Early modern bodies that matter

Authored by: Mario DiGangi

Routledge Companion to Women, Sex, and Gender in the Early British Colonial World

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781472479945
eBook ISBN: 9781315613772
Adobe ISBN:


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In this essay, I argue that the advent of “unhistoricism” has introduced into early modern sexuality studies an unproductive binarism between non-materiality (in the guise of “desire”) and materiality (in the guise of “identity” or “the body”). This binarism informs Madhavi Menon’s recent claim that Shakespeare, uniquely among his contemporaries, imagined sexual desire in a non-corporeal, “non-material” form: a claim that characterizes any attempt to think of desire in relation to bodies as producing a misguided account of desire as totalized, identitarian, and fixed. To insist that bodies matter is not, as Menon claims, to mystify or totalize bodies as phantasmatic unities that offer the false assurance of a fixed identity; it is to do justice to the ways that people experience desire in particular cultural circumstances—and to the ways that literary texts mediate, refract, or imaginatively elaborate such material embodiments of desire. In the remainder of the essay, through a reading of the ethical and political dimensions of embodied desire in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I advocate a feminist and queer analysis of eroticism that continues to explore how bodies might matter both for early moderns and for us.

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