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The Winter’s Tale (William Shakespeare)

17th c English play with minor theme of devoted female friendship.

LHMP entry

Jankowski examines Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale—and particularly the question of just where Hermione might have been hidden by Paulina during the period when she is presumed dead, and what they were doing there—to challenge traditional assumptions about the presence and extent of f/f eroticism in his plays, following themes of invisibility and hidden spaces. She takes as a premise that there “must have been women who desired other women and had erotic and/or sexual relations with them” in the early modern period and therefore looks among Shakespeare’s characters to find them.

Female same-sex desire is generally presented in early modern drama in fictitious constructions: the desire is either mistaken or misdirected. Only in this last chapter do we see examples where knowing desire from one woman to another is presented positively, and may even be celebrated as an ideal over heterosexual desire. Things aren’t always straightforward, even so. Although the desiring woman may believe the object of her desire is a woman, not uncommonly the scenario is defused by involving a gender-disguised man.

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