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Last Week, I Asked: In Shakespeare's Plays, Are...
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Last
week, I asked: In Shakespeare’s plays, are there any gays (in the
contemporary "Queer Eye" sense of the word)? Several readers
nominated a foppish courtier, whose actions offstage are described onstage
with contempt by the virile Harry Hotspur in the third scene of the first act of Henry IV, Part
I: 

 

My liege, I did deny no prisoners.
But I remember, when the fight was done,
When I was dry with rage and extreme toil,
Breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword,
Came there a certain lord, neat, and trimly dress’d,
Fresh as a bridegroom; and his chin new reap’d
Show’d like a stubble-land at harvest-home;
He was perfumed like a milliner;
And ‘twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet-box, which ever and anon
He gave his nose and took’t away again;
Who therewith angry, when it next came there,
Took it in snuff; and still he smiled and talk’d,
And as the soldiers bore dead bodies by,
He call’d them untaught knaves, unmannerly,
To bring a slovenly unhandsome corse
Betwixt the wind and his nobility.
With many holiday and lady terms
He question’d me; amongst the rest, demanded
My prisoners in your majesty’s behalf.
I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold,
To be so pester’d with a popinjay,
Out of my grief and my impatience,
Answer’d neglectingly I know not what,
He should or he should not; for he made me mad
To see him shine so brisk and smell so sweet
And talk so like a waiting-gentlewoman
Of guns and drums and wounds,–God save the mark!–
And telling me the sovereign’st thing on earth
Was parmaceti for an inward bruise;
And that it was great pity, so it was,
This villanous salt-petre should be digg’d
Out of the bowels of the harmless earth,
Which many a good tall fellow had destroy’d
So cowardly; and but for these vile guns,
He would himself have been a soldier.
This bald unjointed chat of his, my lord,
I answer’d indirectly, as I said…

 

The
difficulty, especially for us in the 21st Century when traditional class
roles have worn away, is to distinguish between the effeminate
and the effete. Aristocracy
had a tendency toward effeteness (think of Bertie Wooster or the
Scarlett Pimpernel’s foppish public facade), which wasn’t necessarily
the same thing as effeminacy. Or maybe it was. It’s hard to be clear on
this. One reader wrote:

 

"Another gayish title character is Richard II, the poet-king. But then, half of Shakespeare’s royal characters were probably on the verge of this sort of thing. Basically, when you write about aristocrats, who do not have to do anything to earn a living, who have youth and plenty of money, and who hang around with people like themselves, you are pretty close to the affluent, unmarried, urban world that is producing the metrosexual today. I mean, what was a European king or noble supposed to do? He could spend his life hacking up his fellow nobles in wars or succession intrigues, or he could hang around the palace contemplating his own navel (or someone else’s navel). Boredom and leisure explain a lot.
But I definitely think you are on to something when recalling the old perspective of regarding homosexuality as a behavior, rather than a hard-wired category."

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)