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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: January ::
Re: Lesbian Lovers in MND
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0153  Wednesday, 29 January 2003

[1]     From:   Todd Pettigrew <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 10:07:42 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND

[2]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 09:55:22 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND

[3]     From:   Holger Schott <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 12:37:56 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND

[4]     From:   Ted Dykstra <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 16:36:38 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Todd Pettigrew <
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Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 10:07:42 -0400
Subject: 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND

On the matter of a possible sexual relationship between Hermia and
Helena, certainly, one is struck by the intimacy of the friendship
between the two. Helena's speech in 3.2 reads, in part,

        Have you conspired, have you with these contrived
        To bait me with this foul derision?
        Is all the counsel that we two have shared,
        The sisters' vows, the hours that we have spent,
        When we have chid the hasty-footed time
        For parting us,--O, is it all forgot?
        All school-days' friendship, childhood innocence?
        We, Hermia, like two artificial gods,
        Have with our needles created both one flower,
        Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion,
        Both warbling of one song, both in one key,
        As if our hands, our sides, voices and minds,
        Had been incorporate. So we grow together,
        Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
        But yet an union in partition;
        Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;
        So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart;
        Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
        Due but to one and crowned with one crest.
        And will you rent our ancient love asunder,
        To join with men in scorning your poor friend?

If we are to look for suggestions of a sexual relationship, we might
point to the physical closeness of the two ("sitting on one cushion")
the suggestion of physical and spiritual union (bodies and minds
becoming "incorporate") and the very Donne-like suggestion that like
lovers who seem to be apart, they can never truly be separated ("two
seeming bodies, but one heart").

Notice further, that "one heart" is rarely used by Shakespeare but when
it is, it is often an expression of romantic/sexual love. Lysander uses
it twice in MND, and so does Viola in 12th Night when she makes a veiled
but passionate protest of her love for Orsino: "By innocence I swear,
and by my youth/ I have one heart, one bosom and one truth".

Of course, the problem with reading for sexual suggestiveness in general
is that it is subtle and highly dependent on context. In our own time
the word "come" has a sexual meaning but that does not mean everyone in
a modern play who says "come here" or "I'll come when I'm good and
ready" is making a vulgar pun.  Likewise in Shakespeare, I am wary of
positing sexual double-meanings without clear contextual clues.

Regards,
t.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 09:55:22 -0500
Subject: 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND

Ed Kranz <
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 > writes,

>I find the suggestion that Hermia and Helena were lesbian lovers a bit
>of a stretch. It is hard for me to see how it's justified by anything in
>the text, Frankie Rubinstein not withstanding. Are you persuaded? All
>comments welcome.

Well, in my opposite-of-Jane-Austen way, I've never been with women when
they were alone, and one hears stories about schoolgirls and so on, but,
on the whole, my response to Rubenstein's line of argument can best be
epitomized in the words:  "Oh bazz-fazz!"

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Holger Schott <
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Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 12:37:56 -0500
Subject: 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND

Ed Kranz <
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 > writes,

>I find the suggestion that Hermia and Helena were lesbian lovers a bit
>of a stretch. It is hard for me to see how it's justified by anything in
>the text, Frankie Rubinstein not withstanding. Are you persuaded? All
>comments welcome.

I have no idea if H&H "were" "lesbian" lovers. For that matter, I don't
know if Egeus is "really" Hermia's father. It's hardly sound scholarship
to invent/construct backstories like that.

I do, however, think that Shakespeare puts language into Helena's mouth
that has clear sexual connotations, and that the passage Rubinstein
analyzes (not exactly in the most elegant fashion, to be sure) is part
of a larger theme in the play that is more fully explored in the
relationship between Titania and Oberon. The withdrawal of women from
men, the dependence of men on women for procreation, and the mocking
tone in which Titania speaks of male attempts to compensate for this
basic absence of biological creative power (as in 2.1, when she recounts
the story of the fairy child's mother, "big-bellied" imitating the
full-blown sails of merchant ships by "sail[ing] upon the land"). This
male anxiety-the anxiety caused by a fundamental lack-seems to me to be
figured in Helena's lines in 3.2 -- two women whose close relationship
turns them into "two lovely berries moulded on one stem": need I say
more?

Best,
Holger

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ted Dykstra <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jan 2003 16:36:38 EST
Subject: 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0146 Lesbian Lovers in MND

Ed Kranz writes:

>I find the suggestion that Hermia and Helena were lesbian lovers a bit
>of a stretch. It is hard for me to see how it's justified by anything in
>the text, Frankie Rubinstein not withstanding. Are you persuaded? All
>comments welcome.

Not the least bit.

Ted Dykstra

PS: My sentence above could mean something else too - for example: that
not even the smallest creature enjoyed biting during sex or that
creatures bigger than the smallest one did - but it doesn't. It just
means that I'm not the least bit persuaded. Or perhaps that I'm gay.
Hmmm...

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