Gender Performance and Genre Slippage
What need'st thou have more coverin8 than a man?
John Donne, "To his Mistris Going to Bed"
"Ey'd Awry": Readin8 Backward from the Gesture
The wallcard at the National Gallery in London for the mid-sixteenth-
century painting by Paris Bordone called "A Pair of Lovers" reveals some
critical uncertainty about its title. The source of that uncertainty is
related to a subject this book explores: the multiplicity of gender positions
and genre constructs that surface once we stop to think about what the
woman-centralized in the painting and in Petrarchan poetry-is doing.
What the woman does depends upon which story she's in. Usually con-
nected to the titular heroes of the ancient Greek pastoral romance, Daph-
nis and Chloe, Bordone's painting might as easily be a depiction of "Pe-
trarch and Laura," the central players in the early modern poetic sequence
known as the Rime sparse. The latter source comes to mind not so much
because pairs of lovers immediately bring to mind other pairs, and cer-
tainly not because Petrarch and Laura are ever seen on quite such familiar
terms with each other, but because of the disruptive presence of Cupid at
the viewer's right. Drawing the eye away from the lovers, he troubles the
story. Why does the winged boy place a laurel wreath around Daphnis's
head, when laurels are the consolation prize for thwarted desire? A pair of
lovers signified-as are Daphnis and Chloe-by their determination to
love is confounded in the painting by a figuration that instead suggests a
plot about a central unwillingness to love-as with Petrarch and Laura.
The questions about gender and genre provoked by the Bordone painting
anticipate ones that the present volume will later ask about the
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