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Spotlight Literature of the English Renaissance

Homosexuality is writ large in English Renaissance Literature, but its inscription is only rarely direct and unambiguous. Except for a few texts--including several penned by William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and John Donne--homoeroticism is expressed implicitly rather than explicitly, seen from the outside rather than the inside.

  Sir Francis BaconSir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) condemned homosexuality in his more magisterial, philosophical works, though he inserted homosexual innuendo elsewhere in his writings, particularly in several essays.  
  The English Renaissance poet Richard Barnfield (1574-1620?) wrote two volumes of homoerotic verse, but appears to have stopped writing poetry after the age of 24.  
  John DonneJohn Donne (1572-1631) was England's supreme poet of heterosexual love in the late Renaissance. He also wrote a series of homoerotic verse letters to a young man and a remarkable dramatic monologue in a lesbian voice.  
  King JamesSponsor of the English translation of the Bible that bears his name and himself an accomplished author, King James VI of Scotland (and later James I of England) (1566-1625) was well known for his passionate attachments to handsome young men.
  Ben JonsonBen Jonson (1572-1637) is one of the most important figures in English literature. Though he was probably never involved in same-sex sexual relationships, he deserves attention for his depictions of same-sex relationships in both dramatic and nondramatic works.  
  Christopher MarloweChristopher Marlowe (1564-1593) represents homoerotic situations and incidents in his plays and poems more frequently and more variously than any other major English Renaissance writer.  
  John MiltonJohn Milton (1608-1674) may be the greatest poet in the English language. While he accepted the biblical condemnation of sodomy, some of his works suggest that his attitude toward same-sex relations was enlightened for his age.  
  Katherine PhilipsKatherine Philips (1632-1664) was considered "The English Sappho" of her day. Two-thirds of her poems concern erotic relationships among women.  
  William ShakespeareWilliam Shakespeare is one of the key figures that western civilization has used to define itself. He stands in a complicated, fiercely contested relationship to homosexuality.  


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