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A University of Sussex DPhil thesis 

Available online via Sussex Research Online: 


This thesis is protected by copyright which belongs to the author.   

This thesis cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first 

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format or medium without the formal permission of the Author    When referring to this work, full bibliographic details including the  author, title, awarding institution and date of the thesis must be given  Please visit Sussex Research Online for more information and further details    Male prostitution and the homoerotic sex-market in Early Modern England Dimitris Savvidis Submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy English Studies University of Sussex May 2011 (Word length: 97,500) University of Sussex Dimitris Savvidis Male prostitution and the homoerotic sex-market in Early Modern England Summary This thesis explores male prostitution in early modern culture and calls for a reconsideration of linguistic representations of sodomy and homoeroticism in literary and historical criticism. It argues that as a variant expression of homoeroticism, its examination unfolds significant ideological and cultural implications for established perceptions of male relations. As instructed by classical textuality and misogynistic stigmatization of prostitution, the boy prostitute becomes a relational category that eludes easy classification, emerging syntactically alongside the female whore in English culture. Adopting a social constructionist approach, this dissertation traces male prostitution’s ambivalent representational properties in various genres and discourses, namely poetry, plays, historical narratives, theatre historiography, defamation accounts, philosophical diatribes and lexicography. The diverse vocabulary employed to describe homoerotic relations and identities is closely scrutinised in order to expose the metaphoricity and ambiguity embedded in such terms as ‘Ganymede’, ‘ingle’, ‘mignon’ and ‘catamite’. An analysis of the terminology demonstrates the ways in which discursive systems of language, within specific historical and cultural contexts, have facilitated the concomitant textual emergence of the sodomite with the male prostitute.

The Introduction establishes the theoretical frameworkthrough which male prostitution from the medieval period until the mid-twentieth century has been discussed in twentieth-century criticism. Chapter One assesses its textual appearance in early modern Italy, France and Spain, while it sets the parameters for its examination in seventeenthcentury England. Chapter Two analyses the representation of the male prostitute in Donne’s, Marston’s and Middleton’s satires and Chapter Three examines the theatrical institution and the ways in which theatre historiography misdirects discussions on sodomy and prostitution. The penultimate chapter focuses on textual constructions of the male prostitute in educational contexts and the final chapter addresses possible interrelations between prostitution, servitude, favouritism and friendship as represented within lexicography, slanderous discourse and historical narratives on King James and Francis Bacon.




Fiction and history: the quest for evidence

The male prostitute and twentieth-century research

Identity, subculture and the ‘real’ male prostitute

Research on medieval female prostitution and medieval sodomites................. 34 John Rykener and the quest for the early modern male prostitute

Chapter One: Male prostitution in Early Modern Europe

Spain, the Muslim Other and sexual misalliances

France and historical narratives

Italy, male prostitution and legal records

England, court records, lexicography and slander

Metaphor and effect

Chapter 2: Male prostitution in early modern English satire

Marston’s male prostitutes

Middleton’s ‘hermaphrodite’

Donne’s ‘prostitute boy’

Chapter 3: The actor as a prostitute

Theatre historiography and male prostitution

‘Markets of wantonesse’: theatres as brothels

Boyhood and sexual servitude

Chapter 4: Education and literary constructions of prostitution

‘Houses of Prostitution’

The Italianate Englishmen

Foreign Literary scandals

Constructions of masculinity, effeminacy and learning

Social mobility, universities and the image of the whore

Chapter 5: Sexual favouritism, friendship and male prostitution

Favouritism versus friendship versus prostitution


‘Like a courtizane’: whoredom as a metaphor

Bacon and his bedfellows: friends, servants or prostitutes?

King James’ sexual favourites

Gaveston, Sejanus and the mythologies of prostitution

Favouritism in the late seventeenth century

Epilogue: subculture, the sex-market and male prostitution

–  –  –

First, I would like to thank my friends for their genuine support during the four years of my study. Pelagia Marketou, Louiza Avgita and Lydia Polyzopoulou have been immensely supportive, both intellectually and emotionally. Dionysis Maroulas, Petros Chountas, Georgia Marketou, Kallirroi Askaridou, Wayne Durant, Antonis Fakidis, Rhona O’Brian, Eleni Lappa, Christos Kavadas, Thanasis Tsouvalas, Vincent Quinn, Maria Ramou, Kostas Karras, Terry Quiddington, Christina Misdaniti, Vassilis Kokalas and Dimitra Topaloglou – and many others who were interested on this dissertation’s progress - have all contributed with their company, encouragement, patience and humour, throughout these years. Their friendship means a great deal to me.

Secondly, I want to thank the staff of the University of Sussex’s Library for providing me without delay, articles I requested from the British Library and also the English Department for contributing financially towards the cost of these secondary sources.

I would also like to thank my family Mairi Savvidou, Panagiotis Savvidis, Sofia and Stathis for their financial and emotional support and trust. Without them this project would have been impossible.

For their constant encouragement, patience and attention I am greatly indebted to Professor Alan Sinfield and Doctor Margaret Healy, both of whom have been immensely helpful with their constructive and contributory comments. It means a lot to me that they were always present and accessible whenever I needed them.

–  –  –

I hereby declare that this thesis has not been and will not be, submitted in whole or in part to another University for the award of any other degree.

Signature: Dimitris Savvidis

–  –  –

Introduction To initiate and attempt to establish a case for male same-sex prostitution in early modern English culture and literature is a strenuous task. Enthusiasts of the subject will have high expectations concerning the availability of evidence, which primarily means historical facts. Measuring literary sources constantly against historical determinants, especially when the latter are held in great esteem and appreciated for their credibility, can hinder in-depth examination of this specific textual experience. Thus, without welldefined historical evidence the researcher is destined to occupy the uncomfortable position of justifying the validity of his/her premises. For those for whom male prostitution is not worth exploring due to the absence of historical facts, ideological practices are well in place. Same-sex prostitute practice, for them, will be closely connected to homosexuality or, in the worse case scenario, tautological to homosexual or gay relations. During the conduct of this research project, the thesis has attracted hostility, doubt and derision; in other cases deep interest and enthusiasm. In fact, the reaction to this topic might well have been a separate case for research.

The concept of ideology is an important one for it will persistently jeopardise attempts to read male prostitution in association with sodomy and slanderous discourses of whoring. The danger lies in conceptualising all expressions of homoerotic desire and practice as prostitution, therefore enabling ideology to assimilate a highly stigmatised profession with a marginal and dissident sexual behaviour and/or act and/or identity.

The caveat needs to be stressed right from the start because of the ambiguous and puzzling sources and language that has come down to us concerning same-sex relations and sodomitical assaults.

Largely informed by a social constructionist perspective, this project will not try to examine male prostitution as it was actually materialised and socially performed in early modern England. Since sex as a concept is ‘unreal and unhistorical’, an experience we cannot possibly recover, I am more interested in the ways in which male prostitution 2 was textually constructed, following, as far as I can, linguistic tactics and manoeuvres of its representation.1 With the constructionist viewpoint in mind it will become apparent that the project’s difficulty lies not so much in the (un)-availability or ambiguity of evidence, but in our understanding of what male prostitution actually is, its history, if it has one, and whether we consider it a job, a career choice or an immoral and deviant practice. Therefore, its textualization and establishment as a viable category within studies of early modern sexualities is one thing and its textual realisation and rendition is another.

In order to highlight the cultural apostasies that distantiates our understanding of the subject, I would like to examine very briefly a twentieth-century example of prostitution, the Brazilian travesti prostitute. The research was conducted by the

anthropologist Kulick. As he reports:

–  –  –

The Brazilian travestis are highly stigmatised in Brazilian culture, apart from those rare cases where they become celebrities and ‘achieve wealth’ and ‘admiration’. Kulick

claims that:

–  –  –

Making a living by working as prostitutes, which does not necessarily mean always taking the passive role, the travestis have organised themselves in ghettos in the most notorious areas in Brazilian cities. They usually occupy a large building, where they all Ruth Mazo Karras, ‘Active/Passive, Acts/Passions: Greek and Roman Sexualities’, The 1 American Historical Review, 105.4 (October 2000), 1250-1265 http://www.jstor.org [accessed 13 May 2007] (p. 1264).

Don Kulick, ‘The Gender of Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes’, American Anthropologist, 2

–  –  –

live together, and their lives centre around their boyfriends, who they call ‘maridos’, meaning husbands.4 These husbands are the centre of their attention, for they are a basic constituent of their sexual, economic and social life and identity. Whereas with their clients they can take the passive and regularly the active role – possibly, an alleviation of guilt on the client’s part, so that his manhood and image of masculinity is not threatened – with their boyfriends they refuse to take the active role. That would indicate that their boyfriends are not men, since to be passive or simply gay for them would mean to be feminine, in essence a woman. Through rigid classification, as we learn from Kulick, the travesti believes that: a) to be or to claim that you are gay is frowned upon and it does not make you a man, since to be gay or a homosexual is a tautology of being passive; b) gay cannot be used to characterise their boyfriends’ identity. That would mean that they are not men; and c) the homosexual/gay ones do something unnatural. Despite of the ways in which the travestis conceptualise their own sexual identity, what is more interesting is their social behaviour and attitudes towards their boyfriends.

Solely relying on the prostitute’s wages, the boyfriends provide absolutely nothing to their travestis as partners apart from a confirmation of their gendered roles.

These boyfriends are not pimps and they do not necessarily provide any protection to the travesti. They are there to receive presents, money and food. Some of them have girlfriends and the travesti’s wages end up being spent on them: ‘Travestis are fully aware that some of the money they give to their boyfriends gets spent by them entertaining their girlfriends.’5 In some cases that Kulick examines, even the boyfriends’ families are supported by the travesti’s earnings. Mainly used to show off to other travestis, the boyfriend draws immense attention from his travesti-girlfriend, occupying a social space where he is being ‘feminized’.6 The travesti has the money, therefore, the power.

Despite the power that the prostitutes exert over their boyfriends, both economic and social (I would argue even sexual, for the boyfriend has to fit the role the travesti has assigned to him, i.e. not to be passive) life is not easy for the travesti. The boyfriend has the power to define the travesti’s everyday lifestyle. For example the travesti might Don Kulick, ‘A Man in the House: The Boyfriends of Brazilian Travesti Prostitutes’, Social 4

–  –  –

not do or say certain things of which the boyfriend does not approve. Also, some of the boyfriends are difficult to dislodge once the relationship is over. There are cases where the travesti might be robbed of her possessions, she might suffer physical violence and in other cases she might even have to flee and find somewhere else to live in order to avoid any future harassment. Even worse, the boyfriend might choose another travesti to live with, sometimes in an apartment across the hall, which could mean total humiliation. Hence, the intrigues and fights the travestis have in their building, that Kulick documents. In spite of the obvious transgression of typical female and male roles that the couple actually has during their relationship, the traditional and sexist roles are still preserved and play a significant part in the travesti’s life. When Kulick wonders

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