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Romantic Friendship: Male  
 
page: 1  2  3  

But friendship triumphs when Gisippus offers the girl to Titus to prevent him from dying of unrequited desire. When Gisippus is later condemned for a murder that he did not commit, Titus offers to die in his place. This display of perfect friendship compels the real murderer to confess his crime. The Emperor Octavius then pardons all three men, and Titus returns Gisippus's earlier favor by offering him his sister in marriage.

In the Teseida (1340-1342), Boccaccio depicts a conflict between same-sex friendship and heterosexual love that has more tragic consequences. Palemone and Arcita are not only cousins but "sworn brothers" who have vowed to defend each other in war and peace. But when they both fall in love with Emilia, they forget their vows and pursue each other's destruction.

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Romantic Friendship in the Renaissance

The Renaissance revival of classical antiquity went hand-in-hand with a revival of interest in classical friendship. Montaigne's essay "De l'amitié" (1580) praises friendship along Ciceronian lines as a condition superior to all other human relationships. In a misogynistic turn typical of Renaissance discourses on the subject, Montaigne insists that friendship surpasses heterosexual attachment because women are fundamentally incapable of such complete spiritual communion.

Writers more skeptical toward classical authority sometimes objected to this exclusion of women. When Ariosto recast Nisus and Euryalus's tragedy as the Cloridano and Medoro episode of Orlando Furioso (1516), he drastically altered the ending to privilege heterosexual attraction over homosocial bonds. Unlike Euryalus, Medoro does not die with his beloved comrade. When the beautiful Angelica revives him, he forgets Cloridano, falls passionately in love with her, and elopes.

Romantic Friendship and the Reformation

The Reformation's opposition to monasticism eradicated medieval and Renaissance Europe's principal institutional support for the cult of male same-sex friendship. Since Protestantism championed marriage as the fundamental basis of society, writers in early modern England anxiously weighed the claims of romantic friendship against those of matrimony.

Book IV of Spenser's Faerie Queene (1596) purports to be a celebration of friendship. But for Spenser, "friendship" loses its association with same-sex love and becomes a more general force of cosmic harmony. Book IV's titular heroes, Cambel and Telamond, end up marrying each other's sister in an episode that reconciles homosocial and heterosexual inclinations.

Shakespeare's Sonnets (ca 1596) present a particularly tortured clash between antithetical codes of same-sex friendship and heterosexual desire. As in the Decameron, the love of two men, the poet-speaker and the Fair Young Man, for the same woman tests friendship's limits. In this case, both men end up sleeping with the Dark Lady in a complex erotic triangle grounded in mutual betrayal and perversely displaced desire.

A potentially similar triangle emerges in The Merchant of Venice (ca 1596) when Bassanio informs his friend Antonio that he intends to court the wealthy and beautiful Portia. But unlike the speaker of the Sonnets, Antonio shows no interest in women. After the play's comic resolutions have created multiple pairs of heterosexual lovers, Antonio stands alone in his uncompromised devotion to Bassanio.

Although some critics have seen Antonio as a prototype of the isolated homosexual, a more historically informed interpretation presents him as the final representative of a classical tradition undermined by the Reformation's compulsory heterosexuality.

Perhaps the last testament to the older tradition is John Milton's Sixth Neo-Latin Elegy (1639), a lament for the death of his friend Charles Diodati. By the time Milton wrote Paradise Lost (1667), with Book IV's paean to "wedded love," he had followed Ariosto's Medoro in abandoning romantic same-sex friendships for marriage, the institution that was soon to become the basis of the bourgeois family.

Romantic Friendship in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

As Sedgwick argues in Between Men, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed a drastic shift in the dynamics of homosocial bonding. A developing context of homophobia and paranoia about sexual definition necessitated the increasing mediation of intense same-sex friendships through a female third party. By falling in love with women, one and sometimes both friends dispel fears that their affection for each other might constitute actual homosexual desire.

This triangulation of homosocial desire often reduces the friends to rivals for the same girl or to panders helping each other achieve sexual conquests. In Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865), for instance, Charley Hexam's friendship with his teacher Bradley Headstone becomes more complicated when Headstone meets Hexam's sister Lizzie and falls in love with her.

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