Masculinity and the Metropolis of Vice, 1550–1650

Part of the series Early Modern Cultural Studies pp 21-44

Manly Drunkenness: Binge Drinking as Disciplined Play

  • Gina Bloom


Shakespeare’s The Turning of the Shrew opens with what appears to be a straightforward condemnation of the vice of excessive alcohol consumption, as a lord, finding a drunken tinker passed out before an alehouse, exclaims in disgust: “O monstrous beast, how like a swine he lies!”1 The lord’s outrage is not surprising from the perspective of early modern moralist discourse, which, associating drunkenness with idleness and disorder, figures it as dehumanizing and, thus, emasculating. Thomas Young defines drunkenness as “a vice which stirreth up lust, griefe, anger, and madnesse, extinguisheth the memory, opinion, and understanding, maketh a man the picture of a beast, and twise a child, because he can neither stand nor speake.”2 Excessive consumption of alcohol compromises reason and bodily control, traits thought to distinguish men from beasts as well as from other ostensibly less rational creatures, such as children, women, and men of low status. Sir Walter Raleigh’s advice to his son triangulates drunkenness, beastliness, and emasculation when it warns that wine not only “transfer meth a man into a Beast” but also “wasteth the naturall heate and seed of generation.”3 For those who aspire to the kind of “patriarchal manhood” Raleigh espouses—where manhood is achieved through the demonstration of self-control, power over dependents, and ability to produce heirs, among other things—drunkenness is necessarily unmanly.4