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English Literature: Restoration and Eighteenth Century  
 
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John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), courtier and notorious libertine, epitomizes these trends. In real life, he was the extreme Restoration rake--a carefree aristocrat driven by lust and license--but his literary offensiveness and personal sexual recklessness brought him into disfavor even with the open-minded king.

His poem called Satyr against Mankind (1675) intimates the degree of his vaunted misogyny and libertinism and his Sapphic vision of utopian male self-sufficiency. But it is his poetry, permeated with invocations of drunken revelry, sexual dissipation, and male separatism, and his involvement with the much disputed (and never staged) play Sodom: or, The Quintessence of Debauchery, which brilliantly demonstrates Restoration versions of bisexuality.

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Here androgynous boys are idealized as creatures of a "softer sex," often with the bodies of girls, but man-man relations--sexual relations between chronologically and economically similar men--are discouraged.

In Rochester's works, more generally, the phallus (a force extending beyond the anatomic penis) is continually threatened by predatory females, who, even if not altogether ready to castrate the vital male organ, constantly attack it. Rochester's response entails a version of male separateness not entirely dissimilar from the radical gay and lesbian separatism of our time. And his "lewd boys" constitute a viable alternative to the "seductive females" represented as cunning, forbidding, and capable of emasculating the male.

Rochester's influence served to crystallize the image of the new self-styled sodomite as bisexual. But it was dangerous to stage his plays during periods of political upheaval (for example, in 1680 during the Popish Plot), and doubt remains about his personal view of the new versions of bisexuality.

His rakes debate sodomy--as perhaps did the real-life rakes of the epoch--in new contexts related to their own vaunted libertinism, and often derogate its origins in what we post-moderns would term "gender preference." The denial sounds strange to our ears, but no matter how much the rakes profess to have developed a taste for sodomitical sex (that is, genitally considered), they are more often than not mute about their preference for males over females.

In real life, sexual types were facilely jumbled together. John Hoyle was reported to have been sodomitical in the new, bisexual sense. He was Rochester's friend, as well as the chum of the female playwright Aphra Behn. On the surface, the three had little in common, yet they were associated in a number of biographical ways, including their mindset about the new bisexual sodomy.

The Dramatic "Male Bawd"

On the stage, the dramatic "male bawd" also had close sodomitical affinities, especially insofar as metropolitan and court culture afforded him an opportunity for gain and exploitation.

The bawd first appears in Etheredge's She Wou'd If She Cou'd (1668) in the character of Sir Joslin Jolley and is developed in such familiar dramatic figures as Sir Jolly Jumble in Thomas Otway's The Soldier's Fortune (1681) and Coupler in Vanbrugh's The Relapse (1696). Both pursue brawny young men who are idealized as masculine and virile.

Some actors with particularly attractive physiques specialized in sodomitical roles. They were often said to have entered into sodomitical relationships themselves, but whether this was a consequence of their public image or historical fact is hard to ascertain.

The physically splendid Edward Kynaston was reputed to have been the favorite of the Duke of Buckingham; William Mountfort was alleged to have had romantic liaisons with Lord Chancellor Jeffries. Anthony Leigh was the best known of the sodomitical actors and made a fortune playing the leading roles, from Old Bellair in Etherege's Man of Mode to Chylas in Rochester's Valentinian (staged by 1684).

Some sodomitical actors, James Nokes, for example, acquired their reputation by specializing in women's roles. Thomas Clark was adroit in playing young, beautiful men who were the object of older men's attentions. His career during the 1670s and 1680s coincided with the golden decades of bisexual representation on the stage, and he was especially praised for portraying a series of sodomitical characters in plays by Lee, John Dryden, and Rochester.

These actors gradually shaped an English audience accustomed to sodomitical types. More specifically, however, sodomy entered serious drama through high heroic tragedy, such as Almazor in Dryden's The Conquest of Granada (1672) and in Lee's plays where erotically charged relationships between men figure prominently, as in the figures of Massinissa and Massina in Sophonisba (1675).

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