Shakespeare in the 21st Century
Discomfort with the subject of homosexuality in literature has restricted and diminished the interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays in the past. And while this resistance has not entirely disappeared, the time has never been more propitious for the realization of gay themes in the performance and study of Shakespeare. As a new generation of GLBT people moves into positions of influence in the academy and in the arts, they will have the power to claim Shakespeare, proudly and without reservation. Shakespeare in the 21st century has the potential to be transformed by the GLBT studies movement, invigorating scholarship as well as infusing new life into theatrical, academic, and cinematic interpretations of many of his most celebrated plays.
By portraying the beautiful aspects of same-sex love as well as the bittersweet qualities resulting from the search for self-understanding in response to social disapproval, Shakespeare hinted at the possibility of living honestly by rebelling against social constraints. It is deception, after all—and often self-deception—that brings down most of Shakespeare’s greatest heroes, while equilibrium is restored only when the characters are true to themselves.
David LaFontaine, professor of English at Massasoit Community College in Canton, Massachusetts, is currently working on a book on gay themes in literature.