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In this issue:
-Marlowe's "Edward II"; Drayton's "Piers Gaveston"
Edward II is the only openly gay king in England's history. His troubled life, which spanned the cusp of the 13th and 14th centuries, has provided inspiration for poetry and drama that moves and entertains us even today.
Last week, one of our members attended in Boston a performance of Christopher Marlowe's 1590 play about Edward. Bertolt Brecht's 1921 adaptation of the play recently ran in New York City, and the Derek Jarman 1991 film is often shown in large metropolitan centers where gay people congregate.
Lesser known in our time is the poem "Piers Gaveston" by Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton, written in 1593. I am offering extracts of it below, following a short sampling of the Marlowe play.
From "The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second" by Christopher Marlowe:
I must have wanton poets, pleasant wits,
Perhaps you caught the reference in the last six lines above to the Greek goddess Artemis (Roman goddess Diana, of the moon and of the hunt) whose story is told in Digest 208 (April 2001) in the concluding part of "Orestes and Pylades." She was a virgin goddess so jealous of her virginity that when she bathed in a spring and caught the mortal Actaeon peeping at her nudity through a screen of reeds, she transformed him into a stag and let his own dogs overpower him and tear him to shreds. So much for wasting time looking at naked women!
Of course, Edward II had little interest in women although he sired four children on his beautiful French wife, Isabella. Neither was interested in the other sexually, it appears, but Edward was a very sexual person deeply enamored of a handsome, swaggering soldier whom his father introduced into his life as tutor in the manly arts.
The Gascon Piers had a less obvious talent for "manly arts" quite different from those Edward's dad had in mind and, per Michael Drayton's poem, "Piers Gaveston," the randy military man set about teaching them to young Edward at the first opportunity. Edward seems never to have taken pains to hide his rampant affection for Piers, nor did anyone doubt its reciprocity from the romantic Frenchman.
Drayton's poem indicates that the somewhat older, probably more "masculine," Piers offered himself to the Prince as if to a god, playing the younger, supplicant's role by comparing himself to Ganymede, so there are elements of worship on both sides, as well as a certain role-playing on the Gascon's part.
Given the added impetus of lust---in Piers' case, perhaps as much a lust for the wealth and power he stood to gain from so intimate a position as "favorite" to the future king---supplemented by the unbridled passion of sexually obsessed young men on either side of the biological peak of sensual desire (said to be age 19), it is no wonder that we still hear the bomb ticking 800 years down the road! In the England of that time, it had to explode, and explode it did, blasting them both into our time, where their love can be appreciated as it never was in their own.
In "Piers Gaveston," Drayton exhibits a highly refined perception of such a relationship, possibly because in his youth he was taken into the manor of a nobleman as a page and fell in love with the daughter of the house. Undoubtedly unrequited, his love for her would have placed him in a position where he could later understand the situation in which Piers found himself in the castle of Edward's father. Being an accomplished Elizabethan poet and dramatist, Drayton's art was structured on his ability to sympathize, even more to empathize, with those of thoughts, feelings, class and orientations other than his own.
He lets Piers describe his relationship with the royal young man:
This Edward in the April of his age,
Presumably speaking from hindsight, perhaps even moments before the axe fell that severed his head a dozen years later, Piers recalls, above, those golden days in the springtime of their lives. Edward was free to shine upon him as the sun and swooped down like Jove (Zeus, Jupiter) as the eagle to lift Ganymede in his talons for a flight to Olympus. No matter that Juno (as with Edward's father and, later, his wife, Isabelle, the "she-wolf of France") was waiting there to box his ears; all that would come later. In those golden, early days, they could frolic in the sweet heaven of first love, chasing after each other like satyrs, catching up and exploding in lust.
He might commaund, he was my Sovereign's son,
Edward would be king, Piers seems to be saying, and technically had the last word, but often deferred to him as the older, wiser, perhaps acknowledgedly superior, man. Close friendships can be difficult between people of markedly different social status. Piers would never be royal; Edward would never be a commoner. Their roles were probably in a constant state of reversal, given a difference of six or seven years in age (possibly more) and the difference between night and day in their positions. The tennis metaphor is telling. Edward could dish it out, but Piers could give it back as good as he got, and then some! And Edward took it with a smile.
Making up after their "tennis matches" would have been fun, as Piers tells it in the next lines. It must drive straights nuts to read such things written by a man to or about another man:
My youth the glass where he his youth beheld,
The erotic imagery in those lines turns me on. The "wanton ivy" twining around the oak (wrapped up together), combining the "straightest saplings" (surely a euphemism for stiff cocks), "when our sport begins," and the kissing, kissing, kissing everywhere. Sigh!
Drayton gives us everything but the rich, dark smells of men sexing together, and I even pick up a bit of that from the earthy, tree-bark, funky mushroom imagery of the woods. I am not really sure that Drayton was, if not gay, at least, bi-. Bisexuality was a very Elizabethan-poet sort of thing, witness the "dark sonnets" of Shakespeare to another man and Kit Marlowe and Tom Kyd sharing the same single room, if not the same bed, not to mention the line that Kyd, under torture, swore that Marlowe wrote, "He who likes not tobacco and boys is a fool."
The mood and scene of the poem change now, and Drayton offers hints of the darker times in the lives of Edward and Piers. We see Piers "shrouded in some melancholy brake"---this word, meaning an area overgrown with dense brushwood, briers, and undergrowth, reinforces the idea that Piers may have been waiting in a thicket while his executioners readied themselves---"Chirping forth accents of...misery...Thus half-distracted sitting all alone, With speaking sighs, to utter forth my moan...(waiting) to behold the light... Now weather-beaten with a thousand storms...My...limbs Which oft were lulled in princely Edwards arms, Those eyes where beauty sat in all her pride..."
Here, the perspective shifts again, as though we are with Edward watching from afar, perhaps from the chilling depths of a nightmare, "With fearful objects filed on every side..." Edward, although now the King, is yet powerless to save his love. Piers is led from the thicket and pushed to his knees. Before lowering his handsome head for the last time, the Frenchman lifts his gaze for one last, searching look into the non-presence of "Those eyes where beauty sat in all her pride..." and, then, the axe falls.....
The Prince so much astonished with the blow,
(Note: cataplasma---a poultice applied hot, exerting an emollient, relaxing, counterirritant effect upon the skin.)
Edward has been awakened from his dream "by his woe." The next lines of Michael Drayton's poem clearly comprise Edward's lament over the death of Piers Gaveston:
O break my heart quoth he, O break and die
Anyone who has lost someone when death had no right to come can empathize with Edward's lament. Only great art can convey such emotion across the years. I am grateful for the resources the Internet brings into our private lives every day. Without it, we could not be together and share these wonderful things.
The first two are different artistic versions of the same two Christian lovers: Sergios (also called Serge in English) and Bacchos (also called Bacchus in English), who were Roman soldiers in the army of the emperor in the late third and early fourth centuries, martyred within a short time of each other for their refusal to renounce their religion. The marriage ceremonies that the Christian church used for more than one thousand years for the union of two men frequently invoked the sacred memory of these two men as saints of the church.
If that previous sentence sounds shocking to you, please do not tell me, but do your own research into the subject. You could do worse than by starting with a book by the historian John Boswell, now dead, formerly of the history department of Yale University. The book I refer you to is "Same-Sex Unions in PreModern Europe", Villard Books, New York, 1994.
George of Boston (Boston Bill)
If that previous sentence sounds shocking to you, please do not tell me, but do your own research into the subject. A good place to start is by reading the Jewish scriptures, from the story of David, son of Jesse, killing Goliath to the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan. Reference: from the first book of Samuel, chapter 17, to the second book of Samuel, all of chapter 1. Then in the light of that background, please consider carefully the meaning of 2nd Samuel, chapter 1, verses 17-27.
BUT, and this is a big BUT, read the bible in a translation that was made AFTER 1900, and that was NOT made under the supervision of or close connection to any religious organization. I say this for two reasons. One, it is my view that independent scholars are better able to leave their cultural and religious biases behind while doing the task of translating. Two, many advances in biblical scholarship have been made since 1900, not limited to but including the finding and deciphering and publishing of some portions of the Dead Sea scrolls.
I commend to you, but only for the Jewish scripture portion of the book, the translation made by J. M. Powis Smith and a group of scholars, published by the University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1939; and also published the same year by the Cambridge University Press, London, and the University of Toronto Press, Toronto; under the title "The Complete Bible - An American Translation".
I am not asserting that this is the best translation or the only useful or unbiased translation. I am asserting that it is highly faithful to the original text as best we can know that text.
George of Boston (Boston Bill)
If you can start the day without caffeine, if you can get along without pep pills, if you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains, if you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it, if you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time, if you can overlook it when those you love take it out on you when, though no fault of yours, something goes wrong,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment, if you can ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him/her, if you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit, if you can conquer tension without medical help, if you can relax without liquor, if you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion or politics,
Then, my friend, you are ALMOST as good as your dog or cat.
A noted sex therapist realized that people often lie about the frequency of their encounters, so he devised a test to tell for certain how often someone had sex.
To prove his theory, he filled up an auditorium with people, and went down the line asking each person to smile. Using the size of the person's smile, the therapist was able to guess accurately how often each person had sex. The last man in line was grinning from ear to ear.
"Twice a day," the therapist guessed, but was surprised when the man said no. "Once a day, then?" Again the answer was no. "Twice a week?"
"Twice a month?"
When the doctor asked, "Once a year?" the man finally said yes.
The therapist was angry that his theory hadn?t worked with this individual, and he asked the man, "What the heck are you so happy about?"
The man answered, "Tonight's the night!"
Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Everything looks
permanent until its secret is revealed."
"Heterosexual men, we scratch, we chase girls and we play sports," says Gary A. Vegliante, the mayor of West Hampton Dunes, Long Island, New York. "Imagine growing up a homosexual male in suburbia where you are supposed to be scratching, burping and chasing girls. Imagine the confusion, especially in suburbia, where it is very well defined what young men do."
Speaking in reference to the new trend toward "gay" proms (high school dances) all over the USA, Vegliante also says "the proms present a confounding situation." Adding that he is a "devout Catholic," hizzoner the mayor claims to be "uncomfortable with the idea of gay sex." He does not believe that gay proms should take place, but in almost the same breath, he says he can understand why they are needed. Two gay proms are being held in his town.
Gay proms give visibility to gay high school kids
and are attended by gay, lesbian, bisexual,
trangendered, and heterosexual teens. That's
FIVE sexes! Count 'em! Wanna try for six?
Whatever happened to Jo-Jo the Dog-faced Boy
we used to see in traveling carnival side shows?
End of silverfoxesclub-digest V1 #217