Penetrating Tendencies: Female Masculinity and a Logic of Lesbianism in Early Modern England
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This project provides a new account of taxonomies of sexual tendencies within English Renaissance popular thought. My argument departs from dominant scholarship, which has maintained that Renaissance culture did not correlate sexual acts and other aspects of identity. By contrast, my analyses reveal that such mainstream characters as Spenser's Britomart, Moll Frith, and Shakespeare's Joan of Arc and Queen Margaret possess definable identity traits that consistently evoke fantasies of erotic possibilities for early modern audiences. More precisely, these women are all represented as masculine women, largely due to their martial tendencies and ability to perform the acts and deploy the accessories and physical symbolism that men rely on to define masculinity. The women's declared aversion to procreative sexual encounters, coupled with the their phallic accessories, are at the foundation of sustained homoerotic fantasies about them. This new account of early modern sexuality changes how we see the development of the relationship between sexual tendencies and other aspects of identity, and in particularly challenges previous analyses of same-sex female sexuality in the Renaissance.
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