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English Literature: Restoration and Eighteenth Century  
 
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Throughout the Restoration and eighteenth century, sodomitical characters were both presented and pilloried in literature.

Almost from the moment of his return from exile in France in 1660, King Charles II established the tone of his court, in town and country, based on personal pleasure and liberty. The drama, his favorite pastime, was reinstated as the main form of courtly entertainment, and sexual liberty was condoned in ways previously unknown.

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Although it was perfidious to speculate about the king's own sexuality, or even his anatomical body, the way he yoked priapism to divine authority was inescapable. Samuel Pepys the diarist idealized him for precisely this phallic reason and fantasized about his "massive shaft" and "mighty yard."

It was also perilous for playwrights to make associations within the drama--depictions of beautiful men as well as their sexual liaisons--in part because the king himself was accused of engaging in overt sodomitical liaisons with the Duke of Buckingham.

But interpretation of all these events involves a historical understanding of sodomy (the physical act of anal insertion) as distinct from our modern homosexuality (a psychological state of mind). Without such distinction, it is hard not to commit the sin of historical anachronism.

For example, Pepys also records hearing a conversation in 1663 about "," but did not know what buggery was: a remarkable stance for a court libertine like Pepys who claims to have "climaxed" in February 1668 while reading the anonymous, lurid School of Venus (translated into English in 1667).

A Tolerated Bisexuality

A broad context is necessary to understand these complex sodomitical relations and the literature it produced. The Restoration was an age of transformation in philosophy and science, as well as a period of intense English nationalism and partisan politics. Imbroglio, intrigue, and scandal flourished, and though the libertinism of the court was overtly heterosexual, underneath resided what we today would call a tolerated bisexuality that had few parallels in prior European history.

Pepys's London was a world of man-boy relations in which broadsides commonly called attention to relations with pages and "link boys vile." broadsides decried these practices, and sermonists condemned them; still they thrived in town and at court.

It is a myth that Restoration bisexuality existed primarily in the form of male-female commensurability: that is, a man appearing with his (female) whore on one arm and his (male) or "pathic" on the other. The issue is not the commensurability of both a male and female at the same time, but the interpretive problem of historical anachronism: studying the history of sexuality backward.

Indeed, we must guard against the tendency to understand homosexuality through the eyes of its later versions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The English Restoration (1660-1700) was populated with homosexual men in our modern sense, but they were neither portrayed on the stage as effeminate nor represented as flourishing in the homosexual subcultures that developed in the eighteenth century.

The drama of the epoch portrays these arrangements more clearly than other literary forms. For example, in Sir George Etherege's The Man of Mode (1676) Medley's relation to Dorimant is indicated by their kissing, but despite Dorimant's interest in Medley's appearance, he has nothing in common with such effeminate fools as Lorenzo in Aphra Behn's The Amorous Prince (1671), who pursues a girl dressed as a page boy, or Peacock in Edward Howard's The Six Days Adventure (1671), who embraces a link boy.

Medley gossips with women but does not pursue them, nor should he as a figure representing the sodomite in love with Dorimant. Nemours in Nathaniel Lee's The Princess of Cleve (1689) is another character based on bisexual stereotypes; having consummated a sexual relationship with his young friend Bellamore, he allegedly retains his amorous interest in women.

In the drama, this bisexuality is portrayed as hierarchical by age (old-young) and social class (rich-poor) rather than as biologically predetermined, and its hierarchical status is further evident in the disparity of age between active and passive partners, especially the older man and younger boy, whether pageboy, linkboy, groom, or porter.

Bisexuality flourished in the Restoration court and was abetted by the widespread practices of cross-dressing and transvestism that served to disguise erotic attachments. Cross-dressing was common at war as well as at home, on sea and land, in business and commerce where young women dressed as men to gain employment. These and other versions abound in the plays of the period.

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