Not Again! Homoeroticism in Lit Class (And why the discussion is valuable)

So every time I have ever discussed a Shakespeare in a collegiate-level course, someone inevitably makes the argument that two of the (usually male) characters have some kind of homosexual or (more often) homoerotic relationship. Now I’m not going to dive into that mess of a discussion, which can involve tons of history, theory, critical discussion, etc., but I will say that up until now I’ve rather detested those discussions. Because it seems like they’re just a really easy way to make a wave.

And while that may still be true, I just realized something that has nothing to do with accuracy in regards to whether or not two of Shakespeare’s characters had homosexual tendencies or not. Because, on a practical level, that’s completely irrelevant. For one, there’s literally no way to know because a) Shakespeare is dead and b) the concept of homosexuality as we have it today did not exist (and he wouldn’t be able to speak on it).

However, all of those discussions we had DO pose a far, far, far, far, FAR more interesting question: how do we, in our modern society, interpret (same or mixed) gender interactions? I mean, if we can say “this activity by this character suggests that those two men have some sexual tension going on,” then something in our own modern society has to back that up. Because we don’t have a history book from 1500 that says “in our society friends behave in this manner and friends-with-benefits act in this way towards one another.” All we have is our own perception, based in our own society. And, like every generation before and to come, what we are doing in this discussion is self-reflecting, negotiating, seeking to understand ourselves and our society. And possibly seeking to re-negotiate what that really means.

And now I wonder what other discussions in English Lit I’ve checked out of off-hand.