I once wrote a poem that explores the theme of Shakespeare’s sexuality. The opening stanza goes like this:
In Shakespeare’s day,
all the actors were gay
while the women all wanted it ruder
And the sluttiest old crone
Rested up on the throne
And her name was Elizabeth Tudor.
I mention this here so, from the onset of this review, you’ll be aware that my attitude toward Shakespearean studies lacks any of the reverence associated with bardolatory.
There are lots of Shakespearean theories thrown out for discussion:
The one obvious thing that the majority of these theories fails to take into account is that Shakespeare was a writer. Writers, by their nature, are mercurial. I’m a writer and, if I thought it would improve my chances for publication, prestige or promotion, I would happily describe myself as an earl of Derby and/or Oxford, or as a gay man or a dead contemporary playwright or a Jewish woman.
The authors who’ve contributed to Salome Wilde’s Shakespearotica: Queering the Bard, seem to appreciate this mercurial quality. The stories they’ve contributed to this eclectic collection of gay erotic Shakespeare appropriations demonstrate a diverse range of approaches to the bard.
This section, from Jean Roberta’s “A Well-Placed Pinch,” shows how one of the contributors has managed to compile something contemporary with a clever suggestion of Shakespearean gender ambiguity.
"I am intrigued, my lad," announced Olivia to an invisible audience. "What secret could you be hiding? Do you have some monstrous deformity under your clothes? If you want me to believe you are a trustworthy messenger and not a scoundrel or an ogre, you must reveal yourself as God made you."
Claire hoped Irene didn't really mean what her words suggested. She wondered if this was Irene's idea of a fair test, an ordeal that a suitor must survive to gain a lady's attention and respect.
"Rude boy!" exclaimed Rosie, tossing her hair over her shoulder and pushing out her chest. "My mistress wants you to take off your clothes."
Claire tried to think of a Shakespearean response, but words failed her.
"You know you want to," said Irene, clearly as herself, looking Claire in the eyes. Then, resuming her role, she went on. "I wish to see what is covered by thy rich doublet and cunning codpiece. What better way to display your courage and honesty than by showing me what you've got? If you do as I ask, I may grant you a favor in return." Irene bubbled with sensuous implications, but Claire noted she wasn't making any promises.
Then there’s this science-fiction adaptation from Tilly Hunter with “As We Like It: A Romance.”
Few people come to the biodome. It was my mother's favorite place, although she felt deep guilt over the amount of water it wasted while the villagers eked out muddy puddles at the bottom of their wells. She had a tender heart. People think her spirit haunts this oasis, and so they avoid it. My father had been unkind to her when it became apparent one daughter was all she would bear him, and some say her early death was hastened by her unhappiness.
Ross lifts my knee-length shift, a thing of flimsy mauve silk, worn to impress at the duke's table. The dye comes from a plant that grows only on Wilmcote, one of the forest planets that orbit a lesser sun in the outer reaches of our galaxy. It costs hundreds of ducats to color one dress. The shadow of my curves shows through in certain lights. I think Ross appreciates its femininity as a contrast to his own trousers and shirt, although I prefer plainer and more practical attire. He grasps my hips and bends his head to my pubic mound, his lips skimming over my belly.
Or there’s “Much Ado About a Kiss,” this modern interpretation from Caitlin Ricci:
Jack shrugged and smiled, showing his perfectly white teeth. "True. But at the same time, it's just a sex scene. And a fake one at that."
Alex bit the inside of his cheek. That was exactly the problem he had: a sex scene with the man he'd had a crush on since the day he'd tried out for the all-gay production of Much Ado About Nothing. "Yeah, but it should be believable, right? So, I thought practice might be good." His face was on fire as he looked away. "Might be less awkward, at least," he mumbled.
"Sure. It would have been fun to have one of the other scenes. The guy playing Beatrice gets all the fun lines, and our characters hardly ever talk," Jack said with a sigh.
Alex agreed with him instantly and was curious to know which ones Jack liked the most. "Like which lines?" he asked.
Jack shrugged. "I like the one 'I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.' It seems to fit sometimes."
Startled, Alex looked up at him. "That's a strange line to pick. Do you scorn love? Like Beatrice does in the play?"
"No. Not at all. If I could find it, I'd jump at the chance to have it for myself. But I’ve been told that far too many times in my life to believe every guy that tries," Jack replied with a shrug.
A lot’s been written about Shakespeare and a lot more will be written as writers re-imagine Shakespeare’s stories for this and future generations. This entertaining collection shows that today’s contemporary erotica writers are more than capable of being inspired by the bard’s stories to develop their own dramatic flair for the erotic.