Futile Pleasures examines the contradictory role that pleasure played in early modern English writers’ attempts to justify the utility and value of poetry. Drawing on the methodological resources of deconstruction and queer theory, the book offers close readings of works by William Shakespeare, Roger Ascham, Thomas Nashe, Edmund Spenser, and John Milton, exploring the ambivalence these writers displayed toward the possibility of poetry’s vain futility. Tracing that ambivalence forward to the modern era, the book also shows how contemporary critics have recapitulated Renaissance humanist ideals about aesthetic value. Against a longstanding tradition that defensively advocates for the redemptive utility of literature, the book both theorizes and performs the pleasures of futility. Without ever losing sight of the costs of those pleasures, the book argues that playing with futility may be one way of moving beyond the impasses that modern humanists, like their early modern counterparts, have always faced.