Reacting against a repressive turn in English society, Shakespeare’s middle-period plays defend the traditional relationship code and its relatively tolerant mores, question the fusion of passion and marriage that the playwright developed in earlier plays, and explore more pragmatic options. At the beginning of the seventeenth century cultural momentum turned from an imprecise system of relationships toward a monolithic, homogenizing institution of marriage and strict distinctions, which began to exclude homoeroticism. This sexual re-formation is critiqued in Shakespeare’s extensive middle-period treatments of erotic relationships, even dramatized by the indeterminacy of Claudio and Juliet’s union in Measure for Measure. We have been dismantling this re-formation since the 1960s. In each transitional era relationship and courtship codes shifted, the boundaries between the acceptable and the illicit were reconfigured, norms governing identity were reoriented, and the means of desiring-production were refashioned. Stressing structural shifts in practices and discourses of kinship formation, this approach supplements other theorizations of the sex/gender/relationship system and calls for a study of the varieties of heteroeroticism, including those that accept the homoeroticism in all sexuality.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.