Homosexuality In Shakespeares Twelfth Night Essay

Lady Olivia’s attraction appeared to be heterosexual because of the way Viola presented herself, and Orisno’s attraction was homosexual because of his love for Cesario. When the truth was revealed, the labels were switched; although, Lady Olivia had already moved on to Sebastian. Charles further proves the different sexualities by stating, “The representation of homoerotic attraction in Twelfth Night functions rather as a means of dramatizing the socially constructed basis of a sexuality that is determined by gender identity” (122).

Neither Orisno, nor Lady Olivia knew the truth until the end so their feelings can only be fit into a category based off the information they had. Shakespeare decision to include such an intricate love triangle between two women and a man further solidifies his supposed homosexual lifestyle. He managed to put the homosexual lifestyle in his work in discrete ways that seemed to be for entertainment purposes, but he wrote with a purpose beyond simply entertainment. As humankind progresses, understanding of homosexuality and it’s history also progress.

With more understanding of what homosexuality actually is, audiences can begin to see that it has always been apart of society, Lindheim addresses that in her article in her opening paragraph: “Our critical understanding of Twelfth Night has shifted radically in the past two or three decades. I don’t know whether audiences who watched the play continued to ‘feel actively good,’ as Stephen Booth reported in 1985, but critics came to think it a disturbing and cynical affair….

Recent shifts of focus in historical and gender-based studies, however, are loosening up the tendency towards automatic foreclosure on such issues. ” Shakespeare’s characters with varying sexualities in this play had previously been dismissed because of lack of understanding of homosexuality; however, this also has its downfall. “The homoeroticism of Shakespeare’s plays has become something of a cliche in modern American theater and scholarship” (Stanley, 115). Using modern ideologies for early literature can sometimes skew author’s original intent, and make the literature something that it was not intended to be.

Shakespeare utilizes homosexuality in many of his plays, but “The twenty-first century reader often takes it for granted that any intensely personal relationship must include a sexual element. Yet Shakespeare’s characters may be more accurately viewed from the English Renaissance perspective of a homosocial public structure that exalted male friendship over any other relationship” (Stanley, 115). Shakespeare’s time was completely male dominated, and their platonic friendships could often be confused for homosexual relationships when looked at with modern eyes. Shakespeare is not the only man whose sexuality has been questioned by scholars.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) also faces allegations of possible homosexuality. His novel The Picture of Dorian Gray causes scholars to speculate about his attraction to men. This novel is about beautiful, wealthy, and young Dorian Gray who wishes to remain young forever. He meets artist Basil Hallward who quickly becomes obsessed with Gray. Hallward’s portrait of Gray is what keeps him young. He then meets Lord Henry who pushes Gray live his life selfishly. Gray falls in love with actress Sibyl Vane who quits her acting career for him. He broke their engagement, which led her to kill herself.

Gray reunites with Hallward who begs him to change his lifestyle, but Gray refused and killed Hallward. He finally realizes he needs to change, and his decision to repent is reflected in his portrait. In a bout of rage, he attempts to destroy the painting that shows him as a beautiful young man. He ends up killing himself, and his servants find him dead next to the painting as an old man. Wilde’s decision to write so fondly of a beautiful young man raised suspicions amongst his peers who took him to court. “There are a number of direct parallels between Dorian Gray and those [Shakespeare’s homoerotic sonnets] poems.

Wilde himself pointed this out. When questioned about the homoeroticism of the novel during his first trial, he told the court: “The whole idea was borrowed from Shakespeare, I regret to say — yes, from Shakespeare’s sonnets” (Breuer, 60). Essentially, Wilde admitted to drawing inspiration from Shakespeare’s homoerotic sonnets for his novel – not combating the rumors of his own questionable sexuality. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 19 is also about a young man who is too beautiful to age. Shakespeare attempts to bargain with time so that it will not, “draw no lines there with thine antique pen; / Him in thy course untainted do allow” (Sonnet 19).

He explicitly uses a male pronoun while speaking about his lover, showing that he did feel emotion and attraction to men in a homosexual way. In line two he writes, “And make the earth devour her own sweet brood” (Sonnet 19) showing that he knows no matter how much he begs the earth to spare his lover, it will not do so. Masten notes that his use of the word “Sweet” as an adjective comes up in many of his other works when describing male companions. But there are some words that are synonyms to the word “sweet” in our modern language. For example, Masten states: “words that, when pressed, release whole new contexts” (375).

The words “friends” and “sweet” both fall into that category of synonyms. “The queerness of this early modern rhetoric comes in two modes. First, as I have noted, it is spoken across kinds of relationships in early modern England, including those we would now separate into homosexual and heterosexual. In this sense, it represents yet more evidence for the mobile quality of desire, erotics, and affection, as distinction from identities, in this culture. Second, it is historically ‘queer – used between men in a way that now seems to offend against normative codes of gender (sweetness now seems effeminizing) …

This historical queerness of this rhetoric, the way that sweetness and the undisputed masculinity of male friendship in the period seem to us strangely to jostle, is partly a function of what we might think as the emergent effeminacy of sugar” (Masten, 370 – 372). Sonnet 19 very clearly contains homosexual content. Wilde’s decision to use it indicates his possible homosexuality as well. Goran Stanivukovic, in his article “Shakespeare and Homosexuality” argued that “homosexuality should be treated as a product of social and economic forces within the cultural sphere, not a reflection of the idea of homosexuality which society created” (138).

He also states that “queer early modern criticism of Shakespeare has illuminated the valences of homoerotic desire in plays and poems, and has paid tribute to theories that influenced it in the second half of the twentieth century… Queer theory has tended to consider itself a new, late twentieth-century theoretical paradigm which came out of theoretical models of social conditions related to the shifts in the ideological and political status of women and homosexual” (139 – 140).

This idea of queer theory was a recent development and has completely changed the perspective that Shakespeare’s writings are analyzed. Though some argue that homoeroticism controls all of Shakespeare’s works and that women were looked down upon so much so that they really had little to no value, there is much evidence to prove that yes, homoeroticism is evident in the plays and poems written by William Shakespeare.

Many agree that the meaning of all of his works would be soiled by this viewpoint, when in reality, it just shows what society was like in the English Renaissance time period. While men were off doing “manly things”, women were stuck at home doing what was expected of them since they had absolutely no power. Men were able to do as they pleased because in the Shakespearean theater things such as homosexual relationships were seemingly ignored. In reality, some works do show clear signs of homoeroticism while others, not so much.