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Reviews415 Sara Munson Deats. Sex, Gender, and Desire in the Plays of Christopher Marlowe. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997. Pp. 296. $43.50. In spite of our culture's omnipresent attention to Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe's plays are currently enjoying a bit of a comeback amongst scholars of the early modern period, particularly those interested in Marlowe's reputed same-sex affections and his dramatized depictions of masculinity. Obliquely in this vein, Deats' focus on four of his major plays—Dido, Queen of Carthage, Tamburlaine, Parts I and II, Edward II, and Doctor Faustus—addresses what she sees as lacking in previous studies, that being an attention to "Marlowe's interrogation of conventional attitudes towards sex, gender, and sexuality." The first two chapters ofher book set up her own method ofinterrogation. Chapter One works to establish an overview for her theoretical approach gained through readings of Lacan, Kristeva, and Sandra Harding, among others, and Chapter Two investigates early modern texts' portrayals of sex, gender, and sexuality as a way of attending to Marlowe's treatments of the same. Deats thus begins her book with two explicit and sometimes incompatible approaches to the plays, one based in post-Freudian and feminist theories of gender and subjectivity, the other historically grounded. The chapters that follow, each devoted to the plays listed above, would put her theoretical understandings into practice and follow a similar pattern. Adopting Sandra Harding's distinctions for the production of gender as a performance of difference, Deats organizes each chapter in sections focusing on "individual gender," "gender symbolism," and "gender structure." While the distinctions in categories sometimes blur in Deats's application of them, this taxonomy does allow her to shift perspectives on each play and copiously document in the notes previous scholars' work on that strand of argument (20 percent of the text consists of notes and works cited). The result is a meticulously researched, sometimes productively organized book arguing that Marlowe's constructions of gender in his plays are more ambiguous sexually than others have claimed. Deats suggests instead that Marlowe's characters are frequently androgynes subversively undermining early modern England 's gender systems. Deats scrutinizes how Dido and Aeneas both come to embody stereotypical male and female behaviors, as do others in the play, and how Dido occupies, in addition, all of the available roles for women—mistress , daughter, sister, mother, and Queen—as a dominant, rather than subordinate, figure in the play. In these roles, Deats argues, Dido represents Queen Mary in her relationship to Phillip of Spain more than Marlowe 's contemporary, Elizabeth, and her relationships with her favorites . Treating both parts of Tamburlaine as a single narrative, Deats suggests Tamburlaine's brutal actions and histrionic rhetoric create a hyper-masculine anamorphic picture, one resulting from assumptions 416Comparative Drama about self-fashioning similar to Faustus's. Edward II concerns itself with masquerades and shape-shifters, using Judith Butler's definition of gender's performativity. In this play, both Edward and his queen, Isabella, are depicted androgynously. Seemingly reaching for historical antecedents, Deats claims that Edward and his lover, Gaveston, find their historical parallel in James I and his favorite, George Villiers, and that Marlowe might have known about James' sexual preferences from Scottish accounts published in the 1580s. The last play treated, Doctor Faustus, takes up where Tamburlaine left off with its construction of a "liberal humanist subject, traditionally constituted as unified, autonomous , knowing and masculine," a dramatic world devoid of women. Self-fashioning here defines only a masculine subject, one flirting with hell. The absence of possibly androgynous combinations in the characters gives Marlowe space to critique a similarly imagined Christian God. In each chapter, Deats's deep familiarity with Marlowe's plays and the criticism about them allows her to shift her own interpretive perspectives as deftly as Marlowe dramatizes and then collapses the opening binary positions characteristically embodied in his characters. In fact, her shifting perspectives make clear to the reader Marlowe's own play with what the early moderns called "contrarities." Other strengths ofthe book (especially for beginning Marlowe scholars) include careful summaries of her own and others' critical stances accompanying her varying subject positions. Less persuasive are some...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 415-417
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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