Horror, Homosexuality, and Homiciphilia in McKellen's Richard III and Jarman's Edward II

By Friedman, Michael D. | Shakespeare Bulletin, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Horror, Homosexuality, and Homiciphilia in McKellen's Richard III and Jarman's Edward II


Friedman, Michael D., Shakespeare Bulletin


In his article "Cinema and the Kingdom of Death: Loncraine's Richard III," Peter S. Donaldson observes the director's repeated conflation of sexuality and mortality:

   Loncraine's handling of the voyeuristic conventions of filmic
   sexuality ... is always complicated by our being able to read in
   them the signs of Richard's particular obsession with death.... The
   scene of the murder of Rivers at the moment of ejaculation during
   fellation, followed by a cut to a child's train and then to a steam
   engine entering a tunnel, also enacts such a double displacement,
   whereby screen voyeurism is refrained as necrophiha. (254n)

While it is legitimate to employ the term "necrophilia" to refer to "Richard's particular obsession with death," Donaldson elsewhere uses a form of the word in its more commonly understood denotation: "sexual attraction to, or intercourse with, dead bodies" (OED). Recalling a particularly macabre moment from Richard Eyre's 1990 stage version, which first transported the action to an imaginary Fascist England of the 1930s, Donaldson writes,

   The National Theatre production from which the film derives even
   contained explicitly necrophiliac scenes: after Hastings's death
   his head was brought to Richard in a fire bucket. Alone on the huge
   stage, he savored the moment, glanced about (no one there; only
   us), and reached lovingly into the bucket in a kind of erotic
   ecstasy. (252)

Although this episode in Eyre's production clearly exhibits Richard's necrophilia, no such scene appears in Loncraine's film (1995), which never brings Richard into direct physical contact with the corpses of any of his victims. In the film, Ian McKellen as Richard experiences erotic arousal, not from the mere contemplation of death or from touching dead bodies, but from the thought of having caused those deaths himself. (1) To describe the sexual pleasure that McKellen's Richard appears to derive from homicide, I have coined the term "homiciphilia."

Since Richard's homiciphilia may be fed only by murder, the film brands Richard's erotic desire as an evil perversion, and the king's ultimate defeat by the virtuous Richmond, whose licit heterosexual orientation is stressed, therefore represents the triumph of married sexuality over depraved sexual deviance. This conservative, even reactionary treatment of deviant sexuality seems startling in a film based on a screenplay by, and starring, Ian McKellen, one of the most prominent openly gay actors working in modern cinema. Such a paradox appears even more puzzling when one considers that Richard III also occasionally hints at Richard's homosexual attraction to his henchman Tyrell and contains images that evoke the gay bathhouses associated with early outbreaks of AIDS. By combining these dual markers of Richard's/McKellen's transgressive sexuality, the film leaves itself dangerously vulnerable to a reading, characteristic of the backlash against homosexuality in the late 1980s and 1990s, whereby gay men are demonized for deriving sexual pleasure from passing along a deadly disease to their partners, and through them, to the rest of society.

In its paradoxical treatment of homosexuality, McKellen's movie resembles the classic Hollywood horror films of the 1930s, particularly those directed by homosexual filmmaker James Whale during the same decade in which the action of Richard III is set: Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). As Harry M. Benshoff illustrates in Monsters in the Closet, "the figure of the monster throughout the history of the English-language horror film can in some way be understood as a metaphoric construct standing in for the figure of the homosexual" (4). Shakespeare's depiction of Richard makes him an ideal candidate to star in a horror film because he is already a monster: not only an "individual with a gross congenital malformation" (OED 3a), but also a "person of repulsively unnatural character . …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Horror, Homosexuality, and Homiciphilia in McKellen's Richard III and Jarman's Edward II
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.