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"Before Pornography" book cover
October 2000
Oxford University Press

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Before Pornography

Erotic Writing in Early Modern England
Ian Frederick Moulton

"Before Pornography" explores the relationship between erotic writing, masculinity and national identity in Renaissance England. Drawing on both manuscripts and printed texts, and incorporating insights from modern feminist theory and queer studies, the book argues that pornography is a historical phenomenon: while the representation of sexuality exists in nearly all cultures, pornography does not. The book includes analyses of the social significance of eroticism in such canonical texts as "Sidney's Defense of Poetry," "Spenser's Faerie Queene," and the "Dialogues of Pietro Aretino."


Ian Frederick Moulton is President's Professor of English and cultural history in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at Arizona State University. He has published widely on the representation of gender and sexuality in early modern European literature.

Praise for this book

This is emphatically an important book, valuable both as a useful addition to the expanding field of Renaissance studies of sexuality and gender, and as a significant contribution to a key area of debate in contemporary culture ... Moulton has written a serious and sensitive study of a difficult subject and he has done so with much wit and grace, not to mention scholarship and substance.

Willy Maley
University of Glasgow

In this brilliant, provocative book Ian Moulton makes an original contribution to our understanding of the history of erotic representation. This history has remained largely unexplored, Moulton persuasively argues, because we have tended to classify erotic writing from the past under the modern rubric of pornography.

Margaret Ferguson
University of California, Davis