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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: April ::
Re: The Fair Youth
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0287.  Wednesday, 12 April 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Christine Mack Gordon <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Apr 95 13:19:45 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 6.0285 the fair youth
 
(2)     From:   Alexander D. Smith <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Apr 1995 13:31:47 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0285  Qs: Youth
 
(3)     From:   Roger D. Gross <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Apr 1995 18:04:20 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Sweet William?
 
(4)     From:   Chris Stroffolino <LS0796@ALBNYVMS.BITNET>
        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Apr 1995 00:17:47 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0285  Qs: Youth
 
(5)     From:   Hardy M. Cook <
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        Date:   Wednesday, April 12, 1995
        Subj:   Pequigney's *Such Is My Love*
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Christine Mack Gordon <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Apr 95 13:19:45 -0500
Subject: the fair youth
Comment:        SHK 6.0285 the fair youth
 
Richard Kennedy might want to look at Joseph Pequigney's *Such Is My Love: A
Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets* (U of Chicago Press, 1985) and Bruce Smith's
*Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's England: A Cultural Poetics* (U of Chicago
Press, 1991, 1994). Smith's final chapter focuses on the sonnets. I found both
books interesting, helpful, and extremely well written, though I tend to be
somewhat skeptical of Pequigney's overly Freudian readings. --Chris Gordon
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alexander D. Smith <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Apr 1995 13:31:47 -0500
Subject: 6.0285  Qs: Youth
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0285  Qs: Youth
 
Richard J. Kennedy asks 'Was Shakespeare Gay?' and I have to say 'maybe, but
the sonnets don't prove a thing.'  We have discussed in class the differences
between writing dramatically and writing autobiographically. Always, there is
an element of autobiography in anything that a writer writes, but we have
tended to read the sonnets not as something proclaimed by Shakespeare, but by
some dramatic character created by him.  Look at the Canterbury Tales by
Geoffrey Chaucer.  He as Chaucer the writer is wondefully creative, but he as a
character (he comes in to tell his own story at some point in the journey) is
as boring as a brick.  He is so boring, in fact, that the other characters
don't even let him finish his tale.  They cut him off because he is too boring.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roger D. Gross <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Apr 1995 18:04:20 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:        Sweet William?
 
Richard Kennedy asks "Was Shakespeare gay?"
 
This issue is as old as the authorship controversy and has been pursued with
the same rigor, enthusiasm, and futility.
 
We don't know if Shakespeare was gay.
 
Nothing in his work or our knowledge of him justifies our believing one way or
the other.
 
Most of the things in his work (words or behaviors) which provoke the question
are things which have very different meanings in our time from what they did in
Shakespeare's.  No doubt, as Richard says, if we "Pluck a handful out and read
them to someone innocent of Shakespeare" they might seem homoerotic.  But of
course we don't make significant interpretive decisions on the basis of
plucked-out lines.  All meaning is context sensitive.
 
I am reminded of a strange experience on the campus of Santa Clara University,
a Jesuit school,therefore academically rich and resolutely macho.  Lest we be
thought homosexual(and therefore taboo), we all kept a proper distance from
each other.  Men touch women and vice versa...exclusively.  Then an Italian
priest came to spend a year with us.  He was as heterosexual as may be but he
had the familiar Italian habit of non-discrimination in his touching behavior.
He would embrace men at the least provocation, stroke their hair, walk arm in
arm or hand in hand down the street with them.  Of course all of this was
interpreted as unmistakably homoesexual courting behavior.  How many silent
screams there were from male students who knew his real intent but knew that
their reputations were at stake.  The majority could not be convinced that the
Italian priest's behavior was non-sexual.  They were "normal"; they knew what
was masculine and what wasn't.  They knew what was gay and what wasn't.
 
Plucked-out words are roughly equivalent to Rorschach ink blots: we see in them
whatever our Post-Modern Subjectivities condemn (oops; how about "encourage")
us to see.
 
The profound fact that no Sign "has" meaning, that all meaning derives from the
RELATIONSHIP between the Sign and the perceiver, is a hard fact to sell.
"Sweet" and "love" addressed to a man by a man seems unmistakably sexual to
those in the thrall of Word Magic.  But not to Shakespeare.
 
As I read the first sonnets, they seem to have one persuasive goal which
contradicts the homoerotic interpretation: to get the young man to marry and
beget children.  Doesn't sound gay to me no matter how outrageously he flatters
the young man's vanity.
 
Or, as we so often say to the Oxfordians, who cares? (Lord, I hope my
invocation of that name doesn't conjure them up again.)
 
Roger Gross
Univ. of Arkansas
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Stroffolino <LS0796@ALBNYVMS.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, 12 Apr 1995 00:17:47 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0285  Qs: Youth
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0285  Qs: Youth
 
As to Richard Kennedy's post about whether Shakespeare was gay, personally I
find it a question I'm willing to consider in my teaching but I certainly don't
think it "Really matters" whether he was gay or straight (or more likey?
bi)--But there's a book on the sonnets, called SUCH IS MY LOVE by Joseph
Pequiney that does some interesting readings on the sonnets as gay--though at
times he goes too far and gets quite graphic in "pen" means the penis is being
inserted in a male orifice, etc. Pequiney also has, in an ELR (U-Mass-Amherst),
an interesting article on the Antonio from 12N and MV as gay, if you're
interested. Chris Stroffolino
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:           Wednesday, April 12, 1995
Subject:        Pequigney's *Such Is My Love*
 
To me, genetic issues of "Was he" or "Wasn't he" have little interest in and of
themselves; therefore, I have absolutely nothing to say in regards to Richard
Kennedy's question.  I passionately believe that Stephen Booth should receive
an award of some sort for his marvelously trenchant -- "William Shakespeare was
almost certainly homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual.  The sonnets provide no
evidence on the matter."
 
Nevertheless, I am interested in the character of the poet in the Sonnets and
find some of Pequigney's points compelling, such as his treatment of the
episode of Sonnets 33-35.
 
However, in a work whose arguments are "(1) that the friendship treated in
Sonnets 1-126 is decidedly amorous -- passionate to a degree and in ways not
dreamed of in the published philology, the interaction between the friends
being sexual in both orientation and practice; (2) that verbal data are clear
and copious in detailing physical intimacies between them; (3) that the
psychological dynamics of the poet's relations with the friend comply in large
measure with those expounded in Freud's authoritative discussions of
homosexuality; and (4) that Shakespeare produced not only extraordinary amatory
verse but the grand masterpiece of homoerotic poetry," I am astounded,
surprised, confused, disconcerted, and so on at Pequigney's appeal to Freudian
authority.
 
One example will suffice: "The poet is not one of these [an "absolute invert"],
for he can be aroused by women and has the passionate affair with the mistress
in Part II."  Instead, we learn that he is an "amphigenic invert" (81).
 
Am I the only reader to find these Freudian terms at the least dated if not
offensive?
 

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