I'm reading Alan Sinfield's Shakespeare, Authority, Sexuality
(2006) which, among other things, discusses queer readings of Shakespeare's plays and poems. In the first chapter, Sinfield discusses what he calls "dissident readings" and, boy, the whole process is so reminiscent of writing/reading fan fiction (esp. slash) that I just have to share some excerpts and my preliminary ramblings:
"These days it will be widely agreed that the Antonio characters in The Merchant of Venice
and Twelfth Night
are in love with Bassiano and Sebastian respectively. Their love objects are both of a higher social class and rather full of themselves; while they return the love of their Antonios, it is not with such an overwhelming passion. Interestingly, this is the scenario also of Shakespeare's sonnets. The main tendency in the plot of the two plays is to get all the good characters into marriageable pairs, so that they can join in a symmetrical procession around the stage and take their final bows together. The Antonios, it seems, are left out. No one is queer bashing; they just don't fit.
Now suppose, as a gay critic, I point out that Portia and Olivia maintain extensive households, in which all manner of kin and friends might be accomodated in varying degrees of intimacy and dependency [...]. I might add that there is no authoritative stage direction governing how characters will leave the stage [yay, canon loophole!]
. Suppose I declare that Bassiano should exit hand in hand with both Portia and Antonio, and that Sebastian should be flanked by both Olivia and Antonio. The idea is, in fact, quite fertile: consider why such an arrangement is more likely to suit Olivia (who loves the still-impossible Cesario and has only a forced and formal marriage with Sebastian) [Orsino and Viola should move in, too!] than Portia (who has been contriving actively to exclude Antonio from her marriage). Notwithstanding, I actually do know from my acquaintance with texts by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and with the arguments and assumptions of present-day scholars and critics, that my gay reading is – not exactly wrong, but, say – particular. It may be a good gay reading, but by so much as it is that, it falls outside dominant expectations
. I know I am reading against the grain." (p. 14ff.) [emphasis mine]
Of course, you don't have to be a (male) gay critic to be sympathetic to these kinds of readings - I'm guessing Sinfield is unaware of fan fiction/slash, which is a pity, because as soon as you favour the idea of a reading that refuses to state the obvious and instead goes on to 'play' a little with the text, the boundary between literary criticism and (fan) fiction becomes pretty blurry. It's unexpected! It's transformative!
Sinfield then goes on to propose that the so-called "intended meaning" of a text is not necessarily a fixed part of the text itself but is "very often the meaning that is consecrated in the hegemonic critical tradition, which has claimed the text for its ideology. A reading against the grain is differentiated from an alternative or oppositional reading position by its tone of self-conscious refusal
. It may not be persuasive [...], but that doesn't matter. The point is not to replace one reading with another, but to expose the conditions of reading. The aim is to dislocate and disturb, laying bare the implicit ideological assumptions of established practices.
" (p. 20) [emphasis mine]
I really like how he admits doing it because he wants to
, fully aware that most people won't 'see it'. (And no, this kind of creative (perhaps slightly Utopian) reading does not equal raping Shakespeare and/or his characters, as somebody, somewhat hysterically, claimed somewhere in the thread which must not be named