"New Sects of Love": Neoplatonism and Constructions of Gender in Davenant's The Temple of Love and The Platonick Lovers
Lesel Dawson
University of Bristol

Dawson, Lesel. "New Sects of Love": Neoplatonism and Constructions of Gender in Davenant's The Temple of Love and The Platonick Lovers." Early Modern Literary Studies 8.1 (May, 2002): 4.1-36 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/08-1/dawsnew.htm>.

  1. This article will examine William Davenant's masque The Temple of Love (1635), and his play The Platonick Lovers (1636) in light of the interaction between medical and philosophical constructions of love during the reign of Charles I, a period artistically influenced by Henrietta Maria's cult of Platonic love. Specifically, it will argue that the recurrent figure of the lovesick subject in the work of dramatists and poets, such as Davenant, can be read as a reaction to the growing influence of Neoplatonism at the Caroline court. [1] By reminding his audience of the hazardous physical symptoms of lovesickness, Davenant sought to challenge the Neoplatonic construction of love, promoting a notion of heterosexual desire that is physiological and sexual, rather than abstract and spiritual.

  2. The discourse of lovesickness within Caroline drama carries with it sexual-political implications. Although the philosophy of Neoplatonism is originally constructed around homoerotic relations, its vocabulary of hierarchy and subservience is soon applied to heterosexual love. This appropriation effected a change in the traditional gender hierarchy, in that it both granted the beloved a new metaphysical and theological significance and enabled her to occupy a dominant position in her relationship with a male suitor. Importantly, the emphasis within Neoplatonic philosophy upon the need to avoid sexual intercourse meant that women were able to extend the time of their courtship, the liminal period during which they exercised control over their suitors. The hostility of male dramatists to this protracted inversion of the traditional gender hierarchy informs their portrayal of Platonic love as an emasculating force.

  3. Davenant's The Temple of Love (1635) and The Platonick Lovers (1636) both seek to juxtapose the language of Platonic love with an examination of physical appetites. Davenant's masque contrasts the abstract discourse of Platonic love with the medical tradition, suggesting that the idealised discourse of affection must not deny the importance of fecundity, particularly within the royal marriage of Charles I and Henrietta Maria. The Platonick Lovers, a play performed at Blackfriars, exploits the comic potential of Platonic love, and burlesques the lover's idealization of the mistress in the behaviour of Gridonell, suggesting that the artificial philosophy must eventually give way to a natural, sexual relationship which reinstates "husband's government." Within the teleology of the drama, the civil solution of marriage effects a double remedy, offering a cure for the physical suffering of the lovesick male patient, while at the same time curtailing the sexual-political disorder inherent in his "unnatural" veneration of the female beloved. In this respect, the subversion of the ideals of Platonic love through contrary depictions of lovesickness can be read as an attempt to restore the traditional gender power hierarchy, clarifying the extent to which what is seen as natural in love is a cultural construction involving wider philosophical issues about the body and gender.

  4. The doctrine of Platonic love offers an alternative construction of love to that found in natural philosophy, formulating it as ideal, chaste, and spiritual, rather than disorderly and pathological. Emphasising chastity over consummation, courtship over marriage, and desire over fulfilment, Platonic love inverts much of the medical advice for what Renaissance doctors hold to be healthy in romantic love. The most obvious contradiction between the two philosophies lies in their conflicting attitude towards sexuality. Whereas in Platonic love, chastity and fixed contemplation of the beloved might lead to spiritual transcendence, medical discourses posit abstinence and obsession as the main causes of lovesickness. The Platonic sublimation of physical desire can thus bring about a physical malady. Writers such as Davenant, keen to engage with the doctrine of Platonic love, make this contradiction boldly apparent: chastity is integrated into, and sometimes contrasted with, a physiological system that regards sexuality as natural. Platonic chastity can therefore be constructed as a spiritual ideal, or conversely, as the cause of sterility and sickness. Dramatists who deal with the subject of Platonic love are able to exploit the tension that exists between these two constructions.

  5. The concept of Platonic love formulated by Ficino referred exclusively to the affection between men. Before Ficino's reformulation of the philosophy Platonic love was almost exclusively associated with homosexuality, a connection that appears to have prohibited proper scholarly investigation prior to the publication of Ficino's Commentary on Plato's Symposium on Love. Its homosexual and pederastic orientation led many theologians to deny or delete concepts of Platonic love from their larger discussions of Platonism. Jill Kraye points out several examples of this, such as the Camaldulensian monk Ambrogio Traversari who deleted the homosexual love poems attributed to Plato from his Latin version of Diogenes Laertius' Lives of the Philosophers in 1433, and George of Trebizond whose comparison of Aristotle and Plato in 1458 attempted to save Christendom from the immoral, and homosexual doctrines of Platonic love. Even Cardinal Bessarion's In calumniatorem Platonis, which defends Plato's attachment to young men as chaste, nevertheless asserts that the lustful poems were not actually by Plato. Ficino, on the other hand, accepts the notion of Platonic love, but interprets its homosexual aspect allegorically, asserting that the divinely inspired amatory fury of Platonic love involved a chaste relationship between men. Pico della Mirandola attributed this to the fact that Platonic love was directed at the soul or intellect, which was much more beautiful in men than women. But while Ficino, Pico and Bessarion "expunged any taint of carnal homosexuality from Platonic love, they did not question its homoerotic nature, nor its relegation of heterosexual love to an inferior status on the grounds that love between the sexes resulted in physical procreation, whereas love between men led to spiritual perfection." [2]

  6. The circulation of Ficino's formulation of Platonic love is demonstrated in the notes to Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender of 1579. E. K. glosses the reference to Hobbinol, stating that he is Colin Clout's "very special and most familiar friend, whom he entirely and extraordinarily beloved." He goes on to assert the chastity of the male lovers, as well as the superiority of male-male love to the love of women. In a playful passage he asserts the validity of Platonic love between men:

    In thys place seemeth to be some sauour of disorderly loue, which the learned call pæderastice: but it is gathered beside his meaning. For who that hath red Plato his dialogue called Alcybiades, Xenophon, and Maximus Tyrius of Socrates opinions, may easily perceiue, that such loue is muche to be alowed and liked of, specially so meant, as Socrates vsed it: who sayth, that in deede he loued Alcybiades extremely, yet not Alcybiades person, but hys soule, which is Alcybiades owne selfe. And so is pæderastice much to be præferred before gynerastice, that is the loue whiche enflameth men with lust toward woman kind. But yet let no man thinke, that herein I stand with Lucian or hys deuelish disciple Vnico Aretino, in defence of execrable and horrible sinnes of forbidden and vnlawful fleshlinesse. Whose abominable errour is fully confuted of Perionius, and others. [3]

    Male friendships are prioritised and contrasted with heterosexual and homosexual love, both associated with an immoderate desire for the body. The love of the soul, the true self, is separated from the 'feminine' lust for the body; but whereas love between men is said to have two forms, there is no differentiation made in the types of love for women. Rather, love for women is placed on the side of 'fleshliness' and disorder, reinforcing the traditional structure of gender that associates men with spirit (form) and women with flesh (matter).

  7. Although much of the poetry in The Shepheardes Calender celebrates heterosexual love, the gloss offered by E. K. on Platonism reiterates the traditional hierarchy that associates the quality of love with the gender of the object. Ficino, while not denigrating heterosexual love, nevertheless prioritises male-male, non-corporeal friendship, suggesting that physical reproduction is inferior to spiritual and intellectual propagation. While always affirming the importance of love, Neoplatonism thus privileges the love of a male over that of a female. Unsurprisingly, then, when a woman assumes the role of the male beloved in the discourse of Platonic love there is an attempt to elide or efface her real corporeal presence, and in doing so, give her the same rarefied status as the male Platonic lover. The apology offered by Ficino for the homocentricity of Platonic love, redefining the relationship between lover and beloved as chaste rather than carnal, thereby extends to heterosexual love, creating a new paradigm in which the female beloved incites spiritual desire.

  8. Platonic love, along with affording women an elevated and ennobled position in the amorous process, also justified a prolonged period of courtship, the time at which the woman was traditionally able to dominate the romantic relationship. Indeed, some early modern women appear to have enjoyed the freedom afforded by protracted periods of courtship. Until curtailed by marriage, the pre-nuptial relationship between lovers empowered the woman, allowing her to dominate her partner by withholding both physical and emotional favour. [4] This inversion of the gender hierarchy during the period of courtship was strengthened by the position of women at the Stuart courts, where the traditional female virtues of taciturnity and modesty were replaced by those of wit, learning, and allurement. [5] The consequent elevation of women finds reflection in the early modern English discourse of Platonic love, in which the intensity of the suitor's love is expressed through professions of loyalty and servitude to a confident and commanding mistress.

  9. Writers who wished to criticize Neoplatonic ideas about the edifying nature of unfulfilled sexual desire could turn to medical texts that emphasised the dangerous consequence of erotic passion. Whereas moderate affection was deemed to be both moral and reasonable, lovesickness was regarded as an excessive and degrading passion that could result in chronic melancholy, mania or even death. Able to incite violent passions and disrupt the equilibrium of mind and body, erotic melancholy was much more than an emotional condition: it was a sickness, both infectious and destructive. [6] Within this framework abstinence was considered a cause of sickness, rather than spiritual ecstasy, in that it allowed for the accumulation of seed, or sperm, to infect his body and derange reason. [7] As Burton recommends, "The last refuge and surest remedy, to be put in practise in the utmost place, when no other meanes will take effect, is to let them goe together, and enjoy one another." [8]

  10. The importance of the discourse of Platonic love to many of the masques and plays of the Caroline period can be attributed to the influence of Queen Henrietta Maria. [9] As a young woman at the French court, the queen had witnessed the attempts of the Marquise de Rambouillet to refine the manners and sexual mores of the French royal circle. The salon founded by Rambouillet inspired Henrietta Maria to attempt a similar programme of refinement at the English court, where she established Platonic love as a fashionable cult and court game. [10] In addition, the discourse of Platonic love furnished writers with a language to engage with, and even criticize, contemporary political issues. [11] The popularity of the discourse at the English court was first noted by the newswriter James Howell in 1634:

    The Court affords little News at present, but that there is a love call'd Platonick Love, which much sways there of late; it is a Love abstracted from all corporeal gross impressions and sensual Appetite, but consists in Contemplations and Ideas of the Mind, not in any carnal fruition. This love sets the Wits of the Town on Work; and they say there will be a Mask shortly of it, whereof her Majesty and her Maids of Honour will be part. [12]

  11. The interest of Queen Henrietta Maria in the language of Neoplatonism had a strong influence upon poets and playwrights keen to signal their attachment to the values of the Caroline Court. Davenant's prologue to The Platonick Lovers concedes that the title of his play will bemuse a popular audience, many in the city struggling even to spell the word "Platonick," let alone understand its meaning. However, he expects the Court to react positively:

                   the Title needs must cause
    From the indulgent Court, a kind applause,
    Since there hee learn't it first, and had command
    T'interpret what hee scarce doth understand
    . [13]

    The appeal of Davenant's play to its audience was strengthened by the esoteric nature of Platonism, and its association with the Caroline court. By interpreting and approving the language and values of The Platonick Lovers, members of the audience were able to indicate their own familiarity with the language and the values of the Court. The prologue makes this point, suggesting that in order to enjoy the play the audience must be part of the social coterie, familiar with courtly modes. As the author of an earlier masque for Henrietta Maria in celebration of Platonic love, Davenant was an ideal commentator on this trend. His play offers a dual commentary, both upon the theory of Platonic love, and upon the indulgent consumption of that theory by the members of the Court.

  12. Caroline writers reacted in a variety of ways to the new fashion; some of them praised the philosophy while others expressed outright derision. [14] Positive depictions of Platonic love describe love as a celestial, spiritual impulse that ennobles the lover. [15] Love is described as being not merely a "toy" or "sport but for the Idle Boy" but rather an emotion that can "entertain / Our serious thoughts." [16] Platonic love is represented as the opposite of lust, and its advocates emphasize that physical desire must either be eschewed or sublimated in order for souls and minds to unite in an affection that is based on admiration, friendship and equality. [17] Sexual intercourse is rejected for higher forms of union: Platonic lovers never share their "ignobler selves" but "like those above / Unmatter'd forms" unite spiritually. [18] The Platonic mistress is represented as a chaste ideal, and often undergoes an apotheosis, at times described as "An Image of that Light which is divine," or as a "perfect Virgin." [19] And although she is described as physically beautiful, it is her virtue and noble mind that inspires and edifies the lover.

  13. Poems that celebrate Platonic love describe the way in which the lover is elevated through his affection for a chaste mistress. They often highlight the lover's need to transcend a merely physical appreciation of their mistresses, [20] or they suggest that physical beauty, traditionally portrayed as inciting sexual longing, instead leads to spiritual refinement. [21] Physical intimacy is dismissed as unnecessary, as platonic lovers "converse [their] Purer Soles" without the aid of the senses. [22] In addition, Platonic love is described as promoting friendship and equality between lovers, who are united in their thoughts and souls rather than their bodies. Unlike traditional depictions of marriage, which place the man in the dominant position, Platonic love is portrayed in such a way as to erase the gender divide or even to afford the woman an elevated position. [23]

  14. However, while many literary works celebrate Platonic love, an even greater number attack the philosophy as an unnatural and artificial doctrine. [24] Many works challenge the idea that physical love is inherently sinful, suggesting that complete love results from both a spiritual and a bodily union. [25] Virginity is aligned to illness in these poems, whereas, paradoxically, lovesickness is depicted as a natural and integral aspect of affection. [26] In other places, the adherents of Platonic love are criticized for being hypocritical; they are depicted as employing the idealized discourse of Neoplatonism either as a seduction technique, or as a means of covering up sexual liaisons, [27] and in some instances, writers associate Platonic love with the hypocrisy of the court. [28] Finally, some writers assert that the philosophy's emphasis on chastity emasculates the male lover, rendering him passive. [29] Unlike the supporters of Platonic love who suggest that the philosophy promotes a just equality between lovers, those who attack it often suggest that non-corporeal affection places women in an unnatural position of dominance, disrupting the traditional gender-power hierarchy. [30]

  15. Davenant's interest in concepts of Platonic love is evident in his masque The Temple of Love, written for Henrietta Maria when the fashion for Platonic love was at its height - one year after Howell treats the cult as "news." It was performed at Whitehall on Shrove Tuesday, with the queen and fourteen of her ladies taking part. [31] The queen was clearly pleased with the masque, and she performed it three more times within the week.

  16. Davenant's masque depicts the triumph of chastity over sensuality, achieved through the example of Queen Indamora of Narsinga (played by Henrietta Maria) who embodies an ideal of love and beauty. At the opening of the masque, the queen is informed by Divine Poesy that the time has come for the Temple of Chaste Love to be reinstated in Britain. However, the magicians who control the world of sensual pleasures oppose the queen's attempts at reformation and call upon nature to combat this new, sterile philosophy. Through an antimasque they present the elements of nature - earth, fire, air and water - in excessive and corrupted forms. The magicians fail and the masque ends with an image of the royal marriage as an ideal pattern of chaste affection, in which reason and will are unified.

  17. The title suggests a celebration of Platonic love; however, the valorisation of chaste affection within the masque is qualified by an admission that the physical world cannot be entirely effaced. For Davenant himself, the victim of a bout of syphilis that severely disfigured his nose, the impossibility of ever fully transcending the physical world must have been painfully apparent. Although the masque indulges its courtly audience with frequent references to the language of Neoplatonism, incidents within the masque would appear to suggest that spiritual ambitions can never be fully divorced from the material.

  18. In the first half of the masque, the vulgar magicians playfully exaggerate the implications of Neoplatonism, intimating that, if the courtiers fully pursue their interest in the spiritual realm then the very finery for which the court is reputed will be rendered obsolete. According to the magicians, Persian quilts, embroidered couches, beds and clothing are mere "Bodily implements" and should be relinquished, as they are of no use to a soul refined by Neoplatonic philosophy. [32] In addition, while the female followers of Platonic fashion may be exalted by their doctrine, they are simultaneously described as carrying "frozen Winter in their blood," indicating an underlying frigidity or sterility. Those who seek to woo Platonic women must attempt to court their minds and, rather than seek any physical consummation, practising "generation not / Of bodies but of souls" (B2r).

  19. Whilst faithfully reflecting the popularity of Neoplatonic doctrine among the women of the Court, the masque nonetheless queries the desirability of a wholly intellectual interaction between the sexes. In a number of asides, the magicians joke with the women in the audience, insinuating that Platonic love, although delightful in theory, is unlikely to satisfy their every need. The Persian Page suggests that if the women's interest in Platonic love is reciprocated by their lovers, then the effect will be far from desirable; he describes how the philosophy has transformed his master:

    One heretofore that wisely could confute
    A lady at her window with his Lute.
    There devoutly in a cold morning stand
    Two howres, praysing the snow of her white hand;
    So long, 'till's words were frozen 'tween his lips,
    And's Lute-strings learnt their quav'ring from his hips.
    And when he could not rule her to's intent,
    Like Tarquin he would proffer ravishment.
    But now, no fear of Rapes, untill he find
    A maidenhead belonging to the mind.
    The rest are all so modest too, and pure,
    So virginly, so coy, and so demure,
    That they retreat at kissing, and but name
    Hymen, or Love, they blush for very shame! (B2v)

    Here the sensuous wooing of the traditional lover is replaced by a display of coy and squeamish chastity. The male Platonic lover in this way fulfils a fundamental tenet of Neoplatonic doctrine, achieving wholeness through the integration of qualities traditionally associated with women, such as shame and modesty. However, in Davenant's masque, the effect is to make men effete, replicating the behaviour of the women they are trying to seduce. The male Platonic lover is represented as passive, unable to make his feelings known, the only indication of his desire escaping in the form of a blush. Importantly, the effect of Neoplatonic doctrine upon men is seen to be as unnatural as its effect upon women. While women become chaste and aloof, men are emasculated, unwilling to give expression to their physical desires.

  20. The magicians insist upon the impossibility of transcending the body, and they call upon nature to battle this new and strange doctrine of Neoplatonism, invoking the spirits of earth, air, fire and water, to infect the bodies of mankind. Nature is represented by the four elements of the physical universe, appearing in the guise of the four bodily humours. The fiery spirits enter "all in flames, and their visards of a Cholericke Complextion," the airy spirits enter in feathers "with sanguine vizards," the watery spirits enter with fish scales and the earthy spirits wear branches without leaves (B3v). The effect of the antimasque is to contrast the materiality of the physical universe, "the faction of / the flesh," with the abstraction of Neoplatonic philosophy, a "hum'rous vertue" favoured by a "queasie age." The antimasque, whilst depicting the physical world as riotous and immoral, nonetheless serves as a symbolic expression of the body given free reign. Its function is to remind the audience of the existence of physical and sinful appetites, thereby idealising Platonic love by providing it with a lascivious and immoral foil. However, the magicians emphasize that this eruption of sensuous physicality is a product of nature itself; as they remark "Nature, our weaknesse must be thought our crime" (B3r).

  21. The construction of Davenant's masque, contrasting the language of Neoplatonic courtship with an antimasque of sinful appetites, appears to suggest that the physical and spiritual realms are irreconcilable. However, the final tableau of The Temple of Love seeks to resolve this conflict, integrating a discourse of Platonic love into a wider vision of nature as orderly, regenerative and fertile. The song of Reason and Will serves to reconcile desire and virtue: "Come melt thy soule in mine, that when unite, / We may become one virtuous appetite" (C4v). Amianteros, or "Chast Love," descends to earth, celebrating her return with images of fecundity:

    Softly as fruitfull showres I fall,
    And th'undiscern'd increase I bring,
    Is of more precious worth than all
    A plenteous Summer payes a Spring
    . (Dv)

    By likening herself to "fruitfull showres," Amianteros indicates that the chaste love she represents is compatible with the fecundity of nature. Her song, with its images of fertility and natural increase, serves as a counterpoint to the sterile philosophy of Indamora and her followers, who "carry frozen Winter in their blood." Rather than seek to efface the physical world, Amianteros celebrates the arrival of Spring, which reawakens the earth to "Fructifie each barren heart, / And give eternall growth to Love" (Dv). Through Amianteros' song, Davenant offers his audience a redefinition of the Neoplatonic conception of "virtue," removing the taint of effeminacy and sterility. The political importance of this distinction is made manifest in the closing lines of the masque, which address the royal family directly:

    To CHARLES, the mightiest and the best,
    And to the Darling of his breast,
              (Who rule b'example as by power)
    May youthfull blessings still increase,
    And in their Off-spring never cease,
              Til Time's too old to last an hower
    . (Dv)

    This tribute to the continuing fecundity of the royal marriage reworks the earlier song of Amianteros, with its celebration of natural abundance. The emphasis on Charles' children reminds the audience of the physical responsibilities of Henrietta Maria as wife and royal mother. Davenant does not seek to challenge the identity of the queen as a paradigm of chastity and virtue; rather, by insisting upon the possibility of "virtuous appetite," the masque suggests that the abstract language of Neoplatonism is reconcilable with the material demands of the physical, political world. Moreover, Davenant's attack on Platonism could be read as having a wider political significance. As Kevin Sharpe has argued, "love was the metaphor, the medium, though which political comment and criticism were articulated in Caroline England." [33] The rejection of Platonic love might also have been a means of subtly implying that the court itself was in danger of becoming an unnatural and sterile place filled with effeminate men and dominant women.

  22. Davenant's The Platonick Lovers, performed at Court and at the Blackfriars in the season of 1635-6, further examines the tension between the spiritual abstraction of Platonic love and the material reality of human sexuality. Despite the fact that Theander and Eurithea, the lovers of the title, are idealized in the play, The Platonick Lovers appears to criticize non-corporeal affection as an impractical and unnatural code for human behaviour. Theander's idealistic view of love is shown to spring from ignorance, and his idealization of his mistress is lampooned in the behaviour of Gridonell, whose total inexperience of women causes him to venerate an old hag as though she were an angel. Significantly, chaste and sterile Platonic affection is shown to demand a physical cure. The doctor Buonateste heats the blood of Theander and Eurithea, thereby engendering in them the symptoms of erotic melancholy. The two lovers are forced to find release, and their agreement to join in a physical marriage represents a repudiation of their former philosophy, reaffirming the traditional gender hierarchy and the natural function of human desire.

  23. The play opens with the arrival of Theander and Phylomont, who represent their friendship in Neoplatonic language as the mingling and exchanging of souls. The two men are also connected because each loves the other's sister. However, as each friend runs to greet his beloved, differences between the two couples are revealed. Whereas Eurithea runs cheerfully to embrace Theander, Ariola's response to Phylomont is awkward and cold. Fredeline attributes this disparity to contrasting philosophies of love; Theander and Eurithea

                        are Lovers of a pure
    Coelestiall kind, such as some stile Platonicall:
    (A new Court Epethite scarce understood)
    But all they wooe, Sir is the Spirit, Face,
    And heart, therefore their conversation is
    More safe to Fame. (B4r-B4v)

    Ariola and Phylomont, on the other hand "still affect / For naturall ends":

         such a way as Libertines call Lust,
    But peacefull Politicks, and cold Divines
    Name Matrimony Sir; therefore, although
    Their wise Intent be good and lawfull, yet
    Since it infers much Game and Pleasure i'th event,
    In subtle bashfulnesse, shee would not seeme
    To entertaine with too much forwardnesse,
    What shee (perhaps) doth willingly expect. (B4v)

    Surprisingly, as a result of their detachment from sexual desire, Theander and Eurithea have a greater freedom to kiss and embrace. By contrast, Phylomont and Ariola, who plan to marry, act awkwardly because of their anticipation of the "Game and Pleasure" that awaits them in the marriage bed. Their shyness and modesty, far from being a manifestation of purity, is indicative of their underlying sexual desire.

  24. Although Platonic love is mocked by Fredeline as "A new Court Epethite scarce understood," the relationship of Theander and Eurithea is idealized. Their detachment from sexual desire gives them a greater freedom to express physical affection, and their scenes together are sensuous and unrestrained. Unlike Phylomont, who is discouraged from entering Ariola's room before their marriage, Theander goes into Eurithea's room in the middle of the night to kiss and admire her. The two lovers also participate in the courtly, pastoral conventions of Platonic love, with Theander dressing up as a shepherd "such as faire Arcadia bred" (D3v). The Neoplatonic emphasis on spiritual love and mutual esteem promotes a greater level of sexual equality. Eurithea is Theander's "Virgin friend" in whom he confides and whom he trusts. Only when Theander's sexuality begins to emerge does he start to keep secrets from Eurithea, and asks that she keep her face covered. Sexual desire is depicted as the force that establishes the gender hierarchy, and demands that women's behaviour be shameful and modest. Events within the play make it necessary for Theander and Eurithea to recognise their sexual nature. However, rather than celebrating this awakening, the play represents it as a fall from innocence.

  25. The emergence of Theander's sexual desire resonates within the wider theological context of the Fall of man. He describes lovesickness as a deleterious malady, both morally and physically: his flaming heart, boiling liver and "scorched veines" warm him "to a guilt" which will "burne [him] after death." The physiological language of the medical tradition is conflated with a confessional language of sin and damnation, so that the fire in his blood is identified with the flames "kindled and bred in Hell." In addition, his sexual excitement results in a self-conscious desire to conceal himself. He beckons Eurithea to hide with him in the garden, but she recognizes the strangeness of his request and asks him why they should hide, when they "know / Not guiltinesse to cause a bashfull feare" (F3r). Significantly, Theander's shame prompts him to cover, not his own body, but the face of his beloved. He tells her, "Hide, hide thy beauty e're / Thou speak'st; put on thy vaile: nay, closer yet" (Gr). His actions substantiate the claim attributed to Bembo in Castiglione's The Courtier, that the beauty of women is not inherently sinful, but is made to seem so by the intemperate response of men to its display. Theander's sexual desire produces a need to veil Eurithea's beauty: rather than exercise self-control, he displaces the responsibility for sexual desire onto the body of his lover.

  26. Although Theander constructs his newfound sexuality as an immoral sickness, his previous attachment to Neoplatonic ideals is criticized by Davenant as a sterile and emasculating affection. Theander's abhorrence of human sexuality leads to a mistaken belief that marriage is a form of lust. When asked by Phylomont for permission to marry Ariola, Theander reacts with horror, protesting that "Your soules are wedded Sir, / I'm sure you would not marrie bodies too" (E1v). Just as his own experience of desire prompts him to cover Eurithea's face, so Theander's awareness of his sister's sexual needs causes him to lose respect for her. He tries to lock up Ariola, chastising her in terms usually reserved for promiscuous women. He equates sexual desire with defilement, envisaging Ariola's emergent sexuality as a poison that will corrupt the soul as well as the body; it is a "secret sicknesse" in the blood. However, his expression of disgust at Ariola's sexual identity is wholly disproportionate. He figures Phylomont's articulation of personal desire as a violent assault, "blister[ing] [Ariola] with lascivious breath," and denounces his sister's desire for marriage as criminal (E3v).

  27. Theander's disgust betrays his naivety. Fredeline suggests that Theander's adherence to Neoplatonic doctrine might simply be an elaborate cover for his sexual ignorance:

    His name (if he continue ignorant
    O th'use of marriage thus) must perish with
    Himselfe, and all his glorious conquests have
    Atchiev'd, be left without an heire.
    Right sir, for I believe those babies he,
    And Eurithea doe beget by gazing in
    Each others eyes; can inherit nothing.
    I meane by th custome here in Scicilie,
    As for Plato's Love-lawes they may entaile,
    Lands on Ghosts, and shaddowes for ought I know,
    I understand not Greeke. (C1v)

    "[I]gnorant / O th'use of marriage," Theander will only make babies by gazing into Eurithea's eyes, leaving the land "without an heire." The irresponsibility of failing to produce a successor is compounded by his refusal to allow his sister to marry, a decision which brings the state to the brink of war.

  28. The suggestion that Theander's adherence to non-corporeal affection stems from ignorance rather than spiritual elevation is reinforced by the subplot, which parodies Theander's adulation of his mistress in the behaviour of Gridonell. Gridonell, who was sent away by his father Sciolto to grow up without books, is ignorant of the female sex. The first woman he sees is Amadine, the old and poor sister of Castraganio. Uncertain as to what she is, Gridonell gazes at her in fascination, exclaiming:

                    This is a rare sight
    One of the Angels sure, and a great Gallant among 'em,
    Had it but blew wings on the shoulders, it
    Could not be of lesse degree then an Angell. (C3v)

    Gridonell, who does not even know that brothers and sisters are related, provides a comic foil for Theander. Upon hearing his son talk of "Angels" and "Gallant[s]," Sciolto dismisses his son as "one of Plato's Lovers" and assumes that he will fail to beget an heir ([C4r]). The clownish attempt of Gridonell to praise and idealize Amadine is a parody of Neoplatonic discourse, with its insistence upon the elevated and quasi-divine status of women. Through the figure of Gridonell, Davenant suggests that the philosophy of Neoplatonism encourages foolishness and self-delusion. Theander eventually realises as much, confessing that his earlier preference for spiritual abstraction over physical desire was not in fact "a virtue," but rather "a dull mistake" (G3v).

  29. Buonateste, who is responsible for awakening in Theander and Gridonell an awareness of their own sexual desire, represents an ideal of moral sexuality. Described in the cast list as a "generous Artist," he is portrayed as kind, intelligent, and witty; he refuses to accept money for his help, and is responsible for exposing Fredeline's duplicity and Eurithea's innocence (A3v). Maintaining that Plato's writings have been misinterpreted by "Ladies" keen to invent their own theory of love and attribute it to the philosopher, the doctor rejects the artificial doctrine of Platonic love. He beseeches Fredeline "not to wrong / [His] good old friend Plato, with this court calumnie," claiming that the women

         father on him a Fantastick Love
    Hee never knew, poore Gentleman, upon
    My knowledge sir, about two thousand yeares
    Agoe, in the high street yonder
    At Athens, just by the corner as you passe
    To Diana's Conduit (a Haberdashers house)
    It was (I thinke) hee kept a wench. (D4r-D4v)

    Buonateste undermines the credibility of non-corporeal love by emphasizing Plato's sexual identity: he places the philosopher within a material, historical context, imagining him walking down the high street on the way to meet his mistress. Regarding Platonic love as a naïve and artificial doctrine devised by women, the doctor takes it upon himself to cure those devoted to virginity. When Ariola decides to convert to Platonism, her frustrated fiancé knows to ask Buonateste for assistance. "Plato shall lose one fond disciple sir" he assures Phylomont, "Or I'le goe burne my bookes, and sindge my beard / Off in the flame" (K1v).

  30. Although Buonateste rejects Neoplatonic philosophies that depict love as a spiritual abstraction, neither does he construct love as a wholly sexual appetite. Instead, he repeatedly asserts that there is a difference between non-corporeal affection and erotic desire, maintaining that love cannot be induced artificially. It is not Buonateste, but Fredeline, who articulates a cynical materialist view of love. He rejects Buonateste's assertion that Eurithea's affection cannot be compelled, maintaining that once she "comes to relish Man" her entire psychological and ethical character will be transformed:

                                       then like a Spring
    Too long imprison'd in her Ice, shee'l spread
    Into a lib'rall streame, that ev'ry thirst Lover may
    Carouse, untill his heat be quench'd. (G2v)

    Like the women in The Temple of Love who "carry frozen Winter in their blood," Eurithea's adherence to Platonism is depicted as endowing her with an inhuman iciness. Nevertheless, Fredeline's cynical attitude to women and his belief that love is merely the product of a sexual impulse is shown to be as partial and reductive as Theander's Platonism. Just as Buonateste administers a cure for Theander's extreme chastity, so too does he give Fredeline a medicine to cure his "lust."

  31. Buonateste is represented as embodying a harmonious balance between a philosophy that depicts love as a bodily instinct and one that represents it as an intangible abstraction. He recognizes the somatic and spiritual components of love and gives each a separate etiology: fascination, the theory outlined by Ficino in book Speech Seven of his Commentary on Plato's Symposium on Love, is located as the origin of abstract affection, whereas "the blood, and not the Eyes" is the corporeal basis of concupiscence (D3v). His cure of Theander reconciles sexual and spiritual appetites, awakening Theander's erotic impulses and freeing him from his adherence to non-corporeal love. His medicine is depicted as working in agreement with the body's innate system, inciting a "nat'rall appetite" for sex in the Platonic lovers by "heat[ing] their bloods into desire" (C2r). Described in the play as a descendent of Diogenes, he is also frequently depicted as the servant of nature: "Wise Nature is my Mistrisse," he asserts, "I shall / Demeane my selfe most stoutly in her cause" (Lv). That erotic melancholy functions as the cure for Platonic love suggests that, for Davenant, the physiological experience of desire is a constituent feature of natural love. Sickness is thus a necessary precursor to health.

  32. Theander's cure precipitates a change in the way in which he treats Eurithea. Fredeline suggests that Theander's sexual awakening provokes his recognition of the actual purpose of women:

         the Ice is melted that hath kept his vaines
    So frozen and condenc'd; hee must find out,
    That Nature made a woman for some use
    More consequent, that to converse with, and admire
    Besides, this our belov'd and knotty Sophister
    Hath fill'd me with such Potent arguments
    Divine and Morall, to perswade the Rites
    Of Marriage, wise, and seemly too, as hee
    Shall needs consent in's reason and his will,
    That hee was once begotten, and must now beget. (G1v)

    Sexual desire prompts Theander to recognize that beyond being companions with which to converse, or objects to admire, women have "more consequent" uses. Desire is depicted as revealing and engendering natural gender relations: a woman's sexual identity is constructed as her chief function; it is the reason that "Nature made a woman." Furthermore, Fredeline's statement that Theander "shall needs consent in's reason and will / That hee was once begotten, and must now beget" echoes the conclusion of The Temple of Love in which Reason and Will sing together during the royal apotheosis. However, although both works end with a new form of love that promises fecundity and renewal, in the masque Reason and Will are joined in a celebration of a new form of Platonism, whereas here they act to prompt Theander to renounce Platonic love.

  33. Theander's cure is represented as a move from an artificial, sterile philosophy to a natural, procreative one. In many respects, this shift corresponds to the pattern found in The Temple of Love. Buonateste and the magicians, the chief agents that effect this change, are portrayed as devotees of nature, and where Buonateste engenders the symptoms of lovesickness in Theander to effect his cure, the magicians treat the body of mankind by infecting the four humours. Paradoxically, both of these cures are represented as an illness and associated with sin. Nevertheless, the destructive aspects of this cure - depicted in the antimasque of the former work and in Theander's illness in the latter - allow for a harmonious balance to be restored. As in The Temple of Love, in which nature unites with Platonic love resulting in a love which is both chaste and fertile, both spiritual and sexual, Buonateste is portrayed as uniting the lover's spiritual affection with corporeal desires.

  34. Theander's cure also establishes a different gender hierarchy, in that it prompts the couple to move from courtship to marriage. Unlike courtship, which is portrayed as the liminal period in which the woman dominates the sexual and emotional relationship, in marriage the man is seen to be in charge. Thus when Phylomont is finally given permission to marry Ariola, he also looks forward to taking control of their relationship. Ariola, who is no longer cold, but is free with her kisses, is told that her period of amorous governance is almost finished. Phylomont, accepting her affectionate embrace, tells her:

    This bounty had been excellent, when you
    Had privilege to give, or to deny; but now
    Your charter's out of date, and mine
    Begins to rule: the Priest attends below
    To celebrate our Nuptiall rites, which is
    The happy houre that doth advance
    The husband's government; come, to the Chappell, Love. (H3r)

    Marriage, along with being a "sweet / And sudden cure" for lovesickness, is depicted as restoring a man to his proper place in the gender hierarchy, ushering in the "husband's government." Ariola, however, tells Phylomont that she has recently converted to Platonism and is therefore no longer interested in marrying him. Phylomont, weary and frustrated, threatens to enact a sexual domination if he cannot have a domestic one. Invoking the name of Hercules, Phylomont threatens to "seeke some downe right virgin out, that knowes / Natures plaine lawes, though not the Art of love" (H3r). Once again sexual love is described as arising from "Natures plaine lawes," suggesting that a man's control within the relationship is also natural.

  35. Platonic love is depicted as empowering women in that it extends the period of courtship, perpetuating the limited phase in which a woman has the "privilege to give, or to deny" her lover favours. The philosophy's emphasis on chastity prevents men from consummating their relationships, leaving them in a frustrating role of sexual passivity. Phylomont, for example, complains that the position he is expected to take up in Platonic love is ridiculously effete, claiming that he is unfit for "sighing thus (Ariola) Vnder a Poplar Tree, or whining by / A River side," and Gridonell is described by his father as being transformed "from a tame / Soldier to a towne Bull" when he awakens to his sexual appetites (K1r). Sexual intercourse is seen to affirm masculinity and ensure a man's possession of his beloved. As Phylomont tells Theander that a man should

    Possesse your Ladies Bed your selfe, y'are
    the Best sentinell to hinder th'onslaught of
    The Enemie, whining and puling Love is fit
    For Evenuches and for old revolted Nunnes. (L1r-L1v)

    Phylomont depicts Platonic love as an emasculating philosophy fit only for 'Ev \enuches'. Whereas Platonic love is represented earlier in the play as engendering peace, equality and harmony between lovers, marriage is described through metaphors of war and domination: to "hinder th'onslaught of the Enemie." The epilogue emphasizes that Platonic love is effeminate, and it is women who promote this "Ladies Paradox" despite that fact that it "recreate[s] the mind and not the blood." Interestingly, the traditional structure which associates men with rational thought and women with bodily instincts is reversed, so that the sensual and corporeal aspects of love are equated with men, whereas women prefer to "recreate the mind." Neoplatonism, in Davenant's play, ultimately suggests that it is women who are the chaste and cerebral gender.

  36. Medical traditions of erotic melancholy construct love as physiological and sexual, furnishing early modern writers with a lexicon with which to challenge Neoplatonic notions of affection. Lovesickness could be employed to criticize Platonic love, depicting prolonged virginity and mental fixation as leading the lover to illness rather than spiritual edification; complete love, according to these writers, was achieved through both physical and spiritual union. Furthermore, there were other issues at stake in the debate regarding the validity of Platonic love. Neoplatonism and medical ideas regarding love brought with them other philosophical and cultural assumptions, advocating a different relation between the body and soul; between spiritual affection and sexuality; and a different goal in the amorous process, whether spiritual enlightenment, or procreative marriage. Both traditions also suggested a different relation between the lover and beloved, each of which presupposes a different gender power hierarchy. Debates between the validity of medical and Neoplatonic interpretations of love thus clarify the extent to which what is seen as natural in love is a cultural construction involving wider philosophical issues about the body and gender.


1. Neoplatonism is a term applied to the philosophical and religious writings of a heterogeneous group of thinkers who attempted to expand and synthesise the metaphysical writings of Plato. Its main proponents were Marsilio Ficino (1433-99), Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1469-1533), Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), and Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). Their writings, although diverse, can be characterised by an opposition between the corporeal and spiritual realms, based upon Plato's dualist distinction between the "idea" and its material manifestation. In their attempt to fuse classical ideas with Christianity, the Florentine Academy of the Italian Renaissance maintained that, although humans live in the transitory world, they nonetheless have souls that are capable of comprehending the forms or ideals, the non-temporal reality, behind their shadowy material manifestations. According to this theory, the cosmos consists of a hierarchy extending from the unity of God to the multiplicity of the physical world: all things, spiritual and material, emanate from the "One," which is the source of all truth, beauty and goodness. Through the agency of love, the human soul desires to advance to the level above it in an ascending return to God, rising from the sensual appreciation of physical beauty to a divine, spiritual rapture. See A. Hilary Armstrong, St. Augustine and Christian Platonism (Villanova: Villanova UP, 1967).

2. Jill Kraye, "The transformation of Platonic Love in the Italian Renaissance," in Anna Baldwin and Sarah Hutton, eds., Platonism and the English Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994), 80-81.

3. Edmund Spenser, The Shepheardes Calender: Conteyning twelue Æglogues proportionable to the twelue monethes (1579), in J. C. Smith and E. De Selincourt, eds., Edmund Spenser: Collected Works (London: Oxford UP, 1966), 422-3.

4. Elaine Hobby, Virtue of Necessity: English Women's Writing 1649-88 (London: Virago, 1988), 4.

5. Ian MacLean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman: A study in the fortunes of scholasticism and medical science in European intellectual life (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1980), 64 [4.7.2].

6. James Hart, Klinike, or The Diet of the Diseased (London, 1633), 348.

7. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Nicolas K. Kiessling, Thomas C. Faulkner, and Rhonda L. Blair, eds. (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1989-94), Vol. 3, 57.

8. Ibid., Vol. 3, 242.

9. For more detailed discussions on the transmission of Neoplatonism see Sarah Hutton, "Introduction to the Renaissance and Seventeeth Century," in Baldwin and Hutton, Platonism; Sears Jayne, "Introduction to Marsilio Ficino's Commentary on Plato's Symposium on Love" in Sears Jayne, ed., Marsilio Ficino's Commentary on Plato's Symposium on Love (Dallas: Spring P, 1985), 19-20; Vaughan Hart, Art and Magic in the Court of the Stuarts (London: Routledge, 1994).

10. Anne Barton, Ben Jonson, Dramatist (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984), 264.

11. Kevin Sharpe, Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987), 39; Martin Butler, Theatre and Crisis 1632-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984), 24.

12. J. Jacobs, ed., Epistolae (London: David Nutt, 1890), 317.

13. William Davenant, The Platonick Lovers (London, 1636), A3r.

14. Clifford Leech, Shakespeare's Tragedies and Other Studies in Seventeenth Century Drama (London: Chatto and Windus, 1961), 195-9.

15. Thomas Nabbes, The Springs Glorie (London, 1638), C3r.

16. Edward Herbert, "Platonick Love" ["Madam, believe't, Love is not such a toy"], in Edward Herbert, Occasional Verses of Edward Lord Herbert, Baron of Cherbery and Castle-Island (London, 1665), 72.

17. William Cavendish, "Love's Sole's Conversation," from The Phanseys of William Cavendish, marquis of Newcastle, addressed to Margaret Lucas, and her letters in reply (London: Nonesuch P, 1956), 23. See also Herbert, "Platonick Love" [Madam, believe't], in Occasional Verses, 72, 73, 74.

18. John Hall, "Platonick love," in Poems (Cambridge, 1646), 30. See also Henry Lawes, "To his Platonick Mistris," in Ayres, and Dialogues, for one, two, and three voyces. the third book (London, 1658), 9; Henry Lawes, "Affection for a Lady he never saw," in Ayres, and Dialogues, 11.

19. Herbert, "Platonick Love" ["Disconsolate and sad"], in Occasional Verses, 82; Robert Heath, 'On the Report of Clarastella's death', in Robert Heath, Clarastella: Together with Poems occasional, Elegies, Epigrams, Satyrs (London, 1650), 54.

20. Henry Lawes, "To his Platonick Mistris," in Ayres, and Dialogues, 9.

21. Herbert, "Platonick Love" [Madam, your beauty and your lovely parts], in Occasional Verses, 71, 72.

22. Cavendish, "Sole's Conversation," from The Phanseys, 23.

23. John Hall, "Platonick love," in Poems, 30.

24. Among the writers keen to exploit the popularity of the new trend and to win influence at court was Ben Jonson, who wrote several masques for Henrietta Maria, as well as the play The New Inn (1631), which criticizes Platonic love. The New Inn is an important play in that it undermines the doctrine of Platonic love through the traditional medical notion of lovesickness as a disease. In Jonson's text the discourse of Platonic love coexists with the language of erotic melancholy; ironically, however, the discourse of Platonic love is depicted as actually provoking lovesickness in characters. The idealized discourse is thus shown to be mere sophistry: despite the elevated language and elaborate metaphors about the spiritual nature of love, characters are portrayed as unable to escape the physical nature of love and sexual desire, which is depicted as the natural and inevitable cause of love.

25. See Aston Cokain, "The fifth Song" [It is an offence to love, and to love you], in Small poems of Divers sorts (London, 1658), 154; Aston Cokain, "To my especial Friend Mr. Henry Thimbleby," in Small poems, 175-6; Abraham Cowley, "Platonick Love," in The Works of Abraham Cowley (London, 1668), 12; N[icholas] H[ookes], "Against Platonick Court-Love," in N[icholas] H[ookes], Amanda, a Sacrifice to an Unknown Goddesse, or A Free-will Offering of a loving Heart to a Sweet-Heart (London, 1653), 6, 7, 8, 9.

26. John Cleveland, "The Antiplatonick," in Poems (London, 1657), 20; See also Cokain, "To my friend and Kinsman Mr. George Giffard, who cal'd his Mistress the Green Bird of France," in Small poems, 84.

27. Henry Lawes, "Falshood discovered," in Ayres, and Dialogues, 18; Davenant, The Platonick Lovers, I3v; [Jasper Mayne], The Citye Match (Oxford, 1639), 44; James Shirley, The Lady of Pleasure (1635), Ronald Huebert, ed. (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1986), V.iii.52-62.

28. See H[ookes], "Against Platonick Court-Love," in Amanda, 6-9; Henry Lawes, "Platonick Love," in The Treasury of Musick: containing Ayres and Dialogues to sing to the theorbo-lute or basse-viol in 3 books (London, 1669), 34.

29. H[ookes], "Against Platonick Court-Love," in Amanda, 7.

30. Thomas Carew, "To Ben Jonson upon Occasion of his Ode to Himself," in Ben Jonson, The New Inn (1631), ed. Michael Hattaway (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1984), 219.

31. Mary Edmond, Rare Sir William Davenant (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1987), 56-7.

32. Inigo Jones and William Davenant, The Temple of Love (London, 1634), B2v.

33. Sharpe, Criticism and Compliment, 39.

Works Cited

Primary Sources

Secondary sources

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2002-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).