Paul Hammond explores how sexual relationships between men were represented in English literature during the seventeenth century. Figuring Sex between Men from Shakespeare to Rochester is built around two principal themes: firstly the literary strategies through which writers created imagined spaces for the expression of homosexual desire; and secondly the ways in which such texts were subsequently edited and adapted to remove these references to sex between men. The author begins with a wide-ranging analysis of the forms in which both homosexual desire and homophobic hatred were expressed in the period, focusing on the problems of defining male relationships, the erotic dimension to male friendships, and the uses of classical settings. Subsequent chapters offer four case studies. The first focuses on how Shakespeare adapted his sources to introduce the possibility of sexual relations between male characters, with special attention to Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and the Sonnets, and shows how these elements were removed in later adaptations of his plays and poems.
Subsequent chapters chart the often satirical representation of homosexual rulers from James I to William III; the ambiguous sexuality figured in the poetry of Andrew Marvell; and the libertine homoeroticism of the poetry of the Earl of Rochester. Paul Hammond draws on a wide range of poems, plays, letters, and pamphlets, and discusses a substantial amount of previously unknown material from both printed and manuscript sources.