Gender Bending and Shakespeare

In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of attention given to possible homoerotic and non-binary gender themes and characters in the works of William Shakespeare. Sonnet 20 is considered by many scholars and spectators to be the most palpable example of these themes in Shakespearean sonnets:

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling,
Much steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

At first glance it might appear that this sonnet was written about a woman, but that is definitely not the case. The second line makes this very clear, when the individual is referred to as the “master-mistress of my passion”. Once the revelation has been made that this sonnet is indeed about a male, the first line takes on a new meaning; this male has a “woman’s face”; that is to say he is likely very lovely and effeminate. Shakespeare then goes on to describe this man as being more desirable than a woman is, and then obviously is described once more as being a male, “A man in his hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling”. As this sonnet goes on, it gets more and more interesting: Shakespeare is in essence writing that this man was originally made a woman, until nature literally “prick’d” him out; that is to say, endowed him with a penis, thus causing the narrator (presumably a male as well, given the conflict and lamenting tone present in this sonnet) to say that nature has defeated him by an “addition”, “by adding one thing to my purpose nothing”. It is also stated that he was pricked out for women’s pleasure, i.e. given a penis in order to naturally please a woman (and not a man, furthering conflict), and this pleasure is the “treasure” mentioned in the last line. The homoerotic implications and gender bending in this sonnet are quite obvious when the sonnet is re-read with close attention to detail, and not taken at face value.

The Sequoya Review is OUT!

Hi there party people!

The Sequoya Review 2012 edition is out and about! Check us tabling at the UTC University Center Wednesday, or send us an email and we can get in touch! Additionally you’ll be able to read it online soon. More information to come – we should have a release party at some point.

Writing Prompt

Wouldn’t it be nice every now and then to have something to use as sort of a springboard for creativity? Between school and work and the many other things that clutter our daily lives, sometimes it can be hard to find genuine inspiration, or to even think of ways to do so. That’s what we’re here for. Every week or so we’ll be posting a new writing prompt in case you’re one of the many that frequents that creative rut that so often comes with writing.  That said, to start off, today’s prompt is easy.

Take a poem you have already written and are not particularly fond of. Now, rearrange it any way that you want to. You may add or subtract words here or there, but try to do so infrequently. Make it an entirely different poem using the same words, just in a different pattern. See if you can become more satisfied with the poem simply by moving the words around.

This is actually a really great tip on how to improve or add a fresh perspective to your poetry, especially when you feel stuck or are unhappy with a poem you’re working on. In a poetry workshop class I had here at UTC, while workshop-ing one of my poems, my professor (the one and only Earl Braggs, to be exact), asked me to read a specific stanza of my poem backwards, that is, reading the last line first, the second-to-last line second, and so on, from the bottom up. Needless to say, it worked brilliantly, and to this day, that particular poem is saved with that revision.

So go ahead, try it! You never know what new things you might discover in something you’ve already written.

“Constellation of Masquerades” by Trenna Sharpe

Scientists have created Anteros out of a fruitfly.
A simple gene tweak and a bug becomes a god,
Irresistible to every other fly that finds it now.
This means nothing for us, for the gods do not exist
outside the stairwells of imagination, the whirligig
nature of human desire. We’re in love! we say.
We’re in love! With the open palms of history,
with the potatoes growing silently in the garden.
I could grow moss in my pocket, and never be alone.
I am lost without it! I am not lost. I am standing at a threshold
of mossiness. There is cold weather coming in either direction.
The wind curls itself around my body and sings
and it tells me that every chemical in my body passed first
through the body of a star, so I have nothing to worry about.
I was dead before I reached me. My spindly legs are the result
of the atmosphere, the rough journey down to the face of this earth.
I’m a crippled constellation masquerading as human.
The glint in my eye is more than just an expression. My sense
of direction is skewed for good reason. I’ll never find a point to end on.
Everything happens in circles. One day my life
will get caught in the orbit of another, and no one
will know which way to follow.

“Road Map” – Elisabeth Zachary

…we must learn to bear the pleasures as we have borne the pains.        
Nikki Giovanni

Stories tied tightly in bags of sacred sorrow,
Tangled paper tucked away like treasures but forgotten.
I think of California sadly,
Three children born so quickly during a hot, dry season,
In a place so far from home.
Cowering in daylight dark apartments,
Winking through window cracks,
To glimpse silhouetted strangers beckoning at the door
Nursing the fear of a three day notice to pay or quit
Breathing the shame of night after night alone.
I think of those days sadly,
California sunshine sparkling against the windshield, brightly beating
On back seat babies tucked into blanket envelopes,
Sleeping gently, eyes closed sweetly,
Hands curled into delicate fist balls against sweet, fresh faces.
Driving unknown city streets in Glendale or Big Bear or Pacoima.
Unfriendly places far from familiar faces,
Places to write bad checks for diapers,
Places to get well, to breathe better air.
Places chosen with the hope that redemption resided somewhere near,
Somewhere mapped with a compass rose.
Radio loud, smoking with the windows down,
Cigarette ash burning sharp red against window wind.
Wind whistling lullabies through the car.
Humming in my ear,
Blowing against my face, across my skin
Swaddling me sweetly to remind me I am often lost
But find my way somehow somewhere.
What of other places that came before?
Those other whispered, childhood sorrows,
Of looking into windows from winding roads,
From Mosheim to Woodmore, across Route 66,
All the way to California and back again.
Precious coddled sorrow memories,
Stacked carefully against the wall with pictures, letters, scribbled late night journals,
Holding tightly to close little treasures of hurt and ache,
Each wrapped in strings of delicate sorrow,
Lullabies singing loss, brave battles lost,
Sweet, still sorrow held near.

“Locusts” by Laurel Jones

I can taste the silence when they leave, like
copper or dirt and I wonder if they know what it is
to be still and alone. Sometimes I can hear them
when I’m sleeping, a voice in a solemn place.
Their noise echos around the room like the stretch
of flowers, sound searching for light. If I could
gather up their dried overshells that they leave on trees,
behind car tires and on benches, maybe I could hold
their outer layer the way I hold my own bones inside me–
close and pressing. Still, not quite hollow, my bones sleep
cradled within me: the bumps of the spine, the curve of the
ribcage. The thin, pointed fingertip. These are the rocks
I carry within my chest. The locusts have been listening
to my heartbeat; pulsing, sweet. They have been quiet.
They have found the crop. If I asked, they would know the answer.
They would tell me that it’s not death– only bones
like at the church at Kutna Hora with the
40,000 dead all piled and bleached white together.
The locusts stay together and hum. I touch my arms.
I feel the hardness. I will have a garden on my grave.

“Infiltrator” by Daniel Myers

I did not realize there was a chameleon
in this poem until now. In the space
between the last lines, he protrudes
like a misplaced dab of white out.
He is skillful in his hiding. Even maniacal.
Like other chameleons, he will stalk his prey
for years. Time is no impediment for chameleons
because they can hide from it as well.
I look into my chameleon’s meandering eyes.
One is looking at me. The other swivels
across the room like a top. It stops
at the knife (on my wall) that I
supposedly use to cook. It stops at the picture
of the Yankees celebrating yet another world series.
I hate baseball. It stops on a deer head
that I bought. His eye stops finally at the window
staring past the woods and watching a man
climb onto a bus that isn’t there. His other eye
never moves. He seems scared. Desperate even.
Latching onto this poem like wet ink on a page.
Chameleons can hide from anything. Even other chameleons.