HIS volume has sought to chart a new course for the study of
sexuality in the Renaissance and early modern period,I and
implicitly for a larger enterprise that includes lesbian/gay
studies, but whose ambitions are more expansive still. Yet the
point of embarkation is a quite particular one, the recent demonstration,
in Bowers v. Hardwick, of how ready conservatives are to invent their own
version ofhistory to use against us. What we have here, then, is an attempt
to claim a usable history in the face of an all too easily abusable past.
It should come as no surprise that this present move has come out of
Renaissance studies. The European Renaissance presents us with a series
of societies sufficiently different from our own as to destabilize a number
of received assumptions about, among other things, gender, sexuality,
politics, religion, language, and identity. Yet it is also a period to which
twentieth-century people almost reflexively appeal when they wish to vali-
date whatever passes at any given time for Hmainstream values:' The Su-
preme Court's discovery, or rather invention, in Bowers v. Hardwick, of full-
fledged modern-style Hhomosexuals" already drawing universal obloquy
and moral retribution onto themselves as far back as Henry VIII's sod-
omy statute of
is an example of the latter move. In the face of these
sorts of attacks the reconsideration represented by this volume is more
than timely; it is essential.
The contributors to this volume show brilliantly how very different the
cultural terrain of the Renaissance was from the historical fantasy which
conservatives on and off the Supreme Court are using to justify repressive
measures in the present. Acceptable desire had a markedly different social
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