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  • From Identities to Types
  • Will Stockton (bio)
Sexual Types: Embodiment, Agency, and Dramatic Character from Shakespeare to Shirley by Mario DiGangi. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. Pp. 304, 30 illustrations. $65.00 cloth.

One question currently dogging Renaissance scholars is how to discuss sexuality without also discussing identity, especially gay and lesbian identity. In their provocative 2005 essay “Queering History,” which opposes the time-disturbing force of queerness to the presumptively teleological imperatives of historicism, Jonathan Goldberg and Madhavi Menon complain that “modern sexuality studies has become really only a field about lesbian and gay male identity.”1 Goldberg and Menon picture a field in which scholars focus almost exclusively on the history of homosexuality and read characters who have gay sex or express homoerotic sentiments as either anticipatory of, or legible only in their difference from, modern gays and lesbians. Certainly, the difference that centuries of sociological, scientific, and juridical change make to sexuality, and consequently to the concept of sexual identity, has been a topic at the forefront of the field at least since Michel Foucault undertook the project of historicizing sexuality itself. Whereas the authors of some recent studies in Renaissance sexuality seek to distance themselves from any sort of teleological history of (homo)sexual identity, preferring instead to focus on the erotics of temporality, affect, and materialism, others have kept their histories more tightly linked to modern identities without assuming that these modern identities [End Page 129] are themselves stable formations against which one can measure the difference of the past.2

Mario DiGangi’s focus on sexual types, rather than identities, in his historically rich and often analytically surprising new book offers a marvelous example of what scholars can accomplish when they stop worrying over the approximation of early modern to modern sexualities. If an identity is a sense of self, an I that coalesces in relation to others with a similar sense of self, then the type is recognizable dramatic figure, a character: “These characters look familiar not because they (necessarily) represented people likely to be encountered in the daily lives of early modern English men and women, but because they were . . . recognizable figures of literary imagination and social fantasy” (5). Expressions of erotic agency by sexual types provide DiGangi with focal points for analyzing the formation and transgression of gender, social, political, and economic orders in the early modern period, while this analytical shift away from understanding dramatic characters as embodiments of variably modern sexual identities keeps the book’s historical inquiries tethered quite strictly to the early modern social imaginary. Dramatists William Shakespeare and James Shirley delimit the historical trajectory of the book, which shows little to no concern for the afterlives of the types it analyzes: the sodomite, the tribade, the narcissistic courtier, the citizen wife, the bawd, and the royal favorite. Sexual Types is also no polemic: it offers no pugnacious response to, and even little engagement with, all the current queer pontificating about the perils of identity and teleology. It nonetheless offers a model for how Renaissance sexuality studies can avoid both the traps of teleological thinking and the reduction of sexuality studies to simply the study of gays and lesbians.

Given the sheer amount and analytical thrust of previous scholarship on the sodomite and the tribade, DiGangi’s challenge consists in framing both figures not as protohomosexuals, but rather as dramatic types. Even more challengingly, he must argue for the existence of each as a type although neither appears in character books from the period. Both types accordingly make curious choices for the first two chapters, but these chapters firmly anchor the book in the field of Renaissance sexuality studies and provide DiGangi, as the subtitle of his book suggests, with a point of Shakespearean departure. He reframes the sodomite as a “composite type, a hybrid figure composed of elements from common social types such as the prodigal, the epicure, the ‘good fellow’ (a gamester or a drunkard), and the friend” (7). Analyzing religious commentaries on the destruction of Sodom in order to establish the [End Page 130] variety of economic, sexual, and social norms the sodomite violates, DiGangi turns to one of the theater’s most...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-0342
Print ISSN
0011-1589
Pages
pp. 129-133
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-28
Open Access
No
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