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In the thirty years that have passed since the publication of Alan Bray's landmark book Homosexuality in Renaissance England, feminist and queer scholars have asked and answered the question - how queer was the transvestite theatre, in a variety of ways. This chapter describes some salient trends that have shaped critical interpretations of three transvestite comedies: William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, John Lyly's Galatea, and Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker's The Roaring Girl. It provides the diverse ways conjunctions of transvestism and homoeroticism obtain both on the early modern stage and in early modern culture. The chapter uses the term "queer" to signify an array of social and sexual practices, arrangements, and peoples that, when put into discourse, confront or undermine the (perceived) dominant culture's views on gender and sexuality. It deployes "queer" to designate those conjunctions of crossdressing and same-sex desire that in the process of challenging dominant beliefs and attitudes, imagine alternative arrangements and practices.
My title suggests a rather straightforward enterprise: I want to account for the enormous popularity of the Gothic - both novels and films - since the Second World War. However, the title proposes more questions than it answers. First, what exactly counts as “the contemporary Gothic”? Since its inception in 1764, with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the Gothic has always played with chronology, looking back to moments in an imaginary history, pining for a social stability that never existed, mourning a chivalry that belonged more to the fairy tale than to reality. And contemporary Gothic does not break with this tradition: Stephen King’s IT (1987) and Anne Rice’s vampire narratives (begun in the 1970s) weave in and out of the distant past in order to comment on the state of contemporary American culture, while other narratives foreground their reliance on prior, historically distant narratives. Peter Straub’s Julia (1975), Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child (1988), and John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos (film version: The Village of the Damned ) all feed off The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James, itself arguably a revision of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile (1762), a treatise on the education of two children at a country house. And as many contributors to this volume demonstrate, the central concerns of the classical Gothic are not that different from those of the contemporary Gothic: the dynamics of family, the limits of rationality and passion, the definition of statehood and citizenship, the cultural effects of technology. How, then, might we define a contemporary Gothic? For to think about the contemporary Gothic is to look into a triptych of mirrors in which images of the origin continually recede in a disappearing arc. We search for a genesis but find only ghostly manifestations.
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