I wish to address the terms of gender in relation to two early modern treatments of the history of Edward II. With the release of Derek Jarman’s film (1991), Christopher Marlowe’s play, Edward II (c. 1592),1 has achieved an almost iconic status in gay criticism, its author identified as proto-Queer, while the ‘proto-feminist’ history The Raign and Death of Edward II (written 1626), has provoked an intense debate about whether Elizabeth Cary, Countess of Falkland, was in fact its author. My own position does not depend on Cary’s authorship (though for convenience’s sake I will refer to the text as ‘Cary’s’ throughout): it depends on the feminist interest and investment in Cary having written it.2 Marlowe and Cary can, of course, only anachronistically be described as ‘gay’ and ‘feminist’, and feminist and queer cultural representations and identities do not have early modern ‘equivalents’.3 However, one can lay claim to these terms in order to ascertain those continuities that do exist within the sexualised terms of gender. Marlowe was a spy, brawler, notorious atheist, and sodomite, while Cary inhabited that emergent and transgressive identity of woman writer and had the temerity to convert to Catholicism while her subsequently estranged husband was Lord Deputy of Ireland, an act for which he reduced her to such penury that the Privy Council was obliged to intervene on her behalf.
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- The Terms of Gender: ‘Gay’ and ‘Feminist’ Edward II
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