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City Powdering: Materiality, Pedagogy, and Sexuality in Thomas Middleton’s Michaelmas Term
April 16, 2015 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Solmsen Fellow (2014-2015)
English, Miami University
In my talk, I will examine the representation of the epistemological and material construction of urban sexuality in Thomas Middleton’s Michaelmas Term, what the play refers to as the “city powdering.” In the play, cloth facilitates otherwise impossible relations between men, and the cloth trade is depicted as involved in the circulation of sexual knowledge. Most readers of the play would find it an unlikely candidate for a utopian reading, given that its negative depiction of the cloth trade has been explained as a product of anxieties about the risk of abuse and victimization in commercial, social, and sexual relations in early modern London. I suggest instead that the play exposes how such anxieties circulating in the period inhibit the development of London as a space that could offer material and epistemological support for queer practices of selfhood, comportment, pleasure, and relationality. In its glimpses of a queer sexual culture that has utopian affordances without being pastoral, Michaelmas Term, I hope to suggest, can provoke us to query tacit assumptions that underwrite responses to the intersection of materiality, pedagogy, and sexuality.
James M. Bromley is an Associate Professor of English at Miami University. He is the author of Intimacy and Sexuality in the Age of Shakespeare (Cambridge, 2012) and the co-editor of Sex before Sex: Figuring the Act in Early Modern England (Minnesota, 2013). He won the 2011 Martin Stevens Award for the Best New Essay in Early Drama Studies from the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society. He is currently working on a book project entitled Style, Subjectivity, and Male Sexuality in Early Modern Drama.