Where Western Literature Strays into a Gay Area; A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition. by Gregory Woods (Yale , Pounds 24.95). Reviewed by Richard Edmonds

The Birmingham Post (England), April 4, 1998 | Go to article overview

Where Western Literature Strays into a Gay Area; A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition. by Gregory Woods (Yale , Pounds 24.95). Reviewed by Richard Edmonds


Was Shakespeare gay? Can we now accept that the boy from Stratford pursued the Earl of Southampton (as well as Anne Hathaway) and does it really matter?

Hesketh Pearson argued that "Homosexualists have done their best to annexe the Bard as an advertisement for their own cause."

Woods, on the other hand, regards the man he calls "a national institution" as a writer who is expected to serve the turn of countless vested interests.

In this context and considering the number of productions staged at Stratford, Gregory Woods is excellent.

He analyses The Merchant of Venice and other plays very effectively, perceiving Antonio, for example, in The Merchant as a homophobic homosexual (an interesting twist) while suggesting that Shakespearean comedy, "can hover on the brink of polymorphous perversity".

The sonnets in this book are seen as the key gay text in English literature, although not the first - Chaucer's Pardoner gets that particular award.

Woods trashes the writings of Oscar Wilde which are seen as second rate and tell us little about his sexuality while questioning whether Wilde was gay or bisexual (and I would subscribe to the second definition myself).

And are there double-entendres in Jane Austen that most sixth form teachers of Eng Lit may well have overlooked?

Take a glance at Mansfield Park , for example, at the point where Mary Crawford speaks of being surrounded by Admirals:

"Of Rears and Vices, I saw enough. …

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