Shakespeare, Sex, and Love

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Here is a lively look at how Shakespeare's treatment of human sexuality in his plays and poems relates to the sexual conventions, sexual mores, and actual sexual behaviors of his day.
Pre-eminent Shakespeare critic Stanley Wells draws on historical and anecdotal sources to present an illuminating account of sexual behavior--and its consequences--in Shakespeare's time, particularly in Stratford-upon-Avon and London. Shakespeare's Stratford was a hotbed of small-town gossip; the town's records reveal many cases of slander involving accusations of cuckoldry and whoredom, as well as many prosecutions for fornication, sexual "incontinence," and adultery. Wells thoroughly explores this milieu, demonstrating what we know or can deduce of the sex lives of Shakespeare and members of his family and providing a fascinating account of depictions of sexuality in the poetry of the period. Wells even points to specific recorded events that find their way into lines and subplots in the plays.
In the second half of the book, Wells goes on to explore the variety of ways in which Shakespeare treats sexuality in his plays and how he relates sexuality to love. Chapters cover everything from the fun that Shakespeare gets out of sex in his comedies; to the ways he relates sexual desire to both lust and love; to sexual jealousy in four major plays; and to Romeo and Juliet as the play in which Shakespeare focuses most centrally on issues relating to sex, love, and the relationship between them. "Whores and Saints" looks at his portrayals of the extremes of womanhood, and a final chapter, "Just Good Friends," investigates his depiction of same-gender relationships.
Whether as a source of comedy, drama, debate, or passion, sex in Shakespeare's plays and poems is always intriguing, and there is no better guide to this subject than Stanley Wells.
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  • Shakespeare, Sex and Love
    Shakespeare, Sex and Love  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stow, a U.K. geologist and oceanographer, has for decades been gathering evidence from around the world to show what the earth looked like 260 million years ago when the continents had fused into one supercontinent, which scientists call Pangaea, with an enormous C-shaped ocean--now lost--named Tethys (after the Greek sea goddess). Destroyed only five and a half million years ago by the movement of continents, Tethys straddled the equator and formed Pangaea's eastern shore. Tethys was responsible for laying down many of our current oil deposits, not only in the Mideast but also off West Africa and eastern South America. Stow links the two most famous widespread extinctions to Tethys, claiming that the massive Permian extinction was caused in large part by Pangaea fusing together, accompanied by a dramatic fall in sea levels. Stow is not impressed by the widely accepted theory that an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs; he maintains that gradual changes in Tethys and other oceans at the time played an important role. Stow's level of geological detail will allow hard-core science buffs to get into his re-creation of a lost world. 15 maps and line drawings. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

"The book is splendid in its range of investigating aspects of human sexuality, all in such convincing historical and cultural context--at once open to modern interpretation and keenly aware of early modern perspectives on the same points of contention...This book is a page-turner." --David Bevington, University of Chicago

"He treads a precise and delicate path through Shakespeare's works." --Times Literary Supplement

"Wells brings to the task all the skills of a great editor, formidable knowledge of the works and their contexts, and a cheerful tolerance for everyone's sexual habits." --New York Review of Books

"Elegantly written study...Wells's approach is elegant, clear, and refreshingly free from jargon"--Elizabeth Klett, Comparative Drama

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199578597
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Pages: 228
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Stanley Wells, described by Roy Hattersley as "Our greatest authority on Shakespeare's life and work," is Chairman of the Trustees of Shakespeare's Birthplace, Emeritus Professor of Shakespeare Studies of the University of Birmingham, and Honorary Emeritus Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. He is the author and editor of many books including The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd Edition (OUP 2005); The Oxford Dictionary of Shakespeare (OUP, 2003); and Shakespeare in the Theatre (OUP, 1997).

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Table of Contents

Part One: Life and Times
1. Sexuality in Shakespeare's Time
2. Sex and Poetry in Shakespeare's Time
3. Shakespeare and Sex
Part Two: Plays and Poems
4. The Fun of Sex
5. Sexual Desire
6. Sex and Love in Romeo and Juliet
7. Sexual Jealousy
8. Sex and Experience
9. Whores and Saints
10. Just Good Friends?
Further Reading

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