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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
Re: "Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2311  Wednesday, 10 October 2001

[1]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Monday, 8 Oct 2001 15:40:01 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2301 Re: "Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians"

[2]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Monday, 08 Oct 2001 14:40:46 -0400
        Subj:   Nests

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 08 Oct 2001 15:27:50 -0400
        Subj:   Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians

[4]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Oct 2001 07:38:25 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2301 Re: "Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians"

[5]     From:   Karen Peterson <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Oct 2001 03:48:24 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2301 Re: "Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians"


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Monday, 8 Oct 2001 15:40:01 +0100
Subject: 12.2301 Re: "Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians"
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2301 Re: "Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians"

> I'd be happy to make more specific arguments concerning >Desdemona/Emilia
> and Two Noble Kinsmen (MoV having been done to death on this list
> several times) should anyone want them.  I also can dig out a
> bibliography of sorts on homoeroticism in Shakespeare if I can access
> the hard drive of that computer.

Thanks to Mari Bonomi for the offer.  I hope that she will give us both
her own opinions on the subject and her bibliography (particularly on
lesbianism), both of which I would find useful and interesting.

Has the list discussed lesbianism in "Merchant of Venice" or only male
homosexuality between Bassanio and Antonio (Jankowski apparently
believes that Portia and Nerissa are likely to be in love)?

Thanks to everyone who has suggested reading material on supposed
Shakespearean lesbianism both on list and privately.  Plenty of leads
worth following there.

If anybody has any further suggestions for reading about Shakespearean
lesbian theories, particularly regarding Emilia in "Two Noble Kinsmen"
and the other passionate childhood relationships between Shakespeare's
women then I would be very grateful to hear them.

Thomas Larque.

"Shakespeare and His Critics"
http://ds.dial.pipex.com/thomas_larque

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Monday, 08 Oct 2001 14:40:46 -0400
Subject:        Nests

While there does not seem to be a Renaissance notion of a homosexual
subjectivity, I have wondered about what could be the sociological
implications for the use of "nests" in the following references:

Chaucer: In the Summoner's Prologue, the summoner claims a "nest of
freres" inhabits "Sathanas' ers."

Middleton (1): In the prose satire The Black Book, Lawrence Lucifer
discovers a "nest of gallants" who "for the natural parts that are in
them, are maintained by their drawn-work dames and their embroidered
mistresses--[and they] keep at every heel a man, beside a French lacquey
(a great boy with a beard) and an English page, which fills up the place
of an ingle."

Middleton (2): In another prose satire The Ant and the Nightingale, the
country youth is advised, "if his humour so serve him, to call in at the
Blackfriars, where he should see a nest of boys able to ravish a man."

Middleton (3): In The Roaring Girl, Jack Dapper's own father claims,
"When his purse jingles,/ Roaring boys follow at's tail, fencers, and
ningles--/ Beasts Adam ne'er gave name to." Dapper is notable for liking
feathers, causing another character to remark, "Look you, by my faith,
the fool has feathered his nest well."

Sidney: In Arcadia, Basilius asks Pyrocles (who is disguised as an
Amazon), "You praise so greatly . . . your country that I must needs
desireto know what the nest is out of which such birds do fly."
Pyrocles' cross-dressing is for the purpose of gaining access to romance
Philoclea, Basilius's daughter, but Basilius has become infatuated with
the disguised Pyrocles.

Does anyone know of other related uses of "nest"? And has there been any
research published on such usages?

Jack Heller

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 08 Oct 2001 15:27:50 -0400
Subject:        Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians

Skip Nicholson writes:

> Homosexuality involved what people did but not who or
> what they were.

Maybe, maybe not. It's really a question of nature / nurture. If you
believe that sexuality is constructed and dependent on culture, then
Nicholson may be right. But if you believe that sexuality is in the
genes, then he may not be right.

The real kicker is that biologists now think that the relative influence
of nature and nurture is about 50%! In other words, both genes and
culture play major roles.  If so, we may not be able to solve this
problem even when the human genome is fully mapped and its functions
wholly understood.

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Oct 2001 07:38:25 +0100
Subject: 12.2301 Re: "Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians"
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2301 Re: "Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians"

> From:           Mari Bonomi <
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> (MoV having been done to death on this list several times)

Not to rehash the Merchant once more, but because it's impossible to
avoid it in the (contested) area of Shakespeare's possible homoeroticism
...

It seems to me that the one Shakespeare play which simply cannot be read
outside this context is _Twelfth Night_.

The situation set up between Sebastian and Antonio, the language used by
Antonio in his soliloquy after he first takes leave of Sebastian
(concluding "But come what may, I do adore thee so / that danger shall
seem sport, and I will go." -- 2.1.41-42 -- cf. Antonio's language in
3.3 -- going well beyond the normal idioms of male social friendship),
the initial encounter of the audience with Sebastian through the prism
of his (dressed-as-a-man identical twin) sister (that obscure and
anomalous object of desire) Viola/Caesario, female, eunuch, and
adolescent male (in presentational sequence) ...

All this (for me) pushes _Twelfth Night_ from having a possible
gender-twisted reading into having an incontrovertible one.  That is, I
simply find it impossible to interpret _Twelfth Night_ within the bounds
of restrictive conventional heterosexuality, whether of the 17th or the
21st centuries.

If we allow _Twelfth Night_ as a partial paradigm, we have:

An older man demonstrating more-than-conventional-for-the-times feelings
towards a younger man of a higher social class.

Further, the younger man is financially dependent on the older, and at
the end of the play, the older male (Antonio) is marginalised and
excluded (Viola marries Orsino, Sebastian marries Olivia, what happens
to Antonio?).

Which brings us (back) to _The Merchant of Venice_.  At the beginning of
MoV, Antonio is presented as the melancholy lover -- who is he in love
with?  The deponent (in this case, the play) stateth not.  Overtly.

In MoV, the Antonio (there) is involved with Bassanio, younger and of a
higher social class.

The difference, I think, is that while _Twelfth Night_ insists (almost)
on a homoerotic text around the relationship between Antonio and
Sebastian (predominantly on Antonio's part), MoV +allows+ a similar
(sub)text around the emotions of the Antonio in that play directed
towards Bassanio.

_Twelfth Night_ is written (roughly dated) 1600.  Two years before
(equally rough dating), Shakespeare had written _The Merchant of
Venice_, with yet another (or previous) Antonio presented in a relation
with a younger man of a higher social class (Bassanio) who is indebted
to him for money.  At the end of MoV, the Antonio in that play is
equally excluded or marginalised (Bassanio marries Portia, Gratiano
marries Jessica, what about Antonio?)

Add to which, cross-dressed hero(ines) -- +only+ Portia and Viola
(together with Rosalind in _AYLI_) are in a 1596-1600 time frame, with
the only other cross-dressed heroines the (much earlier) Julia in _Two
Gentlemen_ and Imogen in the (much later) _Cymbeline.

A 1598-1600 dating for MoV/TN puts them within a possible (late) dating
of the composition of the _Sonnets_, published in 1609.

Where we have, inter alia, an older man of a lower social class deeply
emotionally involved with a younger man who doesn't seem to reciprocate
his feelings to the same degree.

So we have three texts by Shakespeare, all falling within a (possible)
three-year period, all of which engage with the strong emotional
feelings of an older man of a lower social class directed towards a
younger man of a higher class.

I have to say that I'm not particularly drawn to homoerotic or
homosexual readings of Shakespeare in general, but I do think these
three texts form a special and particular case.

Robin Hamilton

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Oct 2001 03:48:24 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 12.2301 Re: "Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians"
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2301 Re: "Shakespeare's Hidden Lesbians"

> If indeed there was no heterosexual paradigm for
> Shakespeare and his
> contemporaries, how can there be activities outside
> this non-existent
> gender paradigm?

Excellent point, Bill.  Thanks for raising it.

I was guilty here of forwarding a particular piece of jargon
("heterosexual gender paradigm") without first questioning what it
really means.  Put in plainer English: can we agree that there was a
social convention of women and men marrying (or otherwise bonding) for
purposes of reproduction?  From what I've read of her work, I'm not
convinced that Jankowski would completely agree to this interpretation,
but IF one accepts Foucault's and Bray's hypothesis (thank you, Gabriel,
for reminding us of the sources for this idea) that identification of
sexual orientations did not exist in the early modern period, it seems
that we could still identify more- and less-conventional sexual and
reproductive behavior patterns.

I haven't read Cady's article yet, but I will try to (Again, thanks to
Gabriel for the reference).

Mari mentions the homoerotic threads that run through *Two Noble
Kinsmen*.  These ARE interesting, and to me at least suggest something
closer than usual to an early modern awareness of sexual orientation.
For those who are interested, the entire third scene of Act I in TNK is
worth reviewing.  The scene incorporates a quite lengthy and
appreciative description, by Hippolyta and her younger sister, Emilia,
of the friendship between Theseus and Pirithous.  Emilia compares this
friendship with her own close childhood friendship with a girl named
Flavina.  The scene concludes as follows:

Emil. ...This rehearsal...has this end,
That the true love 'tween maid and maid may be
More than in sex [dividual].
Hip.                 Y' are out of breath,
And this high-speeded pace is but to say
That you shall never (like the maid Flavina)
[reference here to Flavina's death at age eleven --
K.P.]
Love any that's call'd man.
Emil.                I am sure I shall not.
Hip.  Now alack, weak sister,
I must no more believe thee in this point
(Though in't I know thou dost believe thyself)
Than I will trust a sickly appetite,
That loathes even as it longs.  But sure, my sister,
If I were ripe for your persuasion, you
Have said enough to shake me from the arm
Of the all-noble Theseus, for whose fortunes
I will now in and kneel, with great assurance
That we, more than his Pirithous, possess
The high throne in his heart.
Emil.                I am not
Against your faith, yet I continue mine.     Exeunt.

To me, Emilia's use of "faith" to describe her opinions and feelings
(along with Hippolyta's comment "If I were ripe for your persuasion")
suggests something more global and self-defining, something reminiscent
of an acknowledgement of sexual orientation.  Of course, as Bill, Kezia,
and others have commented, seeing this may well be an example of
imposing contemporary concerns onto the text.  But still...?  What do
you all think?

Cheers,
Karen

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