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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Shakespeare and Sex
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0527  Friday, 22 February 2002

[1]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 18:01:38 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 18:13:56 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[3]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 13:15:37 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[4]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 11:01:15 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[5]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 15:46:46 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[6]     From:   Karen Peterson <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Feb 2002 02:45:30 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[7]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Feb 2002 06:26:47 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare, Sex--and his Religious Beliefs

[8]     From:   Hardy M. Cook <
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        Date:   Friday, February 22, 2002
        Subj:   Re: Shakespeare and Sex


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 18:01:38 -0000
Subject: 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

The strand on "Adultery", once it gets into using concordances, runs
into problems of semantic shift. Following the stoics, Augustine, and
especially Jerome (surprise surprise), "Adultery", understood as the
crime prohibited by the 7th Commandment, was taken to mean any kind of
sex which was not within marriage and not aimed at procreation. So, that
includes fornication, anal sex, oral sex, masturbation, sex performed
with any kind of contraception, etc. etc. etc. Even sex with one's
lawfully-wedded wife, if it was pursued with too much ardour or
enjoyment, could be considered adultery. It's not a particularly
scholarly reference, I  know, but list members might want to have a look
at Stephen Greenblatt's discussion of "Othello" in "Renaissance
Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare" (Chicago 1980), esp.
pp.247-252

m

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 18:13:56 -0000
Subject: 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

Sam Small dismisses Brian Willis's request for some "proof" that
Shakespeare was an adulterer, preferring to remind us that "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". This seems to be a non sequitur.  It
assumes rather too readily that the sonnets should have been titled "My
Life by WS". It also assumes rather too readily that when a married man
writes a love poem he must be writing it about someone other than his
wife, which is a bit on the cynical side.

All that aside. Like Sam, I have no proof for this at all, and it
similarly assumes a link between work and life - I would imagine that,
on the basis of the somewhat tortured treatment of contracts, marriage
ceremony and marriage law that we find in Shakespeare's plays, the
subject of marriage and adultery exercised him seriously. From this I
would deduce, not that he was a serial adulterer who never thought twice
about tupping anything in sight (male or female), but that he felt
terribly guilty about a single incident, a single fall from grace which
preyed on his mind for the rest of his life; or, alternatively, he had a
steady, long-term, marriage-like relationship with a woman in London,
reluctantly perhaps, to make up for the fact that he hardly ever saw his
real wife. The idea of a sex-crazed Shakespeare with no feelings just
doesn't feel right, somehow.

Sam, doesn't that touching reference to the "second-best bed" in the
famous will make you feel just a little bit warm inside?

Flushed with romantic sensibility,
m

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 13:15:37 -0500
Subject: 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

I remembered Cymbeline's Wicked Queen as adulterous: but looking at the
messenger's speech, I see that she confessed to every sin against the
holy vows of marriage Except that one!  Interesting.......

Geralyn Horton
http://www.stagepage.org

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[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 11:01:15 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

> 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

My point exactly. It is difficult to make the assertions that he DID in
fact commit any or multiple acts of adultery. Park Honan goes out of his
way in his biography to say that he most probably stayed true to Anne.
Personally, I think he probably did not. But it is extremely problematic
to make that assertion especially with the sonnets as proof, especially
one with the renowned negative capabilities of Shakespeare.

My objections are with making wholesale statements like "Bill the Man
spent his whole life from 18 onwards in total and unabashed adulterous
affairs with both men and women" simply to make a dramatic effect on a
discussion. Your only proof is an analysis of a sequence of poems which
may or may not be autobiographical. You claim basically that Anne
Hathaway opened Shakespeare's sexual awareness at 18, that he had
affairs in Stratford, fell in love with Juliet in London (oh, that's
just Shakespeare in Love) and continued to "prosper" there. Perhaps
true. But the only proof I can think of is a legendary story that
William the Conqueror comes before Richard III.  We need to be careful
in making such unequivocal claims unless we have extra-literary (or
indeed overtly strong textual) proof. I cannot be convinced of that
purely on the strength of reading the sonnets.  Until we somehow found
more evidence (DNA tests?  How?), they are pure speculation and have no
real bearing on discussion of the works. After all, this thread is about
the interesting near absence and subtlety of adultery in the plays. In
the plays, it is never glorified and often produces disastrous results.
I could argue that is evidence of Shakespeare's monogamy, but it is not.

One other thing: he was very angry with his second daughter for having
to marry "in haste" and nearly cut her inheritance off. Intolerance of
adultery? Perhaps.  Still doesn't prove that he was the Wilt Chamberlain
of playwrights. Or even the Freddie Mercury.

Brian Willis

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Feb 2002 15:46:46 -0500
Subject: 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

Adrian Kiernander writes,

>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."

I assume that Adrian is suggesting that Bianca is married -- the fair
wife that Cassio is almost damned in. And this would be an interesting
way to explain Iago's line.

But apparently Bianca would be able to marry Cassio (if he so wished).
Cassio says, "She is persuaded I will marry her out of her own love and
flattery, not out of my promise" (Oxford 4.1.126-8). I take this to
indicate that she is not married.

But perhaps I misunderstand.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Feb 2002 02:45:30 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

Brian wrote,

> >> Your proof?

And Sam wrote (in part),

> The sonnets are littered with sexual
> incidents so we have to
> believe the man himself.

Here we are once again into the territory of whether it is possible to
write about a thing (in this case sexual relationships of the adulterous
kind) without each case of writing being linked to an authorial
experiential equivalent.

We've beaten this subject to death several times in the past (in various
contexts), so I'll try to keep this short.

While the events alluded to in the Sonnets *may* have correspondences in
Shakespeare's own experiences, we don't know with certainty what the
nature of those correspondences might be.  Or for that matter, if there
are "biographical" correspondences at all.

Yes, WS may well have fornicated with dark ladies, fair young men, or
with cows and sheep.  Stranger things have happened, but we just don't
know.  Or perhaps he did some of those things and fantasized about the
others, working the fantasies out in his poems.  Or maybe he fantasized
about all of it, but knew Anne would make his life a living hell once he
returned to Stratford if she had even a hint that he had acted on it.
Again, it's all speculation (although I quite like the idea of WS using
Isabella's argument that imagination and intent are not the same as
actually doing the deed in his own domestic conversations!).

Personally, I find the Burbage/Shakespeare "William the Conqueror"
legend-joke-apocryphal tale to be a more convincing piece of evidence
for our boy's possible extra-marital adventures than the Sonnets, or any
other of his works.

Cheers,
Karen

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Feb 2002 06:26:47 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare, Sex--and his Religious
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0504 Re: Shakespeare, Sex--and his Religious
Beliefs

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

Numbers, indeed, do tell us something.  These are low numbers for these
words to appear in the thousands of words in Shakespeare's works.  I
wonder, truly wonder, why such a low number?

Was it because of Shakespeare's religious beliefs?  Do we have enough
evidence to support a conclusive answer?  Shakespeare appears not to
have crossed that political and religious line which brought down the
Earl of Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe.  Was
Shakespeare a political and religious conservative?  Or was he a _true_
believer, one who professed anti-Machiavellian and pro-Christian views?

Maybe Shakespeare, like his father who, in his Last Will and Testament,
professed himself to be a devoted Catholic who had sinned mightily
during his lifetime, was concerned about the fate of his soul?  Maybe
Shakespeare remembered the words of Jesus, and avoided the word
"adultery" as a result: from Saint Matthew, C 5, Vs. 27-28, "Ye have
heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit
adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust
after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."

Shakespeare's last Will and Testament suggests so, does it not?  He
wrote, and signed, "I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator,
hoping and assuredly believing, through the only merits of Jesus Christ
my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting, and my body to the
earth whereof it is made."

Bill Arnold

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:           Friday, February 22, 2002
Subject:        Re: Shakespeare and Sex


Robin Hamilton writes,

>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.]

True, "adulterous" appears twice in the plays, but let us not forget
that one of them is by the Ghost of Old King Hamlet accusing Claudius of
having an adulterous relationship with Gertrude. Even considering Henry
VIII's application for a dispensation from his marriage to Catherine on
grounds suggesting that the relationship was adulterous, doesn't what
the Ghost says suggests that the adultery occurs before his [i.e., Old
King Hamlet's] death?

Riverside Edition

<Ghost.> Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wits, with traitorous gifts --
O wicked wit and gifts that have the power
So to seduce! -- won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming virtuous queen.
O Hamlet, what [a] falling-off was there
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage, and to decline
Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor To those of mine!
But virtue, as it never will be moved,
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So [lust], though to a radiant angel link'd,
Will [sate] itself in a celestial bed
And prey on garbage.


OTA Hamlet F1

729    <S {Ghost}.> #I that incestuous, that adulterate Beast
730    With witchcraft of his wits, hath Traitorous guifts.
731    Oh wicked Wit, and Gifts, that haue the power
732    So to seduce? Won  to this shamefull Lust
733    The #will of my most seeming vertuous Queene:
734    Oh {Hamlet}, what a falling off was there,
735    From me, whose loue was of that dignity,
736    That it went hand in hand, euen with the Vow
737    I made to her in Marriage; and to decline
738    Vpon a wretch, whose Naturall gifts were poore
739   *To those of mine. But Vertue, as it neuer wil be moued,
740    Though Lewdnesse court it in a shape of Heauen:
741    So Lust, though to a radiant Angell link'd,
742   *Will sate it selfe in a Celestiall bed, & prey on Garbage.


OTA Hamlet Q2

<S ##{Ghost.}> #I that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
 With witchcraft of his wits, with trayterous gifts,
 O wicked wit, and giftes that haue the power
 So to seduce; wonne to his shamefull lust
 The #will of my most seeming vertuous Queene;
 O {Hamlet}, what falling off was there
 From me whose loue was of that dignitie
 That it went hand in hand, euen with the vowe
 I made to her in marriage, and to decline
 Vppon a wretch whose naturall gifts were poore,
 To those of mine; but vertue as it neuer will be mooued,
 Though lewdnesse court it in a shape of heauen
 So but though to a radiant Angle linckt,
 Will sort it selfe in a celestiall bed
 And pray on garbage.


OTA Hamlet Q 1

<Ghost.> Yea, he, that incestuous wretch, wonne to his will with gifts,
O wicked will, and gifts! that haue the power
So to seduce my most seeming vertuous Queene,
But vertne, as it neuer will be moued,
Though Lewdnesse court in a shape of heauen,
So Lust, though to a radiant angle linckt,
Would fate it selfe from a celestiall bedde,
And prey on garbage:

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