Before the Closet: Same-Sex Love from "Beowulf" to "Angels in America"

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Press: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 1998)
Publication Date:1998-11
ISBN:9780226260914
Author Name:Frantzen, Allen J.
Pages:384
Language:English
Edition:1st Edition

Content

Allen J. 
Frantzen challenges the long accepted view that the early Middle Ages tolerated and even fostered same-sex relations and that intolerance of homosexuality developed only late in the medieval period.
Frantzen shows that in early medieval Europe, the Church did not tolerate same-sex acts, in fact it was an age before people recognized the existence—or the possibility—of the "closet."With its ambitious scope and elegant style, Before the Closet sets same-sex relations in Anglo-Saxon sources in relation to the sexual themes of contemporary opera, dance, and theatre.
Frantzen offers a comprehensive analysis of sources from the seventh to the twelfth century and traces Anglo-Saxon same-sex behavior through the age of Chaucer and into the Renaissance."Frantzen's marvelous book .
.
.
opens up a world most readers will never have even known was there.
It's a difficult topic, but Frantzen's comprehensive, readable and even wryly funny treatment makes this an unexpected pleasure."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

From Publishers Weekly

An exciting account of medieval sexuality? Surprisingly, yes. 
Loyola University English professor Frantzen brings the "shadows" of same-sex relations ("as closely attached to heterosexual relations as shadows are to their objects") into relief by highlighting their centrality in everything from operatic "trouser roles," in which women dress as men in ambiguous visions of female-female desire, to the dances of Mark Morris, which "offer gay people entertainment and affirmation of the highest order." Turning to his specialty, Frantzen reveals an Anglo-Saxon world much less prudish than we are accustomed to imagining.
Where "queer theory" has sought to uncover gay liberation in the past, his "assimilationist" model never limits same-sex desire to genital contact.
An engaging and witty guide to tales of cross-dressing saints, legal codes paying much more attention to heterosexual than homosexual misbehavior and references to "Sodom and Gomorrah" less severe than one would expect, he discovers both self-identified same-sex lovers and a culture that allowed them a certain license.
Pointing out the nationalist chauvinism of the numerous historians who have labeled William the Conqueror's son gay, Frantzen also makes clear the vast difference between medieval and modern conceptions of sexual identity.
Frantzen's marvelous book, concluding with a fascinating discussion of how Angels in America reverses Anglo-Saxon codes of national unification, opens up a world most readers will never have even known was there.
It's a difficult topic, but Frantzen's comprehensive, readable and even wryly funny treatment makes this an unexpected pleasure.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Frantzen (English, Loyola Univ.) here attempts to refute John Boswell's classic work on homosexuality in the Middle Ages, Christianity, Social Tolerance And Homosexuality (LJ 6/1/80). 
Unfortunately, the arguments just don't add up, and Frantzen often disproves his own thesis.
Despite his claims of widespread legal and religious persecution, he admits there were no legal statutes against homosexuality until the reign of Henry VIII, more than 300 years later.
Where homosexuality is condemned, specifically in ecclesiastical guidelines for priests offering penance, the term used by the blushing prelates is sodomy, which Frantzen concedes could define all manner of sexual indiscretions, hetero as well as homosexual.
Added to the unconvincing arguments are disjointed digressions on Tony Kushner's Angels in America and the work of American choreographer Mark Morris, as well as an essay on the author's personal experiences.
The strength of the work lies in its well-indexed original sources, and it can thus be recommended primarily for academic collections with gay studies departments.?Jeffery Ingram, Newport P.L., ORCopyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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  •     An exciting account of medieval sexuality? Surprisingly, yes. Loyola University English professor Frantzen brings the "shadows" of same-sex relations ("as closely attached to heterosexual relations as shadows are to their objects") into relief by highlighting their centrality in everything from operatic "trouser roles," in which women dress as men in ambiguous visions of female-female desire, to the dances of Mark Morris, which "offer gay people entertainment and affirmation of the highest order." Turning to his specialty, Frantzen reveals an Anglo-Saxon world much less prudish than we are accustomed to imagining. Where "queer theory" has sought to uncover gay liberation in the past, his "assimilationist" model never limits same-sex desire to genital contact. An engaging and witty guide to tales of cross-dressing saints, legal codes paying much more attention to heterosexual than homosexual misbehavior and references to "Sodom and Gomorrah" less severe than one would expect, he discovers both self-identified same-sex lovers and a culture that allowed them a certain license. Pointing out the nationalist chauvinism of the numerous historians who have labeled William the Conqueror's son gay, Frantzen also makes clear the vast difference between medieval and modern conceptions of sexual identity. Frantzen's marvelous book, concluding with a fascinating discussion of how Angels in America reverses Anglo-Saxon codes of national unification, opens up a world most readers will never have even known was there. It's a difficult topic, but Frantzen's comprehensive, readable and even wryly funny treatment makes this an unexpected pleasure. (0ct.)
  •     Frantzen's book poses a powerful challenge both to many individual studies of medieval sexuality and to the field of sexuality studies as a whole. The introduction to the book is extremely penetrating, and at times hilarious, in its expose of irresponsible and improbable scholarship on homosexuality that has been written over the past thirty years. Frantzen calls for a higher degree of rigor in these studies: instead of looking for forefathers and foremothers in medieval texts, and instead of reading what we want to read in them, how about we attend to what the texts actually say? Frantzen thus sets the stage for a fresh evaluation of evidence, one that is fluent and readable, while at the same time philologically and methodologically rigorous.

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