Searching for Queerness in Shakespear



I'm bartending right now, which involves fielding a lot of tepid, uninteresting questions about my personal life: am I in college? What did I study? Why would I ever leave Paris? And, God, what did you think you were going to be able to do with a gender studies and comparative literature degree? With a theater minor to boot?

I've developed a sense of humor about it and make the same jokes that asshole boomers want to make before they can make them. Usually they'll tip me better.

When the subject of Shakespeare comes up, specifically that I wanted to devote the rest of my life to studying it ('it' being the body of work, the mythos, less so the man), I am met with the same question: why does it matter?

I have a spiel I usually go on, about how theater is a living document and we can continue to reinterpret a work of theater for as long as we care to keep it alive. The moment the corpus becomes stagnant is the moment the corpus dies.

The truth is that maybe it doesn't matter, it just matters to me.

I have doubts, as I assume everyone does. What can it really matter when we’re inheriting a dying planet and a social system intent on murdering the non-white and non-wealthy. “You’re going to disappear to academia island,” accuses a friend, who believes a study of Shakespeare destines me to a life removed from real world concerns, interested only in abstract suffering.

Maybe.

It seems useless to argue that #ShakeRace is concerned with that very question, that critical race theory, postcolonial theory, queer theory are of prime importance to many of the preeminent Shakespeare scholars currently working.

I find myself looking for queerness in Shakespeare. Actively searching for words or omissions that could be clues, that could be proof, that I, we, have always been here. No one will ever accuse me of searching for heterosexuality in Shakespeare. No one will accuse me of dwelling too much on sex and desire when I remark that Beatrice's speeches are rife with sexual innuendo, if we only care to look for it.

Looking for and finding seem to be two different things. The finding would imply that it is there to be found, intentional, textual, explicit, if subtle. But to look for it, to seek it out, well, that's a me issue then, isn't it? I am forcing myself upon the text, the characters, the people. Forcing my desires and my wants and finding what is not there.

But if I were to tell you that I find myself in the Jailer's Daughter, the traumatized, nameless girl who finds herself in love "beyond love, and beyond reason, or wit or safety," would you tell me that I am finding something that is not there? If I project myself on to her, to her yearning, to her desperation, if I lay awake thinking of the man who likes me, but not enough, not as much, dwelling on the unrequited and pining, always pining, am I seeing something that is not there, only because it was not written to suite me and my circumstances? When does the search become discovery?


Look for the complete article in the next edition of Fruitybinature Magazine coming in September!

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