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  • Loveable Philologies:Texts, Bodies and Early Modern Queer Desire
  • Will Tosh (bio)
Jeffrey Masten, Queer Philologies: Sex, Language, and Affect in Shakespeare's Time, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2016; pp. xii + 353.

Two publications might serve as bookends to the period under consideration in Jeffrey Masten's richly engrossing Queer Philologies: Sex, Language, and Affect in Shakespeare's Time. The first is Champ Fleury – 'the Art and Science of the Due and True Proportion of Classical Letters' – by the French printer and humanist Geofroy Tory. Published in 1529, Tory's treatise set out to regularize the design of Roman majuscule letters according to a standard ten-by-ten grid and in harmony with the human body and face. His 'O' is consequently depicted encircling a nude Vitruvian man, whose stretched-out hands and feet land gracefully at the two, four, eight and ten o'clock positions on the face of the letter. More pertinent for Masten is Tory's deviant 'Q', the only capital letter to venture below the line whose tail queerly reaches out to embrace his 'companion and good brother' 'V' (U) 'from below'. When, in a plate entitled 'L'Homme Lettre', Tory depicts the twenty-three letters of the Roman alphabet in relation to the parts of the body, Q is inevitably aligned with the cul (arse).

A century and a half later, Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises, Or, the Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing (1683) revealed the long-established professional vocabulary of the printing house, where pages had heads and feet, composing sticks came with cheeks, and each piece of type (once squeezed out of a matrix) was differentiated by its body, face, shank and neck. And from the middle of the era marked out by Tory and Moxon comes the first folio of William Shakespeare, presented by its editors Henry Condell and John Heminges as a collection of textual '[o]rphanes', formerly 'maimed and deformed' by publication in spurious quarto but now 'cur'd, and perfect of their limbes'. These letters and texts have corporeality, an embodied-ness that entails interaction and relationality. Bodies and books are, in Shakespeare's time at least, cattle of a remarkably similar colour.

Masten's playful and persuasive new book sets out to 'denaturalize' (p. 20) the rhetorics of sexual politics and reproduction which have shaped our understanding of philology, bibliography and textual criticism (languages are kin to one another; copies are faithful; genres are mongrelized). [End Page 328] Old-school linguistic philology is long overdue the comprehensive queering it receives here, but Masten is interested in 'renew[ing]' (p. 15) the discipline, not unseating it. His objective is to 'seduce readers into philology as a loveable method' (p. 37) – that pun on 'phil-/love-' being wholly deliberate and very Mastenish – because the method is a means to an end: Queer Philologies is a 'detailed study of the terms and related rhetorics that early modern English culture used to inscribe bodies, pleasures, affects, sexual acts, and, to the extent that we can speak to these, identities' (p. 15). It is both a 'topical contribution to the history of sexuality in early modern Europe' and a methodological intervention to demonstrate the 'utility of patiently unravelling the connections of even the most initially unlikely words for understanding this culture' (p. 33).

The result is rather dazzling, as Masten enlivens the fustiness of comparative philology with some history-of-sexuality sparkle and demonstrates the reliance of each on each. Structured around three 'lexicons' of early modern queer desire ('Friendship', 'Boy-desire' and 'Sodomy'), the chapters constitute a significant contribution to queer historicist scholarship as Masten excavates the meanings of sweet, persuasion, conversation, intercourse, boy, amorous, fundament, mongrel, top and tup, to enrich our understanding of a culture that sustained a multiplicity of queer sexualities, desires, practices and positionings. Along the way, he reinterprets the relationship between Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe, locating it much more securely in the context of esteemed amicitia perfecta, or idealized male friendship (chap. 3, 'Extended "Conversation": Living with Christopher Marlowe; a Brief History of "Intercourse"'); he argues for the early modern playhouse as a supportive institution for premodern homosexualities and the...


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pp. 328-332
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