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English Literature: Restoration and Eighteenth Century  
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  

Sodomitical "Couples" on Stage

In these plays, male couples are often portrayed as "lovers" despite their concomitant retention of female lovers whom they marry. Such representative sodomitical "couples" are Alexander and Hephestion in Lee's The Rival Queens (1677), Anthony and Dorabella in Dryden's All for Love (1678), and two couples in Rochester's Valentinian.

Lee, possibly homosexual himself and reputedly deranged, was especially adroit in the manipulation of sodomites on the stage without giving political offense, to such a degree that within Restoration dramatic history, he must be considered the master of homosexual representation.

Homoerotic and Homosocial Love on Stage

In other heroic plays, the love between men is merely or without the slightest trace of genital intimacy. Moreover, students of the future will want to consider the degree to which men love other men in Otway's Venice Preserv'd (1682) and Lee's Massacre of Paris (1689) and Caesar Borgia (1680), a topic considered too politically sensitive by previous generations.

The characters--Pierre and Jaffeir, the Duke and Ligneroles--are at least homoerotic and in a few cases (such as Ascanio, a "fine, effeminate Villain" in Caesar Borgia) actively sodomitical.

Sodomy a Mainstay of Dramatic Literature

As the 1680s wore out, it was clear that sodomy had become a mainstay of English literature, especially on the stage, where it was always implicit that homosexuality was both flourishing and fashionable in English society at large.

But both its pervasiveness and popularity remain riddled with factual quandaries, not least the degree to which its fashionability increased owing to King William III's notoriety as a sodomite. In this sense, the Stuart import of a Dutch Orangist king amounted to much more than a religious solution to a national problem.

It was perfidious, of course, to allude to the king's sexuality on the stage, but the ephemeral literature of the 1690s is permeated with references, to say nothing of benign allusions, to William and his , and frank discussion of such a delicate matter could not have been conducted if its audiences had not already been shaped.

Playwrights such as the now obscure Thomas Southerne and John Crowne, as well as the popular comic dramatists William Congreve and John Farquhar, all include varieties of sodomites in their plays.

In Southerne's comedy The Maid's Last Prayer (1693), "Gayman" is the only figure who escapes without being labeled impotent or sexually compromised. Lord Malpert pimps for his wife by recruiting "Gayman" as her lover, and Malpert's friends Sir Symphony and Sir Foeminine Fanviles, are ridiculed for their degree of effeminacy.

"Lovely" in Crowne's The Married Beau (1694) is married but "passionately fond" of, and sexually aroused by, his friend Polidor. Dorax in Dryden's Don Sebastian, King of Portugal (1689) is obsessed with sodomy as a mode of behavior and state of human existence. Vainlove in Congreve's The Old Bachelor (1693) belongs to the litany of males of the 1690s who pursue women without erotic interest in catching them.

In summary, Restoration drama displays a broad variety of homosexual male figures ranging from the genitally active braggadocio to the passively effeminate married man. It may be the richest treasure trove in English literature for its diversity of homosexual types.


However, no appraisal of the homosexuality of the English Restoration can be complete without discussion of its broad cults of cross-dressing that filled a number of socioeconomic purposes.

On the stage, cross-dressing was used differently from how it had been in Elizabethan or Jacobean drama. Now, women were played by actresses who dressed as men primarily to display their legs; however, when men pursue other men on the stage, one of the parties is unfailingly played by a woman, as in Dryden's Marriage a la Mode (1673), where Doralice dresses as a boy and flirts with Palamede.

But there are literally dozens of others. In Aphra Behn's The Amorous Prince (1671), Lorenzo tries to procure a page who is a woman in disguise. In Wycherley's classic The Country Wife (1675), Horner pursues Margery Pinchwife who is dressed as her younger brother. In Southerne's Sir Antony Love (1691), the Abbé pursues "Love," cast as a woman in disguise as a young man.

Men cast as women, women as men: The point about fluid homosexual relationships is made explicitly through cross-dressing, but social types and social classes are also intentionally confused to locate the source of sodomitical affections.

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