Ovidian-inspired erotic epyllia and their pornographic progeny play an important role in the early modern construction of racial whiteness. Francis Beaumont’s narrative verse Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (1602) and A Dialogue Between a Married Lady and a Maid (c. 1684)—a loose translation of Nicolas Chorier’s pornographic Satyra Sotadica de Arcanis Amoris et Veneris (1660)—illustrate how blushing, a bodily phenomenon that early moderns preemptively denied to those with dark skin, became an index of white desire and white desirability. Insofar as they racialize sexuality while sexualizing racial difference, these erotic texts contribute to white racial assemblaging, whereby an affectively self-reflexive subject of erotic desire is composed as generically, in its bodily essence, white.
Adrienne Rich Distinguished Professor of English & Women’s and Gender Studies; Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Michigan
Valerie Traub is the Adrienne Rich Distinguished University Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns (2015), The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England (2002), and Desire & Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (1992, reissued 2014). Both Thinking Sex and The Renaissance of Lesbianism won the Best Book award from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women. In addition, she has edited several collections, including The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Embodiment (2016), which received the Ronald H. Bainton Prize for Best Reference Work in 2016. Her latest co-edited collection is Ovidian Transversions: Iphis and Ianthe, 1350-1650. She is currently finishing Mapping Normality in the Early Modern West, which examines how gender, race, and sexuality in cartographic and anatomical illustration comprise a prehistory of the concept of the normal.