By Mark Breitenberg
To contemporary reports of Renaissance subjectivity, frightened Masculinity in Early sleek England contributes the argument that masculinity is necessarily nervous and risky in cultures that distribute strength and authority in line with patriarchal prerogatives. Drawing from present arguments in feminism, cultural reports, historicism, psychoanalysis and homosexual reviews, Mark Breitenberg explores the dialectic of hope and nervousness in masculine subjectivity within the paintings of a variety of writers, together with Shakespeare, Bacon, Burton, and the ladies writers of the "querelles des femmes" debate, specifically Jane Anger. Breitenberg discusses jealousy and cuckoldry nervousness, hetero and homoerotic hope, humoural psychology, anatomical distinction, cross-dressing and the assumption of honor and attractiveness. He lines masculine anxiousness either as an indication of ideological contradiction and, sarcastically, as a effective strength within the perpetuation of Western patriarchal structures.
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Additional resources for Anxious Masculinity in Early Modern England
This is slightly different from saying that one could choose to draw an analogy between, for example, the individual faculty of reason and the office of the king; the point is that such an analogy provides the conceptual possibility of both terms in the first place. Thus it is ahistorical to consider the individual psyche as a separate entity, or even as the product of social factors, since for the Renaissance the two realms are a priori linked and coterminous. Additionally, this also means that humoural theory will reveal somatic and psychic versions of the contradictions and tensions that exist in the cultural system; or, reciprocally, those contradictions will be played out in the struggle of the body's humours.
This is an especially anxiety-producing prospect in a period where a biological basis for sex differentiation (as Thomas Laqueur has shown) was far less secure than it has become since. If masculine identity is fundamentally unstable, then the assertion of gender difference - especially where it is most adamantly expressed - functions as a way to compensate for the lack of anatomical guarantee of difference. I pursue this proposition by looking at anti-theatrical tracts, the cross-dressing controversy, a number of the polemical defenses and excoriations of women, and at some of the responses to these attacks written by women - especially Jane Anger's Her Protection for Women.
This normative presence and function of melancholy in the body is capable of becoming a disease - indeed, in many discussions it is always on the brink - if the humour becomes abnormal or unnatural in quantity or quality. English writers use a variety of terms to describe melancholy as a disease, including unnatural melancholy, melancholy adust or black choler; Burton generally refers to it simply as melancholy, as I shall also do here. 3 The potential causes of melancholy are so broad, derived from so many natural, everyday bodily functions and human experiences, that it is not inaccurate to say that melancholy becomes the overarching term for anything imbalanced or excessive - whatever is not normal.