Melissa Sanchez Studies Sexuality by Looking at Renaissance Love Lyrics

Melissa Sanchez, associate professor of English, is using the language and history of 16th- and 17th-century poetry to examine issues of gender, sexuality, and romance in the past and modern-day. Sanchez, a core faculty member of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, says that reading Renaissance texts enriches understanding of both the historical insights about the period when the literature was written and about current cultural conditions.

Typically, Sanchez says, this poetry is read with the assumption that the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century gave rise to normative thinking in the Western world that sex in marriage is healthy and good while sex outside marriage damnable and dangerous. But, looking at poetry from the period, Sanchez says, marriage was not idealized as it is today. Rather, poets such as Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare, and Katherine Phillips considered the consequences of the early Protestant conviction that, even within marriage, sexual desire is dangerous because it represents the irrational and uncontrollable human will more generally.

“One of the poets I work with, John Donne, who was married and by all accounts very much in love with his wife,” Sanchez says, "wrote in a poem...that it’s good that she’s with God now, but also that her death is good for Donne because now his love for her—itself a part of the world, flesh and devil—is not tempting him to forget his relationship with God.”

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