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  • Queer Theory, Queer Historicism:Recent Works
  • Melissa E. Sanchez (bio)
John Garrison. Friendship and Queer Theory in the Renaissance: Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern England. New York: Routledge, 2014, 172 + xxx pages. $148.00 cloth.
Valerie Traub. Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015, 462 + xiv pages. $59.95 cloth.
Simone Chess. Male-to-Female Crossdressing in Early Modern English Literature. New York: Routledge, 2015, 196 pages. $155.00 cloth.
Jeffrey Masten. Queer Philologies: Sex, Language, and Affect in Shakespeare's Time. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016, 354 + xiv pages. $59.95 cloth.
Will Stockton. Members of His Body: Shakespeare, Paul, and a Theology of Nonmonogamy. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017, 178 + x pages. $25.00 paperback.

Over the past decade or so, the question of queer theory's relationship to history has stimulated a good deal of thought and (sometimes polemical) debate in early modern studies. Essays, reviews, books, edited volumes, conference [End Page 141] panels, seminars, and special journal issues have addressed the complex interchange among method, politics, and affect.1 The set of books under discussion here, all published between 2014 and 2017, demonstrate that the conversation is far from over. They not only contribute new knowledge and perspectives to queer early modern studies but also—to borrow Valerie Traub's words—offer rich opportunity for "metacritical reflections on why we do what we do the way we do it" (315). Method and metacriticism can mean a lot of things, but the particular question I am interested in exploring in this review essay is the relation between queer theory and queer history: if theory, as Traub writes, implies an abstract, widely applicable speculation or principle, and history accentuates particularity and specificity, how might these two approaches complement, correct, and expand upon one another?2 Turning to foundational topics for early modern sexuality studies—friendship (Garrison), epistemology (Traub), cross-dressing (Chess), philology (Masten), and Christian marriage (Stockton)—these five books answer that question in ways that are both surprising and compelling.

One approach, as Garrison, Traub, and Chess demonstrate, is to return to topics that have been central to queer studies for such a long time that it would be easy to think there is nothing new left to know or say about them. In the cases of these three books, those topics are, respectively, friendship, sex, and cross-dressing. Garrison builds on (and generously engages) a considerable body of scholarship that has established same-sex friendship as a culturally central alternative to heterosexual marriage in the classical, medieval, and early modern periods, an alternative that was valued insofar as it offered a model of egalitarian and sincere attachment that contrasted with the hierarchical structure and economic impetus of marriage. However, Garrison's analysis departs significantly from much that has come before; he shows how, even as queer scholars have contested the view that heterosexual marriage is a transhistorical ideal, they may have replicated its structure by emphasizing classical philosophy's overt attachment to the couple form and repudiation of socioeconomic interest. As a result, early modernists have overlooked the extent to which both classical and early modern philosophies of friendship express longing for more varied and numerous attachments. Garrison recovers a number of attempts to expand the definition of friendship not only to include groups as well as dyads, but also to embrace the possibilities of self-interest, in the form of both sexual pleasure and economic profit. Garrison also challenges some of the usual boundaries of period and genre. Along with a reconsideration of Aristotle and Cicero, he traces the influence of medieval [End Page 142] friendship treatises that expand the classical model to encompass group and financially beneficial relations, particularly in a monastic context, and thereby resists a sharp distinction between medieval and Renaissance, religious and humanist, thought. He convenes a range of genres and contexts—from canonical Shakespeare poems and plays to masques produced in the Inns of Court to Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum and Milton's Paradise Lost and Epitaphium Daemonis—all works that depict fluid "friendship networks" rather than dyadic pairs.3 The result is that we have a less noble...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-3786
Print ISSN
1531-0485
Pages
pp. 141-153
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-10
Open Access
No
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