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15 March 2009 @ 03:03 am
Handsome and Glamorous  
It's official now: only the really good-looking men are bisexual.

That’s the gist of a press release about a recently discovered painting that some scholars claim is a portrait of William Shakespeare. From The New York Times of March 10: " 'This Shakespeare is handsome and glamorous, so how does this change the way we think about him?' the handout reads. 'And do the painting and provenance tell us more about his sexuality, and possibly about the person to whom the sonnets are addressed?' "

As the article in the Times explained:

"the [Shakespeare Birthplace] 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. Until now, that suggestion has hinged mostly on dedications to the Earl of Southampton that Shakespeare wrote with some of his best-loved poems and some of the sensual passages in his poems and plays, particularly his sonnets, most of which, the London scholars said, are centered on expressions of love and desire for men, not women."

Wow! All this time, ever since I first learned about the "fair" young man and "dark lady" of the sonnets, I had simply enjoyed the extra dimensions of meaning these personae gave to my reading. It wasn't really a new interpretation of the words themselves, just something interesting to bear in mind when brooding over "Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame / Is lust in action" or "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"

Part of the pleasure of this kind of speculation is that it's necessarily vague. The young man and dark lady may or may not have been "real," and Shakespeare may or may not have had "sexual relationships" with them. But the possibilities were so much greater because we couldn't know for sure. All we could do was imagine. If I had any visual image of the author it was probably that standard black-and-white engraving we all see in textbooks. That bland face certainly isn't going to set the world on fire. Then there's the "Chandos portrait," named for its first documented owner. Whoever that's a picture of, at least it looks like a writer. Somewhat scruffy, with a high forehead, receding hairline with hair too long in back (to compensate?), just like Detective Andy Sipowicz as played by Dennis Franz on NYPD Blue. That little gold earring adds a welcome rakish touch.

Of course, the sonnets themselves give us some hints, although we should be wary of taking anything a writer says of himself at face value.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

(Sonnet 73)

Shakespeare died at 52, not so unusual in his time as in ours, and he probably didn't look like a miraculously preserved, Botoxed thirty-something when he passed. Still, let's not forgot this is, on some level, a love poem, a seduction. Is there a part of the author that's winking at his readers, letting us in on the way he's manipulating the sympathies of the innocent young man to whom the maudlin message is addressed?

But it honestly never occurred to me that, of course, Shakespeare couldn't have been bisexual, or even sexual at all, if he wasn't handsome or glamorous enough.

It makes me think, as it probably made everybody who read it think, of the so very different way writers are viewed now. In a debate a while ago on the "Dear Author" blog, there were some comments as to how it's better not to see a photo or know anything about an author apart from the works themselves. But good luck with that in today's publishing world. Writers who are published by a major publisher rarely have the option of not providing a photo. We are practically required to present ourselves as "handsome and glamorous." During a telephone seminar I took on self-promotion for writers (I know, I know) the only thing it turned out I was doing "right" was the headshot at the top of my website.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, always the voice of reason, explains in an opinion piece (New York Times, Editorial Notebook, March 11):

"The perennial search for a portrait of Shakespeare is really a search for an image that justifies our idea of Shakespeare, our idea of writing. We somehow want the young Shakespeare to look like Joseph Fiennes, fiery and slashing. But what if he looked like Ricky Gervais? Would the plays mean less to us? …

"From a canon as rich as his, and a documentary record as meager as his, you can infer almost anything. When it comes to privacy, Shakespeare out-Salingers Salinger and out-Pynchons Pynchon. Go looking for the man, and you will find only the person doing the looking."
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on March 15th, 2009 07:26 am (UTC)
Tim Curry was in a bio of Shakespear, oh in the mid 70's, and he just looked like he would jump anything that moved slower than him, he just oozed with it.
(Deleted comment)
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on March 15th, 2009 10:00 am (UTC)
he is a dirty dirty boy...
ann_amalieann_amalie on March 15th, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
I'm giving myself away here as a senior citizen, but I saw Tim Curry in the London stage production of The Rocky Horror Show--that is, long before it was a Picture show--and I think I can date my "interest" in dirty, sexy, bisexual men to that moment...
martianmooncrabmartianmooncrab on March 15th, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
I saw him in the film version first, and he just oozed the fact that he was very omni-sexual. I made a point of trying to see him in anything else, plus I have his albums too. I think he is *hawt* as Darkness in Legend. He has one of those Voices.
Artaxastraartaxastra on March 15th, 2009 12:56 pm (UTC)
It's a gorgeous portrait, and I think it does make people imagine more clearly a less stuffy and textbook Shakespeare. And sure, all the good looking men are bi! I'm cool with that! *g*
ann_amalieann_amalie on March 15th, 2009 11:01 pm (UTC)
No serious argument here, either! ;)

Edited at 2009-03-15 11:01 pm (UTC)
In Different Hues: I'm not a lesbian I just help out when tindifferenthues on March 15th, 2009 09:15 pm (UTC)
Funny, that's what I thought when I saw the new portrait too . . .. someone should do a study about why this is.

Perhaps we should all alert American Institute of Bisexuality (AIB) we have a really cool bi-positive research project for them to fund?
ann_amalieann_amalie on March 15th, 2009 11:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, and I'd like to apply for a seat on the panel that judges the candidates for their handsomeness and glamour. :)
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ann_amalieann_amalie on March 15th, 2009 11:07 pm (UTC)
Well, yeah, that was the serious side of my post.

I don't actually think the new picture is of Shakespeare anyway, but the point is more about our perceptions and expectations.

It's fun to joke about it--and deep down, don't we sort of believe it, about all the beautiful people being bi?--but we have to be aware of the absurdity of the idea, too.
Gaedhal: GaelPoptart (Gaedhal)gaedhal on March 16th, 2009 05:52 am (UTC)
Okay, I have to chime in that I met Tim Curry in the fall
of 1978 when he was doing his "Read My Lips" tour.

Yes, he did/does "ooze" sexuality.

Even if he was about an inch shorter than me, at 5 ft. 7!

I would give anything to see this Shakespeare series. I
can picture him in it perfectly.

ann_amalieann_amalie on March 16th, 2009 06:19 am (UTC)
Heh! When I saw him in the Rocky Horror Show, he was wearing fishnet tights with a hole in them and strutting down the runway of the stage. I swear he read every filthy thought in my mind, and winked at me.

btw, I'm 5 foot 2, so almost any man is "tall" to me. ;)