LGBTheater – Rainbow curtain stories #2: All the Bard’s men

We didn’t even know it was possible, but now it happened: we finally met someone who didn’t like Shakespeare in Love. Someone who thought the Weinstein case was about his brother Bob for directing such garbage: a pile of cliches, uninteresting characters, and a whole bunch of Spanish sit-com ex machinas. Someone who tried to stop us from writing this article.

So why are we talking about it anyway? Shakespeare in Love tells about the creation of Romeo and Juliet: our dear William must write and direct the famous tragedy he chooses a young actor for, who, we will find out, is a girl dressed as a man. Let’s not forget it was forbidden, at the time, for a woman to play on stage. The movie narrates about the Bard by using a device he himself utilizes in The Merchant of Venice: the character (Portia) dressed as its opposite sex.

So, the worm of doubt starts shaking: did Shakespeare, the movie one, fall in love with his actress when he finds out she’s a woman or before, during the audition? We know the original Shakespeare to be married, but many of his sonnets are directed at a male figure, such as the notorious Sonnet 18 (Shall I compare thee to a Summers day), furthermore appearing in the movie.

Not everyone agrees this is sufficient proof for an outing. The idea that, in the Renaissance, it was accepted that a straight man praised another man’s beauty is quite widespread. Still, let’s keep in mind the opinions of many historians were forged in times when bisexuality was even less accepted than today.

On the other hand, someone who never denied his homosexuality was Pietro Aretino, who openly called himself
a sodomite”. In the comedy
Il Marescalco he writes about a farrier (“Marescalco”, in 16th century Italian) forced to marry a woman he doesn’t want, since he’s “Coy with women as a moneylender with the expenses”. The efforts of the other characters lead to nowhere. The nurse who praised how joyful marriages are gets answered: “To take syphilis instead of a wife, that’s lesser pain”. That may look like anything but the complaints of the man about his wife at the pub, but we know enough about Aretino’s private life to suppose this time it’s different. By unveiling the bride, finally, the farrier finds out she is just a male page with a dress: he discovers the joke, is happy about that, and sighs of relief.

If the character losing its costume, in modern-time Shakespeare in Love, “saves” the protagonist from a gay affair, in Pietro Aretino’s play he is saved from a heterosexual one. An author ahead of his times, who now throws the second challenge to our participants: how cross-dressing in theatre can speak about a society where dressing up, figurately, can save one from prejudice