Queer Theory


Reschke, Mark. “Historicizing Homophobia: Hamlet and the Anti-theatrical Tracts.” Hamlet Studies 19 (1997): 47-63.

FEMINISM / HAMLET / METADRAMA / NEW HISTORICISM / QUEER THEORY

After acknowledging the complications of studying sexuality before the late eighteen hundreds and the feminist efforts to historicize misogyny, this article examines Hamlet “to demonstrate how misogyny intersects with a nascent form of homophobia, a cultural fear of male-male sexual bonding articulated in the anti-theatrical tracts” (49). A survey of anti-theatrical propaganda reveals cultural anxieties about effeminacy, sexual promiscuity (e.g., sodomy), and any behavior that undermines social/patriarchal institutions (53). Hamlet “seems to embody the specific juncture of misogyny and fear of male-male sexual desire that the anti-theatrical tracts begin to coordinate” (55): he clearly shows misogynistic tendencies with Gertrude and Ophelia; he also voices his attraction to “dead or distant men” (e.g., Old Hamlet, Yorick, Fortinbras) because his fears of the sodomy stigma restrict the expression of such sentiments to “men only in relationships in which physical contact is impossible” (56); with Horatio, Hamlet disrupts every moment of potential intimacy by interrupting himself, “trivializing his own thoughts,” pausing, and then changing the discussion topic to theatrical plays (57). Hamlet’s behavior “demonstrates the power of anti-theatrical homophobia to regulate male behavior” and “expresses the anti-theatrical complex that . . . anticipates modern homophobia” (57). While the playwright “comes close to overtly acknowledging the cultural/anti-theatrical association of sodomy with the male homosociality of theatre life,” “A metaphoric treatment of anti-theatrical concerns, including homophobia, corresponds to—and possibly follows from—the meta-theatrical concerns that structure form and character in Hamlet” (58).

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