Sunday, March 26th, 2023

Homoeroticism in “Hamlet”

Having been considering the males in Shakespeare who are left behind when their playmates wed, when I watched Branagh’s Much Ado, I added Don Pedro (his bastard brother Don John does not show any interest in women, either). I should read the early speech by Beatrice on bearded men and beardless boys. The bachelor (who falls before her) Benedick calls Claudio, Lord Lackbeard. (In the film the two unions are not blessed: there is no wedding, though it ends with a wedding party. I have to look at the text to see if it provides an exception to the comedies ending with weddings imminent—certainly the two unions are not yet consummated in Much Ado).

In Hamlet (which I reread), Ophelia does not come between Hamlet and Horatio. Hamlet does not abandon male company (Roscencrantz and Guildenstern, Horatio, even Laertes), though he says that he loved Ophelia. Horatio has no love interest, and is the sole survivor of the main characters of the (long!) play.

Horatio restraing Hamlet seeing the ghost of the latter’s father

I had forgotten how much longer and diffuser Hamlet is than Macbeth. At the start of the play, Macbeth is already married, and his wife presses him to murder his male companions (Duncan, the king, and also Banquo). Regicide was seemingly already planned before the play opens or Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches, but I don’t see any reason to suppose that Macbeth planned it alone (without wifely counsel). It is Hamlet’s mother’s heterosexuality that leads to disaster in Hamlet. Macbeth would not have dared what he does without being pushed by his lady.

My review of Shakespeare over the course of the summer (see postings Henry IV, 2 and The Winter’s Tale) has reminded me how many of the turns of speech that have become canonical (greatness thrust upon him, method in his madness, brevity is the soul of wit, etc.) are uttered by the deluded idiots in the play (not the fools, who are professionally perceptive).

©19 Setpember 1996, Stephen O. Murray

About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.