jake Jugeler, Roister Doister, Gammer Gurton’s Nedle and Mother Bombie (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), pp. 17-18.

[80]Smith, 1991, pp. 149-150.  He cites Phyllis Rackin as deciding that William Shakespeare’s use of androgyny fits in somewhere between Lyly’s “romantic fantasy of androgyny and Jonson’s satiric vindication of the reality principle.  See also Tracey Sedinger’s book-review in Shakespeare Quarterly 49, 1998, pp. 95-97.  In this, Sedinger studies Michael Shapiro’s Gender in Play on the Shakespearian Stage: Boy Heroines & Female Pages (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994).  With Sedinger, I caution against “generalizing conclusions” about the culture of the boy actor “as a whole”, as well as “the homogenization of audience reaction” to his presence upon the stage.  Despite her cautionary-note, for Sedinger “the boy actor” has proved to be “a fascinating conundrum” and an “endless source of speculation”.  Finally, see Phyllis Rackin, in the journal version of “Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage” in PMLA 102, 1987, pp. 29-41.

[81]Frances Teague,  The Curious History of Bartholomew Fair (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1985), pp. 66 and 155, n. 16.  This, after John Marston, “To My Equal Reader” in The Fawn (Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 1965), p. 5.

[82]Teague, p. 65.

[83]Bacon, Sir Francis, A History of the Reign of King Henry VII in James Spedding, ed., The Works of Francis Bacon (London: Longman, 1890 [1622]).  Henry lived between 1457 and 1509.

Continue to Chapter 3