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Sexuality and Citizenship

Sexuality and Citizenship: Metamorphosis in Elizabethan Erotic Verse

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 272
  • Book Info
    Sexuality and Citizenship
    Book Description:

    Based for the most part on Ovid'sMetamorphoses, epyllia retell stories of the dalliances of gods and mortals, most often concerning the transformation of beautiful youths. This short-lived genre flourished and died in England in the 1590s. It was produced mainly by and for the young men of the Inns of Court, where the ambitious came to study law and to sample the pleasures London had to offer. Jim Ellis provides detailed readings of fifteen examples of the epyllion, considering the poems in their cultural milieu and arguing that these myths of the transformations of young men are at the same time stories of sexual, social, and political metamorphoses.

    Examining both the most famous (Shakespeare'sVenus and Adonisand Marlowe'sHero and Leander) and some of the more obscure examples of the genre (Hiren, the Fair GreekandThe Metamorphosis of Tabacco), Ellis moves from considering fantasies of selfhood, through erotic relations with others, to literary affiliation, political relations, and finally to international issues such as exploration, settlement, and trade. Offering a revisionist account of the genre of the epyllion, Ellis transforms theories of sexuality, literature, and politics of the Elizabethan age, making an erudite and intriguing contribution to the field.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7986-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction: Heterosexuality and Citizenship in the Elizabethan Epyllion
    (pp. 3-16)

    In the 1590s, spurred on by the success of Thomas Lodge’sScillaes Metamorphosis(1589), a series of comic, erotic poems was written on mythological tales, most often from Ovid’sMetamorphoses. These poems, now generally labelled ‘epyllia,’ were produced for the most part at the Inns of Court, a crucial training ground in Elizabethan England for those with political aspirations. Ambitious young men of the kingdom came to the Inns, sometimes after studying at the universities, sometimes direct from the counties, to experience life in London and learn the common law. Not coincidentally, given their primary audience, the poems frequently retell...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Metamorphosis of the Subject
    (pp. 17-39)

    In the opening stanzas of Thomas Heywood’sOenone and Paris, the grieving nymph comes upon the man who abandoned her and addresses him thus:

    And art thou come to prosequute the cause

    Of well or woe? my loosing or my winning?

    Say, gentle Troian, wordes that may delight me,

    And for thy former lust I will acquite thee.


    Oenone’s speech begins what is a typical scenario in the epyllion, a discussion of love that is conducted like a debate, hingeing upon an effective use of rhetoric (‘words that … delight,’ rather than logic or justice), and frequently employing...

  6. CHAPTER TWO ‘Bold sharpe Sophister[s]’: Rhetoric and Education
    (pp. 40-64)

    Everard Guilpin’s epigram ‘To Clodius’ includes many of the popular stereotypes of the Inns of Court gentleman: university educated, under-read in the law (especially Littleton’sTenures), fashion conscious (parading his finery in St Paul’s Cathedral), ostentatious, snobbish, and morally bankrupt. Guilpin, who studied at Cambridge and lived at Gray’s Inn, presumably knew whereof he wrote.¹ This picture, or one very similar to it, shows up frequently in satires, epigrams, and Overburian characters, although Overbury himself disputes that an Inns of Court man would ever be found in a whorehouse. ‘For his recreation, hee had rather go to a Citizens Wife...

  7. CHAPTER THREE ‘More lovely than a man’: The Metamorphosis of the Youth
    (pp. 65-108)

    The previous chapter looked at a recurrent narrative told of the Inns of Court students, the country youth who is seduced by the temptations of the city, and how this narrative informs Lodge’s retelling of the Glaucus myth. This chapter will take a more sustained psychoanalytical look at a concern at the heart of that narrative, that of the maturation of the young man. It will explore versions of this story in the three best-known epyllia, John Marston’sThe Metamorphosis of Pigmalions Image, Shakespeare’sVenus and Adonis, and Marlowe’sHero and Leander. The latter poems by Shakespeare and Marlowe are...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR ‘Yon’s one Italionate’: Sodomy and Literary History
    (pp. 109-144)

    Having considered the most famous examples of the genre, Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s, in this chapter we will look at some of the more obscure examples, concentrating principally on two by Thomas Edwards and one by John Weever, all of which are heavily indebted to their predecessors. For instance, Adonis is invoked in two of the three poems, and in both cases he is recognizably Shakespeare’s Adonis. All three of the poems have as their main narrative the story of a young man, and in all three cases, rhetoric plays a central role. But these poems are of interest not so...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE ‘The Thracian fields and company of men’: The Erotics of Political Fraternity
    (pp. 145-184)

    This chapter will look at two examples of the genre that explore, in unexpected ways, new models of political relations. This subject is perhaps not entirely surprising in the case of R.B.’sOrpheus His Journey to Hell, since Orpheus was a frequently cited model for humanist orators. In R.B.’s version of the story, Orpheus’s journey becomes the occasion for the formation of a new political community, based on affectionate bonds between adult men. Orpheus’s company of men thus functions as a precursor to the imagined community of the modern nation, which, as Benedict Anderson writes, ‘is always conceived as a...

  10. CHAPTER SIX ‘Riot, revelling and rapes’: Sexual Violence and the Nation
    (pp. 185-223)

    The previous chapter looked at the connection between erotic scenarios and political subjectivities. In this chapter I will widen the focus by considering sexual violence and sexual perversity in the epyllion; in particular, I will look at the ways in which the ‘headdie ryots, incest, rapes’ (Hero and Leander, 144) of the genre function in the creation of male communities and the subjectivities that correspond to these communities. One particular concern will be rape, which is often figured as the sexual equivalent of tyranny. Classical tyrants are frequently associated with rape, and both rape and tyranny can be read as...

  11. Conclusion: Nymphs and Tobacconalias
    (pp. 224-240)

    According to John Taylor, tobacco is the source of powerful metamorphoses, as tobacco merchants become lords while prodigals smoke their family fortunes away. For many writers, this new and expensive import was a cause for concern, and tobacco comes to embody many of the problems of the new economy. In the Taylor poem as in the epyllion, these economic changes are connected with more fundamental shifts: the violations of the social hierarchy, the transformations of the rich man to the beggar and the merchant to the lord, are compared to violations of the gender hierarchy, in the form of cross-dressing...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 241-266)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 267-284)
  14. Index
    (pp. 285-292)