The Single Life: Bachelor Identities in Early Modern English Literature and Culture

Jordan Windholz, Fordham University


Single men are ubiquitous in the period’s literature, especially in stage plays. From Benedick’s proclaimed desire to “live a bachelor” in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to Truewit’s ventriloquizing of Juvenalian satire in Jonson’s Epicene, misogamist rhetoric and misogynistic screeds not only animate comedic plots, they also serve as content for the stage’s jests and practical jokes. Such rhetoric is so deeply woven into the fabric of the period’s comedies, satires, and tragedies, circulated so widely in prose pamphlets and other cheap print, that bachelors can seem generic figures when not merely the incidental identities of a young men on their way to becoming husbands. Questioning the transparency of early modern bachelor identities, “The Single Life” shows how the surprising range of representations of the single man informs the gender politics of the period. Bachelors could manifest the powerful reach of patriarchal privilege but also, at times, transform that privilege into alternative modes of manhood that emphasized queer sexuality, subcultural community, economic autonomy, or philosophical despair. To understand how early modern bachelors variously figure in multiple early modern discourses, each chapter analyzes canonical depictions of bachelor identities in conjunction with archival and cultural texts from the period. Examining early modern discourses of marriage, labor, gentility, and epistemology, I trace the lines of the single man’s protean shifts as chaste man, journeyman, gallant, and scholar.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Windholz, Jordan, "The Single Life: Bachelor Identities in Early Modern English Literature and Culture" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10125224.