Free Form Fridays: Are Hamlet and Horatio Gay for Each Other?

By Nicholas Landon

No, of course they’re not. That is one of the most pointless interpretations I’ve ever heard, second only to a phallic reading of Emily Dickenson’s “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass.”

And there are the beautiful cries of “homophobe, homophobe” emanating from the internet.

internet people

Before you string me up as a bigot, though, I want to seriously sit you all down and have a chat about gay readings of literary text. First off, there are some instances where gay readings do add to the nuance and characterization within the text itself. I will get into those more later, but for now, it is important that you all understand that I am not against the concept of gay readings.

That said, yes, some of the uses of gay readings are suspect. Hence my opening derision for the gay reading of Hamlet. This dismissal comes from a number of different reasons. Starting with the least serious first, reason number one is that the text just doesn’t support it. At no point is there anything, overt or implied, that links Hamlet and Horatio in a romantic way. They are close friends, that cannot be argued, but there is a negative gender stereotype that is actually harmful that tends to equate any kind of emotional connection between men as gay. This extends past the ignorant or the homophobic, by the way, into the more liberal communities as well. If there is a hint, no matter how small, the instant reaction is to question the character’s sexuality. And while some might defend it as trying to keep an open mind and expand the pitifully small roster of gay characters in fiction, the reality is that this response often ends up no better than this:

gaaayMoreover, by making every emotional connection from the most minute to the most intimate instantly romantic, this practice perpetuates the same negative ideology that made possible the friendzone, i.e. that the only source of emotional intimacy is romance, and that friendship is inherently less important. This is why I find gay readings of Sam and Frodo or John Watson and Sherlock Holmes so infuriating; not because they are questioning the sexuality of the characters – the characters don’t exist, so their sexuality is a meaningless argument by default – but because this reading relies only on the fact that they are close friends. Again, emotional connection does not equal homosexual by necessity.

Continuing on from that point, the interpretation of Hamlet and Horatio as gay stems mostly from the end of the play, in which Horatio just about kills himself when he sees Hamlet dying. From there comes the argument that he loss of a platonic friendship would not cause someone to kill themselves. This interpretation ignores Horatio’s own reason for wanting to die, namely a sense of archaic pride that urges him to suicide, much like ancient Romans or Samurai after their masters have died. The reason is closer to survivor’s guilt, a phenomenon that is well documented when the body count is this high. Seriously, read Hamlet again and really look at the body count. EVERYONE is dead. If they had more than one scene in the play, they are no longer breathing by the end. But the emotional trauma is not enough reason to wish for death; no, no, it has to be because Horatio has the gay crush on Hamlet. Reductive interpretations at its finest, people.

But more important than the reductivity or the stretch of interpretation from a textual standpoint, there is another problem, and this is the one that really kills me on a philosophical and ethical level. Namely, this reading ignores how the characters self-identify. Hamlet spends most of the first half of the play trying to get into Ophelia’s pants. Horatio isn’t given anything, because his love life is not important to the proceedings. So at best the characters are unidentified, at worst shown with an obsessive need for the opposite sex. And I can hear you, there in the back, explaining to me how it’s all just character repression and that they really are in love, but can’t because its early first-millennium Denmark and gay just isn’t okay. To you I want to say, thank you for proving my point. In the long run, the relationship between Hamlet and Horatio has not much of anything to do with the plot. The closest it gets is feeding into the themes of loyalty to friends and family vs. loyalty to the throne. Other than that, it doesn’t really work in the grander subtext of betrayal and revenge, politics and government, and the moral choices that Hamlet is faced with. Even the canon relationship Hamlet has with Ophelia are more there to drive the plot and Hamlet’s madness, without really adding to the themes of the story. But nevertheless we jump through hoops and justify till we are tied in knots to say that Hamlet and Horatio are gay. And before you bring up “Goodnight, sweet prince,” just put down the shovel, you aren’t helping your cause.

wrongnessWhich, in turn, brings us to the most troubling assertion that the way the person self-identifies is less important than how the observer sees his/her relationships. Hamlet and Horatio aren’t gay because they’re gay; they’re gay because we see them as gay. And all, in the end, for no real purpose to the whole.

Now, with all of that said, I did mention that there are some ambiguous characters where a gay reading might prove interesting. Surprisingly enough, the one I was thinking of when I said that was actually Timon and Pumbaa, from The Lion King. Now, some of you are calling bullshit, since there aren’t any context clues to support their relationship and that their relationship doesn’t really connect to the themes of the movie (which are the exact same themes as Hamlet, just with animate lions). The difference is that while Hamlet and Horatio provide nothing extratextually by being gay, Timon and Pumbaa might. Think about it, if Hamlet and Horatio are gay, what is gained by the reader? Really, not all that much. But Timon and Pumbaa represent a possibly gay (and interspecies, but I won’t get into that) couple, that are also adoptive parents. And they are adoptive parents who raise a king. They are not a harmful influence, but end up helping Simba grow just the same as if they were a heterosexual couple. And while it is not strictly canon, text-wise, it is something that kids will see. It is a positive portrayal in a time and place where homosexual parenting is a hot button issue.

While more asexual than gay (his genitalia are non-functioning, so it makes it hard to argue a sexual identity), Jake Barnes from The Sun Also Rises is another interesting reading, as his relationships are integral to the plot and themes of the book. Ishmael and Queequeg are yet another couple that provide an interesting thematic hiccup in Moby-Dick (they aren’t in it long enough to be considered much more than a hiccup, but still), as they’re relationship provides a major premise in the theological arguments in that book. Also, there is language in the text itself that supports a gay reading, which helps exponentially.

All of this has been a long rant, and I am aware of that, but what am I really hoping to achieve? Namely, a generation of people who, instead of retroactively making established characters gay, instead go out and write new characters who have whatever sexuality the new stories demand. A generation ready to do something new. The stigma on homosexuality has just started to fade in the last ten or twenty years, and there is a new realm opening up that wasn’t there before. So, instead of trying to read with eisegetical homosexuality, go out and create something new.

After all, that is the artist’s job.

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11 thoughts on “Free Form Fridays: Are Hamlet and Horatio Gay for Each Other?

  1. Hmm. Okay. Fine, I’ll bite.

    >> “reason number one is that the text just doesn’t support it.”
    Actually, yeah, the text does support it. Hamlet shows more affection for Horatio than he does for anyone else (including Ophelia). Have you ever heard the phrase “heart of hearts”? As in, the place in your heart where you keep the things that are most special to you? Shakespeare coined that phrase, and guess what? It’s Hamlet telling Horatio where in his own heart Horatio is. How about the phrase “he that thou knowest thine”? Not a phrase that’s become a cliche like “heart of hearts” has, but still a very intimate one. That’s how Hamlet signs a letter to Horatio. Hamlet is saying that he *belongs* to Horatio — and that Horatio knows it. Which is pretty significant, considering that Hamlet is a prince and Horatio is a commoner. In fact, he’s a POOR commoner. Why would Hamlet say something like that unless he really, truly meant it?

    >> “emotional connection does not equal homosexual by necessity.”
    …Okay, sure, but emotional connection certainly doesn’t argue AGAINST homosexuality either??

    >> “the interpretation of Hamlet and Horatio as gay stems mostly from the end of the play”
    No, it doesn’t. Next.

    >> “this reading ignores how the characters self-identify.”
    So Hamlet’s interested in women too, so what? Bisexuality is a thing, you know. Besides, it’s not a question of how the characters “identify”, because “gay” and “straight” weren’t concepts during the Renaissance.

    >> “it’s all just character repression and that they really are in love, but can’t because its early first-millennium Denmark and gay just isn’t okay.”
    Yeah, hi, me in the back. I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that?? If anything, the bigger worry would be making sure Hamlet finds a nice lady with whom to settle down and pop out some heirs, and as long as that’s settled he can go do his thing with people of whatever gender he likes (see: King James I’s male lovers). Also, not that it really matters, but Shakespeare was really crappy about writing for specific time periods. Like, he just did not care. (Note the clocks in Julius Caesar.)

    >> “And before you bring up “Goodnight, sweet prince,” just put down the shovel, you aren’t helping your cause.”
    Actually, I was going to bring up the phrase just AFTER that one, “and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”. Notice the second-person pronoun “thou”. Before we started using “you” for all our second person pronoun needs, “you” was a more formal form of address, used for social superiors, elders, people you didn’t know very well — people you wanted to be respectful to, in general. “Thou”, by contrast, is used for social inferiors, or people you’re very close to. That Horatio is referring to Hamlet (a PRINCE) with such an intimate term is huge — especially considering he’s still in front of some members of the court.

    >> “Think about it, if Hamlet and Horatio are gay, what is gained by the reader?”
    As a queer person, the idea that I could share something with one of “the” characters in the English canon is more than enough for me.

    >> “So, instead of trying to read with eisegetical homosexuality, go out and create something new.”
    This argument would only hold water if you were also trying to argue that we should never do Shakespeare again, because it isn’t “new”. As it is, it just reads as “keep those icky gays out of my Shakespeare, because… because reasons!”

    Okay. I’m done here. If you actually care, though, look up the 1920 Hamlet and Fodor’s Hamlet. In the former, Hamlet is a woman; in the latter, Horatio is. Know what these two versions have in common? A romantic subplot between Hamlet and Horatio. Hmm, it seems like their relationship has the potential to be more-than-friendly after all… but only if they’re heterosexuals!!

  2. on the other hand who cares if hamlet and horatio being gay adds any “nuance and characterization” to the play (it does, by the way) when it’s usually gay teenagers reading the play who see the subtext and get the representation from it

  3. “At no point is there anything, overt or implied, that links Hamlet and Horatio in a romantic way.” Um? You do realize that Horatio literally offers to commit suicide when Hamlet is dying, much the same as Juliet kills herself upon seeing that Romeo is dead- like, that is definitely a parallel, but only one is interpreted as ~true love~ because it’s heterosexual, while you’re saying the other is just ‘they were really good friends!’ That doesn’t make any sense to me.
    It’s also worth noting that Hamlet basically tells Horatio that he holds him ‘in my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of hearts’. Hearts are generally used to symbolize romantic love.
    I could go on, but you’ve already read the text, I assume, so instead I’ll point to film versions. In both the film versions I’m aware of where either Hamlet or Horatio’s genders are changed (the version starring Asta Nielsen where Hamlet is a girl or the version directed by Alexander Fodor where Horatio is a girl)- both versions where their relationship is between a male and female, in other words- there is a romantic relationship between them. So if it’s acknowledged when it’s heterosexual, how come they’re suddenly not romantically involved when they’re two guys?
    Finally, many people think that William Shakespeare himself was bisexual, (read the sonnets. there’s definitely evidence for it.) so it’s entirely plausible that he would write Hamlet and Horatio as in love if he was also attracted to men as well, like many people think is the case.
    In conclusion, there is absolutely no reason to say ‘hamlet and horatio weren’t gay!!1!’ without fully studying the entirety of the text, as well as the context.

  4. I’m not 100% sure what your point was here. I don’t believe Hamlet and Horatio are together either, but there’s no reason to care if others do. There is no right or wrong way to interpret art; every member of the audience can and does take with them the meaning that resonates the best with them. For some people Hamlet and Horatio are friends, for others they’re lovers. No one’s interpretations affect anyone else but themselves, and the fate of the world doesn’t exactly depend on everyone firmly believing that it’d be outlandish for Hamlet and Horatio to have feelings for each other that are anything more than brotherly.

    It doesn’t matter.

  5. …friend, you are aware that the lion king is BASED on hamlet, yes? so to go from saying ‘you don’t gain anything by adding a queer reading to hamlet!’ straight into saying that a queer reading of it is meaningful… kinda undercuts your entire point. which is wrong, by the way. (ASIDE FROM THE FACT THAT QUEER PEOPLE DON’T EXIST TO ~PROVIDE INTEREST~ OR ~LET THE READER GAIN THROUGH THEM~, QUEER PEOPLE JUST EXIST).

    in particular, just your assertion that there’s a ‘right’ interpretation of the text is wrong. 1968 is calling, and it wants you to know that the author is dead. if you don’t personally think that hamlet and horatio are in love with each other, that’s fine. but you don’t get to tell other people they’re wrong for interpreting it that way. and you ESPECIALLY don’t get to tell people where they can and can’t find meaning in a text, you presumptuous arse.

    THAT BEING SAID, there are more accurate and plausible readings than others, and I HAVE TO SAY: “the relationship of hamlet and horatio has not much of anything to do with the plot”? please, i beg of you, point me towards a single staging of this play in which horatio is not, in fact, THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP THAT HAMLET HAS, and i DON’T just mean in an emotional sense: horatio, for the audience’s interpretation of the play, is the most important character on that goddamn stage. out of the entire cast of characters, there are only two that are impossible to double up roles when going about casting it: hamlet, of course, and horatio. horatio is the sane centre, the mooring point, the voice of reason. horatio is the witness, and as such he is INTENSELY important to both hamlet and the structure and interpretation of the play.

    also, your linking of genitalia to sexuality is highly problematic and upsetting, i think you should know. like, intensely gross to the point of me having trouble believing that you’ve really got any good intentions in making this post.

  6. Hi Nicholas!

    I know it’s unlikely that you’ll publish this comment (which is why I will cross-post it to tumblr as well), but I thought I’d give you some textual/scholarly support for the interpretation of horatio and hamlet’s relationship as a romantic one anyway. I won’t change your mind, but I hope it’ll be enlightening for you anyway.

    You raise several cogent points about the text of the play. Unfortunately, most of them seem to be based around a fundamental misunderstanding of the text.

    Let’s start with what you say about Ophelia and Hamlet:

    “Namely, this reading ignores how the characters self-identify. Hamlet spends most of the first half of the play trying to get into Ophelia’s pants.”

    I’d encourage you to think back on the first half of the play, and the interactions between Hamlet and Ophelia, again. Hamlet does not actually endeavor, in the playtext, to “get into Ophelia’s pants.”

    What we do have is a letter that Hamlet wrote to Ophelia, context-less and without knowledge of when exactly it was written. We also have the assertion that Hamlet is interested in Ophelia from Laertes, Polonius, and Gertrude at various parts of the play, but each of these characters have their own reasons for wanting to see this relationship as viable — especially Polonius, since that would give him a considerably larger amount of power. We do not see Hamlet express this same interest. All of Hamlet’s interactions with Ophelia occur after he declares he’s going to “put an antic disposition on,” and all of them are performative — meant to spur others onto a specific course of action, and not necessarily reflective of his own thoughts and beliefs.

    The scene in Ophelia’s bedroom is meant to get Polonius to go “ah ha! he IS acting weird because he’s in love with my daughter! that’s what’s wrong with him, not that he thinks the king murdered his father!” Hamlet’s actions towards Ophelia during the Mousetrap scene are provocative and done not to actually get into her pants, but to disrupt and make uncomfortable her and the rest of the court. (I’d suggest that if you think that throwing the word cunt around is a winning strategy with the ladies, you may need to rethink some things.)

    The nunnery scene can be interpreted in a bunch of different ways: his distress at her betrayal of him, his acting cruelly towards her as a way to force her away from him for her own safety, another act put on because he suspects/knows that Claudius and Polonius are watching them. It can even be argued that Hamlet never wrote any of the “favors” that Ophelia is returning (“I never gave you aught”) tho that’s more of a stretch. But however you lay it down, Hamlet also says “I did love you once.” Note the past tense. He did love her once, maybe, but no longer. If we’re talking Hamlet at his word as you appear to be w/r/t the matter of his romantic life, then he’s indicated he is no longer trying to woo Ophelia.

    I’ll move on to my next point, which is that your characterization of Hamlet and Horatio’s relationship as having “not much of anything to do with the plot.” belies a rather shallow reading of the relationships in the play.

    Think about the way the play starts — we don’t start with Hamlet, with Claudius, with Gertrude or Ophelia or Laertes — we start with two guards and Horatio. Horatio enters the action of the play right when we do, he witnesses the ghost, he relates the events to Hamlet. He’s in some ways our point of view character and our narrator (after all, the end of the play cuts off right before Horatio is going to tell Fortinbras the story of the events that occurred in Elsinore, he’s sworn to tell the tale). Horatio is also, throughout the play, the one person who Hamlet does not lie to or dissemble in front of or feel the need to hold back from. Hamlet places them on a equitable level in the first scene they’re together, and for the rest of the play, Hamlet follows through with that. Horatio is the one that Hamlet sends notice to about how he escaped from R&G’s machinations via pirate deus ex machina. Horatio is the one Hamlet confides to in 5.2 (“we defy augury … the readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he/leaves, what is’t to leave betimes?”) Horatio is the one Hamlet tells to help him watch the king during the Mousetrap, and Horatio and Hamlet rehash the events of the performance afterwards.

    Horatio is a weird character because he’s an outlier in a setting like this. He’s not a noble, he has no title. He’s not a soldier, either. He’s a poor scholar, a college student visiting his friend. We have to understand how Horatio relates to Hamlet, how this scholar is the one who Hamlet trusts more than people he’s known his whole life, more than his mother, if we’re to understand how Hamlet’s mind works.

    Going on to your claim that “At no point is there anything, overt or implied, that links Hamlet and Horatio in a romantic way.”

    I know you don’t want to hear this, but it’s really not true. I’m sorry. It’s really not.

    No, there is no stage direction that says “they kiss.” No monologue where Hamlet says specifically “I am gay for Horatio, we are going to do it, I am in love with him.” (Which, we’ll ignore that “gay” as an identity as we know it didn’t exist during Shakespeare’s time, while same-sex relationships and same-sex desire definitely did; pls. see Kit Marlowe, Shakespeare himself, Edward II and Galveston, etc etc etc etc).

    But Shakespeare does use language that codes their romance as deeper than friendship.

    I’m not even talking about the last scene, though I will in a moment. (And also, w/r/t “sweet prince,” the point isn’t that he calls him that that once but that Horatio consistently refers to Hamlet as “my dear lord,” “sweet lord,” etc etc etc.)

    I’d challenge you to look at 3.2, and the interactions between Hamlet and Horatio there. He basically says, “You are one of the most just and trustworthy people I have ever met, and I don’t say that to flatter — because what would it profit me to flatter you? You’re a poor student, and I know it. When I compliment you, I mean it sincerely.” (This ties back to the importance of Horatio as an outlier, and how that helps define Hamlet as a character and the nature of Hamlet as a narrative).

    He also says, in 3.2, “Give me that man/ That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him/ In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,/ As I do thee.” Yes yes all right you can argue that’s not in a romantic sense. However, I don’t think you can belittle people who read that as romantic. “I will wear him in my heart’s core as I do thee” that’s pretty fucking gay, friend, sorry.

    There’s also how Hamlet signs his letter to Horatio — “He that thou knowest thine, Hamlet.” Again, “ah no that’s totes not gay!!” The thing is, we’re given a direct parallel we can look at, with Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia. I’ve always interpreted the letter to Ophelia as a farce or an over exaggeration or something Hamlet wrote when he was younger and really shitty at poetry, because it’s just really really terrible in contrast to his general eloquence. Anyway, he signs it “Thine evermore most dear lady, whilst/ this machine is to him, Hamlet.” To me, this shows a much less mutual, respectful, equitable relationship than that between Hamlet and Ophelia. Hamlet says to Horatio, “I don’t have to tell you that I am yours, or that you are mine, because that’s implicit in our relationship.”

    OKAY. last scene time. It is kinda gay tho. Like, that’s not the entirety of the basis for people reading them as gay, but it’s kinda gay. Like, Hamlet says “If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart/ Absent thee from felicity awhile.” He doesn’t tell Horatio to not kill himself because it’s not honorable or just, instead, he appeals to Horatio’s affection for him.

    There’s also the specific way that Horatio frames the way he talks about committing suicide. First off, I would argue that you don’t really get how the Roman suicide thing worked, since mostly it was out of a desire to die an honorable death, instead of a shameful or cowardly one, and Horatio and Hamlet don’t live in a society that values certain actions (like suicide as honorable — Hamlet even mentions this w/ the “that the everlasting had not fix’d his canon ‘gainst self slaughter”) the same way the Romans do. Also, you could, I’M VERY SORRY TO INFORM YOU, I know this is hard, interpret the line “more an antique Roman than a Dane” as a reference to Horatio’s sexuality. Ancient Romans weren’t exactly shy about the gay sex thing, though the power structures/roles/etc of male/male relationships worked differently than they do in a modern context or in the context of Shakespeare’s time. Still, there was love & desire & romantic relationships b/t men, and this is well documented.

    ANYWAY, Horatio’s desire for death directly mirrors the end of Romeo and Juliet. I’m sorry. I don’t know how else to break this to you. Shakespeare had already written R&J at this point, as well as some other tragedies where lovers kill themselves at the end together, but this is the purest example of “one person dies, the other decides to kill themselves.” So when Hamlet dies of poison and the person that he cares a lot about and who cares a lot about him is right there next to him saying he should die too, you really can’t say Shakespeare wouldn’t at all have realized what other works of his this sounded like.

    Look at Juliet’s lines: “What’s here? a cup, closed in my true love’s hand?
    Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end:
    O churl! drunk all, and left no friendly drop
    To help me after? I will kiss thy lips;
    Haply some poison yet doth hang on them,
    To make die with a restorative.”

    And then, Horatio — “Here’s yet some liquor left.”

    To wrap this up, I have to say that while it’s all good and well to have your own interpretations of a play, the dismissive attitude you’ve taken towards the interpretation of Hamlet and Horatio’s relationship as a romantic one is inappropriate in a scholarly or critical context. If you’re going to argue about the relative merits of a way of interpreting a play, you’re going to have to give some concessions. Yes, I know that it’s not the way everyone interprets the play. Yes, there are other theories and interpretations that contradict this one that also have valid arguments and textual evidence to back those up.

    I hope that you’ll find it within yourself to respond to this, as I am always genuinely and sincerely interested in explaining my interpretations to others, and hearing how they interpret the play, and I’d like to know your thoughts on what I’ve said here.

    I could write more, but hopefully this is enough for now.

    Best,

    Meagan

    • Actually, of the comments I’ve gotten on this (all of them arguing the opposite point that I am) this is perhaps the most intelligent one, and one that I actually appreciate, as you have argued your case as an academic should. I’m not entirely sure I buy all of it, but it is one where I can see how you got there.

      My main problem with referencing the flowery prose as “gay” – which, if I may, I felt rather odd using that word so often in this; trying to find words that didn’t sound negative toward a gay reading were difficult, but the act of reading something as gay isn’t wrong in and of itself – is the fact that the play is written in poetic form. The prose is going to be purple. So while I concede gladly that they are close friends (that is my argument, in fact), referring to each other in flowery ways doesn’t strike me as gay as much as it does poetic. Maybe I’m just not a romantic, but it is genuinely how I read Shakespeare.

      Actually, of all your arguments I keep coming back to the parallels with Romeo and Juliet. That fascinates me, as it was not something I had thought about before. That I will have to do some more reading for before I fully respond to it. For the moment, color me intrigued.

      To be honest, the reason I chose Hamlet was due to the fact that, as I said in the editorial, it always struck me as a way of perpetuating a negative gender trope that close friendships or intimate emotional connections are somehow effeminate. I don’t know why Hamlet in particular struck me that way, but it did. Probably because I had not had the case spelled out as clearly or concisely as you managed to do in one internet comment (seriously, the conversations I’ve had on this topic in the past have always been reductive and ridiculous). I am still not entirely convinced that the relationship adds much to the plot or themes of the story – and part of me is still a little squeamish about the idea of overriding the character’s self identification, even if the way they identify is tenuous at best – but I can see how it could create an interesting character trait.

      As for my tone – yeah, I have no real excuse for that one. I was not really expecting this to get very big, considering I was averaging less than ten views per review thus far. Not that that excuses my tone, but it hopefully explains it a little. The tone was dismissive, partially for (probably misplaced) sarcastic humor, as I am one to be sarcastic first and scholarly second, and partly to get to the point of the editorial. The point being that the exercise of interpreting old characters as gay (minus examples included in the text) is less important than creating modern characters of any sexuality the author chooses. It could have been handled better, and after the reaction this has gotten I will be aware of the way I address future topics.

      Thank you for your criticism. Really. I am a relatively new member of the world of online reviewing, and this is part of honing my trade. I appreciate your help in this process.

      Nick.

      • I wasn’t intending to reply to this comment, but then this sentence came up: “it always struck me as a way of perpetuating a negative gender trope that close friendships or intimate emotional connections are somehow effeminate.”

        A few questions:
        1. Why is homosexuality a negative gender trope?
        2. Why is homosexuality by necessity effeminate?
        3. Why is effeminacy negative?

        I’m not trying to stir up shit on the Internet. Rather, I want for you to consider why your reaction to this reading of Hamlet is the way that it is, and why your knee-jerk reaction to queer readings are that they imply effeminacy, and that effeminacy is negative. (If the feminine really puts you off that much, I’d ask you to read Coriolanus. The most manly masculine moment in that play is basically one dude affirming to another dude how much he wants to have sex with him.)

        I’m sorry that my comment wasn’t “intelligent” or “academic” enough for you to appreciate it. Shame, as I actually would have liked to hear your reply to some of my points. While I’m at it, I want to reply to this as well: “The point being that the exercise of interpreting old characters as gay (minus examples included in the text) is less important than creating modern characters of any sexuality the author chooses.” Why do you say this?? Again, AS A QUEER PERSON, I find it very affirming to retroactively read queer sexualities in older texts. And who says Shakespeare’s characters can’t be modern? Shakespeare’s plays are performed constantly, everywhere, which I would argue makes them very modern. If I direct a production of Hamlet, and decide that I want Hamlet and Horatio kiss, in what way am I not creating a modern character of a sexuality of my choosing? Do I have to create my own characters from scratch? Because Shakespeare certainly didn’t do that — all but a few of his plotlines are cribbed from other sources. Furthermore, what makes a queer reading of Queequeg and Ishmael, or Timon and Pumbaa, okay, but not Hamlet and Horatio? Isn’t your argument that we should never engage in queer readings of anything, ever? Honestly, the only difference I see is that you, the author, are in favor of two of those relationships, but not the third.

        Oh, and as for why this post has gotten big — you posted a link in the “#hamlet” tag on tumblr. Which fans of Hamlet like to look at. Many Hamlet fans on tumblr are, in fact, in support of a romantic relationship between Hamlet and Horatio. In case you were curious.

      • I really think your conflation of flowery/effeminate w/ gay is probably one of the bigger problems here.

        Like, I feel like you may have misunderstood me when I said “this is really gay” about particular passages. I did not mean that the prose was flowery or poetical, I meant it in the sense that it is extremely homosexual, it indicates homosexual feelings or relationships or desires.” Saying to someone “I will wear him in my heart of heart, as I do you” while it can also be construed as poetic, isn’t “gay” because of that, it’s gay because it’s one man saying to another man “I hold you in such close regard that you’re in my heart, I have heart-felt feelings for you.”

        Showing affection to each other doesn’t mean that the affection or the language is flowery or effeminate. Referring to someone as “he that thou knowest thine” isn’t flowery, it’s Hamlet expressing the closeness of their relationship — and rather plainly! (for Hamlet, at least.)

        The harshest coarsest least poetic language can show affection and love (and does, quite often, in Shakespeare), and the sweetest and most flowery words can contain absolutely no good will (as, again, in many Shakespeare plays).

        I’m trying to figure out how to express how offensive it is to equate gay w/ effeminate or flowery, a jump that you seemed to make via my comment equating certain quotes w/ the homosexuality of the characters, but I can’t. Yes, the entirety of the play is poetic, and often flowery, but that was not the point I was trying to make. The words that Hamlet writes to Ophelia in the letter she presents to Polonius & co. is much more flowery, and much less sincere. Like, I don’t know how to say this, but you have to stop — you can’t equate homosexuality with being effeminate. And perpetuating the idea that being somehow “effeminate” is a bad thing. Or that having close emotional connections that are not Manly As Hell is transgressive in someway.

        And that gets at another issue, which is that you, when you say, “are somehow effeminate” when you mean “are read as gay” (tho I think you also stated directly the latter in your post) is that the opposite has been done many many MANY times to deny and extinguish queer readings of texts.

        “They’re just good friends,” “they’re just affectionate,” “you’re reading too much into this,” “it’s gross that you’re taking this and this and saying that means these characters are gay, you’re overreacting” — these are words that are used as weapons against queer people advocating for queer readings of different works of literature & media. Often at the expense of ACTUAL QUEER PEOPLE.

        Please see for example here: Achilles and Patroclus (they’re just friends/they’re cousins and that’s why it’s sad/etc), Sappho’s poetry (she wasn’t really a lesbian), Shakespeare himself (all those romantic poems addressed to a man — you’re reading them wrong), Jonathan and David from the Bible, the denial of romantic love for women in poetry by women like Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (a 17th century Spanish nun), Boston Marriages, erasing or largely ignoring historical figures who had relationships with someone of the same gender (like Emperor Hadrian and Antinous, Edward II and Gaveston, Alexander the Great and Hephaestion, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, and on and on and on and on), the continued persistent backlash still, right now, when I or people like me bring up in academic and non-academic arenas the fact that we read certain characters as gay.

        Again, I’ll say that “gay” as an identity in the way that we now understand it wasn’t around in ancient times, or even until very recently. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t gay people, or gay relationships, or fiction about those gay people and relationships. They just didn’t use the word “homosexual,” because the word “homosexual” and the resultant ideas about sexuality were part of the pathologization of homosexuality in the 19th century.

        But one of the greatest powers straight people have that they can wield against us is the power to rewrite history and literature in ways that takes us out of it, and then shout us down whenever we dare suggest that these two might be in love.

        If you think the idea that characterizing close and affectionate relationships between men as romantic is inherently wrong or icky, and if you connect affection/intimacy and gay relationships with effeminacy, I would ask you to consider why you’re making these connections.

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