- Friendship and Queer Theory in the Renaissance: Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern England by John S. Garrison, and: Indifference to Difference: On Queer Universalism by Madhavi Menon, and: Queer Philologies: Sex, Language, and Affect in Shakespeare's Time by Jeffrey Masten
Since its inception in early modern drama studies in the early 1990s, queer work has substantially reshaped our understanding of sexuality and gender in Shakespeare and his contemporaries. it has also complicated the ways we approach renaissance social institutions, and, perhaps most important, impacted the modes and methods of our study of history itself. aspects of all these issues are on display in three recent books that well represent the diversity and fluidity of queer thinking nearly thirty years on.
John S. Garrison's Friendship and Queer Theory in the Renaissance was written in the context of studies of early modern male friendship, and it develops those studies' insights into the "'homonormative' impulses in the early modern period that valorized friendship as based in an extreme form of likeness between two men" (xvi). But rather than focus on "the couple as the core unit of social relations" (xii), Garrison rethinks "the model of dyadic sociality itself" (xiii). thus, the book revises understandings deriving from classical and humanist idealizations that see friendship as occurring between two equal, disinterested parties. Garrison elaborates, instead, ways renaissance friendships occurred within groups and in negotiation with a broader social and economic world to effect utilitarian or productive and, indeed, sometimes profitable outcomes. to be sure, Friendship and Queer Theory is concerned not only or even primarily with the financial benefits of friendship but also with "intellectual productivity" (xvi). as a work of queer scholarship, it argues that "both male and female writers imagined modes of same-sex reproduction" that moved "beyond the textual to include ideas, economic projects, and same-sex households" (xvii).
Garrison's strength lies in his careful rehistoricizing of significant early modern texts. the opening chapter, for instance, analyzes ideas about friendship from aristotle and cicero to Bacon (especially "of Friendship" and "of negotiating" [both 1625]) in order to contextualize two theatrical works, The Masque of Amity (1594) and richard Edwards's comedy Damon and Pythias (1564). in the former case, Garrison shows that by introducing two characters, Graius and templarius, into its pageant of model friendships, The Masque fashions an ideal of amity not as the union of two like-minded men but, rather, two groups of men. and in the latter, he uses Edwards's play to argue that the eponymous protagonists, whose friendship is usually figured as uniting them against self-serving courtiers, admit the king as a [End Page 306] third into their partnership. thus, the play represents the profitable advantage of an expansive network (and definition) of friendship.
Garrison relies on these two interrelated models of multiple association to build his case that new ideas about friendship promised a profitable amity between and among members of same-sex groups. his book explores variations on the theme of friendship networks in The Merchant of Venice, Troilus and Cressida, Arden of Faversham, and Timon of Athens. and it examines group friendship (with a spiritual twist) in Milton's early work, Epitaphium Damonis (1645) and Paradise Lost (1667). Garrison is most interesting (and perhaps most profound) in analyzing Shakespeare's Sonnets and aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, in which he explores the authors' creations of multiple groups of like-minded friends in ways that lead to a shattering of self through desire. Finally, in a brief afterword on The Tempest, Garrison intuits at least one way such productive associations as he describes in his book would come under threat from an...