Elizabeth Tudor, John Lyly and Christopher Marlowe: Power, sexuality and the abject early modern body

Michelle Parkinson, Purdue University


To the fairly recent focus on non-heterosexual erotics in the Renaissance, the present study offers a revision based on philosophical descriptions of subjectivity which ground identity in articulations of the body. A discussion of representations of the early modern body, my project situates these representations within Elizabethan structures of power, sexuality, and gender. I am particularly concerned with portrayals of transgressed and transgressing corporeality---that is, with subversive expressions of desire, refusals of gender norms, and political subversions which reflect upon the body---in order to illustrate the means by which early modern patriarchal hierarchies punish and forcibly normalize or expel rebellious bodies. The focus on representations of Elizabeth I, as well as on figures portrayed in the drama of Christopher Marlowe and John Lyly, provides a way to map how early modern subjectivity emerges precisely through descriptions of sexed, gendered bodies. Texts on and by Elizabeth I provide the contextual milieu---and one in which a female Queen articulates her power in a primarily male-dominated world---into which Marlowe and Lyly would introduce their own dramatic negotiations of Elizabethan culture. Several peculiarities of early modern bodily subjectivity emerge: the early modern body tends to literalize the attributes of the subjectivity it articulates; the death of this body will often be symbolically interlocked with the transgressions that led to that death; the means of death will tend to impress themselves on the very bodies left behind; and finally, early modern bodies and souls were understood to be thoroughly fused. This implies for queer studies a new way to account for the interpenetration of subversive politics and sexuality in the period by insisting on the ways in which regulatory forces brutally imprint the queer early modern body with its own transgressions.




Ross, Purdue University.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Theater

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