WE ALL KNOW that there were no early modern heterosexuals, homosexuals, lesbians, gays, or bisexuals. There were also no early modern queers.(n1) Now that you know I know that, let me explain why I want to consider the position occupied by adult virgin women as a queer space within the early modern Protestant sex/ gender system. I use the term "queer" to define not only varieties of nonheterosexual activity, but also to define nonreproductive heterosexual activity and nonsexual erotic activity. I agree with Alexander Doty's contention that "queerness should challenge and confuse our understanding and uses of sexual and gender categories."(n2) I have chosen to use the term "queer" to define or categorize the position of the adult woman virgin primarily because of the inclusivity of the term. While there has developed a political agenda around the use of the term "queer," I want to detach my usage of it from this contested space and focus on the way in which the notion of "queer" or "queerness" allows a space for examining issues of sexuality that are not restricted to the binary axis of homo-versus heterosexuality.(n3) This more inclusive use of "queer" perhaps began with the 1991 "Queer Theory" issue of differences. While in her introduction to the volume Teresa de Lauretis states that "the work of the conference [from which the issue's articles originated] was intended to articulate the terms in which lesbian and gay sexualities may be understood and imaged as forms of resistance to cultural homogenization, counteracting dominant discourses with other constructions of the subject in culture," she also indicates that "[i]n a sense, the term `Queer Theory' was arrived at in the effort to avoid all of these fine distinctions in our discursive protocols, not to adhere to any of the given terms, not to assume their ideological liabilities, but instead to both transgress and transcend them--or at the very least problematize them."(n4) While the volume seems to be grounded in the notion of lesbian and gay sexualities as the only forms of resistance to the heteronormal, de Lauretis does claim that queerness can "act as an agency of social change" and "construct another discursive horizon."(n5) Her intrinsic equation of queer with lesbian and gay is shared by Sue-Ellen Case. While stating that "queer theory ... is not gender specific," Case simply means that "queer foregrounds same-sex desire without designating which sex is desiring."(n6) From here she goes on to argue that queer theory challenges "the Platonic parameters of being--the borders of life and death," while "queer desire is constituted as a transgression of these boundaries."(n7) This move allows her to set "queer" in opposition to the "rather polite categories of gay and lesbian" and view it as that which "revels in the discourse of the loathsome, the outcast, the idiomatically-proscribed position of same-sex desire.... The queer is the taboo-breaker, the monstrous, the uncanny."(n8) Although Case's move opens up homosexual desire to include the realm of the taboo and the monstrous--not simply to reflect heteronormativity's denigration of all homosexual desire as taboo or monstrous--her theory still seems lodged within the binary opposition of hetero/homo.(n9) Even the new forms of being, or "beings," discussed in her article are lesbian vampires, creatures that result from the inversion of two binaries, the hetero/homo and the dead/undead.
While de Lauretis's and Case's use of the term queer is certainly productive for exploring issues of lesbian and gay desire, I want to focus more on the kind of move made by Eve Sedgwick in her definition of queer:
That's one of the things that "queer" can refer to: the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone's gender, of anyone's sexuality aren't made (or can't be made) to signify monolithically. The experimental linguistic, epistemological, representational, political adventures attaching to the very many of us who may at times be moved to describe ourselves as (among many other possibilities) pushy femmes, radical faeries, fantasists, drags, clones, leather-folk, ladies in tuxedos, feminist women or feminist men, masturbators, bull-daggers, divas, Snap! queens, butch bottoms, storytellers, transsexuals, aunties, wanna-bes, lesbian-identified men or lesbians who sleep with men, or ... [ellipses in original] people able to relish, learn from, or identify with such.(n10)
In the list I have just quoted, as well Sedgwick's list, (cited in note 10), she presents a (possibly) random, certainly limited catalog of various sexual identities and positions. Some clearly concern only women, others clearly concern only men. Similarly, some are positions occupiable only by homosexuals, others are equally occupiable only by heterosexuals. But other positions--leather-folk, masturbators, wanna-bes, for example--can be occupied by women, men, transgendered people, homo-, hetero-, bi-, or transsexuals, and probably anyone else I have left out. It is the inclusiveness of Sedgwick's definition--one shared by Doty--that appeals to me personally, but especially in terms of this particular project. The problem with generating such a huge list of queer behaviors/positions is that one inevitably leaves out some type of person or category. Interestingly, Sedgwick does not mention virginity, celibacy, or chastity as queer sexual practices.(n11) This is not surprising. Especially in the twentieth century we are more apt to regard the refusal to engage in sexual activity with another person as a choice that removes the celibate from all categories of sexuality rather than as a specific choice of manifestation of sexuality.(n12) "Chastity and virginity are moral categories denoting a relation between the will and the flesh," states Arnold Davidson, "they are not categories of sexuality."(n13) But I want to use the notion of queer as a category that disrupts the regime of heterosexuality to understand just how the concept of the perpetually virgin woman acted as a threat to the sexual economy of early modern England. I want to do this by suggesting that virginity represented a queer space within the otherwise very restrictive and binary early modern sex/ gender system.
Focusing exclusively on the adult woman virgin's consistent refusal to be integrated into the early modern sexual economy allows me to consider her in terms of Monique Wittig's "lesbian" and Marilyn Frye's "Virgin." In "The Straight Mind" (1980), Wittig claims that "lesbians are not women" and that, if the foundation of society is heterosexuality, women cannot exist other than in "the position of the dominated."(n14) Wittig's subjects of inquiry are lesbians specifically because they resist the position of submission women are guaranteed within patriarchal straight society.(n15) Marilyn Frye (1990) similarly sees women as inevitably occupying the position of the heterosexually dominated in patriarchal society, though she uses "Virgin" to define the female subject who is "sexually and hence socially her own person."(n16) While using different terms to separate their subjects of inquiry from women, both theorists acknowledge the fact that patriarchal society is structured in a way that almost completely destroys female autonomy and uses women either as direct sexual slaves or as "objects" through which male homosocial bonds are secured.(n17) The term "woman" is thus marked through its use as the descriptor of the nonautonomous, cipher, chattel, object, or wife whose presence is necessary to allow the continuance of male privilege/patriarchal society. As Wittig says, "'woman' has meaning only in heterosexual systems of thought and heterosexual economic systems."(n18) Thus, female humans who resist such a positioning need to be defined in ways that acknowledge that resistance. Wittig and Frye construct "lesbians" or "Virgins" as subjects who consistently resist their culture's positioning of them as "dominated" and try to construct their lives in opposition to patriarchal social systems. Such an analysis not only tries to reclaim certain female subjects from a subordinate position, but also suggests that these same female subjects are not destined for the "acceptable" position within the patriarchal sexual economy as the property of men.
While both Wittig and Frye choose different terms to describe their subjects, the terms they choose are not necessarily as rigidly defined as the words themselves would suggest. For Wittig, "lesbian" is neither necessarily nor exclusively to be understood in its usual twentieth-century context as a woman whose primary or exclusive sexual/emotional activities occur only with other women. Similarly, for Frye, the use of "Virgin" indicates that the women she is writing of do not necessarily possess intact hymens. Both Frye and Wittig see their subjects as challenging the patriarchal construction of "woman" as subservient to men. While Frye's term "Virgin" appears to be closer to my own notion of "queer virgin" since it linguistically includes the possibility that some of its subjects are intact virgins, Wittig's "lesbian" helps to focus on the resistant nature, the real threat to the sex/gender system that I am claiming for my queer virgins. But the two words--lesbian and Virgin--in and of themselves in twentieth-century parlance do represent sexual positions that do not include men. Thus, whether virgins or lesbians are not sexually active at all or sexually active only with women, neither is sexually active with a man.(n19) Since normative heterosexual activity is absent from both positions, they can be defined as "queer."
The kind of queerness I am considering reflects a multitude of sexual, gender, and/or erotic positioning. What I want to do in this essay is recover (specifically early modern) non-normative gender positions for women in order to disrupt the regime of heterosexuality. I intend to do this by opening up the restrictive male/female binary of the early modern Protestant sex/gender system to the possibility of multiple sexual/erotic combinations. Consequently, my essay will involve a necessary negotiation with several historical periods. The theoretical grounding of my argument in twentieth-century queer theory provides the base for contesting previous analyses of the sex/gender system of early modern England. Yet in order to make my points regarding the rigidity of the early modern sex/gender system, I need also to recollect that the sex/gender system of medieval England and Europe was not as restrictive as it would become under Protestantism. I want to recall the possibilities of a more fluid system that existed within Catholic Europe, but was closed down as a result of theological decisions that were essential to the Reformation. The Roman Catholic sex/ gender system was based upon the writings of early Christian theologians such as Jerome (ca. 340-420), Ambrose (ca. 340-97), and Augustine (354-97) who consistently argued that virginity for both men and women was superior to marriage. Augustine's beliefs that consecrated virgins were "a greater blessing" than the married and that the desire for children "must not be thought capable of making up for the loss of virginity" became important components both of Christian monasticism and the Roman Catholic discourse of sexuality.(n20) As a result, within Catholic Europe, gender was organized not only around the traditional man/woman binary, but around the theological virgin/not-virgin one as well. Such an organization makes gender more difficult to analyze, but also allows more options for exploring gender positions. The idea that women were considered as capable as men of maintaining their physical integrity allowed both genders a socially and culturally acceptable alternative to marriage. Like men, women could marry or they could become members of celibate religious orders. Marriage--or illegitimate sexual activity--did not prevent widows and widowers or unmarried persons of either gender from entering religious orders or taking annual, renewable vows of chastity. Communities of unmarried--but not necessarily never married--Beguines and married or single Third Order Franciscans also provide examples of quasi-religious/quasi-secular living and working arrangements that are not easy to define.(n21) I would argue, then, that the plurality of sexual/erotic arrangements within Catholic medieval Europe had the potential to destabilize the categories of sex and gender, especially when contrasted to the more limited, and therefore restrictive, sex/gender arrangements of early modern Protestant England.
Protestant early modern England organized gender in terms of bodily differences(n22) and an actively heterosexual gender paradigm. This organization derived specifically from both Martin Luther's and John Calvin's contention that virginity was not a more spiritual state than matrimony. Both theologians argued that marriage is the norm, and Luther even suggests that vowed virginity is unnatural: "who commanded you to vow and swear something which is contrary to God and his ordinance, namely, to swear that you are neither a man nor a woman, when it is certain that you are either a man or a woman, created by God."(n23) Luther's insistence on the biological facts of gender and on sexual desire as what defines the humanness of both men and women serves to reinforce the traditional man/woman binary at the expense of the theological virgin/not-virgin one. Consequently, the Protestant organization of society reduces not only people's sexual options, but also their gender options.
Such a theoretical positioning becomes evident in early modern Protestant marriage manuals and sermons, like John Wing's (1620): "wherunto we adhaere according to duty, and perswade our selves, that virginity is good, but marriage is better .... For our parts, we will not take away, or extenuate, any due praise that God giveth to virginity; only, it may not pearch above marriage."(n24) The only sexual continence that Protestants were willing to accept was that which occurred within marriage. Virginity became a transitory category for women, while the ideal wife was expected to remain chaste. As William Gouge (162 2) indicates, "matrimoniall chastitie, ... [is] that vertue whereby parties maried; observing the lawfull and honest use of mariage, keepe their bodies from being defiled with strange flesh: ... so as they that keepe the lawes of wedlocke are as chaste as they that containe."(n25) Since Protestant society conceived of marriage as the norm for both men and women, both were assumed to spend their adult lives as sexually active persons. The man/woman gender binary in early modern England, then, could also be rendered as husband/wife. Acceptable exceptions to this binary or paradigm were few, but the importance of marriage to the construction of the binary/paradigm assumes, of course, that the ultimate social destiny of all women was to become the sexual property of men. The premarital virgin woman was, thus, in a transitional stage--currently the property of one man (her father), she was "soon" to become the specifically sexual property of another man (her husband). What I am concerned with is the problem inherent within this gender arrangement for understanding those women who choose to resist incorporation into the sex/gender system as sexually active women by retaining their virginity beyond its "transitional phase" well into adulthood.
I am proposing to place these resistant virgins in the queer middle--or at the queer end--of the Protestant/patriarchal sex/gender system in an "officially" unnamed--and often untheorized--seemingly "empty" position that is fundamentally dissident. Valerie Traub has written of (mostly European) women who were tried and often executed for transgressing gender boundaries and acting like men--either by cross-dressing, employing dildos, or acting as tribades either with or without abnormally large clitorises. Traub contrasts these transgressive women, and the erotic practices that made them unavailable for reproduction, with "femmes," who "would be assumed available to give birth." Women's sexual relationships with other women "only become oppositional," Traub maintains, "when perceived as a threat to the reproductive designs of heterosexual marriage .... [And] the 'femme' women ... challenged neither gender roles nor reproductive imperatives."(n26) While I agree with Traub that cross-dressed women and tribades were remarkably transgressive, I disagree with her contention that women who engage in nonreproductive femme-femme sexual activity are to be read exclusively as nonthreatening. The queer virgins I am considering are those who confound the sex/gender system not by trying to be men, but by not being "women." In order to clarify just what I mean by a queer virgin, I would like briefly to compare two virgin characters--Helena of All's Well That Ends Well and Marina of Pericles--who seem to be "transitional virgins" who fit easily into the Protestant early modern sex/gender system with some queer virgin characters--Isabella of Measure for Measure and Lady Happy (and her companions) of The Convent of Pleasure who cannot fit into that system. That Helena and Marina are not as normative as they might initially seem to be points out the amazing potential for queerness of all virgin women characters.
The "traditional" young virgin character is easy to understand. She spends virtually all of her play searching for a husband and ends definitely married or definitely about to be. Yet she also knows that her inevitable marriage is dependent upon the preservation of her virginity until her quasi-ritual defloration by her husband on her wedding night. The necessity of a young woman's maintaining--and yet, at the proper time, readily losing--her virginity is at the basis of what might seem to be a truly bizarre "debate" between Helena and Parolles at the beginning of the play. The young woman asks the professional man-at-arms how best she might preserve her virginity, how best to "barracado" it against the assaults of men (1.1.114-15).(n27) Parolles asks why Helena would want to preserve anything so unnatural, something that "breeds mites, much like a cheese, [and] consumes itself to the very paring" (1.1.143-44). He likens virginity to suicide and suggests that it is more important to lose virginity than to retain it, for "Loss of virginity is rational increase, and there was never virgin got till virginity was first lost .... Virginity by being once lost may be ten times found; by being ever kept it is ever lost" (1.1.129-31, 132-33).
While our tendency may be to write off Parolles' "outrageous" position--when, indeed, do we unqualifiedly believe anything this character says?--I do not think we are meant to do so in this case. Parolles is not speaking through his cap or simply manufacturing techniques for getting Helena into bed. At least not entirely. The character is, in fact, reiterating the standard Protestant attitude that a woman should remain virgin only until marriage, a position articulated by such tract and marriage-manual authors as Bullinger (1541), Niccholes (1615), Whately (1617), Wing (1620), Gouge (1622), Dod and Clever (1630), Brathwait (1641), Rogers (1642), and Taylor (1650).(n28) Parolles' speech further reminds Helena of the economic necessity of women for the reproduction of capital and the waste that virginity represents in this economic model.
In abiding by this normative notion of virginity, Helena represents both Protestant society's ideal virgin, who sacrifices her virginity only to her husband, as well as its ideal wife, who not only follows her husband's instructions to the letter, but remains his chaste "companion" whether or not he is at her side. But All's Well is a problematic play because it challenges these "normative" virgin behaviors even as it reifies them. Under ordinary circumstances, few would expect a dowryless, middle-class physician's daughter to be able to obtain any sort of a husband, much less such a "prize" as the wealthy and aristocratic Bertram. Helena does so in a way that can only be considered "magical." She stakes her "maiden's name" (2.1.174), as well as her life, upon her father's remedy for the king's fistula. That this penniless and untrained women succeeds where all other medical practitioners have failed points out the "miraculousness" of her cure, which is intrinsically bound to her own virginity. The quasi-magical power associated with virginity can be seen in many early modern plays. In Pericles, for example, Marina is able not only to escape death and retain her virginity in a brothel but also to convince many of Mitylene's gallants that a chaste life is preferable to a profligate one. And, like Helena, she is magically able to effect a medicinal cure.
While All's Well presents us with a seemingly normative narrative of virginity in Helena's quest for Bertram, there is still something distinctly queer about Helena's character. She does not disintegrate after being repudiated by Bertram. She sets out to win him a second time and employs Diana to help her do so. It is very important to recognize that Helena is economically in control of her life during the second part of her play. Not only does she have her profession as healer to support her, but she has the financial wherewithal to buy Diana's help with bags of gold and the promise of a dowry. And the consummation of Helena's marriage does not remove a virginal presence, for Diana takes over as the play's queer virgin. Although the king tries to recuperate her into the sexual economy with the promise of marriage--"If thou be'st yet a fresh uncropped flower, / Choose thou thy husband, and I'll pay thy dower" (5.3.327-28)--1ike Isabella, Diana remains silent, never "verbally" agreeing to the proposal nor choosing a husband. Her behavior at the end is absolutely in line with her act 4 statement, "Marry that will, I live and die a maid" (4.2.74). The money she receives from Helena may be enough to make her financially able to remain queer and continue to resist marriage.
As you can see, my interest is in examining what happens to the gender arrangements of the early modern drama when the traditional narrative of virginity is violated, when women characters choose to be queer and use their virginity in ways that resist the Protestant early modern dependency narrative I have outlined above. Resistance to this narrative can take three forms. Militant resistance occurs primarily because women characters find ways to maintain (or regain) control of their physical bodies in such a way as to render them (and their bodies) incapable of traffic within the patriarchal sex/gender system. This resistance is usually accomplished by a woman's refusal to surrender her virginity to a man, by her determination to retain her virginity long beyond the time when socially mandated marriage would occur. Erotic resistance occurs when the virgin, while not necessarily sacrificing her strictly biological virginity, engages in sexual activity that is outside the bonds not only of Protestant marriage, but of the patriarchal sexual economy itself. Economic resistance occurs when the virgin discovers or creates a means of economic independence that insures she does not have to enter the sexual economy to survive. Virgins who devise a life that allows them to engage in any one or a combination of these three kinds of resistance are queer.
Queer virginal resistance is so threatening to the Protestant/ patriarchal social order that it must be recuperated. We are not surprised when characters such as Beatrice or Hermia--who either refuse marriage outright or demand to choose the husband--are incorporated into the sexual economy at the play's end. Nor are we surprised when characters like Portia and Rosalind--who for a time break out of the strictures of patriarchal gender roles--are redirected into these roles, albeit after some modification of them. What really does surprise us are those characters who are never recuperated into the sexual economy: characters like Isabella, who never "verbally" agrees to marry the Duke, or the inhabitants of The Convent of Pleasure, who seem perpetually to refuse marriage. The threat to patriarchal society presented by all of the women characters I have named above is enormous, yet their resistance to marriage would not be threatening at all were they not clearly marked as virgins, subjects who can potentially exercise "magical" powers. And their being so marked serves to reinforce the fact that these virgins totally destabilize the Protestant early modern sex/ gender system because they are queer.
As a novice nun in a cloistered order who refuses marriage, Isabella not only signals an incursion of Roman Catholic discourse into the play but represents a large group of women whose "profession"--and means of economic support--entails commitment to perpetual virginity. Isabella's consecrated virginity can remind audience members that English society once allowed women an option to their subservient position in marriage.(n29) The novice's cloistered and virginal existence is sharply juxtaposed to the various kinds of sexual "slavery"--actual (prostitution) and symbolic (marriage)--that women are subjected to in patriarchal society. As a result, Isabella becomes a site of reader/viewer dissatisfaction because of her refusal to engage in any way with the sexual economy, whether by trading a few illicit hours with Angelo for her brother's life or accepting the licit proposals of the Duke.(n30) But truly to understand the nature and extent of Isabella's queerness, it is necessary to understand the dissident nature of her relationship to these two most powerful men in the play. Angelo seems to be unsure of how to respond to Isabella after their first meeting. Even though she bears specific "marks" of her virginity--her position as a novice and her habit--marks even the lecherous Lucio can "read," the deputy remains unclear about whether or not she is chaste:
From thee, even from thy virtue!
Angelo's inability to "read" Isabella correctly derives not from her failure to present herself as a virgin but from his own failure to accept her social positioning and self-definition. His illicit sexual desire for the novice prompts him to redefine her as woman in accordance with his desire; his social/political power to mandate this redefinition reinforces the parameters of the sexual economy and any woman's relationship to it. The Duke similarly exercises power over Isabella through his ability to redefine her. Having controlled her as a deus ex machina friar, he contemplates the similar, though different, control he will exercise once he has defined her as his wife.(n31) As each man tries to exercise his patriarchal power over Isabella, this control necessarily involves recategorizing the adult virgin as either "whore" or "wife," unchaste or chaste woman. Neither Angelo nor the Duke is content for Isabella to remain virgin.
But how does Isabella, a woman whose profession demands perpetual virginity, respond to being incorporated into the Protestant early modern discourse of chastity? When offered Angelo's ultimatum, she responds:
were I under the terms of death,
Critics have always acknowledged the thrilling undertones of a "deviant" sort of pleasure within these lines--either Isabella's de' sire to couple with death or simply to engage in some form of Catholic flagellation.(n32) I would argue otherwise. While I acknowledge the sense of pleasure implicit in these lines, I see it as lying in Isabella's almost militant resistance to Angelo's attempts to redefine her. This resistance derives not simply from her refusal to acquiesce to his wishes, but from the realization that she herself is responsible--through the exercise of her own free choice--for the preservation of her virginity.(n33) The fact that we are generally unused to encountering women in the early modern drama making such important and unaided decisions can explain why we may be unprepared to see this choice as being both remarkable and very power-full for Isabella.(n34) The type and extent of the power that her choice grants her is revealed in the lines in which Angelo assumes that Isabella will comply with his proposition because all women are "frail" and she is a woman:
I do arrest your words. Be that you are,
The deputy denies Isabella's claims to a virtue greater than the majority of her gender by explaining that if she claims to be "more"--that is, "better than"--a woman, she is "none", that is, "not a woman." This line is the key to my reading of Isabella.
Probably intended as an insult, these lines--which echo Luther's contention that a virgin was "neither a man nor a woman"--really do serve to define what Isabella is, which is, in fact, not a woman.(n35) Isabella is a virgin, but one who has professed virginity, has accepted it as the defining characteristic of her life. As an "adult" virgin not destined for marriage, she represents that which is queer both within the society of Vienna and within the sexual economy of early modern England. In a society that has a place for a woman only as a powerless (sexual) servant of men--wife or whore--the virgin with her intact hymen and unpenetrated body is most definitely not a woman, for she challenges her society's most basic notion of "woman." Angelo recognizes this by presenting Isabella with the option of "acting" as a woman for his pleasure, or being defined as a "deviant"(n36) "not-woman." But his ultimatum backfires. Women, in Angelo's society, are represented as being powerless to choose to refuse the pleasures of highly placed, powerful men. Isabella, however, in accepting the name of one type of notwomen--queer virgin--has wrested both the power of choice and the power of defining, or categorizing, herself away from men. Only by being a queer virgin can she challenge the sexual economy by creating a category of autonomous female who has the power to resist both Angelo's illegal--and the Duke's legal--proposals of sexual servitude.
But if a society divides gender into man/woman, the acceptable social opposition to woman is man, not not-woman. If man/woman is the operative binary, not-woman exists outside the accepted terms and can be read as "deviant." Thus, even though Isabella's choice of a queer virgin life is validated by her society's institution of the virginal life of the professed nun--which, of course, was not necessarily the case in Protestant early modern England(n37)--her identification as not-woman can be read in secular terms as deviant. I want to expand this idea of the queer virgin as not-woman into a broader definition that includes various "women" who resist incorporation into the patriarchal sexual economy and/or who attempt to redefine themselves and their pleasures against that economy or against masculinist notions of pleasure/female subservience. Included in this definition are all queer women who choose to live as celibates, whether or not they are physically virgin: those "religious" celibates who see the source of their life/pleasure in "god," as well as those "secular" celibates whose pleasures reside somewhere other than in sexual activity. I also view as queer virgins those who do not simply resist the patriarchal sexual economy but who actively create an alternative sexual economy with other queer virgins through the exclusion of both men and women.
The character Isabella, while threatening and queer in terms of Protestant discourse, is clearly a virgin in the biological sense. But she is also a lesbian in Wittig's sense and a Virgin in Frye's sense. While I am not necessarily arguing that Isabella is a lesbian in the sense of being a female homosexual--though I would also not like to rule out that possibility--she is more easily regarded as one of Frye's Virgins because her queerness positions her in opposition to patriarchal society, as are the "unspeakable" females Frye describes.(n38) While the nun Isabella's vowed virginity marks her as queer, it also demonstrates that for some early modern women, there was an alternative to being in the position of the dominated. Queer virgins did have the potential to carve out and occupy a space of autonomy that resisted the man/woman binary. Because of their profession, nuns can easily be seen as resisting the position of the dominated both militantly and economically. Yet their vows of virginity problematize just how they might or can resist erotically. Being a nun implies that a virgin needs to choose a life of asceticism removed from sexual contact with men or women.
Or must she? Isabella is a difficult character to "read" since she is a Roman Catholic nun in a play written in a Protestant country for a Protestant audience. Thus she is the locus both of Protestant "fears" of Catholicism and Protestant animosity toward the religion of Mary Tudor, Mary Stuart, the pope, the Jesuits, and the Guise and toward the home of the Armada. Not surprisingly, the "oddness" of cloistered nuns particularly signaled them out for anti-Catholic scapegoating. Yet even for members of Catholic religious communities, the close ties between cloistered women suggested the potential for deviant or unnatural behavior. Most orders forbade what were often known as "particular friendships"--"exclusive intimacy with another sister," which could draw the participants "away from total dedication to God and community" and were seen as a "prelude to Lesbian relationship."(n39) If Catholics feared the homoerotic potential of women's communities, it is not surprising that Protestants would seize upon such possibilities to discredit Roman practices, as Andrew Marvell does when he has the experienced nun in "Upon Appelton House" promise Isabel Thwaites she could "each night [from] among us to your side / Appoint a fresh and virgin bride" (185-86).(n40) Indeed, "the Nun's smooth tongue has suckt her in" (200)rain more ways than one, Marvell implies. While I do not wish to argue that Isabella and Francisca--the only other nun we see--share a "particular friendship," I do want to suggest that the suspicion/belief that such "practices" occurred in Catholic convents could easily have colored an early modern response to Isabella.
But in Isabella's act 2, scene 4 response to Angelo, Measure For Measure, suggests even queerer sexuality than that implied by particular friendships: "Th'impression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies / And strip myself to death" (101-2) rather than yield. I have already talked about these lines in one way; I would now like to look at them in a very different way. Carolyn Brown argues that these lines refer to the Catholic practice of religious flagellation, which she defines as "erotic." Although I disagree with Brown's overall analysis of the play, her valid points about flagellation bear closer examination. While the use of the "discipline"(n41) usually occurred in private, Brown suggests that flagellation also took place in the public spaces of the convent, where superiors administered punishments for violation of church rules to naked members of the community. The erotic and orgiastic aspects of this discipline, Brown claims, led to its restriction: "The sects [of flagellants] became so prevalent and powerful and the performances so unmistakably promiscuous that Pope Clement VI issued a bull against them."(n42) While, again, I do not want to pursue the question of whether or not Isabella enjoys flagellation, or whether members of her house engage in sadomasochistic practices, I do want to suggest that the knowledge that flagellation did occur in Roman Catholic convents/monasteries could influence how Protestants perceived the inmates.(n43)
I have not raised the issues of (homoerotic) friendship and (erotic) flagellation simply to drop them as the figments of overactive Protestant imaginations. I think the fact of their existence--to whatever degree--does reinforce not only the potential, but the range of queer sexual practices open to virgins. Nuns spent years living cloistered with other nuns. What was more natural than that they should develop deep and caring friendships for each other that may (or may not) have been expressed erotically. Since superiors were more likely to work hard to guard against hetero- rather than homoeroticism--the results of it (pregnancy/childbirth) being easier to detect--it is not surprising that this type of sexuality would achieve more recognition.(n44) Flagellation could, of course, also provide homoerotic pleasure to both the giver and the receiver, whether engaged in as a couple or group.(n45) And I do not wish to ignore the possibilities of autoeroticism, whether resulting from fantasy or administered digitally or with the discipline. The virgin Isabella represents one sort of threat because she can resist male power and male sexuality, as represented by Angelo and the Duke, to live a queer life. But the possibility that she maintains an erotic life without male contact--and outside the patriarchal sexual economy--makes her doubly threatening by suggesting that queer virgins could live with sexual pleasure and without men.
Although Measure for Measure and The Convent of Pleasure were both produced within Protestant England and both depend upon the institution of the Roman Catholic convent for their analyses of gender, they cannot be said to exist precisely within the same historical moment. The early-seventeenth-century Measure for Measure (ca. 1603-4) resuscitates the "medieval" Catholic religious site as trace memory within the gender history of women, while the later Convent of Pleasure (ca. 1645-68) uses the site more playfully for the purposes of satire. By the mid-seventeenth century, the gender system of Protestant England had become more fixed. My purpose in examining Cavendish's play in light of Shakespeare's is to demonstrate that the potential for queerness among virgins still existed--though in a slightly different form--despite an increasing gender rigidity and the personal circumstances of the Duchess of Newcastle's own life.
Like Measure for Measure, The Convent of Pleasure is a text that imagines ways in which queer virgins can resist patriarchal society militantly, economically, and/or erotically. The queer community of this play is created as a playful, though perhaps also deliberate, alternative to a patriarchal society that is marked by the objectification and subjugation of women.(n46) The play-within-the-play (act 3) visualizes this society of rigid gender roles where women are either wives or whores. Here husbands physically abuse their wives or children (3.2), steal their wives' portions and jointures, and/or spend their money on whores (3.4). Women suffer not only these social effects of marriage, but "biological" ones as well. Pregnancy is a time of continuous illness (3.3) leading to such painful labor (3.7) and difficult delivery that the woman or her child may die (3.9). Successful delivery does not reduce a woman's care, for her child may ruin her own life through "illegitimate" pregnancy or be executed for a crime (3.8). Nor are unmarried women safe, for they may be raped into a life of whoredom if they refuse to enter it willingly (3.10). Given this hideous view of male-dominated society, it is not surprising that Lady Happy, the play's economically independent protagonist, wishes to create an alternative world where women can live with each other--but apart from men--and exercise their autonomy. While this choice to retire to a convent can be viewed as distinctly queer in a society that sees all women as ultimately "marriageable" (that is, destined for sexual servitude to men), Cavendish initially represents the impulse as "natural" in the sense of being extremely logical. Lady Happy demands for women what marriage, as shown in act 3, can never provide: personal autonomy, economic independence, and erotic pleasure. Since men are "the only troubles of Women ... [those who] cause their pains, but not their pleasures ... [and] make the Female sex their slaves" (1.2),(n47) the only thing women relinquish by encloistering themselves is the source of all their pain--men.
Lady Happy's intention "to live incloister'd and retired from the World... but not from pleasures" (1.2, p. 7) does raise the question of how and in what context sexuality/sexual activity is included among the "pleasures" this secular convent has to offer. Cavendish's text is mightily unclear on this matter, though Lady Happy provides the beginnings of a context for understanding queer virginal pleasure. The character claims that she is
resolv'd to live a single life, and vow Virginity; with these I mean to live incloister'd with all the delights and pleasures that are allowable and lawfull; My Cloister shall not be a Cloister of restraint, but a place for freedom, not to vex the Senses but to please them. (1.2, p. 7)
Within a patriarchal context, virginity means not only lack of penile vaginal penetration resulting in the perforation of the hymen, but implies an overall, often religiously determined, ascetic behavior. If men are forbidden the convent, Lady Happy's companions presumably remain virgin in the "biological" sense. But the restrictions inherent in the ascetic connotations of "virginity" do not easily coordinate with Lady Happy's claims that her cloister is a place of "freedom," not "restraint," where the "Senses" are to be teased with "pleasures that are allowable and lawfull." Obviously there are pleasures that women can indulge in without compromising their biological virginity, but few that would similarly not compromise their "ascetic" virginity. The convent's elaborate food, clothing, gardens, and furnishings (2.2, pp. 13-16) are both sensual and pleasurable. Though clearly nonsexual, they are also nonascetic. Cavendish's use of "pleasure" thus negotiates uneasily with patriarchal definitions of virginity. Yet "pleasure" does have a sexual connotation, and the word's use raises the question of whether the virgins in this convent are allowed to be sexual with each other and, if so, to what degree. We are again confronted with the question of how women who isolate themselves from the patriarchal sexual economy are to be categorized. Cavendish's juxtaposition of "pleasure" with a clearly nonascetic "virginity" suggests that her virgins are to be considered queer. Since they also resist being placed in "the position of the dominated," they must be defined not only in terms of their resistance to masculinist notions of pleasure, but to masculinist notions of female subservience and economic dependence. We can view their pleasure, then, as being created as a form of resistance to the sexual economy. While Cavendish may not be as clear as we might wish in her explication of just what pleasure between queer virgins encompasses, some interesting possibilities are raised within the context of Lady Happy's relationship with the Princess.
Upon entering the convent, the Princess agrees to exchange her crown and power for Lady Happy's friendship, "the greatest pleasure" (3.1, p. 22). In a pair of couplets--
Lady Happy. More innocent Lovers never can there be,
(3.1, p. 23)
--Cavendish begins her redirection of the male-female rhetoric of courtly love to the service of queer virginal desire and thus focuses attention on the conventual "particular friendship." The queer aspects of such a relationship are foregrounded in act 4, scene 1, where a very unhappy Lady Happy ponders the "unnatural" aspects of her affection for the Princess:
why may not I love a Woman with the same affection I could a Man? ... our Goddess Nature .... I fear will punish me, for loving [the Princess] more than I ought to. (4.1, p. 32)
The Princess, in contrast, argues first, that lovers cannot love too much especially if their love is "virtuous, innocent, and harmless," and second, that they should please themselves as "harmless Lovers use to do" (4.1, p. 32). I will quote the rest of the dialogue:
Lady Happy. How can harmless Lovers please themselves?
Princess. Why very well, as, to discourse, imbrace and kiss, so mingle souls together.
Lady Happy. But innocent Lovers do not use to kiss. Princess. Not any act more frequent amongst us Women-kind; nay, it were a sin in friendship, should not we kiss: then let us not prove our selves Reprobates.
[They imbrace and kiss, and hold each other in their Arms.]
(4.1, p. 33)
Obviously the attitudes of the lovers differ as to what lawful, allowable, and "natural" pleasures between virgins can be. Lady Happy, fixated on the unnaturalness of her affection--presumably not articulated physically--seems to consider any action "guilty." The Princess considers discourse, embracing, and kissing--all of which contribute to mingling of souls--legitimate pleasures.
But discourse, embracing, and kissing in such a way as to cause souls to mingle is open to various interpretations. One is that the "mingling" of souls implies platonic, nonerotic bonding.(n48) Cavendish presents such a spiritual connection between the Empress and the Duchess (her own persona) in The Blazing World (1668):
and truly their meeting did produce such an intimate friendship between them, that they became Platonick Lovers, although they were both Femal .... [T]he Empress's Soul embrac'd and kiss'd the Duchess's Soul with an Immaterial Kiss, and shed Immaterial Tears.(n49)
Marilyn Williamson suggests that Cavendish insisted on the "platonic friendship of souls" because souls "do not raise all kinds of sexual innuendos that bodies might."(n50) This is true, of course, and a platonic reading of the relationship between Lady Happy and the Princess would maintain the allowable, lawful, and "natural" aspect(s) of their affection.
Another possibility is raised through Cavendish's use of a blazon of the female body in her poem "A Bisk [Bisque] for Nature's Table" (1653):
A large great Eye, that's black and very quick;...
The body described is "active, lively, quick" with a "quick" eye. "Cherry Lips" are either active or warm, since the "Dew lies wet" upon them. This wetness calls attention to the tactile quality of the body, as does the "Silk... Softness" of the breasts and the smoothness of the hand. The body's visually erotic beauty is evident in the darkness of the eye, the redness of the lips, and the whiteness of the body, breasts, and hand. The author is not specific about the kinds of pleasures "A sharp and quick and ready pleasing Tongue" grants, though the line suggests the tongue of Marvell's experienced nun. The hand--a particular site of queer female erotic interest-has long fingers and its "Inside [is] moist and red," from what cause(s) the poet does not indicate. Even though Cavendish explored the non-erotic possibilities of a platonic affection between women in The Blazing World, this poem is evidence that she may also have considered the specifically erotic aspects of queer female attraction, a possibility also present in those lines from act 4, scene 1 I have been considering. The Princess could be using "discourse" (4.1, p. 33) as synonymous with "marital conversation," a euphemism for "sexual intercourse within marriage."(n52) The notion of erotic, passionate, or even lewd discourse then becomes possible. Kisses and embraces, which can be nonerotically platonic, can also be just as remarkably erotic. Within a context of queer virginal eroticism, the Princess's remark that it is a "sin" for women friends not to kiss (4.1, p. 33) distinctly suggests erotic communication between sexually intimate "particular friends." The fact that Cavendish's text raises so many possibilities of erotic and nonerotic content/practice totally destabilizes the field of virgin-virgin sexuality. We are never sure how far affection between queer virgins does (or can) go.
A further example of this destabilization occurs in terms of the Princess's dress. Shortly after her appearance in act 3, scene 1, she asks to be allowed to "accoustre" herself in "Masculine-Habit" to "act the part of [Lady Happy's] loving Servant" (3.1, p. 22). As precedent she indicates that some of the inhabitants of the Convent so dress themselves to "act Lovers-parts." If this indeed occurs--and the stage directions tell us it does for the Princess, at least(n53)--then what we would see onstage for virtually the entire play is not a number of virgins exploring natural or unnatural pleasures, but groups of lovers who look like traditional, "heterosexual" lovers, namely, men and women. What we see, though, are not men and women but virgins who look like men and women, prototypes of what would come to be called "butches" and "femmes." Cavendish seems to have presented the earliest literary example of (proto-)butch-femme role-playing. I want to use the term "(proto-) butch-femme"--which alludes to the twentieth-century practice of role-playing for erotic purposes(n54)--to distinguish this activity from the kind of cross-dressing (as disguise for safety or technique of audience titillation) that occurs in Twelfth Night or As You Like It. Viola does not cross-dress to obtain Olivia's love, nor does Rosalind do so to obtain Celia's (or Phebe's). Despite some gender confusion, Viola and Rosalind (almost) always seem focused on a male love-object. Like butches who dress as "men" to attract/court "women" (femmes), Cavendish's virgins wear "Masculine-Habit" to "act Lovers-parts"--take the (act)ive role within a queer virgin couple.
I have (perhaps perversely) refrained until now from mentioning the major "challenge" to my argument in favor of overt virgin-virgin eroticism in this play. That is, of course, the circumstance that the Princess is "really" a man, and the recuperative gesture of "heterosexuality" is the reincorporation of Lady Happy into the patriarchal sexual economy. While some might argue that this revelation serves to dequeer, or stabilize, the play, to channel it inexorably into the heterosexual mainstream, I would like to suggest that what it really does is destabilize the play even more. The easy answer to Lady Happy's emotional dilemma is that her affection is completely "natural," for the "virgin" she loves "with the same affection [she would] a Man" (4.1., p. 32) is, in fact, a man. But if this is the case, as apparently it is, why does Cavendish wait until act 5, scene 1 to reveal the Prince(ss)'s real gender? Or, to rephrase the question more provocatively, why does she insert the dialogue between Lady Happy and the Prince(ss) regarding the (un)naturalness of affection between virgins (4.1) if this kind of affection is to be ultimately repudiated? The "heterosexual" impulse of recuperation is clearly lessened by the Prince(ss)'s urgent argument in favor of the "sinlessness" of kisses and discourse between virgin friends. I suggest that uneasy dialogue is there because it concerned an issue Cavendish was interested in and which she considered in The Blazing World and a number of her poems.
Even though this text strives to present instances of queer virginal eroticism, the staging of (proto-)butch-femme couples would counteract that impulse and show us "men" and "women" being erotic with each other. But Cavendish's text is remarkably unstable, and this seeming solidification of gender roles into the traditional is yet again destabilized by the circumstance that she most likely wrote her play with women actors in mind.(n55) In thus reversing the material practices of the Elizabethan/Jacobean theater, Cavendish allows for the staging of an erotic potential between women actors (whether or not they are cross-dressed)(n56) that reinforces the queer erotic impulses between the characters. The casting of the Prince(ss) would further complicate matters. The Convent of Pleasure presents a male actor playing a Prince who, before the play begins, is disguised asa woman (Princess), who then dresses as a man and is later revealed to be one. In its original staging, all of Twelfth Night's characters were played by men. Olivia would presumably not look more (or less) "feminine" than Viola. In Cavendish's play, however, presumably all the "real women's" parts--including the (proto-)butches--are played by women. Would Lady Happy, then, look more or less "feminine" than the Prince(ss) in her woman's clothes? Would the (proto-)butch virgins look more or less "masculine" than the Prince(ss) in his man's attire? In other words, would the overwhelming number of woman actors effectually render the Prince(ss) queer, somehow genderly "unreadable" in a way that Viola and Rosalind never were/are? Although these questions are virtually impossible to answer, I raise them to reinforce the fact that any reading of this play must necessarily be both highly speculative and willing to entertain multiple possibilities.
If the play were to be staged only in Cavendish's mind (see n. 55), presumably no one but the author would be concerned with any resistant elements it might contain. But even if it was not staged, the play was printed. Cavendish may have felt it was too queer to exist without being straightened out in some way(s). It does, after all, condemn the patriarchal sexual economy and reveal women's position as sexual slaves (act 3). Cavendish seemingly also tries to defuse this difficult section by having the Prince(ss) state
My sweet Mistress, I cannot in conscience approve of it [the playwithin-the-play]; for though some few be unhappy in Marriage, yet there are many more that are so happy as they would not change their condition. (3.10, p. 31)
This response attempts to reify that same patriarchal social ideology already condemned by denying the universal suffering of women and suggesting that it is only experienced by "some few."(n57) If Cavendish felt the need to "recant" on her remarks regarding her society, she may have felt equally needy regarding her exploration of virgin-virgin erotic affection. The Convent of Pleasure is best described as a volatile play. It raises many possibilities of spiritual, and erotic unions between virgins, yet refuses to commit itself as to which connections are acceptable. While the play's secular location provides for the development of more kinds of pleasure than might be found in a religious convent, its recuperative gestures struggle to contain the radical issues of queer pleasure and social critique raised. Ultimately, though, I would argue that the text's instability allows more potential for queer virginal eroticism than it forecloses. After all, even though we may "see" (onstage) only "men"-women couples,(n58) we "hear" (or read) a distinct language of queer eroticism expressed within the context of a virtually all-woman cast.
Measure for Measure and The Convent of Pleasure concern women who are uncategorizable--and who therefore can be considered queer--within the Protestant society of early modern England. Both plays are threatening because they allow their virgin characters to escape existence as pariahs by accepting their queerness and militantly resisting women's traditional "position of the dominated." Their resistance extends to the economic sphere, for none of the virgins is dependent upon any man for financial support. Their existence in a space physically "removed" from patriarchal society--the convent--reflects this economic independence and separation and allows these virgins to resist erotically by defining their pleasure in terms of each other. Whether what they create is erotic or nonerotic is not as important as the fact that they do create worlds and pleasure systems that are queer. Yet no matter how "removed" these convents may be from the centers of patriarchal power, they are still actually located within the patriarchal society they challenge. Thus the new societies they create can, in one sense, be considered illusory. How, indeed, can one completely separate oneself from one's own society? But even given the fact that an actual separation cannot occur, the physical removal of the convent--symbolized by its walls--does invoke the attempt at ideological separation its inmates undergo. So, if patriarchal society depends upon various sorts of female sexual slavery and pain, the queer resistance represented in these plays imagines a recategorization of virgins as their own subjects within their own economies of pleasure.
I have been arguing that the really queer threat Isabella and Lady Happy's companions represent derives from the fact that they resist marriage, something the femmes Traub examines do not. I would also point out, as I have argued elsewhere,(n59) that even some virgins who accept marriage reveal their (or the queer virgin's) potential for resisting it. Almost no one views our favorite "saint in the brothel," Marina, as threatening, yet while a resident of that brothel, this virgin creates a "profession" for herself by selling her abilities to weave, sew, dance, and sing that is so financially successful that she is able to support not only herself but her owners. Marina does marry, but this virgin demonstrates the economic potential of the marketplace for survival that is available to queer virgins who wish to resist the sexual economy of marriage.
There is no early modern name for the queer position occupied by such virgins as Isabella and Lady Happy's (proto-)butches and (proto-)femmes. I would speculate that there is no named position because the concept of naming it was too terrifying--not in the nineteenth-century sense that telling women about lesbians might make them all run off to join up--but in a more profound sense that to name that position would indicate that early modern society possessed a "third gender" that was neither man/husband nor woman/wife. This inability to theorize a place for adult virgin women is obvious in the "problems" that arise when trying to make sense of characters like Beatrice and Hermia, Rosalind and Portia, but especially characters like Isabella and Lady Happy's companions, whose desires are fulfilled by not having to marry, engage in sexual activity with men, and accept the "position of the dominated." These characters are most threatening because they militantly maintain their personal autonomy and resist control by men, actively choose virginity as an erotic stance, and are economically able to resist incorporation into the sexual economy. That such behavior is not only resistant but also severely threatening is obvious from the "unreadability" of queer virgins, from the fact that so few plays of the early modern period provide us with examples of adult virgins who remain alone, unmarried, unpunished, and unrecuperated at the end.
I would like to thank Jean Howard, Dympna Callaghan, and Greg Bredbeck, who generously read earlier drafts of this essay and gave me extremely valuable critiques.
(n1.) By now it is well known that "homosexual" as a term was coined in 1892 and "heterosexual" was a back-formation from it. Similarly, "lesbian," "gay," and "bisexual" are terms that either originated or were first applied to nonheterosexual persons only in the twentieth century. While few early modern terms were available to describe male homosexuals, fewer still described female homosexuals. The category of "sodomy" in its early definitions could be used to refer to acts between sexual partners of the same biological sex. "Sodomite," then, was a general term usable to define any person of either biological sex who engaged in any of the acts considered to be sodomy. While female homosexuals could be referred to as "sodomitesses," this term was also used to define women who engaged in heterosexual prostitution. The term "tribade" referred specifically to the woman who rubbed her (perhaps larger) clitoris against her partner's, penetrated her partner with her clitoris, or used a dildo or other "instrument" to penetrate her.
Early modern terms that referred to female and male homosexuals referred to sexual behavior and practices, not to groups of people or "sexual identities," as twentieth-century terms often do. This is one of the major problems of writing about nonheterosexual, especially lesbian, behavior in the early modern period. Consequently, like many of my colleagues, I will be forced to employ some twentieth-century terms "anachronistically" in an early modern context. I will use the term "queer virgin" to refer to a sexual category that is both "virgin and lesbian" and "virgin or lesbian." I will use "lesbian" alone to refer specifically to a desire by female humans for other female humans and "(proto-)femme" and "(proto-)butch" to refer to the twentieth-century sexual practices they define anachronistically projected back to an earlier incarnation in the early modern period. "Queer" will be defined in greater detail below.
(n2.) Alexander Dory, Making Things Perfectly Queer (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), xvii. Doty also indicates that
After all, in any of its uses so far, queerness has been set up to challenge and break apart conventional categories, not to become one itself .... Therefore, when I use the term "queer" or "queerness" ... I do so to suggest a range of nonstraight expression in, or in response to, mass culture. This range includes specifically gay, lesbian, and bisexual expressions: but it also includes all other potential (and potentially unclassifiable) nonstraight positions .... I want to construct "queer" as something other than "lesbian," "gay," or "bisexual"; but I can't say that "lesbian," "gay," or "bisexual" aren't also "queer." ... As such, this cultural "queer space" recognizes the possibility that various fluctuating queer positions might be occupied whenever anyone produces or responds to culture. (xv, xvi, xvii, 3)
(n3.) Doty further points out that
Queer Nation's use of the term often sets up queerness as something different from gay, lesbian, and bisexual assimilationism. In this case, to identify as a queer means to be politically radical and "in-your-face": to paradoxically demand recognition by straight culture while at the same time rejecting this culture. Part of what is being rejected here are attempts to contain people through labeling, so "queer" is touted as an inclusive, but not exclusive, category, unlike "straight," "gay," "lesbian," or "bisexual." (xiv)
While the practice of using "queer"--as opposed to "gay and lesbian"--is currently highly contested, I do not want to enter that discussion. In the course of this section, I will make clear why I want/need to employ the term "queer" to define the category of virginity in the early modern period. However, since I do not want to seem to foreclose discussion on definitions of "queer," I present the following as variations on the positions I examine in the body of my text. Paula Blank, in "Comparing Sappho to Philaenis: John Donne's 'Homopoetics,'" PMLA 110 (1995): 358-68, "agree[s] with those who have argued that 'queering' is a universalizing approach to the study of sexuality .... one that challenges the idea of a unitary or essential sexual identity (which may be gay or lesbian identity)" (366 n. 3).
Lisa Duggan, in "The Discipline Problem: Queer Theory Meets Lesbian and Gay History," Gay and Lesbian Quarterly 2 (1995): 179-91, indicates that
[q]ueer theorists are engaged in at least three areas of critique: (a) the critique of humanist narratives that posit the progress of the self and history, and thus tell the story of the heroic progress of gay liberationists against forces of repression; (b) the critique of empiricist methods that claim directly to represent the transparent "reality" of "experience," and claim to relate, simply and objectively, what happened, when, and why; and (c) the critique of identity categories represented as stable, unitary, or "authentic." (181)
Louise O. Fradenburg and Carla Freccero, in "The Pleasures of History," Gay and Lesbian Quarterly I (1995): 371-84, "take queer theory to be a pleasure-positive discourse ... and one of the most important analytical challenges offered today by queer positionalities is their reconsideration of the very stances of epistemological certitude that have played so large a role in the definition and proscription of dangerous pleasures, indeed of pleasure as dangerous" (378).
Scott Bravmann, in "Queer Historical Subjects," Socialist Review 25, no. 1 (1995): 47-68, feels that,
[a]s a heuristic device, "queer" has helped us to refocus our attention on how culturally sanctioned versions of the normal and the natural have been constructed and sustained. Queer criticism, then, reveals the normal and the natural themselves to be cultural fictions enabled only through their dependent relationship with the abnormal and the unnatural .... [T]his transition... to the term queer has significantly altered the scope of inquiry to include a larger range of deviant sexualities and has focused its inquiry on the problem of heteronormativity. (49)
Penelope J. Englebrecht, in "Strange Company: Uncovering the Queer Anthology," National Women's Studies Association Journal 7, no. I (1995): 72-90, argues that "Queer nation and like-minded individuals have adopted the term 'queer' to indicate not only its 'traditional' homosexual referents ... [but also others including] 'friend]y' straights .... In this new currency 'queer' has come to signify anyone 'other,' different, marginal, or (especially sexually) perverse, identifying the 'abnormal' as positive element via a (perverse) binaristic relation to 'normal' society" (74-75). And Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, in "What Does Queer Theory Teach Us about X?" PMLA 110 (1995): 343-49, believe that
[i]t is no accident that queer commentary--... --has emerged at a time when United States culture increasingly fetishizes the normal .... [Q]ueer work wants to address the full range of power-ridden normativities of sex. This endeavor has animated a rethinking of both the perverse and the normal: ... Queer commentary shows that much of what passes for general culture is riddled with heteronormativity (345-49).
(n4.) Teresa de Lauretis, "Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities: An Introduction," differences 3, no. 2 (1991): iii-xviii, iii, v.
(n5.) Ibid., xi.
(n6.) Sue-Ellen Case, "Tracking the Vampire," differences 3, no. 2 (1991): 1-20, 2.
(n7.) Ibid., 3.
(n9.) Working to theorize homosexuality against, or in contrast to, heterosexuality (inevitably?) results in binary thinking. However, part of this problem, as Rosemary Hennessy, in Materialist Feminism and the Politics of Discourse (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), articulates, has to do with how heterosexuality itself is constructed: "Heterosexuality depends upon the assumption that sex differences are binary opposites and the simultaneous equation of this binary sex difference with gender" (88). Even when some critics, like Gayle Rubin in her interview with Judith Butler, "Sexual Traffic: Interview," differences 6, nos. 2-3 (1994): 62-99, consider binaries useful, their restrictions do become obvious: "I think these binary models seemed to work better for gender, because our usual understandings posit gender as in some ways binary, ... But as soon as you get away from the presumptions of heterosexuality, or a simple hetero-homo opposition, differences in sexual conduct are not very intelligible in terms of binary models. Even the notion of a continuum is not a good model for sexual variations" (70-71).
(n10.) Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, "Queer and Now," in Tendencies (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993), 1-20, 8. See also Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), 25-26 for a more detailed list.
(n11.) While she also does not specifically mention celibacy or chastity in her longer list, Sedgwick does list two categories that could include the celibate: "Some people like to have lots of sex, others little or none" and "[s]ome people's sexual orientation is intensely marked by autoerotic pleasures and histories-sometimes more so than by any aspect of alloerotic object choice. For others the autoerotic possibility seems secondary or fragile, if it exists at all" (Epistemology, 25-26).
(n12.) During the early modern period, sexual abstinence was definitely considered a sexual position, as Donald N. Mager in "John Bale and Early Tudor Sodomy Discourse," in Queering the Renaissance, ed. Jonathan Goldberg (Durham, N.C. and London: Duke University Press, 1994), 141-61 indicates. He states that, according to John Bale (ca. 1550), "abstinence and celibacy are just as perverse as are onanism, bestiality, and pederasty" (151). Further, Bale's citation--"Their sodomytycal chastyte agaynst Gods fre instytucyon"--not only links chastity--(refraining from sexual activity) with sodomy (the ultimate sexual perversity) but with ungodliness (cited in Mager, John Bale, 160 n. 6). For an unusual examination of celibacy as a category of twentieth-century sexuality, see Sally Cline, Women, Passion, and Celibacy (New York: Carol Southern, 1993). I thank Dympna Callaghan for this reference.
(n13.) Arnold Davidson, "Sex and the Emergence of Sexuality," in Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy, ed. Edward Stein (Garland, 1990; reprint, New York and London: Routledge, 1992), 89-132,117.
(n14.) Monique Wittig, "The Straight Mind," in The Straight Mind and Other Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 21-32, 32, 29.
(n15.) Wittig also indicates that
Lesbian is the only concept I know of which is beyond the categories of sex (women and men), because the designated subject (lesbian) is not a woman, either economically, or politically, or ideologically. For what makes a woman is a specific social relation to a man, a relation that we have previously called servitude, a relation which implies personal and physical obligation as well as economic obligation... a relation which lesbians escape by refusing to become or stay heterosexual .... [Lesbians' survival] can be accomplished only by the destruction of heterosexuality as a social system which is based on the oppression of women by men and which produces the doctrine of the difference between the sexes to justify this oppression. (20)
Whether they agree with Wittig or not, most late-twentieth-century theorists of sexuality see the position of the "lesbian" as one that exists in direct opposition to patriarchal notions of "woman" as nonautonomous, nonsubjects within the patriarchal sexual economy. Barbara Creed, in "Lesbian Bodies: Tribades, Tomboys, and Tarts," in Sexy Bodies: The Strange Carnalities of Feminism, ed. Elizabeth Grosz and Elspeth Probyn (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), 86-103, recognizes how easy it is for virgins--or any other "women" perceived as threatening because of their failure to accept patriarchal definitions--to collapse into the category of "lesbian":
Regardless of her sexual preferences, woman in whatever form--whether heterosexual or lesbian--has been variously depicted as narcissist, sex-fiend, creature, tomboy, vampire, maneater, child, nun, virgin. One does not need a specific kind of body to become-or to be seen as--a lesbian. All female bodies represent the threat or potential--depending on how you see it--of lesbianism. Within homophobic cultural practices, the lesbian body is constructed as monstrous in relation to male fantasies .... The woman who refuses to see her sexual organs as mere wood chips, designed to make the man's life more comfortable, is in danger of becoming a lesbian--an active, phallic woman, an intellectual virago with a fire of her own .... The lesbian body is a particularly pernicious and depraved version of the female body in general; it is susceptible to auto-eroticism, clitoral pleasure and self-actualization. (87,95)
The resistant nature of the lesbian is also recognized by Bat-Ami Bar On in "The Feminist 'Sexuality Debates' and the Transformation of the Political," Hypatia 7, no. 4 (1992): 45-58:
A lesbian is the rage of all woman condensed to the point of explosion .... The lesbian rejects male sexual political domination; she defies his world, his social organization, his ideology, and his definition of her as inferior.... Woman-identified Lesbianism is ... more than sexual preference; it is a political choice .... Our rejection of heterosexual sex challenges male domination in its most individual and common form. (48)
That the concept of the lesbian is a totally threatening one is further revealed by Judith Butler's examination of its "unthinkableness" in "Imitation and Gender Insubordination," in Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, ed. Diana Fuss, 13-31 (New York and London: Routledge, 1991)
Lesbianism is not explicitly prohibited in part because it has not even made its way into the thinkable, the imaginable, that grid of cultural intelligibility that regulates the real and the nameable. How, then, to "be" a lesbian in a political context in which the lesbian does not exist? That is, in a political discourse that wages its violence against lesbianism in part by excluding lesbianism from discourse itself? ... Part of what constitutes sexuality is precisely that which does not appear and that which, to some degree, can never appear. (20,25)
This "unthinkableness" occurs in part because, as de Lauretis contends, the "lesbian is not 'an individual with a sexual preference' but a 'rewriting of self', a subject constituted 'in a process of interpretation and struggle'.... the lesbian is also, as the eccentric metaphor implies, a position outside or in excess of the discursive-conceptual horizon of heterosexuality" (cited in Hennessy, Materialist Feminism, 85).
(n16.) Marilyn Frye, "Willful Virgin or Do you Have to be a Lesbian to be a Feminist?" in Willful Virgin: Essays in Feminism, 1976-1991 (Freedom, Calif.: Crossing Press, 1992), 124-37,133. "The word 'virgin' did not originally mean a woman whose vagina was untouched by any penis, but a free woman, one not betrothed, not married, not bound to, not possessed by any man. It meant a female who is sexually and hence socially her own person. In any universe of patriarchy, there are no Virgins in this sense .... Hence Virgins must be unspeakable, thinkable only as negations, their existence impossible .... Such Virgins are no more possible in patriarchy than are lesbians, and if they impossibly bring themselves into existence, they will be living lives as sexually, socially and politically outlandish and unnatural as the lives undertaken by radically feminist lesbians" (133-34). See also Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London: Routledge, 1990), 112-28; and Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 58-60, on Wittig. See also how similar Frye's definition of "Virgin" is to the definitions of "lesbian," in n. 15.
(n17.) Claude Levi-Strauss in The Elementary Structures of Kinship (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969) defines culture, like marriage, as a "total relationship of exchange ... not established between a man and a woman, but between two groups of men, [in which] the woman figures only as one of the partners" (115). His idea is the basis of Eve Sedgwick's explications of male "homosocial" relations in Between Men: English Literature and Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985); and Epistemology of the Closet. She also calls attention to Heidi Hartmann's similarly focused definition of patriarchy in "The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Toward a More Progressive Union," in Women and Revolution: A Discussion of the Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism, ed. Lydia Sargent (Boston: South End Press, 1981), 2-41, as "a set of social relations between men [emphasis added], which have a material base, and which, though hierarchical, establish or create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women" (14; also cited in Sedgwick, Epistemology, 184). The following also provide compelling analyses of how women figure in the patriarchal sexual economy: Veronica Beechey, "On Patriarchy," Feminist Review, no. 3 (1979): 66-82; Gail Omvedt, "'Patriarchy': The Analysis of Women's Oppression," Insurgent Sociologist 13 (spring 1986): 30-50; Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex," in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), 157-210.
(n18.) Wittig, "Straight Mind," 32. Butler, in Gender Trouble, points out that
In The Lesbian Body and elsewhere, however, Wittig appears to take issue with genitally organized sexuality per se and to call for an alternative economy of pleasures which would both contest the construction of female subjectivity marked by women's supposedly distinctive reproductive function .... Indeed, a lesbian, she maintains, transcends the binary opposition between woman and man; a lesbian is neither a woman nor a man. But further, a lesbian has no sex; she is beyond the categories of sex. Through the lesbian refusal of those categories, the lesbian exposes (pronouns are a problem here) the contingent cultural constitution of those categories and the tacit yet abiding presumption of the heterosexual matrix .... Indeed, the lesbian appears to be a third gender or, as I shall show, a category that radically problematizes both sex and gender as stable political categories of description. (26,113).
(n19.) Butler, in Gender Trouble, says that
we can understand this conclusion to be the necessary result of a heterosexualized and masculine observational point of view that takes lesbian sexuality to be a refusal of sexuality per se only because sexuality is presumed to be heterosexual, and the observer, here constructed as the heterosexual male, is clearly being refused .... As in Lacan, the lesbian is here signified as an asexual position, as indeed, a position that refuses sexuality.... Significantly, Lacan's discussion of the lesbian is contiguous within the text to his discussion of frigidity, as if to suggest metonymically that lesbianism constitutes the denial of sexuality.... This is the predicament produced by a matrix that accounts for all desire for women by subjects of whatever sex or gender as originating in a masculine, heterosexual position. The libido-as-masculine is the source from which all possible sexuality is presumed to come. Here the typology of gender and sexuality needs to give way to a discursive account of the cultural production of gender. (49,52,160n. 20, 53)
Guy Hocquenghem, in Homosexual Desire (Editions Universitaires, 1972; reprint, Durham, N.C., and London: Duke University Press, 1993), adds that "[o]ur society is so phallic that the sexual act without ejaculation is felt to be a failure. After all, what do men care if--as is often the case--the woman remains frigid and feels no pleasure? Phallic pleasure is the raison d'etre of heterosexuality, whichever sex is involved" (96).
(n20.) Augustine, De sanctu virginitate, trans. John McQuade, S.J.; Saint Augustine: Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects, ed. Roy J. Deferrari (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1955), 133-212,143,153,151. For a more detailed analysis of the differences between the Roman Catholic and Protestant discourses of virginity, see Theodora A. Jankowski, "'The scorne of Savage people': Virginity as 'Forbidden Sexuality' in John Lyly's Love's Metamorphosis," Renaissance Drama 24 (1993): 123-53, especially 128-37.
I am referring to Foucault's use of the term "discourse," specifically in terms of his contention that categories of discourse create our experience(s) and regulate our world. Foucault discusses "discourse" in "The History of Sexuality," in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, ed. Colin Gordon, trans. Gordon et al. (New York: Pantheon, 1980), 183-93; The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990); and The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon, 1972), esp. pt. 2.
(n21.) We can also consider, in this context, Foucault's contention that "homosexuality" has the potential to overthrow the category of sex, especially in terms of how "gender transgressions"--like that of the hermaphrodite Herculine Barbin--"challenge the very distinction" between hetero- and homosexual "erotic exchange" (Butler, Gender Trouble, 100-101).
(n22.) I want to refer specifically to Thomas Laqueur's analysis in Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1990), of the prevalence of Galenic notions of gender in the early modern period. This belief held that the sexes were "biologically" the same: "women were essentially men in whom a lack of vital heat--of perfection-had resulted in the retention, inside, of structures that in the male are visible without" (4). Yet even though Galenic medicine would seem to argue for male/female similarity, Laqueur maintains that "sex, or the body, must be understood as the epiphenomenon, while gender, what we take to be a cultural category, was primary or 'real'" (8). Talking about "biological sex" in the early modern period, then, really means talking about "the social order that it both represents and legitimates" (11); even though the "biological" understanding of sex maintained "sameness," the social concept reinforced the magnitude of gender difference.
(n23.) Martin Luther, "Sermon on Marriage at Merseburg (1545)," cited in Not in God's Image: Women in History from the Greeks to the Victorians, ed. Julia O'Faolain and Lauro Martines (New York, San Francisco, London: Harper and Row, 1973), 198.
(n24.) [J]ohn Wing, The crowne Coniugall or, the Spouse Royall ..... STC25844 (Middleburgh: [J]ohn Hellenius, 1620), Sig. Qv, Sig. Q2.
For all sixteenth-and seventeen-century texts, spelling is modernized as regards v/u, vv/w, i/j, long s, and tildes. Sporadic or excessive italics are also eliminated.
(n25.) William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties. Eight Treatises. STC12119 (London: [J]ohn Haviland, 1622), Sig. P4v.
(n26.) Valerie Traub, "The (In)significance of Lesbian Desire in Early Modern England," in Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, ed. Susan Zimmerman (New York and London: Routledge, 1992), 150-69, 164.
(n27.) William Shakespeare, Ali's Well That Ends Well, in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, 4th ed., ed. David Bevington, 367 (New York: HarperCollins, 1992). All further references to Shakespeare's plays will be to this edition and will appear in the text.
(n28.) [Heinrich Bullinger], The Christen State of Matrimony, trans. Miles Coverdale, English Experience #646 (1541; reprint, Amsterdam and Norwood, N.J.: Walter J. Johnson and Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1974); Alex[ander] Niccholes, A Discourse, or Marriage and Wiving: and of .... STC18514 (London: Leonard Becket, 1615); W[illiam] W[hately], A Bride-Bush or a Wedding Sermon: .... English Experience #769 (London: William [J]aggard, 1617; reprint, Amsterdam and Norwood, N.J.: Walter J. Johnson and Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1975); [J]ohn Wing, Crown Coniugull; William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties; [J]ohn Dod and Robert Clever, A Godly Forme of Household Governement ..... STC5388 (London: Thomas Man, 1630); Rich[ard] Brathwait, The English Gentleman and English Gentlewoman .... Wing B4262 (London: John Dawson, 1641); D[aniel] R[ogers], Matrimoniall Honour: or The mutuall Crowne .... Wing R1797 (London: Th[omas] Harper, 1642; Jeremy Taylor, The Rule and Exercise of Holy Living in vol. 3, The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D., 10 vols., ed. Reginald Heber and Charles Page Eden (London: Longmans, 1883).
(n29.) See Eamon Dully, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992), for an analysis of the extent of Catholic practice--"traditional religion"--in England during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I. I would like to thank Jim Shapiro for bringing this book to my attention.
(n30.) Antipathy toward Isabella's virginity--or rather toward the character's consistency in maintaining her sexual "purity"--has formed an important subdivision of criticism for some time. George Geckle, in "Shakespeare's Isabella," Shakespeare Quarterly 22 (1971): 163-68, names Isabella the play's "greatest critical 'problem'" and also gives a brief summary of (mostly condemnatory) attitudes toward the novice going back to the eighteenth century (163-66). Marcia Riefer, in "'Instruments of Some More Mightier Member': The Constriction of Female Power in Measure for Measure," Shakespeare Quarterly 35 (1984): 157-69; Harriet Hawkins, in Measure for Measure (Boston: Twayne, 1987), 106-8; and Jonathan Dollimore, in "Transgression and Surveillance in Measure for Measure," in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, 72, 82, 86 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1985), also provide histories of Isabella-criticism. The following critics have problems with Isabella's virginity: Ernst Schanzer, The Problem Plays of Shakespeare: A Study of "Julius Caesar, .... Measure for Measure," and "Antony and Cleopatra" (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963), 98-99; W. L. Godshalk, "Measure for Measure: Freedom and Restraint," Shakespeare Studies 6 (1970): 137-50; Rosalind Miles, The Problem of "Measure for Measure": A Historical Investigation (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1976), 215, 221,225-26; Harriet Hawkins, "The Devil's Party: Virtues and Vices in Measure for Measure," Shakespeare Survey 30 (1978): 105-13; Harry V. Jaffa, "Chastity as a Political Principle: An Interpretation of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure," in Shakespeare as Political Thinker, ed. John Alvis and Thomas G. West, 182,208 (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1981); Susan Moore, "Virtue and Power in Measure for Measure," English Studies 63 (1982): 308-17; Ronald R. Macdonald, "Measure for Measure: The Flesh Made Word," Huntington Library Quarterly 53 (1990): 265-82; Carolyn E. Brown, "Erotic Religious Flagellation and Shakespeare's Measure for Measure," English Literary Renaissance 16 (1986): 139-65.
Critical opinion is divided as to whether Isabella (ever) accepts the Duke's proposal of marriage. My own opinion is that the character does not accept. Vincentino's "But fitter time for that" (5.1.504)--as well as Isabella's textual silence--would indicate her inability to "hear" his first proposal. That a second proposal (5.1.545-48) is necessary would reinforce this fact. Isabella's textual silence regarding the second proposal reinforces my belief that she never agrees. Some critics, like Riefer, see Isabella's silence as emblematic of her tragedy, while others, like David N. Beauregard, in "Isabella as a Novice: Shakespeare's Use of Whetstone's Heptameron," English Language Notes 25, no. 4 (1988): 20-23, read it as acceptance of the proposal (21). Steven Mullaney, in The Place of the Stage: License, Play and Power in Renaissance England (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988) thinks interpretation of the silence as resistance is "questionable" and that the proposal "has become inevitable" (110). I would argue, however, that this particular silence emblematizes strength. (See also Asp, cited at 116 n. 51). The Duke cannot marry Isabella without her consent; she does not give it. Her silence, therefore, represents her choice to resist the Duke. Unlike Hermia and Helena, who are silenced as a result of marriage, Isabella uses silence to prevent marriage. My overall reactions to this play have been profoundly influenced by Dollimore's eye-opening analysis in "Transgression and Surveillance."
(n31.) John Halkett, Milton and the Idea of Matrimony (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1970), 72, 83, 86-87; Kathleen M. Davies, "'The sacred condition of equality': How Original Were Puritan Doctrines of Marriage?" Social History 1-2 (1976-77): 563-80; Theodora A. Jankowski, Women in Power in the Early Modern Drama (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 31-36.
(n32.) Schanzer, Problem Plays, 98; Miles, "Problem of Measure for Measure," 226; Hawkins, "The Devil's Party," 107, 109. Brown has much to say on the subject of religious flagellation. I will return to some of her points later in this section.
(n33.) The New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967) indicates that an individual Catholic can/must make a specific choice to retain virginity. Consequently, "accidental and involuntary loss of physical integrity (e.g., by accident, surgical operation, rape) leaves virginity, which is most essentially in the will, intact" (703). This position derives from Augustine, in St. Augustine: The City of God, Books 1-4, trans. Demetrius B. Zema, S.J., and Gerald G. Walsh, S.J. (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1950) who "affirm[s], therefore, that in case of violent rape of an unshaken intention not to yield unchaste content, the crime is attributable only to the ravisher and not at all to the ravished" (bk. 1, chap. 19, 49). Thus the essence of Isabella's vow of virginity--and indeed her religious and personal integrity--resides in her ability to choose how, if, and to whom to bestow her physical body. This position casts light on the critical opinions that Isabella is either emotionally cold or blameworthy for refusing to sacrifice her virginity for Claudio's life: Moore, "Virtue and Power," 313; Godshalk, "Freedom and Restraint," 141, 145-46; Hawkins, "The Devil's Party," 106; Macdonald, "Flesh Made Word," 275-78; Jaffa "Chastity," 211,213, Barbara J. Baines, "Assaying the Power of Chastity in Measure for Measure," SEL 30 (1990): 283-301. There are critics who see Isabella's decision as justified: Geckle, "Shakespeare's Isabella," 163, 167, 168; Schanzer, Problem Plays, 99-100; Bernice W. Kliman, "Isabella in Measure for Measure," Shakespeare Studies 15 (1982): 137-48, Riefer, "Instruments," 163-64.
(n34.) Although Baines and I agree that virginity/chastity allows Isabella the means to claim autonomy, we differ as to how that occurs. Baines maintains that
Isabella's values ... are representative, not eccentric; and they are grounded more firmly in the secular than in the religious. Society, not scripture, defines chastity as the definitive virtue that gives identity and place to women and to men .... Thus chastity becomes for women a form of power; through it the woman legitimizes the power of the man and preserves the patriarchal social structure. (284,286)
What I am arguing, however, is that Isabella's claiming Roman Catholic consecrated virginity as the source of her power is "eccentric" and results in her being perceived as queer in Protestant society: an adult female virgin uncontrolled by any man. Thus her "power" serves not to support the social/cultural status quo--as Baines argues---but to challenge the very notion of woman's dependency upon men and men's control of women's bodies. In this, the character can be seen as belonging to the (Catholic) humanist tradition that validated a woman's right to the free choice of a husband, as demonstrated in Henry Medwall's Fulgens and Lucres (ca. 1497). See the following in this context: Catherine Belsey, The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama (London: Methuen, 1985), 194-200; Jankowski, Women in Power, 170-71.
(n35.) See section 1, above. The "none/nun" pun reinforces this point.
(n36.) "Deviant," in the sense of sexuality or psychologically "not normal," is a modern usage. Medieval and early modern usage was synonymous with "deviate" in the sense of "deviating," "divergent," or "that [which] diverts or causes to turn aside" (OED). However, the notion of "not-woman"--also not an early modern term--is implicit in some of the early modern derogatory terms used to refer to women: "witch," "succubus," "wanton" (def. 2), etc. Even "sodomy" or "buggery" could be said to define the "not-woman." Jonathan Goldberg reminds us, in Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), that the first English sodomy law (25 Henry VIII c.6) does not precisely define the acts that constituted "buggery" or the genders of those performing them (3,11). Other usages were often as unspecific. Thomas Cooper's 1552 Biblioteca Eliotae simply indicates that "sodomy" is "afaynste naturae," though never states what acts by which gender performers are "unnatural" (cited in Gregory W. Bredbeck, Sodomy and Interpretation: Marlowe to Milton [Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991], 10). The OED cites Tomson's 1579 translation of one of Calvin's sermons as an instance where "sodomite" can refer to women: "whores as they are, yea ... vile and shameful Sodomites, committing suche heinous and abhominable actes, that it is horrible to thinke of." (This reference could also imply that men are "whores.") In addition, "sodomitess" is defined as "a woman sodomite" in the Authorized Bible (Deut. 23:17), where "whore" is glossed as "sodomitess." Thomas Blount, in Glossographia (1670), defines "Buggerie ... [as] carnalis copula contra naturam," which could occur between "a man or a woman with a bruit beast .... a man with a man, or a woman with a woman" (cited in Bredbeck, Sodomy and Interpretation, 17). The OED defines "bugger" simply as "one who commits buggery; a sodomite" (def. 2). though offers "buggeress" as "a female bugger."
37. In England, the final Act of Dissolution (of monasteries) was passed in 1539. It is important to realize that the character Isabella is represented as a Catholic novice within a Protestant, at times very anti-Catholic, social structure. Darryl E Gless, in "Measure for Measure," the Law, and the Convent (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), discusses the implications of this situation at length and Miles The Problem of Measure for Measure in less detail (216-18).
(n38.) Frye, "Willful Virgin," 133.
(n39.) Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan, eds, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence (Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad Press, 1985), xxvii, 369. The twentieth-century conflation of nun/virgin with lesbian is easily seen in the publication history of Curb and Manahan's book. Originally brought out by the feminist Naiad Press, the book quickly became a cause celebre in the heterosexual mainstream. That the excitement the book generated had to do with the linking of nun and lesbian--and the male heterosexual fascination with the erotic possibilities of such a linkage--is evident from Penthouse's purchase of the rights to reprint several of the book's stories. The mainstream house Warner subsequently reprinted the book at $5.95--$4.00 below the Naiad Press' price. Interestingly, Judith C. Brown's Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), hailed as a historical study of a previously hidden conventual "lesbian" episode, is more about ecclesiastical power struggles than the sexuality of nuns. See also Traub "(In)significance," 165-66 n. 3.
(n40.) Andrew Marvell, The Complete Works of Andrew Marvell, vol. I, ed. Alexander B. Grosart (1872; reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1966), 20. All references to Marvell's poem will be to this edition and will appear in the text. The nun who forbade Thwaites access to Fairfax is identified as Lady Anna Langton (41 n).
(n41.) The "discipline" is a "whip made of leather straps tipped in metal, small chains, or strands of knotted rope used to flagellate one's bared shoulders, thighs, or buttocks as a penance while reciting penitential psalms; begun in 13th century [or perhaps earlier] and continuing, in moderation, until recently" (Curb and Manahan, Lesbian Nuns, 365). The "upper discipline" involved whipping the bare back and shoulders, the "lower discipline" the bare thighs and buttocks (Brown, "Erotic Religious Flagellation" 141).
(n42.) Brown, "Erotic Religious Flagellation" ... 141,144, 147.
(n43.) As Brown indicates, "The accounts [of flagellation] that did appear, and these many years after the practice's heyday, must be regarded with considerable circumspectionsince religious biases could easily slant a report, an adversary discrediting an opposing religion by disesteeming one of its tenets" (ibid., 45).
(n44.) Rabelais's "Abbey of Thelema" episode in Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-52) showed how easily monks and nuns could heterosexually violate their vows of chastity in the dual monasteries. Boccaccio's Decameron (1471) and [Robinson's] The Anatomie of the English Nunnery at Lisbon in Portugal (1623) both demonstrate how nuns arranged, against great odds, to get men into their convents.
Penelope D. Johnson's study of religious houses in France, Equal in Monastic Profession: Religious Women in Medieval France (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1991), examines the myth that all nuns were/are unchaste. Studying a number of men's and women's houses in thirteenth-century Normandy, she discovered that nuns were not more apt than monks to break their vows of chastity. Only a small percentage of religious did break this vow and, of those who did, both men and women offended at the same rate. Louis Crompton, in "The Myth of Lesbian Impunity: Capital Laws from 1270-1791," in Historical Perspectives on Homosexuality, ed. Salvatore J. Licata and Robert P. Petersen, 89-132 (New York: Haworth Press/Stein and Day, 1992), does cite one case of two sixteenth-century Spanish nuns who were burned for using "material instruments" to pleasure each other (117). This is the only case he cites that concerns nuns. Obviously I do not mean to imply that male homoeroticism did not occur between monks. That situation is not the subject of this essay.
(n45.) Brown does not specifically consider the homoerotic possibilities of religious flagellation, but does indicate that, predictably, abbesses and abbots punished the same-gender members of their own houses ("Erotic Religious Flagellation" 144), who might then discipline each other (141). Only in double monasteries could opposite-gender flagellation easily occur. The current lesbian S/M debates have produced a large body of work that raises interesting questions/issues that can be applied to my argument. A good place to begin exploring the issues raised on both sides of the question is Carole S. Vance's collection, Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984; reprint, London: Pandora, 1992), especially the articles by Gayle Rubin, "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality," 267-319; Kaja Silverman, "Histoire d'O: The Construction of a Female Subject," 320-49; Esther Newton and Shirley Walton, "The Misunderstanding: Toward a More Precise Sexual Vocabulary," 242-50; Paula Webster, "The Forbidden: Eroticism and Taboo," 385-98; Amber Hollibaugh, "Desire for the Future: Radical Hope in Passion and Pleasure," 401-10; and Vance's "Introduction: More Danger, More Pleasure," xvi-xxxix. See also Julia Creet, "Daughter of the Movement: The Psychodynamics of Lesbian S/M Fantasy," differences 3, no. 2 (1991): 135-39. As an interesting aside, "Roger Scruton [in Sexual Desire] subdivides perversion into bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia, sadomasochism, homosexuality, incest, fetishism, masturbation, and chastity" (emphasis mine; cited in Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence, 175 n. 7).
(n46.) A lack of stage directions or textual clues has made it difficult to pinpoint the social/historical location of Cavendish's play. Given her utopian propensities, she may have intended a fantasy setting. However, she may also have masked the location to destabilize the "social critique" in the play. For the sake of my argument, I have "located" the convent (and its surrounding "world") in late-seventeenth-century England.
(n47.) Margaret Cavendish, The Convent of Pleasure in Plays. Never Before Printed (London: A. Maxwell, 1668), 7. All further references to this play will be to this edition and will appear in the text. Note: no line references appear in this edition, so each quote is identified by act, scene, and page number. The plays in this edition are individually paginated.
(n48.) Sophie Tomlinson, "'My brain the stage': Margaret Cavendish and the Fantasy of Female Performance," in Women, Texts and Histories, 1575-1760, ed. Clare Brant and Diana Purkiss (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 134-63, 154, 156.
(n49.) Margaret Cavendish, The Description of a New World Called the Blazing World in The Description of a New World Called the Blazing World and Other Writings, ed. Kate Lilley (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 119-225, 183, 202.
(n50.) Marilyn Williamson, Raising Their Voices: British Women Writers, 1.650-1750 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990), 62.
(n51.) Margaret Cavendish, Poems and Phancies, written by the Thrice Noble, Illustrious, and Excellent Princess the Lady Marchioness of Newcastle, the Second Impression, Much Altered and Corrected (London: William Wilson, 1664), 159. I have quoted selected lines from this poem and the ones below. The "blazon" is, of course, a figure often used by male poets to enable their male speakers to reflect upon the erotic possibilities of women's bodies. In addition to using the figure as a female poet, Cavendish makes the described bodies the visual focus of qualities personified as female. The "bisk" is for Nature's--gendered female--table. She creates similar erotic female blazons in "A Tart":
Then did she [Life] take some Lips like Cherries Red,
and "Nature's Landskip":
(n52.) Halkett, Milton and Matrimony, 52.
(n53.) The Prince(ss) is clearly described in several stage directions as appearing in male clothing. Stage directions specify only male clothing for virgins during two of the plays-within-the-play (3.1, p. 23; 4.1, pp. 34, 38-39).
(n54.) For analyses of butch-femme roles/relations and gender roles in general as "performance," see Case, "Tracking the Vampire"; Joan Nestle, "The Femme Question," in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984; reprint, London: Pandora, 1992), 232-41, Butler, Gender Trouble, 17, 21-29 and "Imitation"; and Rubin, "Thinking Sex."
(n55.) Since it appeared in the 1668 edition of Cavendish's plays, The Convent of Pleasure could have been written after the 1662 appearance of the first woman actor on the Reformation stage. Most critics, however, believe that all of Cavendish's plays were written during the Interregnum: Douglas Grant, Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1623-1673 (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1957), 161; Jean Elisabeth Gagen, The New Woman: Her Emergence in the English Drama, 1600-1730 (New York: Twayne, 1954), 32; Linda R. Payne, "Dramatic Dreamscape: Women's Dreams and Utopian Vision in the Works of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle," in Curtain Calls: British and American Women and the Theater, 16601820, ed. Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski, 18-33, 30 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991); Kathleen Jones, A Glorious Fame: The Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1623-1673 (London: Bloomsbury, 1988), 130; Tomlinson "My brain the Stage,'" 137. But even if they were, the circumstances of Cavendish's own life would indicate that she probably had women actors in mind.
In 1643, she became a maid of honor to Charles I's queen Henrietta Maria, a woman who performed in masques and court dramas and "turned female acting into a fashionable and controversial issue ... and inspired a growth in women's participation in private theatricals which continued into the Interregnum years" (Tomlinson, "'My brain the Stage,'" 138, 137). Cavendish then followed the court to Paris, where she had the opportunity to see professional women actors there and, later, in Antwerp (ibid., 139, 134-35,140; Henry Ten Eyck Perry, The First Duchess of Newcastle and Her Husband as Figures in Literary History [Boston and London: Ginn, 1918; reprint, London and New York: Johnson Reprint, 1968], 50, 54, 52.) Yet despite such compelling evidence of her own compiling, Tomlinson claims "it is not my intention to suggest that Cavendish's plays were written for women actors" (140).
It is doubtful, however, that Cavendish's plays were ever acted, and many critics claim they are basically "unactable" (Perry, First Duchess, 214; Grant, Margaret the First, 161; Gagen, New Woman, 32-34; Jones, Glorious Fame, 130; Payne, "Dramatic Dreamscape," 30). Although Cavendish occasionally explains why her plays are not produced, it is generally accepted that their primary staging was to be internal.
for I did take
(n56.) See the following on the erotic possibilities and gender-destabilizing effects of cross-dressing on the male-only Elizabethan/Jacobean stage: Lisa Jardine, "As boys and women are for the most part cattle of this colour': Female Role and Elizabethan Eroticism," in Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 9-36; Stephen Orgel, "Nobody's Perfect: Or Why Did the English Stage Take Boys for Women?" South Atlantic Quarterly 88, no. I (1989): 7-29; Laura Levine, "Men in Women's Clothing: Anti-Theatricality and Effeminization from 1579-1642," Criticism 28 (1986): 121-43; and Steve Brown, "The Boyhood of Shakespeare's Heroines: Notes on Gender Ambiguity in the Sixteenth Century," Studies in English Literature 30 (1990): 243-63.
(n57.) The "softening" of act 3's condemnation of marriage could also have resulted from Cavendish's own unusually happy union. Hilda Smith, in Reason's Disciples: Seventeenth-Century English Feminists (Urbana, Chicago, London: University of Illinois Press, 1982), points out that her husband "encouraged her in all her intellectual pursuits and spent great sums on books for her to read and the costs of her publications" (91,85-86). Cavendish's own inability to have children also spared her many of the health problems married women had to suffer (89-90).
A number of Cavendish's other works similarly reify marriage. The heroine of "Assaulted and Pursued Chastity" (1656), in The Description of a New World Called the Blazing World and Other Writings, ed. Kate Lilley (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 45-118, spends virtually the entire text escaping from a Prince who "was a grand monopolizer of young virgins" (50). Despite various adventures and near-death experiences, she ultimately marries the Prince--once he is free to do so--and lives happily ever after. The act of marriage clearly erases whatever animosity the heroine may have justifiably felt toward her Prince. Similarly, in The Blazing World, the Empress is willing to forget the trials of her abduction by the merchant to marry the Emperor. And despite the "platonic" affection between the Empress and the Duchess (Cavendish's persona), both women are presented as happily married to their respective spouses.
(n58.) We would "see" only "men"-women couples if there were an equal number of (proto-)butches and (proto-)femmes. A small number of (proto-)butches would allow the possibility of (proto-)femme-femme couples in the background, further destabilizing the "heterosexual" impulses of the (proto-)butchfemme and Prince(ss)-Lady Happy pairings.
(n59.) In "The scorne of Savage people."
By THEODORA A. JANKOWSKI