The Lady Is a Man
|This just in from Berlin: A new
biography of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe says the great German poet was
actually gay. Never mind his idealization of the eternal
feminine, his five children, his legend as a Don Juan. He preferred
men. According to the biographer Karl Hugo Pruys, Goethes letters
show his physical affection for males.
Many Germans hate the idea. I think it serves them right. Not only do they elevate Goethe to the level of Shakespeare, they also insist that Shakespeare reads better in German than in English. Such arrogance cant go unpunished.
Meanwhile, from England, this just in about Shakespeare: An Oxford University scholar named Katherine Duncan-Jones, editor of the new Arden edition of Shakespeares sonnets, says the famous Dark Lady was actually male. This would mean that nearly all 154 of Shakespeares sonnets were addressed to men.
John Kerrigan, editor of the New Penguin edition of the sonnets, agrees that the poems are certainly homoerotic. But Anne Barton of Cambridge University insists that Shakespeare was bisexual and reacted equally to both men and womens sexuality. Our society is only now coming to terms with this kind of thing.
Funny how Shakespeare always seems to have anticipated whatever is trendy in our own time. Now it appears that Goethe did too.
Goethe is outside my ken, but the notable thing about these three Shakespeare scholars, to my mind, is that, despite their disagreements, they seem willing to acknowledge two obvious facts. One is that the sonnets reveal the poet as a man of unconventional sexual tastes. The other fact is implicit in this one: the sonnets are autobiographical poems.
Professor Duncan-Jones shows just how erratic (I nearly said homoerratic) the orthodox Shakespeare scholars can be. She gets Shakespeares identity wrong he was actually Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford but thats par for the course: she would be driven out of academia if she got it right. But she goes beyond anyone else. Nobody has ever nailed down the identity of the Dark Lady, but until now there has been general agreement among all scholars and readers of all persuasions that whoever the Dark Lady was, she was a woman. Professor Duncan-Jones is surely the first to get even her sex wrong.
Oh well. At least we seem to be agreed that no matter which sex she belonged to, the Dark Lady was a real human being. And the admission that whoever wrote these poems had some homosexual experience also means that the sonnets are about real experiences, since in Elizabethan times nobody would dare feign such a thing.
I stress this because some orthodox professors have accused me of being naive for thinking the sonnets are autobiographical. Now it seems that that belief puts me in respectable company.
Why should anyone deny that these passionate poems come from the poets heart? For the simple reason that they describe the Earl of Oxford rather than the mythical Shakespeare of Stratford. The poet is an aging nobleman, down in the heels, in some disgrace, learned in the law, and lame. This can only be Oxford, not the Stratford gent.
You might expect the champions of the Stratford man to welcome the sonnets as evidence of their mans authorship. But they dont. On the contrary, they usually try to rule the sonnets inadmissible evidence. To hear some of them, youd think that any reference to the sonnets was a violation of their clients Miranda rights and must be kept from being used against him in court. Theyd hardly try to exclude the sonnets from the authorship debate if these poems supported the Stratford mans claim.
But when the authorship question isnt at issue, many orthodox scholars lean to the view that the sonnets show that Shakespeare was gay, or at least bisexual.
So the academic scholars, unanimously Stratfordian, are now torn between yesterdays trendy denial that the sonnets reveal anything about the poets real life and todays trendy insistence that they reveal his kinky sexual nature.
However, any admission that Shakespeare was really someone else would be an admission that the professional scholars from Cambridge to your local community college dont know what theyre talking about.
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