English much stronger sexual appetitite than men”

literature reflected many of its stories and poetry around the socio/political
atmosphere during the time at which it was written. One way to look
historically through English literature is the role that masculinity plays
within the dynamics of English text. Masculinity defines how men are
stigmatized through customary practices of that time period. In this case,
masculinity is never analogous and slowly changes over time. A prominent time
period of masculinity was the Early Modern period. The Early modern period did
not start and end with the same masculinity. Rather, with the decline of
political authority and a rise of economic independence, the late Renaissance
portrayed masculinity as anxious, worried about female Chasity which
transitioned to being assertively aggressive of men’s sexual desires in the
Eighteenth Century. The defining moment that allowed for this shift to occur
was the libertine movement during the Restoration.

            The Renaissance, in general, gave
birth to unimaginable amount of literary writers who tested the bounds on
bringing new forms of literary writing such as sonnet sequences and poetry. The
scope that was heavily focused on in the late Renaissance was masculinity being
pretentious about female Chasity. According to Mark Breitenberg’s book, Anxious Masculinity: Sexual Jealousy in
Early Modern England, talked about masculinity as “masculine identity as
dependent on the coercive and symbolic regulation of women’s sexuality” (Breitenberg).
He goes on to say that “masculine dominion that are over staged so as to reveal
the contradiction’s and anxieties inherent in the patriarchal system that
simultaneously enables and constrains its members” (Breitenberg). Men created a
patriarchal system that confined women into roles that restricted domains of their
freedoms both socially and politically. Men even began to write certain ways
women should act like “”how-to” books…. Guides to courtship and matrimony” (Breitenberg).
Socially, “Womein in early modern England were widely thought to have a much
stronger sexual appetitite than men” (University pg 16). Politically, women
needed to remain pure until marriage of a man that was politically worthy. An
example of a late Renaissance text that showed aspects of anxious masculinity
was John Webster’s, The Duchess of Malfi.

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Duchess of Malfi characterizes the male aristocracy as overtly protective
of women within the bounds of aristocracy. The overall play revolves around
four characters: The Duchess, Ferdinand, The Cardinal and Antonio Bologna. The Duchess
is the sister to Ferdinand and the Cardinal. Ferdinand and the Cardinal are
leaders with authority in their established country. However, the brothers are
worried about their sister remarrying due to her last husband that died all of
a sudden. When Duchess enters in scene 3 Act 1, the Cardinal tells her “We are
to part from you, and your own discretion must now be your director” (Webster
pg 1579). The Cardinal is calling upon himself to the lead the Duchess life
since she already tainted her life with her first husband. The Cardinal goes on
to say “No, nor anything without the addition, honor, sway your high blood”
(Webster pg 1579). Not only does the Cardinal want to take charge on the
Duchess marriage, but believes that the man must be within the social hierarchy
of the political class. Women are bounded even more being dictated by social
standards and political hierarchy. However, as the story goes on, the Duchess
tells her brothers she is adamant about not marrying any man, but as soon as
the Cardinal and Ferdinand leaves, she meets up with Antonio. Antonio Bologna
is “the steward of the household to the Duchess” (Webster pg 1572). This reference
shows Antonio is not a part of the aristocracy, only there to housekeep for the
Duchess. As the months went on, the Duchess ended up becoming pregnant.
Eventually, the Cardinal and Ferdinand found out about her pregnancy and became
furious. The Cardinal says, “Unequal nature, to place women’s hearts so far
upon the left side!” (Webster pg 1597). But, why are the Cardinal and Ferdinand
so fixated on the Duchess keeping power with in the political hierarchy? Open
University explains “the reality was restless movement up and down the social
scale, as land and wealth flowed away from old, established families into the
hands of ‘new’ men” (University pg 17). This led to the debate “about whether
noble blood or personal merit was more deserving of honour” (University pg 17).
Webster wanted to show that the “dominant aristocratic order is in a state of
crisis” (University pg 17), and relate his play back to the historical context
of what was changing in society referring to this anxious masculinity over
female Chasity.  

            Even though Webster lived through
the time of the late Renaissance, The
Duchess of Malfi, masculinity  transitioned
based upon the Libertine movement. However, before the Restoration period
began, the libertine movement didn’t happen overnight, only slowly emerged
between the period of 1640-1660. King Charles I was the king of England after
the death of king James in 1625 (Kreis). Charles wasn’t the king that everyone
hoped for. He went against the common people and parliament on numerous occasions
(Kreis). First, he went against the puritans who made up most of England of the
time. He also defied parliament by refusing to call on them when he needed
parliament. This led to numerous problems such as the Puritan Revolt, and war
in Scotland (Kreis). Eventually, the people had enough and overthrew king
Charles in 1642 (Kreis). The overthrow was led by Oliver Cromwell who had an
army called the New Model Army (Kreis). “The New Model Army was based on a
soldier’s ability rather than on his position within society. Merit not birth
or wealth became the only criteria for membership social class meant nothing”
(Kreis). Once Cromwell took over as king, he began to foster a new idea for the
common people to live by which was fostered from the New Model Army. Even though
there was no king established until 1660, the majority of the people sought
political and social freedom over an arbitrary of the king (Kreis). Eventually,
Cromwell died and king Charles II came to restore the peace in England (Kreis).
What king Charles brought was a different comradery. He brought back the
“Cavalier revelries and led his noblemen by example with hedonistic lifestyle
of parties, sex, and extravagant spending” (Goodson). King Charles was less
powerful in authority than his predecessor’s due to Cromwell’s doing. With the
combination of Cromwell’s political freedom from a king and King Charles II
bringing a hedonistic lifestyle, led masculinity to be reconfigure through the
Libertine movement.

            The Libertine movement is simply “as
a sexual adventurer and as a radical questioner of social, political, and moral
values” (J.Webster pg 2). People that were a part of this movement regarded
themselves as libertines. The libertines tested the bounds of any moral or
ethical values that was placed on society. Thus, libertines lived a life of
being sexually free from any social or political constraints. This renders
masculinity to be carefree about female chastity and more on their own sexual
desires. But, “the social and sexual freedom of this Libertinism did not extend
to ladies” (Goodson). Even though men were not worried about female chastity as
much as the late Renaissance, females still lived within the boundaries of a
female role. During the Restoration, women had “three roles: nun, prostitute or
wife” (Goodson). One piece of literature during the Restoration, critiqued
sexual masculinity in Aphra Behn’s, The

Rover attempts to show the
treatment of women through three characters of men: Whilmore and Belvile, all
of whom are English Cavilers. She uses the idea of the Carinval which allow
anyone to be someone they are not. This allowed women to have a since of
independence for one night. It also shows even when at the carnival, women are
still bounded by their social norms placed on by the men in the story.

Each man pursues a woman they’re after.
However, the way each man carries themselves throughout the play and obtain the
woman they want, show different personalities that set these characters apart. Belvile
is different between Whilmore as he’s focused on his one true lover: Florinda.
Belvile is considered as an outcast because the English men are in pursuit of
many women, while Belvile is tied with Florinda. He represents this ideal of
masculinity that Aphra Behn may have idealized which is chased love versus the
libertine masculinity that is presented with Whilmore. Since Aphra Behn was a
woman playwright, she interjected her own opinion of how a woman was treated
during the Restoration.

While, Whilmore pursued many women and
didn’t get in trouble as he remained the most reckless. His masculinity was to
fulfill his sexual desires as much as possible. He pursued women through his
“witty, passionate, attractive, full of life and reckless sexual energy”
(Rosenthal pg 100). He gets with three different women, but does so in
different ways. His first woman is Hellena who is Florinda’s sister. He is
passionately involved with Hellena as she attempts to find herself involved
with love. His love for her goes back and forth as he’s casually going from
woman to woman, disregarding Hellena’s own love for Whilmore. Whilmore is
rather more interested in Angellica the prostitute. Whilmore seduces Angellica
to sleep with him and Angellica remains attached to him emotionally. After
Whilmore grows tiresome of her, he again disregards Angellica as only a
prostitute. Both of his encounters show his desire for a woman is only through
sex and nothing else. He has no intentions of being with either them. Whilmore
even goes to the extreme of trying to rape Florinda. He mistakes her as a
prostitute since she dressed up as a gypsie. In the end, he makes a choice to
either stay with Hellena or Angellica. The libertine masculinity of being
overtly sexual in their desires gave way for men to overly aggressive as
Whilmore has shown. Aphra Behn remained a critic of the libertine masculinity
and conveyed her message by showing the audience Whilmore and Belvile pursuit
of women in two vastly different ways.

Masculinity remains rather fluid between
the Restoration and Eighteenth century as masculinity continues to have men’s
sexual desires dominate. Once the Restoration period ends with William and Mary
taking the throne in 1688, men and women began to be placed in other roles:
private and public sphere. As capitalism and middle class begin to rise, people
began to focus on dividing work and home life. This means men went to work and
provided money for the family. While the women, maintained the household and
took care of the children when the husband was away. The men were involved in
the public life and women involved in the private life. The middle class were
infatuated by what people were doing in their private life. However,
masculinity still was sexual and assertive of their desires in the Eighteenth
century. In Eliza Haywood’s, Fantomina,
she shows what it’s like to live in both private and public life as a woman.

The story of Fantomina is about a woman named Fantomina who is intrigued with
the idea of being the center of attention. She disguises herself as multiple
personalities throughout the story as she try’s to manipulate her lover,
Beauplaisir. Beauplaisir is only interested in the commodity of her body as she
dresses as a prostitute. Fantomina realizes that she was being used for sex and
worried about what might come about with her honor and reputation, “Is this a
reward for condescension’s, such as I have yielded to? Can all the wealth you
are possessed of make a reparation for my loss of honor?” (Haywood pg 2743). Her
public reputation might be ruined if anyone found out about what she did. On
the other hand, Beauplaisir isn’t worried about the public knowing about his
sexual pleasures with a prostitute. Fantomina and Beauplaisir end up being
emotionally involved until, “the rifled charms of Fantomina soon lost their
poignancy and grew tastless and insipid” (Haywood pg 2745). Fantomina then
becomes consumed with revenge and she ends up becoming different characters: maid,
widow and incognita. Each character brings about a different way Bleauplaisir
acts towards her. With the maid, he is reluctantly affectionate and seduces her
by asking her when she’s been in love. There Bleauplaisir couldn’t control
himself and made love to her. Again, when the night ended, he paid her and bid
her farewell.Masculinity for Bleauplaisir is there for his own sexual desires.
He pleases himself with each “woman” he encounters and when he finds out
Fantomina is pregnant, he is concerned but the mother relinquishes of him
taking care of the child since its not his fault. Fantomina’s guilt leads her
to have to give up the child in order for her reputation not be ruined. In the
end, Bleauplaisir has nothing to lose with this transgression in the public
life, only there to gain his sexual desires.

Overall, the idea of masculinity during
the early modern period, remained dominate through the patriarchal and social
system. Women continued to remain marginalized under anxious masculinity as men
were worried about women being lusty and sinful. As history progressed, men
became less worried about women and more involved with their sexual desires.
Masculinity continued to shape the way English literature confined itself being
influenced by historical matters of the time.