Unsexing the Bard: Queered Shakespeare in Media
With all of “the Shakespeare” in different forms of media on this site, here’s a different form of Shakespeare, cross-discoursed with relatively fringe queer critical theory to demonstrate the Bard’s transmediality as well as his capacity for a transgendered directionality, in 4 Books, 1 Play, 1 Blog and 2 Pornographic sites.
1.) Kate Chedzgov’s Shakespeare’s Queer Children: Sexual Politics and Contemporary Culture (1995)
“Shakespeare’s Queer Children” argues that Shakespeare is not the exclusive possession of any one social group or cultural formation, but has provided an enabling and empowering resource which has allowed “other” radical voices to be heard, often in the face of forces which would consign them to insignificance, marginalization or oppression. The book stages a series of detailed, closely contextualized readings of significant texts and moments in the cultural history of Shakespeare, including the trials of Oscar Wilde, Angela Carter’s “Wise Children”, the debate over “political correctness” and the literary curriculum, and Derek Jarman’s films. Chedgzoy argues that if Shakespeare is not of an age but for all time, it is surely not because his works transcend or obliterate historical and cultural differences, but because they offer a space where conflicting desires – aesthetic, social and erotic – can be enacted, explored and transformed.
2.) Richard Burt’s Unspeakable ShaXXXspeares (1998)
Unspeakable ShaXXXspeares is a savvy look at the wide range of adaptations, spin-offs, and citations of Shakespeare’s plays in 1990s popular culture. The Bard has permeated contemporary film, television, video, and electronic media such as Internet Websites and CD-ROMs in direct translation, interpretation, and as a cultural icon. While we may be familiar with Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptations of the plays, what does it say about our culture when Shakespearean references turn up in television episodes of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island , films like In and Out and My Own Private Idaho , and hardcore porn adaptations of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet ? Instead of lamenting this unusual dissemination of Shakespeare from a position of literary authority, Burt reads the reception of these often quite bad replays in relation to contemporary youth culture and the “queering” of Shakespeare. Documenting a fascinating array of Shakespearean citations that are so far from their originals that they no longer count as interpretations of the plays, Burt considers what Shakespeare enables American popular culture to do that it couldn’t otherwise do without him and scrutinizes academic fantasies about fandom and stardom. This book puts Shakespeare studies on the front burner of popular culture.
3.) Madhavi Menon’s Unhistorical Shakespeare: Queer Theory in Shakespearean Literature and Film (2008)
Unhistorical Shakespeare argues that the way in which we study history has significant bearing on what desire we study, and how we study it. Menon argues that our embrace of difference as the template for relating past and present produces a hetero temporality in which chronology determines identity. In turn, such an understanding of history fixes sexual identity as the domain of the present and relegates nebulous desire to a thing of the past. In contrast to this temporal-sexual reification, Unhistorical Shakespeare outlines the idea of homohistory, which questions the fundamental historicist assumptions of teleology, facticity, citation, origins, and authenticity to lay bare their investments in compulsory hetero temporality.
4.) Madhavi Menon’s Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare (2011)
Shakesqueer puts the most exciting queer theorists in conversation with the complete works of William Shakespeare. Exploring what is odd, eccentric, and unexpected in the Bard’s plays and poems, these theorists highlight not only the many ways that Shakespeare can be queered but also the many ways that Shakespeare can enrich queer theory. This innovative anthology reveals an early modern playwright insistently returning to questions of language, identity, and temporality, themes central to contemporary queer theory. Since many of the contributors do not study early modern literature, Shakesqueer takes queer theory back and brings Shakespeare forward, challenging the chronological confinement of queer theory to the last two hundred years. The book also challenges conceptual certainties that have narrowly equated queerness with homosexuality. Chasing all manner of stray desires through every one of Shakespeare’s plays and poems, the contributors cross temporal, animal, theoretical, and sexual boundaries with abandon. Claiming adherence to no one school of thought, the essays consider The Winter’s Tale alongside network TV, Hamlet in relation to the death drive, King John as a history of queer theory, and Much Ado About Nothing in tune with a Sondheim musical. Together they expand the reach of queerness and queer critique across chronologies, methodologies, and bodies.
5.) Neil Bartlett’s RSC’s Twelfth Night (2007)
In 2007 Neil Bartlett directed a production of Twelfth Night at the RSC in which Viola was played by a man, Chris New, and Sir Toby Belch, Andrew Aguecheek and Fabian were played by women; Marjorie Yates, Annabel Leventon and Joanne Howarth respectively. The production divided critics and audiences, Michael Billington in The Guardian thought it was ‘odd and arbitrary’ and Charles Spencer in The Telegraph dismissed it as ‘self-indulgent and self-regarding’ while The Stage thought it was ‘fabulous’ and The Independent said it was ‘joyous… fantastically fresh [and] a wonderful evening’.
6.) http://fuckyeahqueershakespeare.tumblr.com/ (2011)
A POST FROM THE BLOG:
[Two male actors, one in Elizabethan-era men’s costume, the other in a corseted blue dress, from a production of The Tempest. They both have short hair, and neither is wearing make-up. The man playing the male character is standing and the man playing the female character is sitting, on the other side of a painted column. They are gazing lovingly at each other.]
The theatre company is The Lord Chamberlain’s Men—an English, all-male touring group named after the playing company for which Shakespeare worked for most of his career. Their productions of cross-dressing plays are made infinitely queerer by having male actors playing female characters who pretend to be men—a dramatic conceit that the plays were written for in the first place.
AN EXCERPT FROM THE SITE WRITE-UP:
Naturally, friends and colleagues have been curious (and worried) about what I’m up to. After all, I’m supposedly a “respectable” writer: someone who theoretically earns his living from the creation of (relatively) mainstream entertainment. To both appease and provoke them, I’ve discussed ad nauseam the theory and intent of Sir Richard, and together we’ve spent many hours speculating about the site’s ability to find an audience in light of Sir Richard’s uphill battle. Why uphill? Because the “blow-and-go” porn hunters (and that’s about 99% of them) probably haven’t got the patience to actually read through the densely composed verse, while the literate and upscale theatre/academic crowd probably wouldn’t be caught dead talking about (much less looking at) something as pedestrian as porn. So Sir Richard is in danger of being caught in a kind of cyber-spacial no-man’s-land; a niche that, paradoxically, can’t be easily defined.
Coriol-anus? King Leer? The Readers’ Wives of Windsor? A Winter’s Tail? Julius Seize Her?
— pottedstu, May 13 2002
Merchant of Veneris; Veneris and Androgynous; Bos & Divinette & Troilus & Cressida
— reensure, May 13 2002
Some men are porn to greatness, some men have it thrust upon them.
— phoenix, May 14 2002