Monday, March 4, 2013

The Riddle of Queerness Through Shakespeare

Before Will Stockton's presentation on Friday, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Romeo and Juliet has been interpreted many times as a queer play, as Stockton acknowledged, and I was curious as to how his reading would differ from the previous work on the subject. I was very pleased to see that his presentation was fresh and very engaging. The reading of not only Romeo and Mercutio as queer, but also Juliet, through her urgency, was extremely thought-provoking for me.

With the very quick speed of the play's plot having long been noted among scholars of Shakespeare, the interpretation of that timeline as queer was fascinating. The prevalence of sexual innuendo in the play has frequently led to interpretations of Mercutio as sexually interested in Romeo, but I had never been exposed to such a thorough examination of multiple characters in the text as queer. Perhaps it was also Stockton's use of the Sassy Gay Friend videos that drew me into his argument. The reading of the sassy guide as a combination of the friar and of Mercutio was fascinating, and on many levels, well-founded.

However, despite this incredible wealth of analysis and new ideas, it was something Stockton said at the end of his presentation which has remained on my mind since Friday. His reluctance to divorce homoeroticism from the term queer is extremely important, and I feel that more scholars of queer theory need to acknowledge the relationship between the terms.

As I've been exposed to more queer theory over the past few years, the increasing isolation of the term queer from its origins of homoeroticism and homosexuality have worried me. Even Mel Chen's writing, while extremely innovative, led me to resist agreement with some of her claims due to her extremely broad and abstract definition of queerness. For me, Stockton's discussion during the Q&A about the future development of the term queer was very refreshing to hear. At what point does queerness lose its influence due to its prevalence? If everything is queer, is anything really queer? Admittedly, this question is not a new one, but the consistent tendency to define queer in a broad manner suggests that this question has not yet been acknowledged as important by the majority of queer theorists.

If queer can be interpreted as simply anything that is non-heteronormative, then it seems that almost anything can be queer, as rarely do things truly adhere to such an abstract concept as heteronormativity. It is for this reason that the important connotations of queer with its history of homoeroticism are necessary to limit the loss of meaning for such a crucial term, but it seems this history is rapidly being forgotten in the world of academia. Does this mean that queerness will lose its influence for those who rely on the term? In academia, at least, that time seems to be worryingly near. Yet with scholars like Stockton reminding us that the terms should not be separated, perhaps the future of queer studies won't be so quick to forget its origins.

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