Sexual Desire: Early Modern Literature

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‘[T]o me it’s ease / Since in these flames I can Aeneas please’ (Wharton, A Paraphrase on the last Speech of Dido in Virgil’s Aeneis). Discuss the representation of sexual desire in two of your module text. There is no denying we all have sexual urges and desires. We also have gender typical views on the desire of both sexes. In this essay I am going to look at the representation of sexual desire within the digressional world of Tristram Shandy and within the Sexual Difference poetry, to see how sexuality is depicted as well as dire and how gender impacts our perception of it. In Thomas Wyatt's ‘whoso list to hunt’ we see a stereotypical representation of male and female desire. The male portrayed as the hunter and the female and the prey. Controversially, the female figure is represented by a deer. While a deer represents nature, gentleness, grace, it also can be seen as degrading, being represented by an animal; as weak and feeble. I do not believe this to be the case. Throughout the poem, the roles seem to be very much reversed. What begins as an optimistic opening, ‘...I know where is an hind’ (1) by line two becomes a lamenting sentiment, which ends at the cliché that is ‘but', ‘But as for me, alas, I may no more' (2). The deer appears to have the upper hand and the control. The brutal hunter we expect cannot be found within this poem, rather a stumbling, love sick man, seeking to tame the untameable. Rather than the image of a hunter seeking prey being negative, can this not represent his struggle and strife with his emotions. The deer is irresistible to the hunter, it is his instinct to go after her, he cannot help himself, although it is against his better judgement and against his bodies’ capacity:

The vain travail hath wearied me so sore
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I, by no means, my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow ... (3-7)

The word...
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