Intersecting the Sexual: Modes of Early Modern Embodiment (symposium)

Scheduled for Thursday through Saturday, 14-16 November 2019

Differences of gender, age, and social position informed both the rhetorics and the lived experiences of sexuality in the early modern period. Yet other modes of embodiment—such as those associated with racial identity, physical incapacity, impoverished vagrancy, and conspicuous sartorial display—also impacted sexual practices and meanings in ways that have yet to receive sustained scholarly attention. Rather than simply expanding the category of the sexual, this symposium aims to understand how a focus on these other modes of embodiment might complicate or unsettle current theories and histories of sexuality. While building on insights from early modern sexuality studies, presenters will also draw on theoretical models and methods from adjacent fields such as early modern race studies, disability studies, transgender studies, global Renaissance studies, material culture studies, and posthumanist studies. How might the objects and questions foregrounded by such approaches advance the study of early modern sexuality beyond familiar paradigms? How might such intersections contribute to both historicist and present-day understandings of sex, gender, and embodiment?

Organizer: Mario DiGangi is Professor of English at Lehman College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author of The Homoerotics of Early Modern Drama (1997) and Sexual Types: Embodiment, Agency, and Dramatic Character from Shakespeare to Shirley (2011). He has edited three plays by Shakespeare and, with Amanda Bailey, Affect Theory and Early Modern Texts: Politics, Ecologies, Form (2017). His current project explores sexuality and race in English Renaissance literature.

Shared Syllabus Creation

At the November 2019 symposium, Professor Julie Crawford called on her colleagues to contribute notes, suggested readings, and themed lesson plans towards a shared syllabus for courses involving early modern sexuality and its many intersecting fields of study. Institute staff will post them here as they are shared.

Anne Clifford and Bedsharing

Offered by Julie Crawford

Clifford, Anne. The Memoir of 1603 and the Diary of 1616-1619. Ed. Katherine O. Acheson. Broadview, 2007. [Notable bed scenes abound; you can read about them in my essays “The Case of Lady Anne Clifford," PMLA 121.4 (October 2006) and “Women’s Secretaries,” Queer Renaissance Historiography, eds. Nardizzi, Guy-Bray and Stockton (Ashgate, 2009)].
“A Catalogue of the Household and Family of the Right Honourable Richard, Earl of Dorset,” Appendix 1, in The Diaries of Lady Anne Clifford, ed. D. J. H. Clifford (Sutton, 1990), 274-6. [The Catalogue includes a list of those seated at “The Laundry Maid’s Table,” including “Grace Robinson, a Blackamoor”].
Hall, Kim F. “Reading What Isn’t There: ‘Black’ Studies in Early Modern England,” Stanford Humanities Review 3.1 (Winter 1993): 23-33. [This essay includes a discussion of Grace Robinson].
Lubaina Himid’s artwork for a 2018 exhibition on “A Woman’s Place at Knole,” which centered on Grace Robinson.

It also might be interesting to look at Vita Sackville-West’s introduction to her 1923 edition of Clifford’s diary, and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928), in which a character imagines “kissing a negress in the dark.”

Race, Sex, and Courtly Culture

Offered by Mario DiGangi


Ben Jonson, The Masque of Blackness
Ben Jonson, The Gypsies Metamorphosed
Portraits of Queen Elizabeth (Powerpoint)


Peter Erickson, “British National Identity and the Emergence of White Self-Fashioning,” Early Modern Visual Culture: Representation, Race, and Empire in Renaissance England (2000)
Kim F. Hall, “Object into Object?” Early Modern Visual Culture Representation, Race, and Empire in Renaissance England (2000)
Madeline Caviness, “From the Self-Invention of the Whiteman in the Thirteenth Century to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Different Visions: A Journal of New Perspectives on Medieval Art 1 (2008): 1-33.
Carol Mejia LaPerle, “Race and Affect: Pleasurable Mixing in Ben Jonson’s The Masque of Blackness” (2019)


Bernadette Andrea, “Black Skin, The Queen’s Masques: Africanist Ambivalence and Feminine Author(ity) in The Masques of Blackness and Beauty” (2009)
Kim F. Hall, “Sexual Politics and Cultural Identity in The Masque of Blackness,” The Performance of Power
Sujata Iyengar, Shades of Difference, 90–100
Andrea Stevens, “Mastering Masques of Blackness: Jonson’s Masque of Blackness, the Windsor Text of The Gypsies Metamorphosed, and Brome’s The English Moor,” ELR 39.2 (2009), 396–426.
Hardin Aasand, ‘“To Blanch an Ethiop, and Revive a Corse’: Queen Anne and The Masque of Blackness,” SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 32.2 (1992), 271–85.
Clare McManus, Women on the Renaissance Stage: Anna of Denmark and Female Masquing in the Stuart Court, 1590–1619 (2002).
Sydnee Wagner, Outlandish People: Gypsies, Race, and Fantasies of National Identity in Early Modern English England(forthcoming)

The New World

Offered by Mario DiGangi


Thomas Harriot, A Briefe and True Report of the New-Found Land of Virginia, and John White, “The True Pictures and Fashions of the People in That Part of America Now Called Virginia” (1590)
Jean de Léry, Histoire d’un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil (1578) [History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, trans. Janet Whatley]
Richard Ligon, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados (1657) [EEBO; Loomba, 254-7]


Valerie Traub, “Sexuality,” A Cultural History of Western Empires in the Renaissance (1450-1650), ed. Ania Loomba
Jennifer Morgan, “‘Some Could Suckle over Their Shoulder’: Male Travelers, Female Bodies, and the Gendering of Racial Ideology, 1500-1770,” William and Mary Quarterly 54:1 (1997): 167-92.
Christine Varnado, “Lost Worlds, Lost Selves: Queer Colonial Melancholia,” The Shapes of Fancy: Reading for Queer Desire in Early Modern Literature (2020)
Gregory D. Smithers, “Cherokee ‘Two Spirits’: Gender, Ritual, and Spirituality in the Native South,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 12.3 (2014): 626–51.


Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” (1987)
Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, “Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic: Queer Imaginings of the Middle Passage” (2008)
Jonathan Burton, “Western Encounters with Sex and Bodies in Non-European Cultures, 1550-1750,” Routledge History of Sex and the Body: 1500 to the Present, ed. Sarah Toulalan and Kate Fisher (2013)
Carolyn Epple, “Coming to Terms with Navajo Nádleehí: A Critique of Berdache, ‘Gay,’ ‘Alternate Gender,’ and ‘Two-Spirit.’” American Ethnologist 25, no. 2 (May 1, 1998): 267–90.
James Axtell, “The White Indians of Colonial America,” William and Mary Quarterly 32.1 (January 1975): 55–88.
Cassander Smith, “Consuming Beauty: Richard Ligon, Black African Women, and a Reciprocity of Power,” Black Africans in the British Imagination: English Narratives of the Early Atlantic World (2016)
Carla Freccero, “Queer Spectrality,” Queer/Early/Modern (2006)
Barbara Fuchs, “No Field is an Island: Postcolonial and Transnational Approaches to Early Modern Drama” (2012).
Michael J. Horswell, Decolonizing the Sodomite: Queer Tropes of Sexuality in Colonial Andean Culture (2005)

Sex Education: Women, Sex, and Gender in the Early Modern Period

Offered by Kim Coles

Katherine Behar, ed., Object-Oriented Feminism (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2016)
Valerie Traub, Thinking Sex With the Early Moderns (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016)
Robyn Wiegman, Object Lessons (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012)
Elizabeth Wilson, Gut Feminism (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2015)

Two classes were particularly successful: in one we read Seo-Young Chu's gorgeous essay, "A Refuge for Jae-in Doe: Fugues in the Key of English Major," with sonnets and Epithalamia of the period; and in another we read Mario DiGangi's essay against Judith Butler and Madhavi Menon in the context of Midsummer Night's Dream.

Race, Science, and Reproduction

Offered by Alicia Andrzejewski

In this senior-level undergraduate course, my students and I will examine literary representations of reproduction, thinking about them in relation to deep-seated ideologies of nation, culture, conflict, and definitions of life across time. We are reading texts from The King of Tars to Titus Andronicus, to Frankenstein, to Octavia Butler’s Dawn and “Bloodchild,” to Cherrie Moraga’s Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood, to Carmen Maria Machado's "The Husband Stitch," etc.

Here is my preliminary reading list for a section on Titus Andronicus (I usually don't assign secondary sources that discuss the text I assign directly so my undergrads can close read and formulate their own ideas before beginning to research):

William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus
Kim F. Hall, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?: Colonization and Miscegenation in the Merchant of Venice
Marie-Hélène Huet, Monstrous Imagination: Chapter 1, “The Renaissance Monster” (13-35)
Jennifer Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery: Introduction and Chapter 1: “‘Some Could Suckle Over Their Shoulder’”: Male Travelers, Female Bodies, and the Gendering of Racial Ideology” (1-49)
Kimala Price. “What Is Reproductive Justice?: How Women of Color Activists Are Redefining the Pro-Choice Paradigm.” Meridians (2010)

Rogue Sexualities in Early Modern England

Offered by Ari Friedlander

Ben Jonson, The Gypsies Metamorphos’d (Performed, 1621; Published, 1640)
Urvashi Chakravarty, “More Than Kin Less Than Kind: Similitude Strangeness and Early Modern English Homonationalisms,” Shakespeare Quarterly 67.1 (2016) 14-29.
Paula Blank, Broken English: Dialects and the Politics of Language in Renaissance Writings, Ch. 2 “The Thieves of Language” 33-68.
Jeffrey Masten, Queer Philology: Sex, Language, and Affect in Shakespeare's Time, Ch. 6 "Is the ‘Fundament' a Grave? Translating the Early Modern Body," 177-190.

Poetry on Dildos

Offered by Will Fisher


Thomas Nashe, The Choise of Valentines (c. 1592-3)
Samuel Butler, Dildoides (c.1671-2, first published 1706)
The Bauble (1721)
Monsieur Thing’s Origin: Seignor Dildos Adventures in Britain (1722)


Karen Harvey, excerpt from “Female Bodies” chapter of Reading Sex in Eighteenth Century England (2004), 102-105 and 109-111.
Karen Newman, “Sex in the City,” in Cultural Capitals: Early Modern London and Paris (2009).
Ian Moulton, excerpt on Nashe’s “Choise of Valentines” from Before Pornography (2000), 168-186.


Bruce Boehrer, “Behn’s ‘Disappointment’ and Nashe’s ‘Choise of Valentines’: Pornographic Poetry and the Influence of Anxiety,” Essays in Literature 16 (1989).
Liza Blake, “Dildos and Accessories: The Functions of Early Modern Strap-Ons,” in Ornamentalism: The Art of Renaissance Accessories, ed. Bella Mirabella (2011).
Jeffrey Kahan, “Violating Hippocrates: Dildoes and Female Desire in Thomas Nashe’s ‘The Choice of Valentines,’” Para-Doxa 2.2 (1996): 204-216.
Patricia Simons, “The Cultural History of ‘Seigneur Dildoe,’” in Sex Acts in Early Modern Italy: Practice, Performance, Perversion, Punishment, ed. Allison Levy (2010).

Sex and Early Modern Disability

Offered by Allison Hobgood

In this upper-level undergraduate course, we examine over a number of class sessions sex and early modern disability. Some possible paired texts follow:


William Shakespeare, Othello
Richard Crashaw, excerpts from Steps to the Temple
Richard Barnfield, “The Affectionate Shepherd”
William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis


Joshua Eyler, “Introduction: Breaking Boundaries, Building Bridges,” from Disability in the Middle Ages
Elizabeth Bearden, Introduction to Monstrous Kinds
Josh Lukin, “Disability and Blackness” in The Disability Studies Reader, 4th ed., Lennard Davis
Sujata Iyengar, selections from Shades of Difference
Peter Erikson and Kim Hall, “‘A New Scholarly Song’: Rereading Early Modern Race,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 67.1 (2016), 1-13
bell hooks, “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” in Black Looks: Race and Representation, 21–39
Richard Rambuss, “What It Feels Like for a Boy: Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis” AND (Crashaw-related) selections from Closet Devotions
Valerie Traub, excerpts from Thinking Sex With the Early Moderns
Tobin Siebers, “A Sexual Culture for Disabled People” in Mollow and McRuer, eds. Sex and Disability

Schedule of Original Symposium

All sessions will take place in the Folger's Foulke Conference Room (301 East Capitol Street, SE) unless otherwise specified.

Thursday evening, 14 November 2019

Welcome: Owen Williams (Folger Institute)

Opening Plenaries

Chair: Mario DiGangi (City University of New York)

Everything but the Burden: Querying Early Modern Intersections
Ian Smith (Lafayette College)
The Gravity of Fields: Sexuality x Race
Valerie Traub (University of Michigan)

Opening Reception (Founders Room)

Friday, 15 November 2019

Coffee and Pastries

Call to Order: Owen Williams


Assistive Technologies and Plant Blindness: New Approaches in Early Modern Sexuality and Disability Studies

Chair: Allison Hobgood (Willamette University)

Simone Chess (Wayne State University)
Vin Nardizzi (University of British Columbia)
In this session on “Disability,” we will address the symposium themes through the framework of three recent publications in disability studies, Jasbir K. Puar's The Right To Maim (2017), Elizabeth Bearden's Monstrous Kinds (2019), and Jason S. Farr's Novel Bodies (2019). In our coordinated position papers, we will highlight concepts and points of conflict elaborated in these three important disability studies publications, toward a set of provocations about approaches to the study of disability and sexuality in early modern England.

Lunch (on your own, with suggestions provided)


Material Culture, or Plumes, Puffs, Pumps, and Poses

Chair: Jean Howard (Columbia University)

James Bromley (Miami University)
Natasha Korda (Wesleyan University)
This session explores the insubstantial pageantry of early modern sex, situated at the intersectional nexus of queer theory and historiography, the new materialisms, posthumanism, trans*animalities, theater and performance studies, and race and disability studies. James Bromley peruses early modern plumage via new materialist theory as a potent site of transmateriality, one that provokes us to query the taxonomic limits of sex and interspeciation. Natasha Korda’s provocation takes the form of “Notes on Elizabethan Camp,” proposing a prehistory of fugitive frivolity via Sontag, Bette Davis, POSE, and the Met’s 2019 extravaganza, Camp: Notes on Fashion.



Chair: Bernadette Andrea (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Abdulhamit Arvas (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Carmen Nocentelli (University of New Mexico)
What happens to our understanding of early modern sexuality when we take into account non-European histories, practices, and beliefs? How did these histories, practices, and beliefs shape the organization of European sexual discourses and subjectivities, both on the periphery and in the metropole? Finally, can we use intersectionality to acknowledge how these discourses and subjectivities were often co-productions between the so-called East and the West? Cross-cultural encounters, we suggest, require us to think intersectionally in at least two ways. First, by making it obvious that sexuality cannot be thought about without also thinking about racial difference, ethnic distinction, and religious affiliation. Second, by showing that sexual discourses could be produced literally at the intersection between competing structures of power and knowledge.


Brief Remarks

Chair: Mario DiGangi

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Coffee and Pastries



Chair: Will Fisher (City University of New York)

Colby Gordon (Bryn Mawr College)
Marjorie Rubright (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Although early modern studies has amply engaged with gender nonconformity, crossdressing, and sodomy, the field has only recently begun to consider the transgender possibilities of Renaissance literature. This panel asks how we might expand critical inquiry into questions of transgender embodiment for an era that predates the technologies of medical transition. This session will consider how contemporary trans studies might allow us to access familiar texts in new and surprising ways. We focus on the confluence of trans theory and early modern studies in a ‘case altered’: the related stories of Moll Cutpurse and Mary Frith. Through a diptych of papers on The Roaring Girl and The Life of Mary Frith—-texts that serve as test cases for exploring the tensions and overlap between feminist, gay and lesbian, queer, and trans scholarship—-we propose that the archives and literature of early modern studies can expand the contexts, methods and authorized genealogies of contemporary trans studies.

Coffee Break



Chair: Urvashi Chakravarty (University of Toronto)

Julie Crawford (Columbia University)
Ari Friedlander (University of Mississippi)
Those interested in questions of status and sexuality in the early modern period have often focused on the erotics of status (such as master/mistress-servant) and the myriad forces that render disparate bodies, relations, and sexual practices desirable or obscene. In this panel we are more interested in considering the production of status – of valued and devalued bodies and acts – than in its manifestations. How does biopolitical thinking about laboring bodies or populations and the fine discriminations of their capacities affect our understanding of sexuality? How might the consideration of actual labor practices, including those with materially-transformative capacities, produce new status and sexual possibilities?

Lunch (on your own, with suggestions provided)



Chair: Holly Dugan (The George Washington University)

Amanda Bailey (University of Maryland)
Christine Varnado (University at Buffalo)
Posthumanism accounts for the interactions of multiple actors--human and nonhuman, virtual and material--and argues for a distributive, composite notion of agency. In this panel, we explore how methodological approaches that dislodge the human subject ask us to rethink the relationship of interiority and corporeality. How can queer reading practices, for instance, aid in disaggregating and pondering the multiple different orders of thing, material and incorporeal, that challenge the definitional boundaries of the “human”—such as a stain that takes center stage in an unfolding national drama, mobile, and expanding in complexity; or post-human (dead) human remains? In considering the question “What is human?” our papers will explore how Macbeth stages the problem of how life enters and leaves the world, and disembodied consent and resistance in The Rape of Lucrece.


Response, Discussion, and Moving Forward

Jeffrey Masten (Northwestern University)

Closing Reception(Founders Room)