Shakespeare and Gender Essay

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Valerie Traub claims that ‘the meanings of homoerotic desire during the early modern period seem to have been remarkably unfixed, with contradictory meanings existing across a complex and fractured field of signification’ (‘Desire and the Differences it Makes’ in The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare). Choose ONE play on the module and discuss the ‘meanings’ of homoerotic desire.

“Not only did legal, moral, religious and literary discourses understand and evaluate homoeroticism differently, but within each discourse there existed contradictory positions.” Here, in her essay Desire and the Difference it Makes, Valerie Traub observes that homoerotic desire had a variety of “meanings” in the Early Modern
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In the Early Modern Period, the view on ‘homosexuality’ was that it could have either romantic or physical manifestations. The distinction was of importance since the latter was condemned both legally and by the Church, with its biblical undertones of sinfulness. Whilst from our own standpoint this condemnation seems somewhat extreme, it is important to remember that, despite our seeming accommodation of such behaviour legally in today’s society, there are many ways in which we show our aversion to it too. Nevertheless, Alan Bray affirms that the distinctions were still incongruous as “one was universally admired, the other execrated and feared: and yet in their uncompromising symmetry they paralleled each other in an uncanny way” . This is now explored through the context of Othello.

It is fitting that Othello is set in Venice, as it was known as a place for intrigue. Whilst practices and levels of acceptance differed throughout Europe within this period, the rise of Humanistic attitudes from Tuscany will have had a particularly enquiring effect within the region. It was commonly felt, particularly in Protestant areas, that Venice was simply a den of vice. Evidently Shakespeare gave Othello

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