Paradoxes of Sexuality in Dryden's Amphitryon

While Renaissance poems use paradoxes such as ‘pleasing pain’ to describe unrequited love, Restoration comedies represent requited love in terms of paradox: possession results in loss, and marriage, the fulfilment of love, is tantamount to its annihilation. But the comedies also present strategies of sustaining love in marriage. These are just as paradoxical as the problem they respond to: one strategy is to renew a marital relationship through an extramarital one. The night that Jupiter spends with Alcmena in Dryden's Amphitryon is a case in point. Alcmena experiences this act of adultery as a celebration of her marriage with Amphitryon. This fusion of opposites is connected to paradoxes of identity (the man in Alcmena's bed is and is not her husband) and to legal paradoxes (like Hobbes' sovereign, Jupiter claims the right to break a law he himself has given). In my analysis of sexual and related paradoxes in Amphitryon, I shall explore areas of this play that been neglected in recent readings, which have focused on its political allusions. I shall also challenge the view that paradox is a characteristic feature of Renaissance literature that became obsolete with the new stylistic principles of the Restoration. 

Burkhard Niederhoff
Symposium Title: 
Gods, Men and Monsters – 2001
Author affiliation: 
Englisches Seminar, Universität Bonn, Germany