Sleepwriting

I had a seven-page paper to finish by 10am this morning, and I got to work on it last night, after having put together a few pages and having the rest of the paper outlined. unfortunately I was sleepy and fell out after adding a page or two to my total. I woke around six a.m. and got started again, but was in bed with the laptop and took time out between every few sentences to sleep for anywhere from five to thirty minutes. by eight-thirty or nine a.m., the paper was finished, and I hardly remembered doing it at all! I submitted it at ten a.m. without proofreading it, so I really hope that no nonsense made its way into the work. anyway. the paper was written more by my subconscious mind, so I imagine it was probably much more intelligent than it would’ve been if I’d stayed awake ;)

maybe I’ll do a story that way sometime.

Holy Cow

Wow.

I could be a millionaire right now, if only I would take the time to ebay all of my cigarette butts.

anyway. the semester’s wrapping up! I’m excited. I can’t wait for summer vay-cay. maybe I’ll even work enough to pay some of my bills. ummmm. . . probably not.

I’ve written two papers for classes this week, and have a third to complete by monday morning (I’ve written one page of the seven required). then I’ll just have to revise one of the other two papers for the final draft deadline, write a bunch of “reading journal” entries for one of my english classes, and finish revising a couple of my stories for the creative writing class. woo-hoo. the end is in sight.

I’ve given some thought to the idea of trying to get a job doing a column at the DI for next school year. I’ve already got the first submission partly written, in my head. we’ll see what happens with that.

also, I had a really bizarre dream the other day, during naptime. hm. I guess that was yesterday. anyway, I woke up (in the dream), and I was back in 1981, but I was the same age as I am now. it was really surreal. . . yet vivid. I got the idea of writing a sort of dream-book (like a collection of stories) based on that and a few other dreams. I’ll just have to add that to the long list of things that I want to write.

keep coming back!

Dammit

I wrote a long post this morning, but something funny happened with my internet connection and I lost it all.

in short, I wrote a new poem, I had a few good conversations in the last week about spiritual and religious issues (so I’ll have to get going on that essay I’ve been talking about forever), and I went and watched sin city a couple of times (a nice guilty pleasure).

now I’ve got to work hard; I have three papers due this week. maybe when I’ve finished with those, I’ll get to revising the story “Hunger.” also, I’ll be writing a new ending to “The Golden Cucumber”.

talk to ya soon

Making a Home for Suffering in Samuel Beckett’s Ill Seen Ill Said

Samuel Beckett’s works emerge as a collection of incredibly unique fiction in the twentieth century, breaking the mold of traditional form and setting new precedents in the creation of narrative. Beckett downplayed the role of character and plot in much of his fiction and gave much more attention to image and setting. One work in particular, Ill Seen Ill Said, does very little to tell a story, but instead constructs a vivid and haunting landscape as seen through the eyes of a paranoid, tortured narrator. Throughout the piece, the narrator urges himself to be careful but to move on in the description, which is heightened poetic language with frequent repetition and rhyme. The narrator constructs a world that is barren and desolate, a cabin surrounded by landscape in which an old, dying woman is monitored closely by twelve watchmen around the perimeter. Beckett has a strong tendency toward solipsism, especially apparent in Company, and that solipsism would suggest that the world he creates in Ill Seen Ill Said is not a place for the punishment of an other, but a place for the containment of something within Beckett himself. Beckett’s unresolved issues with his mother and some unspeakable cruelty or injustice to which she subjected him seem to have been among the prime sources of his inspiration for writing, and this piece creates a world that serves as a home for the pain with which he so strongly identifies himself.

Ill Seen Ill Said opens in a manner that sets the tone for the rest of the piece, introducing a disembodied voice that speaks of an old woman in repetitious, poetic language. “From where she lies she sees Venus rise. On. From where she lies when the skies are clear she sees Venus rise followed by the sun” (Beckett 49). Immediately Beckett engages the narrative tone of a speaker who must consistently implore himself to continue in his creation of this world. This insistence that he must carefully go on indicates that the subject matter is deeply discouraging and wrought with elements that pose some threat. As in that first paragraph, Beckett’s narrator likely reminds himself to move on in places where the subject matter of what he’s just said or is about to say is particularly threatening or emotionally turbulent, whether as a reminder not to dwell too long on the things he’s just said or as encouragement to move along into what follows. On page 58, for example, when speaking of confusion, Beckett ends a paragraph with such a reminder: “If only all could be pure figment. Neither be nor been nor by any shift to be. Gently. Gently. On. Careful.” In this instance, Beckett’s narrator seems to be admonishing himself to be careful not where he goes, but with what he’s just said. He forces himself to move forward instead of dwelling on an idea—the idea that it could all be imaginary. Dwelling on that idea could be dangerous for one of at least two reasons; either he refuses to dwell on the idea because it is all imaginary, and he cannot take pressure of having to recognize himself as the creator, or he refuses to consider this idea much because the world is real and he is powerless to change it. But on pages 50 and 51, there are two paragraphs in which “Careful” is the second or third sentence. The first of these begins, “The Cabin. Its situation.” This cabin being the source of the evil, Beckett’s narrator is understandably hesitant to tell its story. On 51, then, when describing the layout of the grounds, Beckett’s narrator says, “As though outlined by a trembling hand.” He then urges himself onward, again, leaving presumably two possible readings: the outlining to which he referred may have been done by the narrator himself, and by mentioning it, he might be giving himself away as having conjured the entire idea, or he is warning himself to be careful about what he is preparing to say, which is further description of this world. Whatever the reason, Beckett intermittently draws attention, by way of urging himself onward in this prose to the difficult business, emotionally, of creating this piece.

Beckett focuses through the piece on the old woman, presumably his mother. Much of his work includes his mother, whose presence in his psyche, much like in his work, proved to play an incredibly strong role. And while it might be tempting to say that this piece is about his mother, because the entire story revolves around a woman trapped in this strange world, it seems more realistic that writing about her was a means to another end for Beckett. Adelman writes in Naming the Unnamable, “. . . the fictional status of Beckett himself . . . suspects that there is no way to liberate the prince whom he would believe is inside him. Needing to know may be the deepest motive of a creative drive” (Adelman 37). If Beckett is creating this world in order to learn something about himself—whether or not he can liberate the “prince” within—then his extensive discussion of his mother must only be a way to learn something more about himself.

Ill Seen Ill Said makes frequent references to an evil that haunts the world that Beckett creates, an evil whose center seems to be in the room that Beckett refuses to explore. “Another pillar of Beckett’s solipsism seems to arise from his artistic minimalism that directly lends to the last, minimal, and actually non-reducible residue of all subjectivity: the ego” (Gontarski 216). The world that Beckett creates here, then, is a projection of his psychological status, a projection of his subconscious. Simplifying and reducing the elements of himself, Beckett managed in this work to strive for an understanding of himself. “The quest for the real ‘I’ parodically strips away all that which informs the minds of ordinary people” (Adelman 37). Beckett is far from ordinary, and in his quest for the real ‘I’, he finds, in a cabin inhabited by his mother, a room that he does not enter. This room is an embodiment, it seems, of the very evil to which he refers continually—”what the wrong word”—and he refuses to enter. It would seem that he is afraid of confronting or remembering this horrible evil, or that he is not prepared to deal with it. I strongly suspect, however, that he cannot enter that room because he does not know what lies in there; he has no way of knowing. The great evil, for Beckett, is a suspicion, something that he cannot remember because it happened before he was capable of creating memories. And yet by building this world, he has captured it; he has contained it in a single room in a cabin surrounded by watchmen.

It is important to note, at this point, that Beckett’s tendency is toward solipsism in his writing. Essentially, solipsism is the idea that nothing really exists outside of one’s mind. “But if philosophical solipsism is no more than a provisional, ephemeral, almost fictional stage in the development of an argument, it appears in Beckett’s work as one of the leitmotifs that stamp his artistic construct with the indelible emblem of an impossible wager” (Gontarski 215). But what is Beckett wagering here? With the cabin, the woods, his mother, the watchmen, the room; what wager is made? If it can be said to be a win or lose situation, then perhaps success for Beckett is simply the successful creation of this world. Or perhaps, by imprisoning some part of himself, he hopes to destroy a part of himself. Marcoulesco goes on to say that “[Beckett’s] version of cosmic pessimism is coupled with an abhorrence of self and the sheer mystical bent to destroy it whenever feasible” (Gontarski 220-21). Perhaps this world is meant to destroy that part of himself that he is capturing. The room, the cabin, his mother—all captured in this world to wither and die, and the watchmen to ensure that it all happens as it should.

This brings up another issue. Ill Seen Ill Said creates a world of paranoia—embodied in the very least by the watchmen—and painful preoccupation with the past. According to Beckett’s narrator, the old woman seems to glance out at the watchmen frequently, and yet they remain at adistance. “She never once saw one come toward her. Or she forgets. She forgets” (Beckett 52). These menacing watchmen, and this woman’s resigned loneliness at their hands, flavors the atmosphere in this story with a sense of fearfulness. That fearfulness is also characterized by the references to a mysterious past. At one point, on page 62, we are told, “Lashes jet black remains of the brunette she was. Perhaps once was. When yet a lass. Yet brunette.” This is an almost sympathetic treatment of the old woman, whose past and the idea of a better life seem to flash before us momentarily. Instead, now the woman is described differently: “The long white hair stares in a fan. Above and about the impassive face. Stares as if shocked still by some ancient horror.” This description of the woman makes her seem ghostly, and it leaves open the idea that perhaps she herself is haunted. What could terrify her so that she would not try to find some relief or escape? “On its yellowed face in barely legible ink two letters followed by a number. Tu 17. Or Th. Tu or Th 17” (Beckett 71). This woman seems to exist in a timeless sort of world, and so it begs the question, What has brought her here? What happened in this cabin? And when? One might think that the men watching her would provide answers or sort of explanation. Who are these guys, anyway?

It has been suggested that the watchmen in Ill Seen Ill Said are copies of Beckett, who must monitor this world, keeping his mother in captivity, and preserve the world so that Beckett can return to it as a source of comfort or as a reminder. But are these watchmen really guarding Beckett’s mother? “What then if not her do they ring around?” (Beckett 61). It is possible that these men form a ring, not around the woman but around the room. This room serves as Beckett’s muse, his inspiration. The painful secret locked inside that room is not only captured by this piece and held stable by the watchmen, it is kept as a source of Beckett’s entire identity. In his solipsism, that room becomes a central element in existence, but also, this entire world created in Ill Seen Ill Said is but a function of Beckett’s mind, and all of its characters only aspects of Beckett’s own psyche. The watchmen, then, are another part of Beckett, perhaps a vantage point from which he is able to return to this world and soak it in through the eyes of observers at all sides. This world is Beckett’s and these watchmen reinforce that, serving as sentries, so that none can enter this world but through the words that Beckett provides us.

Ill Seen Ill Said is not a prison for Beckett’s mother, but instead is the culmination of his work, a place to contain his torment to which he can return for inspiration, comfort, and release. “impotent as he is against Omnipotence, he goes on embellishing, searching, weaving the colossal fabric that is the story of his persecutions. The punishers cannot make him live in the world of their creation” (Adelman 84). Beckett might be helpless to do anything about the omnipotent forces in his life, but he has creative control over the worlds he creates as a thinker and a writer. And while solipsism might suggest that the universe simply exists in Beckett’s mind, and he should therefore be able to exert complete control over that. An answer for that would be that even in writing, we cannot always do exactly what we set out to do. With much time and practice, Beckett has had an opportunity to increase his relative control of the field of words and the feel of the language. He lived in a world in which he felt there was no meaning and nothing worthwhile, and so he created instead in a world of his own, and this world put forth by Ill Seen Ill Said is a place to which he can comfortably return and delight in the idea that his mother is trapped, the room in which she so greatly wronged him is cut off from the world, and the watchmen keep guard to ensure that things stay as they are. Beckett’s pain and torment are captured in this piece and redirected at his mother, who wanders aimlessly, pondering why she has not yet died. And though Beckett seems to take some pleasure in her suffering, that suffering does not seem to be the purpose for her presence. She is there as a reminder to Beckett, a consolation to Beckett, for the wrongs to which she subjected him, wrongs that might simply have been the fact that she gave birth to him, bringing him into a world in which language struggles to force meaning onto what Beckett believes is pointless and futile, a “void.” Or perhaps she attempted to abort him and failed, and the scars of being unwanted even by his mother are too deep to escape. Or perhaps he simply never felt that she loved him as he needed to be loved. Whatever it was, his mother is inextricably tied to the torture he experiences in life, and Ill Seen Ill Said serves to capture that pain and give it a home.

Beckett’s solipsism and a preoccupation with some evil that has been done to him by his mother, something that he is incapable of remembering that haunts him nevertheless, ultimately produced this work, Ill Seen Ill Said. Where Beckett tends to approach his art and perhaps his perspective on life with general solipsism—as though the entire Universe is simply a function of his mind, this piece emerges as a corner of that mind that holds significant psychological factors that affected his state of mind and sense of well being. As he approaches the end of the piece, his attitude takes on an upbeat tone as he seems to have finally created a place for that pain to remain, and his rejoice is not at having to never revisit his thoughts and feelings about his mother, but he rejoices that he will know exactly where to go in order to dwell on those issues. Beckett may have finally captured his mother in a world from which she cannot escape with his highly poetic language and bleak, vivid description. Somewhere in reading the piece, a sense emerges that Beckett is no longer practicing the skill of writing with Ill Seen Ill Said, he’s fine-tuned his style to such a point that he is able, finally, not only to capture his mother, but to create a place where he himself can live, truly alone as his solipsism calls for. Grace to breathe that void. Know happiness.

US History in the Twentieth Century

To My Esteemed Colleagues:

In light of your current debate, I am honored and privileged to offer my insights. Let me rephrase the understanding that I have of your dilemma: the narrative of United States history since 1940 is inextricably connected to the larger narrative of the history of the world, so it might be misleading to refer to a course covering that period of US history without alluding to that element of the subject matter. However, world history only arises as an issue where it affects United States history, so it might not be necessary to refer to world history in the title of the course. In the light of these concerns, it might not be easy to make a firm decision. For this reason, I would like to refer to the work of two historians, McCormick and Lipsitz, as well as portions of the Brown and Shannon book Going to the Source. In their books, McCormick and Lipsitz both deal with world and US history, the subject matter frequently overlapping. I think that by looking at the approaches of these two narratives to US history, as well as the effects of world history on Americans as evident in Brown and Shannon, we will find that “The US in the World, 1940-2005” is a suitable title for this course.

Lipsitz’s book, Rainbow at Midnight—Labor and Culture in the 1940s, is an effort to explore how the war efforts of the 1940s brought about significant concerns in the social fabric of the United States. The subject matter of this book is, from the very beginning, concerned not only with the domestic issues of the United States, but also with the themes and events from the world abroad, at the very least due to the fact that much of the social change that Lipsitz attempts to document occurs as a direct result of the United States’ involvement in World War II. In Chapter Two, he explains that “while nations fight wars for clearly defined strategic and political goals, individuals often act from more personal motives” (George Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midnight, 46). Many Americans likely supported the war effort in hopes of returning to an idyllic America—”restored patriarchal authority…a postwar world free of fear, filled with material abundance and comfort, and firmly grounded in family ties and romantic affection,” but the effects of the United States’ role as a nation in the world at war prompted domestic social and cultural changes that would irreversibly alter the face and atmosphere of that very nation (Ibid, 46).

Rainbow at Midnight discusses issues relating to the working class in America in the 1940s and Lipsitz especially concerns himself with the role of organized labor in the shaping of American culture in the period. The war effort placed great demands on manufacturers in the United States, who in turn required more employees for increased production. This came at a period of time when many companies put forth resistance to organized labor and unionization, but the constraints placed on manufacturers by high production demands weakened their resistance. “In the thirties, Yale and Town resisted unionization so bitterly that it closed down a plant in Detroit rather than deal with a union” (Ibid, 121). The United States role as a nation among nations, though, particularly through its involvement in World War II, had significant impact on the struggle for working class rights. “Only after government military spending converted 93 percent of the plant’s production to war needs…did Yale and Towne reluctantly recognize a labor organization it did not control” (Ibid, 121).

Lipsitz’ entire book is devoted to addressing those social changes, the shift in the cultural climate of the United States in the 1940s, and the nation’s history in this period is largely dependent on the larger fabric of world history. A comprehensive narrative of United States history in this time period requires attention to the issues of the rest of the world. Without that attention, the narrative would be grossly incomplete.

McCormick wrote a book called America’s Half-Century—United States Foreign Policy in the Cold War and After. The aim of this book is to explore the United States’ role as a world power during the Cold War, and one of the topics it addresses is the issue of the decline of the United States’ power in the latter portion of that era. This book is an effort to reflect on the United States in the world, and yet in many places, domestic issues arise where they have played a significant role in the nation’s ability to step up to the plate as a world leader.

McCormick begins in chapter one by explaining how the capitalist world system emerged, overtaking systems of imperialism and a sort of mutual isolationism as it created a world economy. There are three constants to this capitalist world system: “there are always implicit geographical boundaries,” “there is always a center or a pole,” and that there are three types of zones within the system—core, periphery, and semi-periphery (Thomas McCormick, America’s Half-Century, 3). The United States became the center of the world system following World War II, achieving “hegemony,” or the status of a superpower among nations. Hegemonic powers, McCormick explains, tend to promote an internationalist world system because doing so helps to sustain their status as such. Domestic issues quickly become necessary in understanding foreign policy as McCormick describes political leadership (“in-and-outers”) in the United States in order to later explain the government’s process of deciding foreign policy. McCormick also discusses how American economists had differing opinions about the extent to which capital should be invested internationally.

Domestic issues arise again when McCormick discusses the United States’ “high tide for…hegemony.” In the light of threats to American hegemony in the Latin American sphere by way of insurgency, the United States did not want to risk losing ground in Asia as the threat of communist insurgency became clear in Vietnam. McCormick discusses the 1964 presidential campaign, in which Johnson assured voters that American troops would not be sent to fight in Asia, while the government was, in fact, “selecting its future bombing targets in North Vietnam before Americans went to the polls in the fall” (Ibid, 152). In the United States efforts to ensure hegemony during the Cold War and retain its status as a power superior to the Soviet Union, foreign policy must address the danger of allowing peripheral nations to be lost to communism. Economic strength is necessary for hegemony, after all, and communism posed a threat to the ability of the United States to derive economic strength through its use of peripheral nations as bases for trade and suppliers of resources. The fear of a domino effect in Indochina and the hopes of nurturing Japanese economic recovery and the potential return of China to the capitalist world system all served as reasons for the United States to struggle against communism in Vietnam (Ibid, 111). This struggle, however, proved to undermine United States’ hegemony rather than ensure it.

Going to the Source by Brown and Shannon includes a chapter that provides a collection of letters that Jeff Rogers, the son of President Nixon’s Secretary of State, William Rogers, wrote home during his service in Vietnam. These letters demonstrate the complexities of Americans’ reactions to the war in Vietnam and the United States’ role in the world. Shortly after his arrival in Vietnam, Rogers wrote to his parents that he felt “good about doing something relatively positive in this war” (Victoria Brown and Timothy Shannon, Going to the Source, Volume Two, 258). In February 1969, he wrote about Nixon’s positive attributes as president and even mentions that “self-proclaimed ‘liberals'” share in his support (Ibid, 262). By the following month, though, he expressed disillusion with the fact that “we see or sense no progress towards any goal” (Ibid, 263). He pointed out his frustration with the idea that US news sources “exaggerate an d underplay events” (Ibid, 263). “So if intelligence reports and press reports have such little relation to what really is happening, who does one believe” (Ibid, 263). These letters illustrate the role that the war in Vietnam played in the lives of Americans by causing common citizens—and even the children of high-ranking government officials—to question the role of the United States in the world and consequently their faith in their own government.

Rainbow at Midnight discusses the struggle of the working class in America in the 1940s, struggles that were significantly shaped by the role of the United States in the world. America’s Half-Century discusses United States’ foreign policy since World War II, but domestic issues consistently affect America’s role in the world. And Jeff Rogers’s letters in Going to the Source illustrate the role that America’s place in the world plays in the lives of citizens. In light of these demonstrations of intermingling world and US history, I strongly suggest that we call our history course “The United States in the World, 1940-2005.”

New Poem!

Check it out here. also, I’ve been going through doublemuse and cleaning up some of the links and stuff….there were more there than I thought when I cleaned it up before. when the semester is over, definitely look for more updates there, including revisions (I’ve come up with a new ending for “The Golden Cucumber”, which I will revise very soon) and posting more of the poems that I’ve written in the last year or so.

as far as the essays go, I really, really should get to writing that essay about spirituality and religion. I’ve had three great conversations this week about the issues that I want to touch on in that essay. of particular interest was the conversation that I had last thursday night, when I was hanging with a couple of friends outside the coffee shop. two guys approached and tried to start a conversation. normally, I’d be a little more indignant about that sort of thing (i.e. “I don’t know you; don’t talk to me!”<--but much more subtle than that), but jscrilla was with me, and he was a little more hospitable with them. we ended up having a really neat conversation that was not argumentative or adversarial. their questions were pointed and they were trying to find gaps in our understanding of things that their beliefs could supply “answers” to, but they couldn’t really get a foothold, and we were able to establish a bit of common ground in the area of practical values. overall, it was by far the most enjoyable time I’ve had with evangelists.

lastly, I went to see Sin City again. I really enjoyed it as a bit of a guilty pleasure—a movie that is over-the-top gruesome and man-oriented. it’s fun, though. . .

Quiz

I made a Quiz for You on QuizYourFriends.com

CLICK on the link below or PASTE it into your browser.

TEST

oh…and I didn’t win this year’s undergraduate writing contest. :( oh well, there’s always next year, right! write….

I guess I should be writing a new poem soon. the latest one has been up there for quite a while. also, I will probably be posting a revised version of “hunger” before too long. it’s a fun little story.

Twelfth Night and Shakespeare’s Attitude toward Homosexuality

Twelfth Night is a play that touches on issues that are incredibly sensitive, even by current standards. Homosexuality is the source of a great deal of debate and controversy in today’s world, but Shakespeare wrote this play in the late sixteenth century, approaching the subject of homoerotic desire through humor and comedy. While we have no direct evidence of Shakespeare’s personal views, his treatment of homoeroticism in this play, especially through the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian in Act II Scene I and Act III Scene III, can provide us with insight to his attitude toward such relationships. Antonio seems to be deeply infatuated with and devoted to Sebastian, who has no qualms taking advantage of Antonio in spite of the fact that he is essentially indifferent to him. If this relationship is any indication of Shakespeare’s attitude toward relationships that have homoerotic elements, then his sympathetic treatment of Antonio and his portrayal of Sebastian as opportunistic would suggest that Shakespeare understood the strain that societal attitudes placed on homosexuals.

In approaching this issue, it is important to first look at how Shakespeare ended Twelfth Night by providing safe, heterosexual outlets for the homoerotic overtones that characterize the play. One of the central conflicts of the play—which is apparent in Olivia’s lines Act IV, Scene I—is solved by the mistaken identity of Sebastian. When the play begins, Duke Orsino seeks to woo Olivia, who will have no suitor as she mourns her brother. She allows Cesario to come forth and present Orsino’s suit, but instead of accepting Orsino’s propositions, she falls in love with Cesario. Because Olivia believes that Sebastian is Cesario, a marriage is arranged in Act IV, Scene I between the two. Because Viola has developed a warm relationship with Orsino as Cesario, Orsino does not need to be terribly disappointed at losing Olivia to Sebastian. The appearance of Sebastian in this scene as a character who will accept Olivia’s advances frees Viola not only from Olivia’s pursuit, but also to reveal her true identity and her love for Orsino. This scene is crucial to the peaceful resolution of the play. Sebastian’s appearance at this point in time serves both to redirect the homoerotic energies into heterosexual relationships and to allow for a comic rather than tragic ending.

Shakespeare was constrained in his writing by the sensibilities of his audience and society at large. The redirection of homoerotic energies into heterosexual relationships does not necessarily provide an accurate impression of how Shakespeare felt about homoerotic relations. His treatment of Sebastian and Antonio provides more insight into his views, especially because Antonio is portrayed as a character who actively embraces homoerotic desire for Sebastian. Orsino’s admiration for Cesario is apparent, but in the action of the play, it is made clear that these characters will not act on their desire, at least before the true identity of Cesario is revealed. Similarly, Olivia’s attraction to Cesario, however obvious, comes across clearly as desire that will not be fulfilled, at least not by Cesario. As we see in these instances, while it might have been on the edge of social acceptability to feature homoerotic desire, Shakespeare avoids treating the desire as acceptable by making it clear that in neither case will the desire be fulfilled. This was not necessarily the case with Antonio and Sebastian.

Beginning in Act II Scene I, Shakespeare introduces the tension between Antonio and Sebastian. Antonio has rescued Sebastian, who has called himself Roderigo, and brought him safely to land. Sebastian, in urging Antonio to go his own way, says “I may bear my evils alone: it were a bad recompense for your love, to lay any of them on you.” The love that Antonio has shown Sebastian may simply be the rescue and safe voyage to land, but it seems likely to me that in that safe passage, Antonio and Sebastian might have indulged in their homoerotic desires. It would serve as an explanation for Sebastian’s desire to keep his name secret, as well as Antonio’s remark, “If you will not murder me for my love, let me be your servant.” This remark certainly seems to give Antonio away as having overt homoerotic desire for Sebastian, but even then, for Sebastian to kill him seems rather extreme. He would, however, have much more reason for wanting to do away with Antonio if they had, in fact, been involved with each other in physical intimacy. Sebastian has no real reason for concern being the object of Antonio’s desire, as that says nothing about his character. If he had, however, been involved with Antonio romantically, he would have much more reason for wanting to be rid of him for good, whether that meant by killing him or simply walking out of his life.

Cristina Malcomson, in her article “What You Will,” says that “the ideology of the play resides in its formulation of love, which includes both dominant, traditional notions of interdependence, and newly emerging attitudes toward individual choice and personal desire, or, as the play puts it, ‘will'” (Wayne 31, 32). In the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian, Antonio alone feels the love, and his attempts at establishing interdependence are apparent in his admonishment to Sebastian: “let me be your servant.”

Malcomson also states in her article that “Twelfth Night considers advancement in terms of a marriage market which in the play is much more open to personal choice and status exogamy than it is in traditional society, and which also firmly closes down at particular moments” (Wayne 31). Antonio’s love for Sebastian might be considered one of those moments to which she refers. And because Antonio could never hope to marry Sebastian, neither in traditional society nor in the “more open” marriage market of Twelfth Night, the best he can hope for is the attachment to Sebastian through servitude.

Antonio’s role as a minor character in this play, however, was likely a choice made based on Shakespeare’s preference to focus on other issues. “Not only are female triumphs compared to male inadequacies; the proper attitude towards marriage becomes the mirroring reflection of the proper attitude towards social advancement. . . the play dramatizes the superiority of women to men in order to call into question the rigid structures of the traditional order, and, in the process, to validate certain forms of social mobility” (Wayne 31). Shakespeare’s decisions are not unlike the decisions made by certain civil rights leaders in the twentieth century, who believed that there would be much less resistance to extend rights a little bit at a time, to one group at a time, than to grant equal rights across the board to all minority groups. Not that I think that Shakespeare even vaguely considered the notion of same-sex marriage, nor even hoped to use this play (or any of his others of which I’m aware), to challenge social attitudes toward homoerotic behavior. But while one of this play’s main goals might be to “challenge the rigid structures of the traditional order,” Shakespeare still introduces Antonio on the periphery and through him, gives evidence of a peripheral attitude—namely the attitude toward homoerotic relations that he deftly avoids addressing through his treatment of major characters in the conclusion of the play.

However, Antonio is still involved in the new social mobility to which Malcomson refers. She says of Antonio: “[he] is the model for the new servant imagined by the play, since his service is based on desire rather than duty or reverence.” She suggests that all social mobility, according to this play, should be based on that same desire, as it is with the women. Most social roles at the time, especially those of servitude and other lower-class roles, were the function of a person’s birthright, not their talents, aptitudes, or aspirations. While the women of this play are given freer reign than would have been socially acceptable at the time, there are still relative constraints to that freedom. Sebastian and Viola seem to be of decent stock from whichever country is theirs—the Captain in Act I Scene II addresses Viola as “lady”—so it does not seem outrageous that they would be able to marry Olivia and Orsino, respectively. Even Maria is not too far removed from Toby Belch in social status, and her marriage to him is bestowed as a “reward” for her cleverness. She seems to enjoy, or desire, her service to Toby as Antonio does his service to Sebastian. Malvolio, on the other hand, is too wrapped up in himself to bee very concerned with his service to Olivia, and though he is ecstatic at the false prospect of marriage to her, it has more to do with his desire for social advancement than his desire for her as a lover. Between that and Olivia’s preoccupation with Cesario, Malvolio never stood a chance, much like Antonio, whose desire seems to operate on a completely different level. Malvolio’s desire for service is motivated by a drive to advance himself in terms of social status, and as Malcomson pointed out, “female triumphs [are] compared to male inadequacies” (Wayne 31).

Valerie Traub points out that “the meanings of homoerotic desire during the early modern period seem to have been remarkably unfixed, with contradictory meanings existing across a complex and fractured field of signification. . . homoerotic activity—for men or women—was not a primary means of identification of the self. Homoeroticism had little to do with any of the social roles, statuses, and hierarchies in which an early modern subject might be located and thereby define him/herself.” Antonio might have been well aware of his homoerotic desires, for Sebastian and possibly others, but according to Traub’s suggestions, he likely did not identify himself too strongly with those desires. Other concerns, “social roles, statuses, and hierarchies,” were of much greater importance than a person’s sexual orientation. Marriage between man and woman, whether founded on desire and love or social pressures and constraints, would probably have had very little effect on homoerotic relations, which posed no threat of producing illegitimate children. For Antonio to become Sebastian’s servant leaves open the possibility of ongoing involvement, regardless of Sebastian’s marital status, and this type of relationship would mark the height of what could be hoped for by two men bound by mutual homoerotic desire.

Cristina Malcomson’s suggestion that this play “dramatizes the superiority of women to men” provides an explanation for Antonio’s failure to advance himself socially through his desire to serve Sebastian, but it does not seem to address Sebastian’s own successful social advancement through his marriage to Olivia. In Act IV Scene III, just before he is to be married to Olivia, Sebastian yearns for Antonio’s counsel, in the face of “this accident and flood of fortune.” He imagines that he must be losing his mind, or that Olivia has lost hers, but wonders, “if ’twere so, She could not sway her house, command her followers, take and give back affairs and their dispatch with such a smooth, discreet and stable bearing.” While the marriage between the two should be considered a triumph more for Olivia than for Sebastian, it seems to be significant that he is preoccupied not only with Olivia’s status, but also with Antonio’s whereabouts. When Sebastian encounters Antonio again in the final scene of the play, he greets him: “Antonio, O my dear Antonio! How have the hours rack’d and tortured me, Since I have lost thee!”

While Valerie Traub suggests that “the homoerotic energies of Viola, Olivia, and Orsino are displaced onto Antonio, whose relation to Sebastian is finally sacrificed for the maintenance of institutionalized heterosexuality and generational continuity,” she goes on to explain that “the fear expressed, however, is not of homoeroticism per se. . . [it is] fear of erotic exclusivity and its corollary: non-reproductive sexuality” (Traub 123). The problem that the love between Antonio and Sebastian poses is circumvented by Sebastian’s marriage to Olivia, which frees the two to continue in their relationship, as long as it remains subordinate to Sebastian’s marriage.

Antonio displays a very favorable sort of love in Twelfth Night in that he is as devoted to serving his love as Viola to Orsino and as determined in his desire as Olivia to Cesario/Sebastian. Not only is his plight treated by Shakespeare with extreme sympathy, Antonio is consistently portrayed as a character who maintains his honor and dignity throughout the play. By the end of the play, Antonio is not “sacrificed,” as Traub suggests, but has achieved a rather smashing success in his role as servant to Sebastian, and their relationship is not lost to, but rather legitimized by, Sebastian’s marriage to Olivia. In finishing this play, Shakespeare reinforces social conventions of heterosexual marriage in order to ensure reproductive sexuality, but his treatment of the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian leaves open the possibility for viable non-reproductive sexuality between respectable, even favorable, characters, suggesting that he sympathized with those who are prone to homoerotic desire.

Works Consulted:

  • Traub, Valerie. Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama. London, Routledge, 1992.
  • Wayne, Valerie, ed. The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1991.