AHA 2024

Penn Press at AHA 2024

Sex Lives

Sex Lives

Intimate Infrastructures in Early Modernity

by Joseph Gamble

2 b/w illus.

  • Hardcover
  • 9781512824605
  • Published: August 2023

$55.00

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In Sex Lives, Joseph Gamble draws from literature, art, and personal testimonies from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe to uncover how early moderns learned to have sex. In the early modern period, Gamble contends, everyone from pornographers to Shakespeare recognized that sex requires knowledge of both logistics (how to do it) and affect (how to feel about it). And knowledge, of course, takes practice.

Gamble turns to a wide range of early modern texts and images from England, France, and Italy, ranging from personal accounts to closet dramas to visual art in order to excavate and analyze a variety of sexual practices in early modernity. Using an intersectional, phenomenological approach to bring historical light to the quotidian sexual experiences of early modern subjects, the book develops the critical concept of the “sex life”—a colloquialism that opens up methodological avenues for understanding daily lived experience in granular detail, both in the distant past and today. Through this lens, Gamble explores how sex organized and permeated everyday life and experiences of gender and race in early modernity. He shows how affects around sex structure the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, revealing the role of sexual feeling and sexual racism in early modern English drama.

Sex Lives reshapes how we understand Renaissance literature, the history of sexuality, and the meaning of sex in both early modern Europe and our own moment.