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Lesbian Historic Motif Project: 111h Walen 2005 - Constructions of Female Homoeroticism in Early Modern Drama (Conclusion and list of plays)

Full citation: 

Walen, Denise A. 2005. Constructions of Female Homoeroticism in Early Modern Drama. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-6875-3

Publication summary: 

A comprehensive look at themes of female homoeroticism in 16-17th century English drama and its sources.

Conclusion & List of Plays

Today's post wraps up the current book. Walen has been everything I hoped it would be: a detailed look at the nature and context (both internal and external) of homoerotic encounters between women in the material under consideration. Some of those encounters may seem marginal to my topic, either in terms of being only suggestive, or because gender-disguise elements can be used to undermine the interpretation of same-sex eroticism. But together they build up a picture of what the audience could imagine about women together, what they were assumed to know about, and what their attitudes were expected to be.

* * *

This study covers almost 100 years of plays, from 1570 to 1662, spanning the Elizabethan period through the Restoration of Charles II. Within that scope, there is no clearly identifiable progression from one attitude toward female homoeroticism to another. While some scholars have suggested increasing constraints on the presentation of female homoeroticism toward the end of the 17th century, what this study has found is a wide variety of depictions throughout that period. This variety consistently exhibits condemnation of lust, but the valorization of selfless, romantic love. This love-lust dichotomy is found both for heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

In plays depicting erotic relations between women, this contrast may appear as a choice between one approach or the other, or as a comparison between relationships characrerized by love and lust within the wame work. Platonic love between women may even be contrasted positively with erotic heterosexual relations.

While same-sex attraction may be directed into a heteronormative resolution (especially in comedies) or may be overtly punished (especially in tragi-comedies), there are a few individuals or couples who are allowed a more positive fate, or at least are not required to renounce their desire.

This contrast between lust and love, while not unproblematic, continued in the 18-19th centuries to drive a split between concepts of (unacceptable) sexual relations between women and idealized (but theoretically sexless) romantic friendships between them. [My note: the problematic aspect derives, in part, from a social acceptance that heterosexual love will inevitably include sexual elements, while same-sex relationships were expected to fall in one category or the other.]

The Plays

Walen lists the plays according to the chapter in which they appear, but I’m taking a simple alphabetic-by-author approach. Keep in mind that the amount and importance of the female homoerotic content is extremely variable. When I am able to find a copy of the script on-line, I have linked to it. It is quite possible that in some cases I have identified a different play by the same title (mostly a concern for anonymous works) as I haven’t had time to do a complete review. Two sites ( and are immensely valuable for this sort of material, in addition to which I'd like to provide a shout-out to Chris Cleary's collection of information and texts related to the plays of Thomas Middleton.


Time period: 

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