Unconventional Depictions of Sexuality in Shakespeare's Works

Interchanged Sexes, Infidelity and Incest in "As You Like It", "Troilus and Cressida" and "Hamlet"


Master's Thesis, 2019

76 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Excerpt


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Conventional and Unconventional Depictions of Sexuality in Shakespeare's Time

3. As Yon Like It - Cross-Dressing and the Question of Homosexuality
3.1 Homosexuals: Celia & Rosalind
3.2 Pseudo-Homosexuals: Ganymede & Orlando
3.3 Four Marriages: Heteronormativity Restored

4. Troilus and Cressida - Cuckolds and Whores
4.1 The Imagery ofHelen
4.2 Troilus and Cressida's Pre-Marital Relationship
4.3 Cressida's Infidelity

5. Hamlet - Uncles, Maids and Mothers
5.1 Marrying Your Sister-In-Law
5.2 Hamlet's Desires Part I: Ophelia
5.3 Hamlet's Desires Part II: Gertrude

6. Today's Depictions of Sexuality - Shakespeare Reviews From 1995 Up to Now
6.1 As You Like It
6.2 Troilus and Cressida
6.3 Hamlet

7. Conclusion

8. Bibliography

9. Appendix - “A Table ofKindred and Affinity”

1. Introduction

“When lust doth master reason, man’s a beast Raging in sin; most loathsome at the least.

Lechery is a filthinesse of such beastly varietie, that men may sinne with men, women with women: man may sinne by himselfe, by and with his owne wife, with beasts in abhominable prostitutions: with their own blouds and kinred in incestuous maner: with other mens wiues in adulterous copulation: with all sorts in filthy licenciousnesse: and in all, both abuse GOD, and confound themselues in body and soule.” (Anon 1616, 83)

Homosexuality, incest and adultery were regarded as lecherous, condemnable, as severe sins in the 17th century. The above quotation is taken from the conduct book The Rich Cabinet which was published in 1616 and captures the moral values of early modem England. Despite this, one of the most popular playwrights of the time - and of all times - asks the following highly ambiguous rhetorical question: “Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?” (Dusinberre (ed.) 2017, 294)1. His audience is free to ima­gine what this “good thing” may be. In As You Like It (1599), Troilus and Cressida (1601-2) and Hamlet (1600) Shakespeare broaches the issues ofhomosexuality, adultery and incest explicitly instead of condemning and tabooing them. Moreover, he does not declare their deadly sinfulness but shows characters that have to deal with them - and in some, if not all, cases even like to deal with them.

In As You Like It, Rosalind and Celia love each other like “never two ladies loved” (AYL, 1.1, 106 - 107) each other before and Adam wants to “follow” (ibid., II.3, 69) his “young [, ...] gentle [, ...] sweet master” (ibid., 2-3) Orlando “[t]o the last gasp with truth and loyalty.” (ibid., 70). When Rosalind cross-dresses as the male Ganymede, pseudo-homosexual relationships develop between her and Orlando and her and Phoebe.

Troilus and Cressida can be regarded as the play of infidelity: “Infidelity is the natural law of the play's world” (Oates 2015). Set in the Trojan War, Cressida, the fe­male protagonist, has no less a role model than Helen of Troy and just like Helen be­trays her beloved Menelaus, she betrays her beloved Troilus. By contrast to Helen of Troy, however, Cressida is neither married nor a virgin when she betrays Troilus.

Hamlet, has to deal with his mother's infidelity which she practised with her brother-in-law, Hamlet's uncle Claudius. His father's ghost instructs him to kill Claudius for his deeds but Hamlet is preoccupied with his mother's and his own sexuality. Since Freud, it has often been suggested that Hamlet has an Oedipus complex which would turn Hamlet's own sexual desires incestuous, too.

In this Master's thesis I will analyse unconventional depictions of sexuality in Shakespeare's As You Like It, Troilus and Cressida and Hamlet with particular focus on the bard's way of dealing with homosexuality, infidelity and incest. Furthermore, I am going to explore modern responses and reactions to these aspects of these plays. This will allow me to assess the continued relevance today of Shakespeare's depictions of sexuality and to identify similarities and differences between modern attitudes to and depictions of these matters and how they were viewed and depicted in the Elizabethan era.

In order to do so, I will first outline ideas about sexuality in Shakespeare's time using texts of the 16th and 17th century as well as current studies of that time. I will deal with the topics of heteronormativity, the way sexuality could be expressed on stage, ho­mosexuality and the Elizabethan depiction of marriage. In addition to that, I will also examine the topics of pre-marital sex and cuckoldry. Following this, in the main part of my Master's thesis I will set out my reading of the three Shakespearian plays. All of these analyses cover three topics. For As[1] You Like It, these topics will be homosexuality, pseudo-homosexuality and heteronormativity by reference to exemplary relationships that develop throughout the plot. My analysis of Troilus and Cressida takes into account the background of the story around Helen and then goes on to consider the pre-marital sexual relationship between the two main characters and Cressida's final infidelity. My chapter about Hamlet deals mostly with incest and partly with pre-marital sex, too, as the relationships between Gertrude and Claudius, Hamlet and Ophelia and Hamlet and Gertrude will be explored. The chapter following on from my analysis of the plays will have the function of an outlook. It will present our current depictions of sexuality in re­views of each of the three plays. A conclusion will then summarise the most important results of my Master's thesis.

In summary, the Master's thesis in hand seeks to answer the following questions: What were conventional and unconventional depictions of sexuality in Shakespeare's time? How and in how far did Shakespeare break with these conventional depictions of sexuality in the exemplary plays As You Like It, Troilus and Cressida and Hamlet and what do we do with these depictions in the turn of the 21st century?

2. Conventional and Unconventional Depictions of Sexuality in Shakespeare’s Time

This chapter serves as the theoretical foundation of my Master's thesis. Here, I will illu­minate which forms or demonstrations of sexuality corresponded to the norm and which contradicted it. Sexuality, in general, is a significant topic for us today. For example, the queer theory was developed in the 1980s (cf. Degele 2008, 44), and Christopher Street Day has been celebrated annually with ever more participants since the late 1960s and early 1970s (cf. ibid., 47). This shows that the issue has become increasingly relevant and developed into a public discussion, an important social discourse. Therefore, it is now possible to speak of an emerging equality of treatment for other sexualities than heterosexuality and for other gender identities rather than simply male or female.

Although Elizabethans certainly did not know or accept a 'third gender', sexual­ity, including non-heterosexual forms of sexuality, has been an important part of public discourse even in Elizabethan times. In the following, I will examine this topic in more detail.

I will start by outlining early modern perceptions of gender. The Renaissance world is a male-dominated world. Mahler (2009) even goes so far as to say that it has an underlying “one-sex-model” (in: Schabert (ed.) 2009, 314). Femininity is seen as an un­finished pre-stage of masculinity which is said to be the ideal, the ultimate aim (cf. ibid.). This 'one-sex-model' also finds justification in the belief that women actually have the same sexual organ as men, only inverted (cf. Hawkes 2004, 101). That, too, makes womenjust an inferior version of men. Nevertheless, the distinction between wo­men and men is, of course, taken for granted in the early modem period, which results in a completely heteronormative way of thinking. Female inferiority finds its expression in the then accepted social conditions or status of women: women were “virgins, wives and widows” (Eales 1998, 23). This perception strictly excludes pre-marital sex. How­ever, pre-marital sex does of course happen, and not infrequently (cf. Wells 2010, 18). A woman who has had sex before marriage is seen as “a whore” (Matchinske 1998, 86). In fact, women so 'tainted' often have no option other than to actually turn to prostitution: “Germaine Greer suggests that 'more and more women fleeing disgrace in the church courts or actually driven out of town by the parish authorities for 'unlawful pregnancy' were arriving in London every week to swell the ranks of prostitutes'.” (Greer 2007, 96. In: Wells 2010, 21). The status of being a prostitute is definitely morally unacceptable in early modem England. Nevertheless, it should also be noted that it is a status that is defined by reference to men; precisely a subjection to them.

Heteronormativity is also supported in ideas about gender-related behaviour and outward appearance: “The emerging distinctions masculine/male, feminine/female, and their accompanying sexual behaviours, were the foundation of a new binary frame­work.” (Hawkes 2004, 105). The key characteristics of female behaviour in the 16th and 17th century are “chastity, silence, and obedience” (Matchinske 1998, 99). Women should have no sex at all outside marriage, they should only talk when they are asked to and, most importantly, they should obey men, i.e. fathers, brothers, husbands, priests etc., at all times. This is explicitly stated in The Boke of common praier (1559)2: “Ye women, submit youre selfes unto youre owne housbandes as unto the Lorde: for the housbande is the wyves headde, even as Christe is the headde of the Churche.” (Grafton 1559. In: Cummings 2011, 163). This has a direct effect on the acceptability of female sexuality:

Recognizing chaste reputation as integral to women's being and essential to the refigured marriage contract, [the woman] is unable to construct a positive female erotics unless it is externalized - translated into chaste beauty and perceived from the outside by men who will either account it part of the marriage portion or mis-'use' it in 'wanton and lascivious lookes.' This understanding neces­sarily encodes woman as victim or paragon, without agency, without sexuality, and without pleas­ure. (Sowemam 1617. In Matchinske 1998, 110; emphasis: MJ)

Women are reckoned the weaker sex and they are expected to behave as such.

Early modem men, by contrast, are “performing manliness. This effort includefs] the careful shaping of the manly body and behaviour towards suitable deportment through physical exercise, and the cultivation of qualities such as grace and civility.” (Knowles 2010. In: Hattaway (ed.) 2010, 481). One can find evidence of this view of what a 'real' man should be like in Henry Peacham's The Compleat Gentleman (1622):

The old Lord Gray (our English Achilles) when hee was Deputie of Ireland, to inure his sonnes for the war, would usually in the depth of Winter, in frost, snow, raine, and what weather soeuer fell, cause them at midnight to be raised out of their beds, and carried abroad on hunting till the next morning; then perhaps come wet and cold home, hauing for breakfast a browne loafe, and a moul lie Cheese, or (which is ten times worse) a dish of Irish Butter : and in this manner the Spartans and Laconians dieted, and brought vp their children till they came vnto mans estate. (182- 183).

Men should behave in a male way, which means focussing clearly on body and strength and putting male sexuality at the centre of achievement. The goal is to prove maleness and marry a supportive and obedient woman, a show-piece. After all, men's reputation and good standing in society is the most important aim and women are a means to this end: “In his marriage to a good wife, [the man] qualifies for full citizenship within the community. He becomes a good patriarch, a good neighbor, a good Christian, and a goodbusinessman.” (Matchinske 1998, 111).

Thus, any deviation from these socially accepted ways posed a threat to Eliza­bethan society: “there is a sense of urgency and deep unease about women who try to be men.” (Hawkes 2004, 102). This is present for example in HicMvlier Or: TheMan-Wo- man: Being a Medicine to cure the Coltish Disease of the Staggers in the Masculine­Feminines ofour Times, published in 1620:

For since the daies of Adam women were neuer so Masculine; Masculine in their genders and whole generations, from the Mother, to the youngest daughter; Masculine in Number, from one to multitudes; Masculine in Case, euen from the head to the foot; Masculine in Moode, from bold speech, to impudent action; and Masculine in Tense: for (without redresse) they were, are, and will be still most Masculine, most mankinde, and most monstrous. (Anon)

In this extract women are shown to be rebelling against the social order. Up to a point, this might even be what happens: “Numbers of unmarried women and widows expan­ded in the early modem period. Such women [...] were seen to be more susceptible to temptation, especially of the sexual kind.” (Hawkes 2004, 96). Exactly the same is thought about “unwomanly women” (ibid., 103) who “encouraged tendencies to sexual depravity.” (ibid.). Although - or maybe because - such tendencies seem to have exis­ted, men achieved to keep up their superiority: “Damit endet die frühneuzeitliche Ver­handlung der Geschlechterordnung [...] im bis heute 'wirkmächtigen, Männermacht si­chernden Ordnungsphantasma des Patriarchats"' (Mahler 2009. In: Schabert (ed.) 2009, 316). Women who act like men do not only do so by cross-dressing but also through sexual acts by “using dildos” (Hawkes 2004, 103) and they are severely pun­ished for that: “One of them was sentenced to be burned alive, and the other hanged, punishment dictated, not by their sexuality as such but their transvestism and the use of the dildo” (Dollimore 1993, 284. In: Hawkes 2004, 103). The old misogynist and patri­archal order is defended by any and all available means: For example by punishment of those who do not obey, and by celebration of those who do, as in HicMvlier'. “you good women; you that are in the fulnesse of perfection; you that are the crownes of natures worke, the complements of mens excellencies, [...] you that maintaine the world, sup­port mankinde, and give life to societies” (Anon 1620). Even though this is praise for chaste, silent and obedient women, the author cannot but also praise men and their “excellencies”.

However, men in early modern England who do not behave in a typically male way posed a threat to the social order as well. Quite obvious examples of such 'unmanly' men are boy actors who play female characters on stage. In their acting habit they have to be feminine and even act out love and lust felt for men in public. This being so, their acting necessarily has a homoerotic angle. For this reason and because of the need to 'cross-dress', the allegation of homosexual behaviour is often made (cf. Castrop 2009. In: Schabert (ed.) 2009, 109). At this point it has to be added briefly that theatre is not highly-regarded in the Elizabethan era. It is regarded as sinful as it pretends to be what it actually is not:

In Stage Playes for a boy to put on the attyre, the gestures, the passions of a woman; for a meane person to take upon him the title of a Prince with counterfeit porte, and traine, is by outward signes to shewe them selves otherwise then they are, and so within the compass of a lye (Prynne 1633. In: Klein 2009. In: Schabert (ed.) 2009, 44)

Nevertheless, boy actors staging female characters are preferred, as the immorality of women acting on stage is regarded as even worse (cf. Castrop 2009. In: Schabert (ed.) 2009, 109) and this can be viewed as yet another way of oppressing women, coercing them into certain sexual and social positions.

The term 'homosexuality' does not exist in the 16th and 17th century. “It applies a modern concept of sexuality to a time when the concept did not exist.” (Pointner 2003, 70). Thus, other terms are used for it, for example “fornication” (Stubbes 1877, 98. In: Hawkes 2004, 98), as it is called in the Commonwealth Act of 1650 (cf. Hawkes 2004, 99), “sodomy” (ibid., 100) or “[l]echery” (Anon 1616, 83). The terms already hint at the social damnation of homosexuality in the Elizabethan era. The Boke of common praier even mentions the expression of fornication alongside other deadly sins: “Cursed are the unmerciful, the fomicatours, and adulterers, and the covetous persones, the worshippers of ymages, slaunderers, dronkardes, and extorcioners” (Grafton 1559. In: Cummings 2011, 177). However, in fact, “homoerotic encounters between men[ ... had been] toler­ated” (Hawkes 2004, 100) before 1650. Looking at what we know about actual beha­viour in early modem England, we come to the conclusion that “[m]ale-to-male sexual relationships were common, even though later ages have often tried to submerge the fact.” (Wells 2010, 34). There are several indications that even James I had homosexual relationships (cf. ibid., 37). However, Pointner (2003) underlines the important fact that the concept of homosexuality in Shakespeare's time is fundamentally different from the concept as it is understood today. With Hammond (1996, 8) he points out that in Elizabethan times there is “an interest in acts [and not ...] an interest in persons” (in: Pointner 2003, 71) unlike today. Thus, a person is not homosexual but they might behave in a homosexual way. Even the concept of behaving in a homosexual way has a narrower meaning in Elizabethan times than today: It includes only having sex with a person of the same sex. It does not include behaviour that today forms part of the construct of homosexuality. Therefore, Pointner concludes that homosexuality “simply did not exist as a life-long determination. Men, even though they had committed sodomy, were perfectly in the clear again once they re-concentrated their sexual activities on the opposite sex.” (Pointner 2003, 75). This can be considered the mainstream way of dealing with homosexuality in the early modern period. Of course, there are social environments, as for example the Puritan society, that do not tolerate sodomitic behaviour at all even before 1650.

However, “[u]nder the Commonwealth Act, sodomitic practices were for the first time designated as a specific crime.” (Wells 2010, 37). Although this Act comes into be­ing after Shakespeare had already died, we know that sexual acts between men had also not been accepted or acknowledged as normal behaviour before the Act came into force. There is no doubt that a same-sex-relationship in the 16th and 17th century can never be as valid and official as a heterosexual relationship. Furthermore, it has to be added that same-sex-relationships, if spoken about at all, refer in almost all cases to male relation­ships only. Interestingly, texts of the early modern period do so as well as today's stud­ies. A possible explanation for this could be that lesbian relationships are simply not no­ticed, nor are they taken seriously. In the early modem period, women are denied an “autonomous female sexuality” (Hawkes 2004, 101). Thus, there is, to all intents and purposes, no need for women to be sexually active without a man: “the penis is the au­thor of all erotic pleasure” (ibid.). Hence, being gay, or conducting gay acts or relation­ships is marginalised whereas lesbian acts or relationships are treated as if they do not exist at all in the 16th and 17th century.

Marriage, which is only possible between a man and a woman and not between two persons of the same sex, is an institution that helped maintain the marginalised status of homosexuality and the superior status of heterosexuality as the only officially valid form of sexuality. The Boke of common praier sets up the precise order of the mat­rimonial service - and, incidentally, is still in use today. It is clear that this service refers to men who marry women only: “Dearely beloved frendes, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of his congregation, tojoyne together this man and this woman in holy matrimony” (Grafton 1559. In: Cummings 2011, 157). Furthermore, the intention of having children is already included, too: “that they may bothe be fruitefull in procreation of children, also live together so long in godly love and honestie, that they may see their childers children” (ibid., 161). It goes without saying that in the Elizabethan era the question of same sex parents does not even occur. The Boke of common praier also refers to the history of creation to justify heterosexual relationships as the only valid form of sexual relationship before God:

O God whiche by thy mightie power hast made all thinges of naught, which also after other thinges set in ordre, diddest appoinct that out of man [...] woman should take her beginning, and knitting them together, diddest teach that it shoulde never be lawfull to put asonder those whome thou by matrimonie haddest made one (ibid., 162)

It becomes obvious that homosexual marriage is unthinkable in early modem England. Thus, the institution of marriage is both a manifestation of and support for heteronorm­ativity in a patriarchal society.

Additionally, marriage becomes even more important in Renaissance England than it was before (cf. Hawkes 2004, 99). This is evident in contemporary documents which on the one hand celebrate marriage and marital sexual acts as “the possibility of a 'little paradise', a 'kind of heaven on earth'” (Turner 1987, 75. In: Hawkes 2004, 97); and on the other hand condemn every form of sexual intercourse outside of marriage (cf. Hawkes 2004, 99). In relation to the latter issue, State and Church go hand in hand, so that sex between people who are not married to each other is brought before the “Bawdy Courts” (ibid., 98) and legally punishable.

In England, the Commonwealth (Adultery) Act (1650) was expressly aimed at 'suppressing the de­testable sins of incest, adultery and fornication' (Thomas 1978: 257). It laid down the death penalty for adultery and incest, while fornication [...] was punished by three months' imprisonment, (ibid., 99).

The Boke of common praier describes in more detail which degrees of kinship actually count as incest (see “A Table of Kindred and Affinity” in the Appendix). That “[a m]an may not marry his [... bjrothers wife” (Parker 1560. In: Cummings 2011, 686) and “[a wjoman her [... hjusbands brother” (ibid.) is included in this list. Marriage is also for­bidden between mother and son (cf. ibid.), as is any sexual contact between them. These facts will be of importance in chapter 5 of this Master's thesis.

“The most common sexual offence, next to adultery, was 'pre-nuptial fornication'.” (Hawkes 2004, 99). As it is presented in the beginning of this chapter, pre­marital sex is problematic mainly for women as there is the possibility of pregnancy and social exclusion. However, women's disadvantageous position is also revealed in cases of adultery:

Women who expressed their sexuality outside of marriage, especially if they were married, were considered the most socially dangerous individuals. Adulterous women suffered the death sentence under the Commonwealth (Adultery) Act. Men who were unfaithful did not. (ibid.)

Again, the focus of restrictions of sexual behaviour is specifically set on women, impos­ing on them extremely tight limits. A source from the time itself also makes this clear: “Loue which is vnhonest, ends in a thousand sorrowes and trauailes: for many times, if the woman doe not dissemble, play false, and impouersh one; yet doe men become wounded, watched, abhorred, flowted, defamed, and bepilled.” (Anon 1616, 85). There are two notions that we can derive from this: First, women are the ones who “play false”, not men. Second, if they do, “men become [...] defamed”. This leads us to the topic of cuckoldry.

Men are socially punished if their wives had been unfaithful. They are publicly insulted as cuckolds - “[t]he horned ox is frequently described as the cuckold's emblem” (Bruster 1990. In: Studies in English Literature 1990, 201). In The Rich Cab­inet the author provides a contemporary explanation for that: “A cuckold is mocked with homes, because of double iniury: another man lyes with his wife, and his child hath two fathers.” (Anon 1616, 32). Thus, a cuckold is disgraced twice - by his own wife and by the man who 'cuckolded' him. That means a wife's unfaithfulness is notjust a bitter personal experience, but causes public humiliation, too.

In summary, it may be stated that there are very specific notions of what is con­ventional and what is unconventional sexuality in early modem England. Elizabethans live in a heteronormative male-dominated patriarchal society which requires men and women in very particular ways. Women are firmly believed to be the weaker sex, they are only accepted as virgins, wives or widows and they have to be chaste, silent and obedient. Ergo, they are completely dependent on men. Men exemplify their maleness with physical exercise and set a focus on their body and thus also on their sexuality while women are denied their own sexuality. The Renaissance period is the time in which specific “concepts of masculinity and femininity” (Hawkes 2004, 100) come up. Violations of these concepts are seen as threatening. Especially women who behave in a way that is regarded as masculine are punished severely for this behaviour to maintain patriarchal structures and male superiority. The expression of sexuality on stage is diffi­cult, as all female characters are played by boy actors - who do not behave according to their masculinity - so that accusations of homosexual behaviour are quickly made. Same-sex-relationships are not as strictly forbidden before 1650 as we might think today, however, they do certainly not have the same status as heterosexual relationships. This fact is confirmed in the service of matrimony which is valid for men and women only. Heterosexuality is justified legally and biblically; marriage between a man and a woman is holy. Punishments for behaviour that is contrary to the institution of marriage are severe. Pre-marital sex is forbidden just like adultery but women are punished harder for it. If men are betrayed by their wives, however, they are socially embarrassed in public for being cuckolds.

In short, a married, heterosexual, faithful couple that is not in any way kin to one another, epitomises conventional sexuality in early modern England. Nevertheless, Shakespeare shows his audience both male and female homosexuality - of course presented by male actors only - in As You Like It, pre-marital sex as well as infidelity in Troilus and Cressida and incest and hints at pre-marital sex in Hamlet. I will now turn to these three Shakespearian plays to examine how and in how far the bard breaks with these conventional depictions of sexuality.

3. As You Like It - Cross-Dressing and the Question of Homosexual­ity

As You Like It (short: AYL) is a comedy written by Shakespeare in 1599. Rosalind and Orlando, two of the main characters, have fallen in love with each other. They were ban­ished or had to flee from court into a forest where they meet again. However, Orlando does not realise he meets Rosalind because she is cross-dressed. In the end, Rosalind and Orlando marry and live 'happily ever after', a typical ending to a comedy. However, having read the play, there is more to the story than at first appears. Close attention must be paid to all the different relationships. Celia and Rosalind seem to more thanjust 'like' each other and at least to today's reader it seems that Adam is flirting with Orlando while the latter is taking care of him lovingly. When the boy actor playing Rosalind cross-dresses as the male Ganymede and is therefore playing a woman pretending to be a man who is in love with another man and who is, at the same time, the subject of an­other woman's love, confusion about presented sexualities is guaranteed. Gail Hawkes (2004) confirms:

In the plays of Shakespeare, for example, Twelfth Night (1601), The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602) and .tv You Like It (1599), homoerotic as well as heterosexual pleasures were celebrated and encouraged, while much was made of the unstable connections between sex, gender and de­sire. (88)

In what follows, I will examine how Shakespeare deals with these different no­tions of gender and sexuality, following the play's homosexual, pseudo-homosexual and, in the end, heterosexual relationships. The relationship between Celia and Rosalind and that between Ganymede and Orlando will be analysed exemplarily to examine Shakespeare's representation of homosexuality and pseudo-homosexuality. I am focus­sing on these relationships, but it should be noted that there are other (pseudo-)homo- sexual relationships in this play, namely between Adam and Orlando and Ganymede and Phoebe3.

3.1 Homosexuals: Celia & Rosalind

Celia and Rosalind are cousins as their fathers are brothers (cf. Dusinberre (ed.) 2017, 145). It should be noted that a relationship between cousins does not count as incest (cf. Parker 1560. In: Cummings 2011, 686) and that the forms of address, 'cousin' and its short form “coz” (AYL, 1.2, 1), express emotional closeness and “intimacy” (Bevington (ed.) 2017, 246). Even before the audience has ever seen Celia and Rosalind, they are mentioned in a conversation between Charles and Oliver (cf. AYL, 1.1, 100 - 107). Therefore, Shakespeare's audience does not get to know them via a direct appearance on stage. This would have allowed the audience to make up its own minds about them hav­ing regard to their outward appearance, the actors' ways of acting and what they say. In lieu thereof the audience gets to know them by information that is exchanged between others about them. The very first thing we learn about Rosalind and Celia is that they have a very close and deep relationship, so close in fact that other people at court are talking about it. We learn that Rosalind is “the [banished] Duke's daughter” (ibid., 100) and that Celia is “the Duke's daughter” (ibid., 102). That shows the exterior reason for their close relationship. However, in the information that is given about Celia her deep love for Rosalind is immediately included: “the Duke's daughter, her cousin, so loves her” (ibid., 102 - 103). This main clause introduces a consecutive clause that explains the consequences Celia's love for Rosalind would have if the latter had been banished: “that she would have followed her exile or have died to stay behind her.” (ibid., 104 - 105). Celia's love is so deep that there would be severe consequences if she lost Ros­alind, the person she loves. Charles explains that Celia would leave her home forever for Rosalind or even die without her. This foreshadows Celia's actually leaving the court when Rosalind is banished by the Duke (cf. ibid., 1.3, 96 - 102). In the Elizabethan era, lovesickness is believed to be a severe mental illness that leads to madness, physical symptoms like sweating and shivering and could even end in death if one was truly in love. This notion confirms the impression of Celia's deep and honest feelings for Rosalind. Up to that point only Celia's feelings have been portrayed, but it is then made clear that this love is mutual: “never two ladies loved as they do.” (ibid., 106 - 107). Nevertheless, it already appears as though Celia is more engaged in the relationship than Rosalind.

To today's audience Celia and Rosalind's relationship clearly sounds like a solid love attachment that grounds on the two women's deep and wholehearted feelings for each other. However, as I have already pointed out in chapter 2, lesbian relationships are simply not noticed or taken seriously as actual relationships in early modern times. This is why Charles and Oliver can speak so openly about Rosalind and Celia's relationship, and it appears from the fact that Charles and Oliver are talking about it, that Rosalind and Celia carry on their relationship quite openly. There is, however, no doubt that both of them will eventually enter heterosexual marriages one day as this is the only option realistically open to them.

With this impression of and this knowledge about the two women, the audience then gets to know them in person in the second scene of Act One. “ROSALIND and CELIA[ ewter]” (ibid., 1.2, 0.1) together, another symbolic hint at their emotional close­ness. Consistently with the impression one has from Charles and Oliver’s conversation that Celia is more involved in the relationship, she has the first word (cf. ibid., 1). She addresses Rosalind with “sweet my coz” (ibid.) which is a very loving form of address. Rosalind responds to that by addressing her with “Dear Celia” (ibid., 2). Their mutual love for each other becomes visible in their very first words of the play. They talk about Rosalind's sadness caused by her father's banishment (cf. ibid., 5 - 7). When Rosalind tells Celia that she cannot “remember any extraordinary pleasure” (ibid., 6-7) because of it, Celia takes this as proof that Rosalind's feelings for her are not as deep as Celia's are for Rosalind: “Herein I see thou lov'st me not with the full weight that I love thee.” (ibid., 8 - 9). She imagines the situation was the other way around and her uncle had banished her father. She states that, in this case, if “thou had'st been still with me I could have taught my love to take thy father for mine.” (ibid., 10 - 12). Thus, she would not have suffered such sadness but been happy about the fact that she is still with Rosalind. In this statement it becomes clear that Celia loves Rosalind more than her own father, which again shows that the nature of their relationship goes deeper than friendship. Rosalind's answer to this accusation is that she will “rejoice in” (ibid., 16) Celia again, as proof of her love. Celia expresses her deep loyalty to Rosalind, affirming that Rosalind should inherit her father's title after his death, as he has banished Rosalind's father and taken his title (cf. ibid., 17 - 22). She closes her speech by lovingly addressing Rosalind again: “Therefore, my sweet Rose, my dear Rose, be merry.” (ibid., 22 - 23). In doing so, Celia alludes to Rosalind's name meaning “beautiful rose” (Dusinberre (ed.) 2017, 161). The rose is one of the most significant symbols for love. In choosing this name for one of his female protagonists, Shakespeare might not only have followed “his principal source” (ibid., 146), namely “Lodge's Rosalynde” (ibid.). Rosalind’s name is an indication that she - Rosalind - is herself a symbol of love. Later on it becomes clear that she has fallen in love with Orlando and wants to marry him because of her true feelings for him. Nevertheless, in the beginning of the play, she is presented as loving Celia. It is plausible to conclude from this Shakespeare sought to depict homosexual love as being of equal value to heterosexual love although it must be recognised that this is not necessarily the conclusion the Elizabethans would have drawn.

Rosalind's assertion that she “will” (AYL, 1.2, 24) be happy now functions as an affirmation of her love for Celia. In their close relationship the two women also talk about intimate feelings. Thus, Rosalind asks Celia: “what think you of falling in love?” (ibid., 25). Even if they do love each other, it will also be obvious to the two women that at some point they will have to marry men. Therefore, it is not surprising that Ros­alind asks Celia such a question. Celia's answer is, however, remarkable: “Marry, I prithee do, to make sport withal - but love no man in good earnest” (ibid., 26 - 27). “Marry”, here, can either be seen as an expletive - derived from Mary - or as the actual verb, meaning that Celia already knows that she herself has to marry a man but that she will not actually love him. Additionally, she wants to get involved with men only to such an extent that she “may[...j in honour come off again” (ibid., 28 - 29). This means that she does not want to have sex with men. These two aspects can also be interpreted as indications ofher homosexuality.

In the following, Celia and Rosalind talk about the unequal status of women compared to that of men and state that “the good housewife Fortune [...] doth most mis­take in her gifts to women.” (ibid., 31 - 36). At this point, Shakespeare makes use of the Greek mythological image of the blind-folded Fortune “spinning [as a housewife spins] human destinies” (Dusinberre (ed.) 2017, 162). This image ordinarily symbolises the fortune of human beings as ever changing: What goes up must inevitably go down at some point and vice versa. However, here, Shakespeare uses the image differently. He uses it to raise awareness for the consistent unequal status of women, calling Fortune a “good housewife” and therefore obeying misogynist structures of society. Again, it becomes obvious that Rosalind and Celia are very aware of their 'fortune' as early modern women who simply must marry, no matter what their own will is.

The scene continues with Le Beau's announcement of the wrestling that is going to take place exactly where Rosalind and Celia were having their conversation (cf. AYL, 1.2, 107, 110 - 111). The two women decide to watch Charles and his opponent wrestle and this is the occasion on which Rosalind first meets Orlando. She falls in love with him, as she makes clear when she says: “Sir, you have wrestled well and overthrown | More than your enemies.” (ibid., 243 - 244). As the relationship between Orlando and Rosalind is the subject of the next two chapters, the focus should not be set on it now. Instead, it is interesting to examine how Celia reacts to Rosalind's obvious infatuation: She interrupts the conversation of the two lovers immediately by asking Rosalind, “[wjill you go, coz?” (ibid., 244). In this question she includes two pieces of informa­tion with which she wants to claim her 'right' to Rosalind: First, she wants Rosalind to go away with her which would symbolise physical closeness, and second, she addresses her rather intimately with the loving expression “coz” which reveals emotional close­ness. In short, Celia's reaction to Rosalind's heterosexual desire consists of an attempt to maintain Rosalind's close relationship to her both physically and emotionally.

This closeness is mentioned afresh when Orlando asks Le Beau about the two women and Le Beau confirms that their “loves | Are dearer than the natural bond of sis­ters.” (ibid., 264 - 265). This utterance reminds the audience of Charles' statement in the first scene of the play (see above) and is a reminder of the women's openly led and very close relationship that goes beyond their status of cousins.

However, Rosalind has fallen in love with Orlando. Yet she is also still with Celia whom she loves. In Act One, scene 3, a similar situation comes up as Rosalind is now in a bad mood as she is in love but does not think that Orlando is in love with her. Celia realises that and wants her to stop feeling that way. Thus, she tells her to “[h]em them [her feelings, MJ] away” (ibid., 1.3, 18) and to “wrestle with [her] affections” (ibid., 20). When Rosalind tells her that she cannot do that, Celia warns her: “You will try in time in despite of a fall.” (ibid., 23 - 24). Here, Shakespeare uses a wrestling metaphor to point out that she will “fall pregnant” (Dusinberre (ed.) 2017, 179) because of her love, which cannot happen to her if she stays with Celia instead. Celia realises that Rosalind is going to live a 'normal' heteronormative and heterosexual life, some­thing which, as I have stated before, is inevitable. Thus, she goes on by asking Rosalind whether she is actually “strongfly]” (AYL, 1.3, 26) in love “with old Sir Rowland's youngest son” (ibid., 26 - 27). She proves that she truly loves Rosalind, as she then as­sures her that she will love Orlando “for [Rosalind's] sake.” (ibid., 33). Celia loves Ros­alind so much that she is willing to love, for Rosalind's sake, the man Rosalind is in love with. Nonetheless, after what the audience has learned about the depth and closeness of Rosalind and Celia's relationship, it seems a bit inauthentic for Celia to support Ros­alind in her love for Orlando. In Bawdy and Soul Pointner (2003) offers a conciliable approach to meet this seeming inauthenticity. Pointner states that studies on Shakespeare which focus on homosexuality are often “one-dimensional[...]” (35) and “that both readings, platonising and homosexual, are invited by the text” (ibid.). Al­though Pointner refers to Shakespeare's sonnets, I think this fact is true for his plays, as well. Thus, when Celia supports Rosalind, the audience can interpret this as being self­lessly loving, as there is no doubt that Celia and Rosalind's relationship cannot last for their lifetime. In the following, it becomes clear that, whilst it is not easy for Celia, she nonetheless supports Rosalind in her love for Orlando. Additionally, we can draw a con­nection to Pointner (2003) who argues that homosexual acts lose significance as soon as the individuals turn to persons of their opposite sex (cf. 75; see chapter 2). Thus, Ros­alind's focus on Orlando is simply her turning towards a socially acceptable, hetero­normative lifestyle that does not interfere with her homoerotic relationship with Celia. As I have stated before, for an Elizabethan audience it is absolutely clear that she would turn to a man at some point which is why the relationship of the two women is not scan­dalous. Rosalind can (and should) fall in love with a man but that does not mean that her homosexual relationship loses any authenticity. Nonetheless, Celia appears to be best understood as a homosexual character as Valerie Rohy (2011) confirms: “I wanted to be like witty, boyish Rosalind, but in liking girls, I was more like Celia, who, after all, likes Rosalind long after her fickle friend starts liking a likely young man.” (in: Menon (ed.) 2011, 55).

Celia's father then enters to tell Rosalind that she is banished “from our court” (AYL, 1.3, 39) and this leads to another proof of Celia's true feelings for Rosalind: Al­though she knows that Rosalind is now in love with a man, there is no doubt for her that she loves Rosalind so much that she will flee from the court, and thus her home, with her (cf. ibid., 96 - 100). Celia discusses Rosalind's banishment with her father, Duke Frederick, and thus stands up to the man whom she is subject to. She tells her father how close she is to Rosalind: “We still have slept together, | Rose at an instant, learned, played, ate together, | And wheresoe'er we went. Like Juno's swans, | Still we went coupled and inseparable.” (ibi., 70 - 73). This statement is very ambiguous, taking into account both, Rosalind and Celia growing up together and their current relationship. However, Celia calls herself and Rosalind “coupled and inseparable”, which again hints at their relationship being closer than just that of two relatives. Moreover, she connects the goddess Juno with the sacred animal of the goddess Venus (cf. Dusinberre (ed.) 2017, 183). Juno is “the goddess of marriage and women” (BBC 2018) and Venus is the “goddess of love and beauty” (Hughes 2017) which directly links women with one of the most popular and explicit symbols for true love. Additionally, swan couples themselves are known for their love and faithfulness towards their partners and Celia describes her partnership with Rosalind as inseparable as the swan couples. Furthermore, Celia says that she “know[sj” (AYL, 1.3, 69) Rosalind. This verb has the connotative meaning of having had sex in Shakespeare's time (cf. Bevington (ed.) 2017, 166). Shakespeare thus works with puns and allusions that might have not been understood by all members of his audience but will have been understood by some. However, generally speaking, using puns to convey a sexual connotation is a technique that he frequently uses (cf. Pointner 2003, 55).

Just as Charles points out in the very first scene of the play, Celia stresses that she “cannot live out of her company” (AYL, 1.3, 83) so that she equates banishing Ros­alind with banishing her (cf., ibid., 82). When Rosalind doubts this equation, Celia again responds by claiming Rosalind that does not love her as she loves Rosalind: “Ros­alind lacks then the love | Which teacheth thee that thou and I am one.” (ibid., 93 - 94). Once again, her strategy works and Rosalind stops questioning Celia's point of view. She simply asks, “whither shall we go?” (ibid., 103), as to show Celia that she agrees with her and to not raise doubts about her love for Celia.

In what follows, the two women decide to go into “the Forest of Arden” (ibid., 104). However, they are afraid that “thieves” (ibid., 107) might pose a threat to them there. This is why Rosalind gets the idea to cross-dress in “all points like a man” (ibid., 113) and invents a fake identity as “Ganymede” (ibid., 122), which is a character of the Greek mythology. However, the background of the name and its underlying meaning for Shakespeare's play will be explained in 3.2. Celia, too, takes on a new identity as “Ali­ena” (125). Her final words in this scene are striking: “Now go we in content | To liberty and not to banishment.” (ibid., 134 - 135). Juliet Dusinberre (ed.) notes that “content” is “a keynote word[...], juxtaposed in the Forest of Arden with pleasure and liking” (2017, 188). Though she leaves her home, it feels like moving towards freedom for Celia as she goes to live with Rosalind. This strengthens what she has said earlier when she pointed out that it is most important for her to be with Rosalind above everything else (cf.HFL, 1.2,9-12).

At this point, it should be added that Rosalind and Celia, in their fake identities, now pretend to be brother and sister. This being so, any sexual relationship between them at this stage might be regarded as incestuous (cf. Parker 1560. In: Cummings 2011, 686). With Rosalind's cross-dressing, which would change the women's relation­ship into a heterosexual one, Shakespeare prepares their 'break-up'.

The next scene which is of importance when it comes to examining Celia and Rosalind's homoerotic relationship is Act Three, scene two. In this scene, the bard de­scribes how Orlando attaches poems about Rosalind to trees and Rosalind and Celia find them. When they meet to talk about the poems, Celia has already recognised their author whereas Rosalind does not know (cf. AYL, III.2, 174- 178). Rosalind asks Celia: “Is it a man?” (ibid., 175) which shows that she is surprised by the thought that a man could be in love with her and writing love poetry dedicated to her. However, Celia does not tell Rosalind who it is at first, but comments on the situation by exclaiming: “O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and after that out of all hooping!” (ibid., 186 - 188). For today's audience she seems to be highly enthusiastic, however, Dusinberre (ed.) notes that “[t]he word wonderful is stronger than in modern English, involving something almost miraculous” (2017, 250). Thus, it becomes obvious that Celia is in fact wondering how it can be that they left Or­lando behind at court and now find his poetry in the forest. If this expression is now ex­amined against the background of the order-disorder-antithesis, Celia's wondering can even be seen as exploring a superstitious scandal: Wonders and miracles as they derive from witchcraft are seen as unnatural and, therefore, causing disorder in Shakespeare's time. Ironically, this 'twist of fate' is what leads towards the play's 'orderly' ending. Nev­ertheless, for Celia it means a disruption of what she wants, imagines and feels. The word “hooping” in her exclamation is also ambiguous as it can mean “cheering” (ibid.) as well as “jeering” (ibid.). One could interpret that, with such ambiguity, Celia is able to cover her true feelings for Rosalind without having to lie.

When Celia finally tells Rosalind that “[i]t is young Orlando” (AYL, III.2, 205) who has written the poems, she includes another metaphor in a relative clause to tell her whom she means exactly: “that tripped up [...] your heart [...] in an instant” (ibid., 205 - 206). Again, Shakespeare uses a wrestling metaphor to convey a sexual meaning, as fighting and falling are metaphors for orgasm and pregnancy. At this point though, the metaphor is more intense as it is Rosalind's “heart” that is tripped up which underlines her true infatuation. However, by making use of the wrestling metaphor, the bard also points out the significance for Rosalind's sexuality that comes with this amorousness.

This amorousness and Rosalind's actual femininity - although she is cross­dressed in this scene - are underlined as Rosalind impatiently interrupts Celia again and again asking her more and more questions about Orlando (cf. ibid., 212 - 244). Here, Shakespeare has the boy actor explicitly remind the audience of the character's feminin­ity: “Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.” (ibid., 242 - 243), which will probably have resulted in great laughter (cf. Mahler 2009. In: Schabert (ed.) 2009, 315). Additionally, Rosalind's behaviour reminds one very much of Juliet's beha­viour in Act Two, scene five of Romeo and Juliet - which can, from today's perspective, be seen as a symbol for true infatuation. Celia reacts according to her promise of Act One, scene three, and does not manipulate Rosalind in any way but simply tells her what she knows about Orlando (cf. AYL, III.2, 226 - 228; 233 - 234; 238). Then Or­lando enters the stage and Rosalind and Celia listen to a conversation between him and Jaques (cf. ibid., 246 - 284), before Rosalind talks to Orlando herself (cf. ibid., 288 - 416). In their whole conversation Celia interrupts them not once. By doing so she sup­ports Rosalind in her love and does not interfere in any way. In the end Rosalind asks her: “Come, sister, will you go?” (ibid., 416-417) and Celia holds up their cover iden­tities while Rosalind has called her “sister”, underlining in front of Orlando that a rela­tionship between them is absolutely impossible.

Nevertheless, in Celia and Rosalind's next scene they wait for Orlando who does not show up as arranged and Celia immediately takes this opportunity to talk badly about him. She tells Rosalind that she has “[a]s good cause as one would desire” (ibid., III.4, 5) to “weep” (ibid.), stressing that Orlando hurt Rosalind's feelings. Furthermore, she argues that “certainly there is no truth in him” (ibid., 19) and that “he is not in [love]” (ibid., 25) with Rosalind. In a longer statement she ironically calls him “brave” (ibid., 36):

[...]


1 In the following referred to astiTZ, IV. 1, 113- 114.

2 There are three versions of The Boke of common praier'. 1549, 1559 and 1662 (cf. Cummings 2011, iii). In this Master's thesis the second version will be cited as it is the version that was valid during Shakespeare's lifetime.

3 Shakespeare presents another apparently homosexual relationship between Patroclus and Achilles in Troilus and Cressida (cf. e.g. TC, V.l, 15 - 17; cf. Sinfield 2011. In: Menon (ed.) 2011, 379). However, the focus of my analysis regarding this play will be pre-marital sex and infidelity.

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Details

Title
Unconventional Depictions of Sexuality in Shakespeare's Works
Subtitle
Interchanged Sexes, Infidelity and Incest in "As You Like It", "Troilus and Cressida" and "Hamlet"
College
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Anglophone Studies)
Grade
1,0
Author
Year
2019
Pages
76
Catalog Number
V1236064
ISBN (eBook)
9783346656742
ISBN (Book)
9783346656759
Language
English
Keywords
William Shakespeare, Sexuality, Gender, Crossdressing, Incest, Infidelity, Troilus and Cressida, Hamlet, As You Like It, Oedipus Complex, Literature, Literary Studies, Conventional, Unconventional, Homosexuality, Heteronormativity, Shakespeare Reviews
Quote paper
Marie Sophie Jendrusch (Author), 2019, Unconventional Depictions of Sexuality in Shakespeare's Works, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1236064

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