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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: March ::
Re: Homosexuality; Rosalind and Celia; The Tempest
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.032.  Wednesday, 5 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Trace Shelton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 4 Mar 1997 10:06:29 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Homosexuality

[2]     From:   Mark Mann <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 4 Mar 1997 14:26:53 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0288 Re: Rosalind and Celia

[3]     From:   Robert F. O'Connor  <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 5 Mar 1997 13:44:25 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0313  Re: Tmp


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Trace Shelton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 4 Mar 1997 10:06:29 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        Homosexuality

As many of the recent posts involve arguments at least peripherally
concerning "homosexuality" as a motive for one or more characters in
various plays, I thought that I should clarify the assertions of
"new-inventionists" like Bruce Smith.  In "Homosexual Desire in
Shakespeare's England", U of ChicagoP, 1991, Smith argues that
Elizabethans did not categorize themselves by sexual orientation; it
never would have occurred to them to do so.  "This does not mean . . .
that there were no men in early modern England whose sexual desires were
turned primarily toward other men" (my ellipsis).  He goes on to say
"homosexual behavior may be a cross-cultural, transhistorical
phenomenon; homosexuality is specific to our own culture and to our own
moment in history" (12).  In other words, identification of sexual
preference is a social construct particular to our century.  Of course,
Smith's is not the only valid argument, and I rather prefer that of
Joseph Cady.  He argues in "'Masculine Love,' Renaissance Writing, and
the 'New Invention' of Homosexuality" that homosexuality, or rather, a
recognized sexual preference for men, did exist in the seventeenth
century and before.  He cites four Renaissance texts, including one by
Bacon and another by Thomas Heywood, which include the term "masculine
love".  He reasons that this was indeed a marked preference of men for
other men, and that this was widely abhorred by the populace in
general.  He equates other terms used during this time with "masculine
love", including "the art of Ganymede" and "sodomy", although Smith has
argued that "sodomy" for Elizabethans included anal sex with the
opposite gender as well.  Cady raises many questions about the
methodology used by "new-inventionists", as well as their failure, on
the whole, to precisely define what exactly has been newly invented:
actual homosexuality or merely awareness of the phenomenon?  I think an
argument can be made for both sides, though I lean towards Cady, as his
evidence shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was recognition of
a "masculine love" existing between men during the Renaissance.  Cady's
article can be found in "Homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment
England", edited by Charles Summers, Haworth, 1992, pp. 9-40.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mark Mann <
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Date:           Tuesday, 4 Mar 1997 14:26:53 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0288 Re: Rosalind and Celia
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0288 Re: Rosalind and Celia

Dear Mr. Skeele,

Thank you for your comments, which are well taken. Please understand
that I speak from frustration as a theatre professional ( who began as
an English major). My love for Shakespeare begins and ends with the
words he wrote e, and the characters he made, and the plots he stole...I
directed AYLI a few years ago, and so went to bed many a night with
scholarly essays and papers and articles, and found ( which forms the
root of my frustration) that most lacked the weight needed to build a
firm theatrical foundation of the play. Hence my broadside in an earlier
post that Shakespeare should be wrested from the English departments,
and given to the theatre departments.  Understand my tongue is in cheek
here-it's simply that I found that ideas explored in a scholarly work,
such as homoeroticism between Rosalind and Celia-ideas that would expend
whole forests of paper-are ones that would have been explored and
rejected in the first week of rehearsals as weak and unsupported by the
play as a whole. To use the theatrical phrase, " it doesn't play." I'm
not saying that homoeroticism isn't in Shakespeare---quite the contrary,
I believe it occurs throughout the canon, in varying degrees of strength
and overtness ( I believe it is nearly  impossible to play Antonio in
Merchant without depicting some homosexual attraction to Bassanio)--but
he was, first and last, a man of the stage, and knew his audiences well,
and knew that such topics, if played out overtly, would not be looked
upon with favor by the censors, and the royals, and the paying
customers. Where homoeroticism seems to occur, it occurs in a rather
subversive way, masked with enough ambiguity to escape censure should it
arise.

Again, as I say, I speak from the vantage point of one who directs his
plays, and who plays his characters, and as such must be concerned with
the throughline of the part-it isn't for me that essay on the minutia of
societal influences of etc etc-to quote Jason Robards " If it ain't on
the page, it ain't on the stage". Of course, there are endless
interpretations of what is on the page, but one takes the strongest,
most supportable, most ACTABLE, and runs with that. Granville-Barker's
Prefaces are considered the last word in the practical applications of
Shakespeare, as related to performance. I for one, wish there more
attention devoted to that line of scholarship, rather than the " Effects
of Neo-Romanticism and Quantum Theory in The Tempest, as it Occurs in
the Post-Hydrogenous Age", or some such quibble. It isn't that I'm
anti-intellectual, but rather anti- insubstantial.

In your post, you say there are many who would be offended by my
"implication that homosexual desire is merely some contemporary
fashion"...of course, I said nothing of the kind. What I said, and
perhaps not well, is that it is the current vogue in theatre, to
reinterpret Shakespearean characters through a filter of homoerotic
intentions, and I have seen many productions bent like birch trees by a
windy director, trying to  make a personal point ( Hamlet and Horatio as
schoolboy lovers, in one such case).  Such things don't serve the
playwright, or the play-it is a mark of Shakespeare's brilliance that he
survives such pedestrian attempts. It is just as bad as presenting
Hamlet as an action hero (which happens a lot), when it's his inaction
that makes the play. I have nothing against updating the period, or
radical multimedia presentations, and indeed have done much in that way
myself, as a director. No one argues the validity of such approaches, so
long as they tell the story Shakespeare wrote. And of course, finally, I
couldn't be less concerned if someone is "offended" by my remarks---this
is the nature of discourse.  Just be offended for the right reasons.

Lastly, no, we haven't "gotten past that"-not yet. The fact that such
things "no longer need addressing" reflects only your frustration with
the topic-as an "ego-crazed" director myself  :)  , I know the damage
such a person can inflict, and have been trapped in several productions
based on an ill-conceived, but " different" interpretation of
Shakespeare's plays.  Perhaps such things belong on someone's page-but
let's keep it off the stage..............................Mark Mann

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert F. O'Connor  <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 5 Mar 1997 13:44:25 +1000
Subject: 8.0313  Re: Tmp
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0313  Re: Tmp

Well, I must respond to Julie Blumenthal, who took me to task with:

>I must step in here and attempt to differentiate between virginity and
>complete lack of sexualization.  To my mind, _all_ of the aforementioned
>ladies show a marvelous sense of sexuality as a character trait; witness
>Hermione in I ii or Perdita's flower speech in IV iv, as well as some of
>Miranda's lines.

I have to entirely agree!  I didn't see chastity as equitable with
sexlessness - certainly it would be possible to play Miranda or Hermione
or Perdita as sexual beings, without turning them into evil
seductresses.

>In this I find a major difference from Marina!

Absolutely!  If there were any female character in the late plays who is
anti-sex, it is Marina.  I find it hard to imagine a performance of
*Pericles* in which she would come across as anything but puritanical
...

>Notably, I think, because Marina's major role is as a restorer of the
>past, vs. a way into the future (Mir. and Per.).  In fact, most of the
>proof of their virginity comes as a show of their honor in not
>succumbing to their 'earthly desires.'  There's a difference between not
>doing it and not wanting to!

Again, I agree, although in Marina's case I think there is even the 'not
wanting to'.  Perhaps the born-again virgin movement that has been going
on in the US could provide some kind of character background for her!
 

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