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Friday, August 10, 2007

A Transgendered Marriage in an Early Modern Play

I apologize for turning this web blog into Simplicius blogs about random things he finds in Renaissance drama, but this one is too good not to pass along.

In the anonymous play, The Tragedy of Nero (London, 1624; rpt. in 1633), there is the following report of a marriage; it might be the most unusual one I've come across in an early modern play. Nero is wooing Poppea, promising her his crown, new constellations to rise in her honor, treasures from the Earth and the Sea, etc. (Emperors are full of such lines--we've all been there), when she comes back with this zinger:
I, now I am worthy to be Queen oth’world,
Fairer then Venus, or the Bacchus loue:
But youle anon unto you[r] cut-boy, Sporus,
Your new made woman; to whom, now I heare
You are wedded to.
I wedded?
I, you wedded:
Did you not heare the words oth’Auspices,
Was not the boy in bride-like garments drest,
Marriage bookes sealed, as ’twere for issue, to
Be had betweene you, solemne feasts prepar’d,
While all the Court, with God-give you Ioy, sounds.
It had bin good Domitius your Father
Had nere had other Wife.
You froward foole, y’are still so bitter, whose that? [sig. F1v]
Melichus then enters with news of Piso and the conspirators, and the topic is dropped.

But, wow. So Nero married a "cut-boy" named Sporus, his "new made woman." This one was new to me, and I can't imagine there are many other marriages in early modern drama involving transgendered adolescents. If anyone knows of any, though, feel free to share them in the comments.

(For the record, I'm not working on this topic, or any of the other random things I've blogged about this summer. These are just moments in plays that I happened upon and happened to find interesting.)

Update: Here's a link to the passage that describes Nero's marriage to Sporus in Suetonius's "Life of Nero" (28), part of his The Lives of the Twelve Caesars.

  • At 8/11/2007 11:47:00 AM, Blogger Liza Blake wrote…

    This play is a treasure trove -- it's also, I believe, the only play with mutually consenting cannibalism between two guys starving together in a dungeon:

    But if thy hungry woolfe do vexe thy soule,
    Feed on these cates, taste on this brawnie arme,
    That will reioice to feed thy appetite.
    Nay brother feed on mine.
    Nay brother mine.
    They eate each others armes


  • At 8/11/2007 12:03:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Liza, that's awesome. But my first thought when I read your comment was to wonder how I possibly missed a great scene of cannibalism. I had no recollection of it.

    Happily for both our memories, the play I'm talking about is the The Tragedy of Nero (1624), whereas your quotation comes from The Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero (1607).

    So there are two great Nero plays out there, and your comment has convinced me that I've now got to hurry up and read the earlier one.


  • At 8/11/2007 03:19:00 PM, Blogger Liza Blake wrote…

    Aha! And I the later!


  • At 8/16/2007 12:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Suetonius says "castrated." "Cut" boy is Nero's author's invention. Is it a version of "cut" as vagina, as in "her c's, her u's and her "t's?" Cf. modern "slit." Vivian aka drmetablog.


  • At 8/16/2007 02:13:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    That's an interesting idea Vivian.

    Technically, Suetonius writes, "Puerum Sporum exsectis testibus etiam in muliebrem naturam transfigurare conatus," which the Loeb translates as, "He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him."

    I'm not sure I'd say, then, that the author invented "cut" boy, since "cut" seems quite clearly to refer to "castrated" (from "exsectis testibus," or "testicles having been cut away"). But I like the idea of "cut" also suggesting that Nero maybe tried to make Sporus into a woman by fashioning a little "cut" for the boy.


  • At 8/17/2007 02:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Aretino has a great play titled Il Marescalco (roughly The Stable Master) in which a household officer in charge of the stables is too attached to his boy and has to be dragged kicking and screaming into marrying a beautiful young woman the Duke has picked out for him (threats against his life, etc.) After he marries her, though, it turns out she is a boy. The Duke played a clever trick on him! And everyone laughs and laughs.

    No transgendering, though.


  • At 8/17/2007 02:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Oh, I have a question. Is there a cfp out for GEMCS? If not, does anyone know if it will be posted on the site where last year's cfp resides?

    I'm just trying to figure out where to send abstracts and I haven't been to GEMCS in a while. Apologies in advance for what's probably a silly question.


  • At 8/17/2007 09:17:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Pseudo-Pedantius, I haven't seen anything about GEMCS either. I think there's a possibility that the conference may not meet this year. Last year's was in February, and, from what I remember, some of the grandees of GEMCS were hesitant about having two conferences in one calendar year. If that's true, and if they go back to having it in the fall (which I hope they do), that would push back the conference until Fall 2008. But, again, I haven't seen anything about this one way or the other.


 Scribble some marginalia

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