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literature

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Italian Literature  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  

The comedy is structured around a very simple "beffa" or trick. The homosexual stablemaster is mischievously informed that his master has decided to have him marry a wealthy young bride. The stablemaster is appalled, and the play consists largely of his frantic attempts to be absolved of the marriage. He is the butt of much humor, yet in the end has the last laugh when he discovers at the wedding ceremony that his bride to be is in fact the willing page, Carlo, in drag.

Particularly interesting are the arguments used to persuade the stablemaster that he ought to marry. The religious argument is never invoked, and criticisms of his reluctance to marry are couched purely in social terms. The arguments put forward suggest that marriage is about social control and procreation. Unruly young men settle down once they are married, and of course the state needs children in order to prosper.

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In exchange, the man will receive all the domestic comforts a wife can provide. The exact benefits to her are unclear. Ironically, it is left to the stable master, all too often and simplistically deemed a misogynist, to expose the fact that these domestic duties are those normally carried out by a servant, prompting the obvious conclusion that for women marriage is a veiled form of servitude.

A similar plot can be found in a short story by Matteo Bandello (1485-1561), No. IV of his Novelle (collected short stories), which tells the tale of Porciello, a poet and notorious homosexual, who has been forced to marry in order to conceal, at least in part, his unnatural vice. He subsequently falls ill, so his wife attempts to persuade him to confess and atone for this particular sin.

A succession of priests fail to elicit the confession that he has ever performed any act "contra natura." In the end, he confesses to his preference but claims that this desire is so much part of him that it could never be classified as against nature. Although this causes great public scandal, he recovers and lives to pursue his own pleasure. Again homosexuality is barely censured, and the character in the story clearly asserts the right to enjoy a homosexual identity.

The exact force of religious injunction in these texts remains uncertain. In the anonymous play from Siena, Gli ingannati (The Deceived [1538]), the homosexual pedant is threatened by one of the other characters with burning at the stake, the traditional penalty for those convicted of sodomy. Yet the jocular tone of the exchange may question whether such punishment is likely.

In contrast also to the elevated and highly stylized tone of Michelangelo, the language of these writers is explicit and often bawdy in describing sex and the human body. There existed too a large vocabulary of euphemistic terms to convey such matters.

Alan Smith has recently proposed in his exploration of the scurrilous nonsense poetry of Burchiello (1404-1449) that this rhetoric could be employed to produce veiled critiques of the political regimes of the period, underlining the extent to which the body and its regulation are fundamental to practices of state.

The politics of the body and of homoerotic desire can however be variously manifest. The beauty of the effete youth Medoro in Ariosto's Orlando furioso (1532) is tenderly described, yet he is also presented as an improbable lover for the beautiful Angelica, the much sought after heroine of the epic: The desirability of boys is often seen as interchangeable with that of women.

In Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered [1581]), written later in the sixteenth century in the more repressive climate of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the homoerotic element does not disappear but is tellingly displaced onto the infidel.

The death of the page Lesbino and the lament of his lord Solimano are movingly evoked, yet the taint of their love does not infect the Christian encampment. Tasso is thus able to incorporate an element of homoeroticism into his narrative while representing homosexual relations as essentially a pagan vice.

Sexual relationships between males of different ages as an ideal form of communion is believed to have had particular currency during the Renaissance when the rediscovery of and enthusiasm for classical culture provided a means of justifying practices subject to religious interdict.

In this vein, Ariosto in his Satires (1517-1525) alleged that the sexual pursuit of boys was the particular vice of Humanists. Conversely, it could be argued that the ability to appreciate manly beauty was itself the fruit of a good classical education. Homoeroticism and high culture were intimately linked.

Poliziano in his verse fabula-drama Orfeo (Orpheus [1480]) cites classical precedents such as Ganymede, Hercules, and Jupiter to explicate the attachments of Orpheus. Yet Poliziano himself in his earlier Greek and Latin epigrams alludes to the possibility of love between boys of the same age. Guido Ruggiero in his research on Venice demonstrates that the nature of homosexual attachments was more varied than often supposed.

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