9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


The Effeminacy of Erotic Melancholy on the Restoration Stage

Amanda Eubanks Winkler

While scholars have devoted critical attention to laments and mad songs sung by female characters in early modern musical entertainments (Rosand, Cusick, McClary, Dunn) the performance of these genres by male characters has been virtually ignored (with the exception of eighteenth-century incarnations of Orlando). On the Restoration stage, both male and female characters succumbed to lovesickness, known in seventeenth-century parlance as "erotic melancholy." This affliction was presented as a malady exclusive to women and the effeminate in early modern medical treatises; therefore, composers carefully mediated their portrayals of mad and lamenting men to temper the inappropriately "feminine" behavior of these characters.

Considering mad songs and laments by Louis Grabu, Francis Forcer, and Henry Purcell, this paper identifies the three ways that composers negotiated the presentation of lovesick, "effeminate" men. First, the character's emotions could be ventriloquized through a boy--a less perfect, more "feminine" male. Second, a male character who sang a lament or a mad song could be musically and textually depicted as effeminate, through the use of musical conventions long associated with effeminacy in English music and by English musical theorists. In this manner, potentially subversive characterizations were bracketed within the category of effeminacy, allowing male audience members to distance themselves from the emasculated men onstage. Finally, male characters were often cured of "erotic melancholy;" unlike their female counterparts, they rarely paid for their improper behavior with their lives.

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Last updated on 21 March 2000 by Yo Tomita