“Rude Uncivill Blood”: The Pastoral Challenge to Hereditary Race in Fletcher and Milton

  • Jean E. Feerick


In his exposition on modern sexuality, Foucault famously emphasizes the uniqueness of modern cultural forms by seizing on the Renaissance as a point of contrast. This earlier era, he avers, was defined by a distinctly pre-modern episteme in being riveted not by sex but by “the blood relation.” In that period, he maintains, “the value of descent lines were predominant” and “blood constituted one of the fundamental values.”1 Foucault was right to draw attention to the signifier of blood for the pre-modern world. At once a material substance—one of the four humors that flowed beneath the skin—blood was also a signifier infused with metaphysical properties, a conduit of quasi-immaterial essences transmitting lineal identity from one generation to the next. In the absence of a theory of genetic transmission, the mechanisms understood to govern the exchange of attributes carrying degrees of gentility were diffuse, thought to be mediated by airy animal spirits that conjoined the material body with a transcendent order. But they nonetheless held a powerful grip on the period and would cast a long shadow over subsequent race systems, which bore the imprint of this pre-modern hereditary order in granting the signifier of blood a position of primacy.


Modern Sexuality Pastoral Mode Earthly Life Pastoral Drama Italian Court 
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  1. 1.
    Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (London: Penguin, 1978), 147.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Carey describes the play as “a Platonic pastoral drama”; see Milton: The Complete Shorter Poems, ed. John Carey (London and New York: Longman, 1971), 170. All future citations of Comus are to this edition and will appear in the text with reference to line numbers.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    But see Robert Henke’s discussion of tragicomedy’s links to pastoral in “Pastoral as Tragicomedic in Italian and Shakespearean Drama,” in The Italian World of English Renaissance Drama: Cultural Exchange and Intertextuality, ed. Michele Marrapodi (Newark and London: University of Delaware Press, 1998), 282–301.Google Scholar
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  5. 6.
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© Jean E. Feerick 2014

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  • Jean E. Feerick

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