- Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Works of Shakespeare
Shakesqueer, edited by Madhavi Menon, is an impressive anthology of scholarly essays that seeks to unite Shakespearean studies and queer theory, and provides new readings of the entire Shakespearean dramatic canon. In her introduction, Menon offers the anthology’s forty-eight essays as important challenges to conventional interpretations of Shakespeare’s body of work and vehicles for prompting discourse [End Page 229] in the two fields. It is Shakespeare’s position as the untouchable, idolized “Bard” that prevents many scholars from delving into unexplored and potentially erroneous scholarly territory, Menon argues; the marriage of Shakespeare and queer theory is most often prevented by scholars’ feelings of inadequacy—that one must be an “expert” to write about Shakespeare or Elizabethan/Jacobean theatre—or the sense that “queering” Shakespeare or examining his plays through a queer lens is anachronistic and/or poor scholarship. Menon refers to this tendency for scholars to shy away from critical analysis of Shakespeare as “Shakesfear” (5–6).
In order to avoid falling into this trap, Menon asks that we question not only our deification of the Bard but also the ways in which we define “Shakespeare” and “queer.” Does “Shakespeare” refer to the playwright himself, his plays, or the ideas behind the plays? When we argue that “queer” is undefined and unlimited in its challenge of normativity, does this extend past sex, gender, and desire? Focusing on three concepts commonly connected with both Shakespearean studies and queer theory—language, identity, and temporality—Shakesqueer challenges the conventions of queer theory in order to enhance and expand upon queer readings of Shakespeare.
The anthology’s essays cover the entire Shakespearean canon as well as the so-called “lost plays,” Love’s Labour Won and The History of Cardenio, and are arranged alphabetically by the title of the play they address. The majority of the anthology’s contributors are queer theorists rather than Shakespearean or Renaissance-era theatre scholars. Without the constraints of historical or biographical contexts, these scholars apply queer theory to Shakespeare and vice versa, opening up discussion about the “blind spots” in scholarly discourse that have prevented connections between the two disciplines. Menon states that the abundance of queer scholars is intentional, and insists on the necessity of this choice in order to “keep with the volume’s emphasis on Shaking queerness”: welcoming all ideas; not simply subverting heteronormativity; and not being confined by chronology, nationality, historiography, or philosophy (24). Indeed, Menon believes that for the framework of “queer” to work, the term must be undefined, anti-normative, and unrestricted.
The anthology’s most admirable quality is the diversity of its authors’ theoretical frameworks. The essays often provide fresh perspectives on works that many theatre scholars might believe have been exhausted. Unhindered by the pressure of reconciling new interpretations with existing scholarship, even the most famous of Shakespeare’s dramatic works are revisited and deconstructed. In her essay “Milk,” Heather Love deems Lady Macbeth the queerest character in the Scottish play because of her impulsivity and desire for immediate gratification without any consideration for motherhood or womanly empathy. Love argues that Lady Macbeth’s detached, reluctant role of mother and disinterest in familial lineage is inherently queer. In another essay, “Shakespeare’s Ass Play,” Richard Rambuss [End Page 230] considers the erotics of bestial relationships as the central queer element in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In “Fuck the Disabled: The Prequel,” Robert McRuer addresses the queer, erotic potential of Richard of Gloucester’s anti-normative physical disability as imagined in the 1995 film version of Richard III starring Sir Ian McKellen. More historiographic analysis than theoretical interpretation, Sharon Holland’s essay on Twelfth Night assesses the all-male production of the gender-bending comedy at the Globe Theatre in 2002. Framing her discussion around this particular production, Holland posits that Shakespeare’s “gayest” play reinforces the dominance of heteronormative romance, all the while appealing to queer audiences with single-gender productions that suggest homoeroticism.
The overarching themes...