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  • Masculinity and Emotion in Early Modern English Literature
  • Elise Denbo
Jennifer C. Vaught . Masculinity and Emotion in Early Modern English Literature. Women and Gender in the Early Modern World. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2008. xiii + 244 pp. index. illus. bibl. $99.95. ISBN: 978-0-7546-6294-5.

Jennifer Vaught presents a finely-researched study of masculinity and emotion in early modern England, one that she places in context of current critical debates while clarifying particular areas that she builds on and expands. Whereas previous studies have focused on grief or ways in which excessive mourning reinforces reductive views of female identity (i.e., women as "leaky vessels"), Vaught concentrates on a variety of powerful male emotions (sadness, despair, joy) that correlate with a shift in values from a warrior culture to a culture that encourages virtue through feeling and intellectual enhancement, the self-fashioning of the courtier as well the man of sensibility. Vaught identifies her study as a feminist project whereby representations of men from different professions, social classes, and literary genres disrupt the stereotypical notions that equate excessive emotion, particularly the "shedding of tears," with female weakness while equating stoical fortitude with men. Although Vaught explores ways in which feminized displays of emotion can be empowering for men, she particularly emphasizes how various classes of men are strengthened by their positive associations with women and weakened when separated or estranged from them. For example, in book 1 of Spenser's Faerie Queene, Redcrosse gains salvation through his alliance with Una, while in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, Leontes' shedding of tears enables his conversion from a jealous, aggressive monarch to a loving husband and father. Each of these texts depicts caring and authoritative women whose emotional receptivity and strength affect men in positive ways.

In addition to her commentary on early modern writing, Vaught believes she [End Page 1382] offers the first in-depth consideration of early paradigms for the eighteenth-century man of sensibility. She adds to previous studies by exploring strong male emotions in carefully selected texts by Shakespeare, Spenser, and their contemporaries —Jonson, Marlowe, Sidney, Donne, Aemilia Lanyer, and Elizabeth Cary —as well as eighteenth-century adaptations of Shakespeare by David Garrick. Vaught's study is noteworthy and very readable: its thorough and patient development examines reconfigurations of gender that address changes in the culture and its growing audience of male and female readers. Although monarchs such as Shakespeare's Richard II or Marlowe's Edward II are criticized for passivity and excessive lamentation within the context of the drama, Vaught demonstrates how such feeling makes them sympathetic to their audience. By exploring gender roles within parallel texts —i.e., arboreal scenes in Spenser's book 1 of The Faerie Queene and Jonson's Timber —Vaught evaluates changing responses to male emotion in a variety of genres. Especially interesting is Vaught's discussion of male "weeping and wailing" in relation to two contrasting theories within the humanist tradition: Stoicism and Augustinianism. Whereas Stoicism advocated indifference (apatheia) and self-control associated with the classical writers Seneca and Cicero, Augustinianism drew on Aristotle's belief in moderate emotion as a foundation for virtuous action while underscoring Augustine's belief in passionate feeling as a means toward spiritual conversion and growth. By aligning various writers and reformers such as Calvin with these two strands of thought, Vaught contrasts Spenser's passionate Protestantism and his positive view of women with Jonson's Stoicism and his distrust of male emotion as weakening and feminizing. Overall, early modern writers who follow the Augustinian tradition believe in the healing power of emotion displayed at appropriate times and places, especially, but not necessarily in private. Private enclosures offer architectural metaphors for interior spaces within the self where psychic transformation takes place.

Vaught's study is well organized: a clear introduction precedes a close analysis of two corresponding texts in each of the four sections. Although Vaught's writing might seem repetitious, this ultimately adds to the clarity of her topic, not only teaching her reader by developing his/her insight but demonstrating how male expressiveness disrupts traditional notions of gender as represented in different genres and across various cultural...


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pp. 1382-1383
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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