Feb 16, 2013

Shakespeare: The Original Gay Poet

Throughout high school and college, my English, Spanish, French, and German teachers carefully steered us away from gay writers, if they could help it, and when they had no choice, tried hard make us believe they weren't. Oscar Wilde's career ended when he was arrested on "scandalous charges." What did he do?  Oh. . .um. . .er. . .he corrupted Lord Alfred Douglas, introducing him to gambling and loose women.

They steered us away from all gay content, and when they had no choice, tried their best to make us think it wasn't.  Why did Whitman mean by "We two boys together clinging, one the other never leaving"?  Oh. . .um. . .er. . .he's talking about his brother, and anyway you're not supposed to read that part.

So I grew up thinking that no novelist, poet, playwright, or artist in all the history of the world had ever been gay.  Except one: William Shakespeare.

You could hardly miss the subtexts in practically every play:
1. Romeo and Juliet: Benvolio is in love with Romeo.
2.  Merchant of Venice: Antonio is in love with Bassanio.
3. Richard II is gay.
4. Henry IV: Hotspur is gay.
5. Othello: Iago is in love with Othello.
6. A Midsummer Night's Dream: Oberon likes boys, and Puck likes everybody.

Plus his wife, Anne Hathaway, whom he leaves back home in Stratford while he hangs out with guys in London for 20 years

And the Sonnets, addressed to the mysterious "Mr. W. H." and full of complaints about Shakespeare's boyfriend, a fickle youth who is hot one moment, cold another, who spends all his money with no emotional return, and who dates other people -- even women.

How could you miss it?

Mrs. Johnson, who taught my senior-year Shakespeare class, tried to miss it.  Desperately.  In nearly every class session, she came up with a new bit of evidence that Shakespeare wasn't. . .um, you know, that way (no one ever actually Said the Word).

Her evidence:
1. None of his characters are Wearing Signs.
2. It was an Elizabethan convention to write romantic-sounding poetry about platonic friendship.
3. The "fair youth" was an apprentice who was learning the acting craft.
4. Anne Hathaway was pregnant when they got married.
5. No one who is a writer can ever be. . .um, you know, that way.
6. Especially a great writer.

See also: The 7 Ages of Man