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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Shakespeare and Sex
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0504  Thursday, 21 February 2002

[1]     From:           Sam Small <
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        Date:           Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 14:25:19 -0000
        Subj:           Re: SHK 13.0494 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[2]     From:           Brandon Toropov <
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        Date:           Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 06:37:18 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:           Re: Shakespeare and Sex (Parenting)

[3]     From:           Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:           Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 21:02:27 -0000
        Subj:           Re: SHK 13.0494 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[4]     From:           Adrian Kiernander <
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        Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 15:32:44 +1100
        Subj:           Re: SHK 13.0468 Re: Shakespeare and Se

[5]     From:           Marcus Dahl <
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        Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 08:04:19 EST
        Subj:           Re: SHK 13.0494 Re: Shakespeare and Se


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 14:25:19 -0000
Subject: 13.0494 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0494 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

>From Brian Willis

(from Sam Small)

> > Quite true, but Bill the Man spent his whole life
> > from 18 onwards in
> > total and unabashed adulterous affairs with both
> > women and men.

(from Brian Willis)

>> Your proof?

I'm not sure what you want from me, Brian.  Are you suggesting that
Shakespeare did not have adulterous relationships after he left
Stratford for the first time?  Or do I ask you for proof of his
celibacy? The sonnets are littered with sexual incidents so we have to
believe the man himself.  He was married with children yet fornicated
across London and half the counties of England.  But adultery can be
with or without deception (the bigger sin, in my view) but we do not
know if Hathaway knew about the sexual dalliances of her husband the
poet.

SAM SMALL

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brandon Toropov <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 06:37:18 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0494 Re: Shakespeare and Sex (Parenting)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0494 Re: Shakespeare and Sex (Parenting)

I wrote,

> > for all Macduff's agony, S chooses not to show him
interacting with the children he leaves in Scotland

Larry Weiss wrote,

> No, but Lady Macduff is shown as a loving mother.

Loving, yes, but doesn't her scene come off as just a little stilted
until the warning of the murderers' approach?  The vaudeville act with
the precocious kid setting up his own punch line ... for me, it all
points toward a man who didn't really spend a lot of time with children.

> And isn't Aaron a
> model father?

Puppet-show territory, I think.

Brandon

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 21:02:27 -0000
Subject: 13.0494 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0494 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

My thanks to all who provided the deluge of instances contradicting my
original point.  I'd like, if I may, to try to digest them.

(My apologies to anyone who isn't given proper credit in the following).

Several people on-list (and Ed Taft backchannel, who advanced my sense
of the issue even before the public posts appeared) cited Gertrude.

I'd like (if I may) to daff this one aside -- the play leaves it open
whether or not Gertrude has committed adultery with Claudius while her
husband was still alive, but Hamlet (who has no reason to feel kindly
towards him) notably calls Claudius a "Remorseless, treacherous,
lecherous, kindless villain" -- lecherous not adulterous.

["adulterous", the concordances tell me, occurs twice in the plays, and
"adultery" six times.]

The relation between Edmund and Goneril is more problematic.  I'll leave
it at that for the moment.

Bertram and Helen (cited by  Karen Peterson and John Drakakis) I'd like
to come back to.

Tamora's adultery with Aaron is pretty unequivocal, as Larry Weiss
points out.

Antony's adultery seems to me quite complicated.  He's explicitly termed
(by Mecaenas addressing Octavia in 3,vi) "the adulterous Antony".  But I
tend to see him as +effectively+ 'married' to Cleopatra, and his formal
marriage to Octavia as a political act rather than anything else.
"Husband, I come."

One further stray instance (if I may proffer it myself) would be
Antipholus of Ephesus and the Courtesan in _The Comedy of Errors_

Ed Taft pointed me to towards Paris and Helen in _Troilus and Cressida_,
to which I'd add (though Cressida and Troilus aren't formally married)
Cressida and Diomedes.  This seems to me +the+ major counter to whatever
argument I was trying to make in my original post -- the play isn't
simply permeated by sexuality but gives us one, possibly two, instances
of adultery which are  +central+ to the action.  Enough said.  <sigh>

Helen Vella Bonavita makes an interesting point:

"On a more abstract level, grievances against the monarchy in many of
the history plays are frequently expressed in terms of marital
fidelity/adultery."

... which could serve as a lead-into adultery in the history plays as a
distinct issue.

Alan Somerset points to Margaret of Anjou and Suffolk in 1 and 2 HVI,
Louis Swilley and Clifford Stetner to Edward and Jane Shore in RIII, and
(most recently, and pertinently)  Brian Willis to _King John_.

I'm not sure if there's a common thread here, other than the absence of
a common thread -- the probability of adultery between Margaret and
Suffolk is powerfully suggested but never quite unequivocally confirmed;
the adultery of Edward and Jane Shore is referred to but never shown
(and moreover, overshadowed by the later relation between Hastings and
Mistress Shore); in _King John_ (as Brian Willis shows) adultery begins
the play and is incarnate (shades of the black baby in TA?) in the
person of the Bastard, who continues central to the play.

Having worked through all the instances of adultery cited (and hoping I
haven't missed any), I'd like to turn the coin over to non-instances (an
issue which Karen Peterson mentioned explicitly in her post and which
others touched on).

In three plays -- MAAN (if we extend the term a little), WT, and Cymb,
we find Hero, Hermione, and Imogen falsely accused of adultery by
Claudio, Leontes, and Posthumus.  In each case, again, the women
apparently die, but are returned to life by the end of the play, and in
each case, the weight of condemnation rests heavily on the accusing male
figure.

Ed Taft pointed out to me that the pattern could be extended to _The
Merry Wives of Windsor_:

"I'd add that _The Merry Wives of Windsor_ is a classic example, in
which, as you know, Masters Ford and Page think that their wives have
committed adultery, but both are mistaken.  That's comedy, I suppose,
but often I get the sense in Shakespeare that he wishes to reinforce the
idea that couples can  and do stay true to each other -- that it's
foolish to be jealous without reason: it destroys trust unnecessarily."

If MWW is the wholly comic bracket, then the tragic bracket would be
_Othello_, where Desdemona, falsely suspected of adultery, authentically
dies.

Which brings me (back) to Bertram (with thanks to Karen and John for
introducing this, and which, before, it hadn't occurred to me to think
of in this context).  In some ways, Bertram's +attempt+ to commit
adultery, which turns out to be illusory, is the flip-side of the
illusory adultery that the women are accused or suspected of.  And here
I'd like to add-in Angelo's illusory attempt to commit (if we allow a
slight extension of the term) adultery which (like Bertram's) is
actually consummated upon the person of his to-be wife.  (Arguably, the
act of consummation here, given the nature of the previous contract
between Angelo and Marianna, itself confirms their marriage.  Or perhaps
that's pushing it just a little.)

Despite being learnedly deluged with more instances of adultery than I'd
expected, I think I'd still want to argue that instances of
non-adultery, if not greater in number, form a strangely coherent
thematic pattern.

With thanks to all, but especially Ed Taft, who is less-acknowledged in
what I've said above than he deserves, and certainly shouldn't be held
at all responsible for any infelicities, mistakes, or absurdities herein
contained.

Robin Hamilton

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Adrian Kiernander <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 15:32:44 +1100
Subject: 13.0468 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0468 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

One of the clearest and most eyebrow-raising examples of adultery in
Shakespeare is the liaison between Bianca and Cassio, who is (at least
according to Iago) "a fellow almost damned in a fair wife".

Adrian Kiernander

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 08:04:19 EST
Subject: 13.0494 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0494 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

Don't forget the Henry VI plays (as everyone always does) remember
Suffolk's wooing of Margaret and his last lines of 1HVI?

Thus Suffolk hath prevailed, and thus he goes,
As did the youthful Paris once to Greece,
With hope to find the like event in love-
But prosper better than the Trojan did.
Margaret shall now be queen, and rule the King:
But I will rule both her, the King and realm.

(Arden Ed.5.4.103-108)

(Of course these lines could be written by that pesky Shakespearean
interferer Nashe or maybe poor old Greene from his death bed - the lusty
beggar! I think that given the context of this discussion however I am
happy to accept their Shakespearean origin...)

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