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The Fruity Bard

Jaya Patricia Maree D. Tria LIT 193.29-A

*I am apologizing in advance if my essay somehow happens to offend the LGBT community or anyone else in any way. Consider this my lame attempt at sprucing up with “edgy” jokes. Don’t kill me because I love you guys, really.*

————

Was Shakespeare gay?

If by gay you meant he harbored “special feelings” for people of the same sex, then there’s a chance he was. As any self-respecting budding Shakespearean such as yourself should know by now, many of his sonnets were dedicated to a mysterious Mr W.H. who may be the same person referred to as the “Fair Lord” and oddly, “Dark Lady” in the same poems. Even if he was, one must keep in mind that he lived in a much simpler time; back then thrusting power determined the gender of your baby and daily shampoo-conditioner-soap baths haven’t even crossed people’s minds yet.

What is this demonry?!

In other words, this really shouldn’t be an issue, people.

That hasn’t stopped you or me from wondering though. The magical portal of knowledge also known as Google will cheerfully complete your search for “is Shakespeare” with “is Shakespeare gay” because that’s obviously what you want to know. It doesn’t help that scholars, casual readers and even Hollywood alike have observed that there may be some homoerotic subtexts in some of The Bard’s tales.

What’s that? You say your teachers didn’t mention anything about homosexuality when you took up Shakespeare in high school English? Well then you’re in luck because I’ve made it my temporary duty to educate all you innocent bystanders in The Fruity Bard. You’re welcome.

This Guy’s in Love with You Pare

It’s great how love came to Romeo in, well, Romeo and Juliet looking like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear, but what about the other characters? Must they be content with loving vicariously through the star-crossed lovers? Fortunately, not really. There may actually be a love of the unrequited kind present in the story in the person of kick-ass Mercutio (as well as Paris, but that’s another story).

Many have pointed out to the way he berates moping Romeo on the stupidity of loving Rosaline (Mercutio: If love be rough with you, be rough with love) right before they crash the Capulets’ party as a sign of jealousy and disapproval of love between men and women. He again shows the same derision as he attempts to conjure up Romeo by mocking Rosaline’s looks as the latter goes AWOL to test his manliness on Juliet’s balcony a scene after. With this in mind, it seems Tybalt is aware Mercutio’s feelings and has no qualms on using it against him (Tybalt: Mercutio, thou consort’st with Romeo) during one of their confrontations.

Director Baz Luhrmann latches on to this idea in his 1996 film William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (which I will forever will consider one of my most favorite movies despite what anyone will ever say) and depicts Mercutio as a flamboyant charmer with a talent for stealing the show in drag while shaking what his mama gave him to the tune of 70’s disco music.

The same dynamic can and has been applied to The Merchant of Venice with the relationship of BFFs Antonio and Bassanio.  When the young and carefree Bassanio loses all of his money at the very start of the play and is then of course unable to pursue the girl of his dreams, Antonio is more than willing to get the funds needed at all costs. He risks his reputation by going to the not-so-friendly neighborhood loan shark, Shylock, and even gives his life as collateral. The more imaginative Shakespeare enthusiasts have also given another spin on the famous “pound of flesh” in that it can also symbolize Antonio’s willingness to give up his heart considering their apparent bromance.

In 2004’s The Merchant of Venice that boasts of acting greats such as Jeremy Irons (Antonio) and Al Pacino (Shylock) in its cast, there’s a scene where the friends actually kiss. Although the movie was not intended to totally paint them as gay lovers, the stars as well as the director embrace the somewhat suspiciously close and loving relationship between the two.

I'd watch this movie over and over again just for Al Pacino's monologues as Shylock. I'm not even kidding.

Approaching the subject from the other side is Iago from Othello whom some think is fueled to murder and deceit by a jealous desire for the titular protagonist in probably the most extreme case of “the more you hate, the more you love”. Evidences supporting this reading are sprinkled throughout the text, as in the 3rd Act where Iago explicitly tells his superior that he loves him (seriously, he does) while poisoning Desdemona’s well.

Is that Axe?

Clearly, men in those days were more affectionate.

I loved you bro!!!

Rome & Juliet, Were the World Mine, Private Romeo and Neo

Taking the homosexual agenda a bit further are adaptations that directly alter Shakespeare’s material to fit the theme of homosexuality. In the yet to be released movie Private Romeo, the world of Verona is transformed into McKinley Military Academy and the iconic leads become cadets Glenn Mangan (played by Jonathan from Gossip Girl) and Sam Singleton. The movie interestingly makes use of Shakespearean language in a modern setting, much like Luhrmann’s from more than a decade ago.

Hi, before you press play, there’s kinda a graphic scene at the very end. Just thought you should know.:)

There’s also the award-winning Were the World Mine, a film about a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream gone haywire. Aspiring but bullied thespian Timothy somehow manages to get his hands on a magic potion while preparing for his role as Puck and glitter madness ensues. Previously straight boys find themselves checking out their buds; girls start admiring the boo-tays of fellow ladies.


My Own Private Idaho which is based loosely on Henry IV and V has a perfectly rebellious Prince Hal in Keanu Reeves’ Scott, a master even then of the stoic face, and an unstable and tragic Falstaff in River Phoenix’ Mike. The two go on a journey to discover themselves, as the cliché goes, and end up being separated by their vastly different worlds.

Keanu Reeves: Immortal since 1991

Of course, we Pinoys (wootwoot) are not to be outdone. An indie film called Rome & Juliet starring Mylene Dizon and Andrea del Rosario was released several years ago that not only tackled forbidden love where one half of the couple is already betrothed to someone else, but a lesbian one at that. HA! Now, I personally haven’t seen this movie yet, but it seems to be actually pretty good from the reviews I’ve read online.

How about a viewing to welcome the summer vacation eh?

You know, to learn more about Shakespeare. And stuff.

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Categories: Multimedia Essays
  1. strobetrope
    March 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    What a fun post! Harhar I always noticed how some of the Bard’s works can be subtly (or not so subtly?) homoerotic and wondered whether he really intended it or whether homies back during the Renaissance were really that close. Just wanted to add two of my favorite bromance bits in Shakespeare: Antonio for Sebastian in Twelfth Night and Rosalind as Ganymede for Orlando in As You Like It. With that I think Shakespeare also likes adding some cross-dressing here and there in his works, spicing up the comedies or “solving” the plots like in Merchant of Venice.

    Thanks for the movie list, now I have a great line-up for summer! Harhar.

    – Meggie O

    • humunahumuna
      March 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

      Thanks for the suggestions!

      Come to think of it, Twelfth Night’s story actually revolves around gender-bendering (yes I made that up lol) with Viola turning into Cesario I think. May have to add that here.

  2. annnacarmina
    March 20, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Nice post! I enjoyed reading it! I’m curious about the Filipino indie movie that you mentioned. Do you know where I can watch it? I haven’t actually noticed the “gay” theme before and it is actually very enlightening to know that such themes exist even in uber-serious movies.

    • humunahumuna
      March 20, 2011 at 8:18 pm

      Hmm the only link that seems to be able to stream the movie online is

      http://www.watchthisfree.com/movies/2006/rome-and-juliet/watch/ 🙂

      If that doesn’t work, maybe there’s a DVD for sale/rent someplace? Update me if you do find a copy; I’ve been meaning to watch it as well. 😀

      Glad that you liked it!

  3. March 24, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    cool post. the ufc pic caught my attention. bj penn vs joe stevenson- brutal! loved that fight!haha..
    anyway…
    sexuality in Shakespeare’s works has always been a concern of literary academics. i remember reading something from long ago about Shakespeare’s sonnets. it stated that, after analyzing these sonnets, it could be found that they were all addressed to one person- a mysterious little boy. Shakespeare the pedophile? i dunno, but it kinda gives me the creeps. your entry is kind of linked to mine, which is about masculinity in Shakespeare’s works.but i focused on the violent nature of Shakespearean masculinity , not the male intimacy and homosexuality aspects.

    the Mylene Dizon and Andrea del Rosario lesbian R+J looks cool. i think my friends and i will enjoy watching that. i’m curious though if they die at the end of the film. if they don’t, i personally wouldn’t really consider it a adaptation of R+J. often times a book/ film/ story about forbidden love is attached to R+J. but i believe what made R+J so unique and moving was the fact that it wasn’t about just forbidden love, but the tragedy of the deaths of the two young overs. their dying (not their forbidden love) is the clincher.well, that’s for me anyway. i guess that’s just a testament to the influence of Shakespeare that we link every forbidden romance to R+J.i better watch the film first before commenting about it. but that’s just my two cents.

    good job! really enjoyed reading it.:)

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