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Homosexual Overtones in Volpone
During the Renaissance, women did not participate in the theatre; hence, men, dressed in drag, played women's roles. This particular characteristic of Renaissance drama adds many dimensions, erotic and social, to the spectacle on the stage. However, "The primary difficulty in surveying this landscape results from the strong indications that early modern eroticism was fundamentally different from that today. Consequently, the challenge deciphering what may be radically different cultural codes for the Rena issance is formidable" (Zimmerman 7). The interactions between cross-dressed boy actors and the adult male actors, by today's standards, would be considered homo-erotic. In Ben Johnson's Volpone, the role of Celia, the main female character, would have be en played by a cross-dressed boy; hence, many inferences about Renaissance eroticism may be made by exploring the element of cross-dressing and how it transforms the action on stage and the audience's perception.
Celia (played by a cross-dressed boy) interacts with men throughout the play. The scene in which Volpone attempts to rape Celia could be construed as extremely homo-erotic. Volpone desires Celia, yet she refuses to succumb to his advances; thus he trie s to force himself upon her. Bonario is Celia's true love interest, which also has homosexual overtones. The sexual and intimate interactions between Celia and the male characters creates an interesting dynamic. For instance, "When an actor in a male role did not need to impersonate adult-ness, his interaction with a cross-dressed actor, particularly a cross-dressed boy, change. Presumably, the adult actor, by virtue of age, voice, physical appearance and interpretive range, lent credence to the (usually) heterosexual valences of cross-dressing within that fiction. The dual lens on the dramatic action that the adult male actor provided was in all likelihood angled most directly at adult male spectators" (Zimmerman 46). The actors are interacting like hete rosexuals of the opposite sex, however, the fact that it is really two males blurs the lines of what the audience was actually seeing and enjoying.
Celia was obviously made to be attractive to the male spectators, because she is the main female love interest in the play. The male spectators may be attracted to what aesthetically appears to be a woman, or they may be attracted to an androgynous, cr oss-dressed boy. Hence, Celia's appeal is twofold.
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The element of cross-dressing in Renaissance drama adds a homo-erotic dimension to the plays. Whether or not this was intentional, the underlying overtones were obviously appealing to the Renaissance audience in some ways.