“New Sects of Love”: Neoplatonism and Constructions of Gender in Davenant’s The Temple of Love and The Platonick
Early Modern Literary Studies 8.1 (May 2002)
This article examines William Davenant’s The Temple of Love (1635) and The Platonick Lovers (1636) in light of the interaction between medical and Neoplatonic constructions of love, arguing that the recurrent figure of the lovesick subject can be read as a reaction to the growing influence of Neoplatonism at the Caroline court. The discourse of Neoplatonism carries with it sexual-political implications, granting the female beloved a new metaphysical and theological significance and enabling her to occupy a dominant position in her relationship with a male suitor. The hostility of male dramatists to this protracted inversion of the traditional gender hierarchy informs their portrayal of Platonic love as an emasculating force. The Temple of Love and The Platonick Lovers both seek to juxtapose the language of Platonic love with an examination of physical appetites, suggesting that the artificial philosophy must eventually give way to a natural, sexual relationship which reinstates the husband’s authority. 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.