a symposium this weekend at Wellesley College. A lot of intellectual heavy hitters are featured - Harvard's Marjorie Garber, the Public Theatre's Oskar Eustis, Bard College's JoAnne Akalaitis - and the program even features a performance of Tina Packer's solo show, "Women of Will." There's also a day-long symposium on "Theater Criticism and Practice." You'd think I should be there with bells on.
But I'm not going. For one thing, I'm busy actually seeing theatre, music and dance this weekend.
And for another, I think a lot of these people are a pain in the ass. And not in a good way. Marjorie Garber seems to have lost her mind of late, I hate JoAnne Akalaitis, and I'm even beginning to wonder about Oskar Eustis.
Plus, I have this problem with the academy and their pierced, gay Shakespeare, as you may have guessed from reading The Hub Review.
A problem which could be (partially) summed up as:
I'm queer. And Shakespeare wasn't.
Now I'm not saying he never, ever, nibbled the Earl of Southampton. Maybe he did. And maybe Richard Burbage gave him tongue, and trippingly. Who knows? Frankly, a lot of straight guys experiment a bit, as I know from unfortunately checkered personal experience (I was head over heels for my straight best friend back in the day). Tragically, this doesn't make them gay, though, any more than the girls I diddled back in college made me straight. Besides, any straight guy who gets involved in theatre inevitably winds up mixing with (and playing along with) a gay milieu, and usually ends up thinking it's pretty much normal, or at least just another inexplicable aspect of sexual experience - which it is.
Thus, though Shakespeare wrote some intriguingly randy (if recondite) sonnets to an effeminate dude, and plays with, yes, "gender and performance" quite a bit in his scripts (he had to, women weren't allowed onstage), I always draw the line at daydreaming that he was actually light in the loafers. Partly because he got his wife pregnant before wedlock, partly because they had a few kids, partly because of the Dark Lady, partly because he settled back down at home after his theatrical career, but mostly because - well, because he just doesn't seem gay to me. Now Christopher Marlowe - he was queer as Michel Foucault. But Shakespeare? No. Open-minded? Yes. Open-legged? No. I know he wrote Troilus and Cressida, but he also wrote The Taming of the Shrew. He penned Rosalind, but he also essayed Benedick. (And don't even get me started on how almost all rebellion and subversion in Shakespeare is patted or put down by the final curtain.)
This, of course, makes me controversial. Although thirty years ago, the idea that Shakespeare was gay was controversial. Now, however, it's a neat way for the college crowd to give the humanities a little pop electricity. So it goes. And certainly Shakespeare does offer deep insight into almost every form of sexual identity and experience - and perhaps that poster art isn't even indicative of this forum's true reach. Perhaps some deeper exploration of phenomenology is in the offing. So if hanging at a forum at Wellesley College in your leather jacket and tongue stud makes you feel like a rebel, then by all means go.
But always remember that whatever the professors may tell you, Shakespeare's "construction" of sexual identity cannot be like ours. Indeed, Elizabethan homosexuality must have co-existed, and probably drew sustenance from, an entrenched sexism that would horrify Marjorie Garber and Tina Packer. It's a general cultural rule, I think, that the dis-enfranchisement of women corresponds with the acceptance of homosexual expression among "hetero" men - that's what we're most likely looking at in Shakespeare: the "down-low" sexual model we now see most clearly in the African-American and Latino communities. But would that sell tickets at Wellesley College? Not bloody likely.