William Shakespeare: to be continued

by Andrea di Carlo

Picture by UberAura

In the light of Shakespeare’s celebrations this year, it is opportune to review his background because the Romantic incertitude surrounding his life has given rise to a real legend.

By all means it is known that he was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, the son of a glove-maker and later mayor of the town.
This is common knowledge, but his family history constitutes a mystery: at a time of religious strife, nobody has been able to establish whether he was a Protestant (and therefore a member of the Elizabethan Church) or a Roman Catholic.

This very incertitude is mirrored in one of the Bard’s most famous works,Hamlet. The Ghost seeking revenge for his demise is clearly a reminder of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory (the souls cannot rest unless the faithful perform good works on their behalf), but, at the same time, the eponymous protagonist is a student at Wittenberg, the town where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses against indulgences. Furthermore, the young man shows melancholic traits, the common attitude of the Protestant mind.

Not only has religion played a significant role in pinpointing Shakespeare’s biography; scholars have also dug into his own sexual orientation: Wells (Shakespeare, Sex, and Love, 2012), Menon (Shakesqueer: A Complete Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare, 2011) and Calimani (Shakespeare: i sonetti della menzogna, 2009) have asked themselves whether the author was a homosexual, due to diverse hints at homosexuality in his works.

Wells discusses sexuality in broader terms, both in his heterosexual and in his homosexual developments in Shakespeare’s works, especially in the Sonnets. On the other hand Menon programmatically pursuits a queer interpretation of the Bard: not only is he interested in the Sonnets, but he also investigates all the Shakespearean corpus to prove how destabilising and nonconformist the playwright has been able to be.

Even in Italy queer and gender studies have proved to be reliable tools of literary investigation; it is in this light that Dario Calimani set out to assess the Sonnets by relying on Eco’s theory of openness (The Open Work, 1989).
Is the lyrical I so easy to define and capture? Is he in love with a man or a woman? Who are the fair youth and the rival poet? Who is the dedicatee of the Sonnets?
Calimani raises these questions, but his answers are not final: it is up to us to make up our own minds.

Originally published at uberaura.wix.com.

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