Marriage, Gender, and Desire in Early Enlightenment German Comedy

Marriage, Gender, and Desire in Early Enlightenment German Comedy

Edward T. Potter


Camden House



Reveals eighteenth-century German comedies' inherent resistance -- through their depiction of alternative gender roles and sexual behavior -- to the emerging discourse of the sentimental marriage.
J. C. Gottsched, who reformed early Enlightenment German theater, claimed for comedy the ability to transform morality. The new literary comedies of the 1740s, among the other moral goals that they pursued, propagated a new sentimental discourse promoting marriage based on love while devaluing its traditional socioeconomic foundations. Yet in comedies by well-known dramatists of the period such as Gottsched, Gellert, J. E. Schlegel, Lessing, and Quistorp, alternative gender roles and sexual behaviors call the primacy of marriage into question: there are women who refuse to be integrated into marriage, episodes of cross-dressing that foreground the culturally constructed aspects of gender roles, instances of male same-sex desire, and allusions to female same-sex desire. Edward T. Potter examines this marital discourse in close readings of these authors' plays, uncovering the ambiguity of eighteenth-century comedy's stance on marriage and highlighting its resistance to the emerging discourse of the sentimental marriage. In addition to excavating the connections between the texts and norms regarding gender roles and sexual behavior, Potter also examines how these comedies self-reflexively perform their own reception in plays-within-plays that reflect upon early Enlightenment comedy, poetics, and pedagogical aesthetics and thereby comment on the efficacy of theater as a means of propagating such norms.

Edward T. Potter is Associate Professor of German at Mississippi State University.


March 2012
210 pages
9x6 in
Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture
ISBN: 9781571135292
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Camden House
BISAC LIT004170, LIT013000, LIT016000
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Comedy, the Sentimental Marriage, and Modes of Resistance
Promoting the Sentimental Marriage in Theory and in Practice
The Virgin Huntress Tamed: J. C. Gottsched's Atalanta and the Erasure of Female Autonomy
Marriage Brokering at the Expense of Economics: C. F. Gellert's Die zärtlichen Schwestern
The Clothes Make the Man: J. E. Schlegel's Der Triumphder guten Frauen
Cross-Dressing and Gender Performance in G. E. Lessing'sDer Misogyne
Sickness Masks Desire in Th. J. Quistorp's Der Hypochondrist
Works Cited


(C)onvincingly reveals how repressive mechanisms of normalization were already at work in comedies produced in the 1740s, and insightfully demonstrates the subversive potential (of those plays). . . . (A)n important inquiry into contentious representations of gender and sexuality in German literature from the eighteenth century. GOETHE YEARBOOK

Potter's original contribution to the field lies in excavating hitherto overlooked discourses on alternative gender roles and in demonstrating how these discourses were co-opted for the advocacy of sentimental marriage. . . . (T)he author's expertise in 18th-century discourses on marriage, gender, and desire (. . .) makes this an eminently intriguing study. . . . (I)n more than one way, Marriage, Gender, and Desire contributes to a more nuanced understanding of early Enlightenment German comedy. LESSING YEARBOOK

(E)xtremely well researched . . . . The book should be of interest to specialists in eighteenth-century studies, comic drama, gender studies, and the history of marriage and the family, among other fields. (It) does much to illuminate social issues and institutions which, while finding their cultural articulation in the eighteenth century, are still of central importance in our own times. MONATSHEFTE

(W)ell-structured and deeply researched. . . . In addition to its superb textual analysis and rich secondary sources, Potter's study is commendable for connecting six plays not yet analyzed using the categories in question . . . . Potter's attention to the performance history of each play is quite significant . . . . ARBITRIUM

(A)ppealing close readings of five comedies dating from the 1740s . . . . Reading the texts against the grain, Potter argues convincingly that (they) fail to "contain and defuse" the alternatives (such as female autonomy, same-sex desire, and socially constructed genders) adequately, thereby creating a discursive space for alternatives to both sentimental and economic marriage. . . . Add(s) a new dimension to understanding of these comedies. CHOICE

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