Sex, Gender, and Desire in the Plays of Christopher Marlowe.
It is difficult to place Sara Deats's Sex, Gender, and Desire in the Plays of Christopher Marlowe among recent studies of Renaissance gender and sexuality. Citing materialist critics like Jonathan Dollimore and Catherine Belsey, Deats aims to "enlist both theory and history" in a "cultural reading of the construction of sex, gender, and sexuality in Marlowe's plays" (16). Deats displays an impressive knowledge of both traditional and recent Marlowe scholarship, and her comprehensive mappings of gender discourse in four of his plays are lucid and detailed. Nevertheless, her theoretical and historical framing of the subject, as well as her interpretative strategies, conspicuously depart from the tenets and methods of cultural materialist criticism.
Producing neither a broad synchronic reading of homologous cultural structures and texts nor a deep diachronic reading of changing ideological and discursive systems, Deats rather traditionally organizes her study as a series of close readings of individual plays by a single author. Even more problematic from a historicist standpoint is Deats's use of Lacanian and object-relations psychoanalysis as interpretative keys to Marlowe's plays. This transhistorical approach results in readings of Marlowe's characters as individuals with fully realized psyches, who, like Dido's Aeneas, might reveal symptoms of infantile ambivalence towards the mother (121), or, like Tamburlaine and Zenocrate, can "choose" their own gendered subject positions (144).
The overall structure of the argument also emphasizes the analysis of individual character. Throughout the study Deats uses a taxonomy derived from feminist theorist of science Sandra Harding, who identifies "individual gender," "gender symbolism," and "gender structure" as three distinct products of the social construction of gender (71). Each chapter begins with the analysis of "individual gender" in a particular play; however, the subsequent rubrics inexplicably vary from chapter to chapter: for Dido, Deats examines "gender symbolism" and "gender structure"; for Tamburlaine, "gender principles"; for Edward II, "gender principles" , "gender structure," and "sexuality"; for Dr. Faustus, "gender principles" and "gendered subjectivity."
The somewhat arbitrary deployment of these too sharply delineated categories raises questions about the methodological rigor and interpretative purchase of the project. That the rubric "sexuality" appears only apropos the homoeroticism of Edward H problematically implies that the representation of heteroeroticism in other plays is a matter of gender, not sexuality. Deats discusses male-male relations in Dido and Tamburlaine, though, curiously, not in Dr. Faustus, which she considers "the womanless drama" (202). Her approach, however, clearly privileges the analysis of male-female relations, as manifested in the recurrent comparison of "masculine" with "feminine" perspectives and values.
In the end, the theoretical and political investments of this feminist study remain unclear. Asserting the existence of"multiple conflicting discourses" in Renaissance England (88), Deats regards Marlowe's plays as open-ended, dialogic explorations of the social construction of gender, sexuality, and subjectivity. On the other hand, despite the intention to historicize or put "under erasure" arbitrary gender binaries (15), Deats approvingly cites the essentialist object-relations theories of Carol Gilligan and others. In a similar inconsistency, Deats celebrates as "feminine" the "fluidity" and "undecidability" of Marlowe's dramatic style (225); yet she also proclaims the attainment of "androgynous wholeness" as a major ethical and political goal of feminism (187). Finally, while her eclectic survey of the contemporary "politics of sex, gender, and sexuality" cites Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Gayle Rubin, and Valerie Traub, Deats nowhere acknowledges the powerful political challenges that queer theory has presented to the heteronormative psychoanalytic paradigms on which her readings of Marlowe largely rely.
MARIO DIGANGI Indiana University, Bloomington
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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