Monday, October 18, 2010

Was Shakespeare gay?

Like the late Joseph Sobran, award-winning poet and editor Don Paterson comes down firmly in the gay camp on the topic of Shakespeare's sexual orientation in his upcoming book, Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets: a New Commentary, to be released in England on November 4, 2010 by Faber and Faber. In an essay titled "Shakespeare's Sonnets by Don Paterson" published October 15, 2010 in The Guardian, Paterson said:

However, the question: "was Shakespeare gay?" strikes me as so daft as to be barely worth answering. Of course he was. Arguably he was bisexual, of sorts, but his heart was never on his straight side. Now is not the time to rehearse them all, but the arguments against his homosexuality are complex and sophistical, and often take convenient and homophobic advantage of the sonnets' built-in interpretative slippage – which Shakespeare himself would have needed for what we would now call "plausible deniability", should anyone have felt inclined to cry sodomy.
The argument in favour is simple. First, falling in love with other men is often a good indication of homosexuality; and second, as much as I love some of my male friends, I'm never going to write 126 poems for them, even the dead ones. Third, read the poems, then tell me these are "pure expressions of love for a male friend" and keep a straight face. This is a crazy, all-consuming, feverish and sweaty love; love, in all its uncut, full-strength intensity; an adolescent love. The reader's thrill lies in hearing this adolescent love articulated by a hyper-literate thirty-something. Usually these kids can't speak. The effect is extraordinary: they are not poems that are much use when we're actually in love, I'd suggest; but when we read them, they are so visceral in their invocation of that mad, obsessive, sleepless place that we can again feel, as CK Williams said, "the old heart stamping in its stall".
Unlike Sobran, Paterson doesn't follow this biographical path down the authorship road. Of the first 17 so-called procreation sonnets, Paterson said:
I agree with William Boyd (who scripted a marvellous piece of free speculation for the BBC called A Waste of Shame) that they read a lot like a commission, and could well have been paid for by the Young Man's mother, perturbed by his Lack of Interest in the Opposite Sex.
Paterson makes this judgment based on his assessment of the dullness of these 17 poems.

Paterson is convinced that George Chapman is the Rival Poet of the sonnets. As such, he might be interested in Richard Whalen's 2001 paper, "On Looking into Chapman's Oxford: a Personality Profile of the Seventeenth Earl", presented at the Fifth Annual Edward de Vere Studies Conference at Concordia University.

In a commentary titled "Don Paterson braves lit crit's Bermuda Triangle: Shakespeare's Sonnets" in The Guardian today, editor and novelist Robert McCrum opines:

Over the years, the sonnets have developed a reputation as the Bermuda Triangle of Shakespeare scholarship: a place where good critics go missing, or become horribly confused. Some reviewers are going to worry that Paterson has eaten of the insane root that takes the reason prisoner, but I found his candour rather thrilling. Some Bardophiles will love it. Others will not.
Myself, I'm still reading Paterson's Commentary; there are some 450 pages of it. It's exhilarating stuff. With a bit of luck, he might even stir up a new approach to the argument about the poet's sexual identity. It will certainly make a change from the Bacon question.

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