Shakespeare Quarterly 52.1 (2001) 145-148
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King James & Letters of Homoerotic Desire
King James & Letters of Homoerotic Desire. By David M. Bergeron. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1999. Pp. viii + 252. $24.95 cloth.
David M. Bergeron's King James & Letters of Homoerotic Desire affords us a long look into James I's passionate, unmistakably amorous relations with three markedly handsome male courtiers--Esmé Stuart, duke of Lennox; Robert Carr, earl of Somerset; and George Villiers, duke of Buckingham--as each in turn emerged as the king's favorite. The terms of these relations are most richly and intimately divulged, Bergeron argues, in the private correspondence that passed between the king and his men. This study thus presents itself as an unlocked cabinet or closet, a secret storehouse of familiar letters that not only "opens the interior space of the king's private life in unparalleled ways" (30) but also "creatively constitutes a gospel about his homoerotic desire" (6). The latter claim is the more provocative one, but it is left unspecified just how the homoerotic interests of the commissioner of the landmark English translation of the Bible that now bears his name might operate as gospel. Good news to whom, we might ask? Surely to the king's fortunate male favorites, but then only for so long as they could maintain that delicate and rather fraught status. Or is the disclosure of James's desires proffered as good news more to those who can relish the irony that our culture's most censorious Christian conservatives owe their favorite version of the Bible to the sort of fellow who regarded himself as husband to another man? For, as the letters Bergeron gathers here demonstrate, marriage is clearly one of the ways in which James conceived of his relationship with Buckingham. While Bergeron's enticing notion of a King James version of a "gospel" of homoerotic desire remains to be fully explicated, his book is nonetheless a welcome, if not wholly realized, contribution to scholarship on James I and the affective structures of the Jacobean court, as well as to the burgeoning field of work on early modern male same-sex eroticism.
Bergeron begins with a chapter-long sketch of the history and theory of letter-writing, one that lightly touches on works ranging from St. Paul's New Testament epistles and Shakespeare's Winter's Tale to James Howell's Epistolae Ho-Elianae, a seventeenth-century compendium of ready-to-use missives, and Jacques Derrida's Post Card. Bergeron affords more sustained attention to Erasmus's De Conscribendis Epistolis, Angel Day's The English Secretary, and John Donne's Letters to Severall Persons of Honour, as well as to the private, unpublished letters of Arbella Stuart, who was James's first cousin. In many respects, the most important text in this list for Bergeron's purposes is Day's. This popular manual sorts letters into four genres--demonstrative, deliberative, judicial, and familiar--and offers instruction on the form, content, and style appropriate to each. An indefatigable taxonomist, Day further divides these categories into numerous subcategories. [End Page 145] One species of letter, however, that eludes easy classification is "epistles amatorie," because, according to Day, "'the humours of all sortes with love possessed, are so infinite and so great an uncertaintie in them remaineth'" (7). The way that Day looks to manage this uncertainty, Bergeron explains, is to differentiate among the various kinds of love:
In this place there might also bee made a distinction of loue where in a Sympathie of minds from man to man aswell uniteth togither by an indissoluble league of amitie their hearts in one, as betweene man and woman, and that for the most part by a far more waightie league, and more inuiolable discretion. But sith the [one] . . . much differeth in qualitie from the other, . . . these amours in this definition shall onely be intended such, as are modestly tendered from men vnto women, and so accordingly herein to be exampled and written vpon.1
Thus, even as he seems to envision the prospect...