Lodowick Carlell’s play The Deserving Favorite (1629) deploys the ideological strategy of using erotic “likeness” to validate marital unions as consensual and erotically compatible. In an era before the normalization of heterosexuality, the play suggests that sexually passionate marital relations earn legitimacy to the degree that they emulate the affectionate relations between women and between siblings. Although eroticized female friendship approaches the ideal of a consensual and sensual partnership, intimate relations between women seem best to thrive in a separatist environment removed from courtly social and economic exchanges, including the marital negotiations crucial to cementing dynastic and political alliances. Brothers and sisters can model loving intimacy between men and women, yet siblings are too close in blood to be married. Female-female and brother-sister relationships thus constitute complementary yet socially unsustainable models of consensual marital union.
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This article was originally published in English Literary Renaissance, available at https://doi.org/10.1086/693895
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