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‘Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare’

‘Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare’

Author: Kestryl Cael Lowrey

March 24, 2011

There’s no shortage of potentially queer content in the Shakespearean canon: cross-dressing, fairies, illicit desire and incomprehensible families. It’s surprising that more queer theorists have not pursued Shakespeare’s queer possibilities, leaving him to the Elizabethan scholars and historians.

A new anthology, Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare (Duke University Press) rectifies this gap and steps beyond the most obvious connections between the Bard and queer theory.

Editor Madhavi Menon has compiled a diverse collection of essays from some of the 21st century’s most exciting queer theorists, excavating all that is odd, eccentric and unexpected in Shakespeare’s body of work.

One of the anthology’s strength’s is its comprehensive approach. Shakesqueer covers the entire Shakespearean canon, highlighting the queer resonances of each play, sonnet, and poem.  Altogether, the forty-eight essays address forty-six different Shakespearean texts, and even the “lost” texts Love’s Labor Won and Cardenio get fair play.  Noting how Shakespeare’s works return to themes of identity, language, desire, and temporality, the essays reveal that Shakespeare and queer theory may have more in common than we ever suspected.

There’s something for every queer scholar and Bard-lover in the anthology; from bears in Henry VIII to eunuchs in Antony and Cleopatra, from the death drive in Hamlet to precariously heterosexual marriages in All’s Well that Ends Well, the contributing authors chart Shakespeare’s varied engagements with queerness, putting pressure on assumptions that Shakespeare has nothing to offer to contemporary queer theory.

A fundamental aspect of Menon’s approach to Shakesqueer involves divorcing queerness from an assumption of homosexual or proto-homosexual embodiments.  Menon argues that queer theory’s attention to Shakespeare has been limited because most genealogies tie queerness to the institutionalization of homosexuality in 1800, long after Shakespeare’s death in 1616.  This construction of historical periods leads many queer theorists to disregard Shakespeare’s potential importance to queer theory—to the detriment of both queer and Shakespearean scholarship.

Shakesqueer proposes that we can approach Shakespeare as a queer theorist.  The assorted essays assert that Shakespeare has as much to offer queer theory as queer theory can contribute to understanding and deconstructing the Bard’s texts.  This book belongs on every bookish queer’s shelf, right where the leather-bound Complete Works of William Shakespeare butts up against Butler and Foucault.
A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare
Edited by Madhavi Menon, Michele Aina Barale, Jonathan Goldberg
Duke University Press
Paperback, 9780822348450, 494pp.
February 2011

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