"Gay comparisons apart": Shakespeare portrait prompts nonsense
Tue Mar 10 2009
Here are the facts: A fellow named Cobbe with a handsome Jacobean portrait in his family collection has had several experts evaluate it, and now he's pleased as punch, because it might well be the only portrait of Shakespeare painted while the duffer was alive. Grand. Strikes me as dashed unlikely, but bully for the Cobbes and for the Shakespeare Birthday Trust, which got to announce the news. What really gets me baring my bodkin, though, is this (after the jump):
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"In a handout for reporters, the trust said the portrait might open a new era in Shakespeare scholarship, giving fresh momentum, among other things, to generations of speculation as to whether the playwright, a married man with three children, was bisexual. [...] 'This Shakespeare is handsome and glamorous, so how does this change the way we think about him?' the handout said. 'And do the painting and provenance tell us more about his sexuality, and possibly about the person to whom the sonnets are addressed?'"
Now, that's just insane. It's also offensive (straight people can be glamorous too, dang it!) and historically inane (portraits of the time were notoriously flattering, so no one should be in a flutter over beautified features). Would anybody not look gay in blush and a lacy ruff? And why, oh why, does this nonsense get lumped in under "Shakespeare scholarship"? It is possible to look at his sonnets or at the tender same-sex friendships in his plays and to have a little wonder about Shakespeare's actual desires. That's fair. But nutty comments from the trust—like, "It is the face of a good listener"—are not just foolishly speculative, but also continue the nasty habit of obsessing over the Bard as a man and not as a writer. The Birthday Trust, it's worth noting, runs many of the sugarcoated, tourist-oriented properties in Stratford-upon-Avon. No wonder they want to encourage such drippy sentimentalizing and tabloid interest. There's a guinea in it for them.