Reimagining desire and identity in the title characters of Hamlet and Richard III in a South African context

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Heydenrych, Mattheus
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University of the Free State
During my Master’s studies in Theatre Directing at East 15 Acting School, London, a question regularly asked by my lecturer, Tony Clark, was: ‘If you were to direct a Shakespeare play now, why would you do it? What would the play say today?’ I started asking myself, ‘If I were to transpose a Shakespeare play into a modern context, what new perspectives and interpretations could be arrived at if I were to read it from a queer perspective? How would that influence the identity and desires of the characters and the interpretation thereof?’ The study aimed to examine what would happen if the sexuality of the characters Richard and Hamlet were changed by transposing 𝘏𝘢𝘮𝘭𝘦𝘵 and 𝘙𝘪𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘐𝘐𝘐, into queer adaptations and how that would change the identity and desires of the title characters in the new adaptations. To do this, the study identified ‘unspoken or unconscious lesbian, gay, or queer presence’, or what will be referred to as queer cues, utilising the coding process of Constructivist-Grounded Theory in Hamlet and Richard III by William Shakespeare. Queer Theory has significantly impacted literary analysis. It has broadened the field’s focus beyond conventional binary conceptions of gender and sexuality. Using Queer Theory, one can study how gender and sexuality are disrupted and challenged in texts and how these categories are created and performed through language and narrative. Similarities exist between Queer Theory and Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Criticism (LGQC) as they both examine gender and sexuality. However, their approaches and points of focus are slightly different. While LGQC focuses on analysing particular cultural representations, Queer Theory deconstructs binary categories. One of the fundamental ideas of LGQC is the quest for textual evidence, or rather cues, in the literary interpretation of texts. In most cases, these cues are blatant homoerotic imagery and same-sex interactions, but sometimes these cues are subtle and create a homoerotic atmosphere in a heterosexual work. Several examples of subtle “unspoken or unconscious” cues exist, but this study predominantly focuses on 𝘩𝘰𝘮𝘰𝘴𝘰𝘤𝘪𝘢𝘭 𝘣𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨. In Tyson (2006), 𝘩𝘰𝘮𝘰𝘴𝘰𝘤𝘪𝘢𝘭 𝘣𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 is explained as portraying a strong emotional bond between characters of the same sex. The study aimed to examine which 𝘲𝘶𝘦𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘶𝘦𝘴 could be identified in the scripts through a 𝘲𝘶𝘦𝘦𝘳 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 and how that influenced the transposition of the scripts into new queer adaptations. The focus of this study was mainly on 𝘨𝘢𝘺 𝘴𝘦𝘯𝘴𝘪𝘣𝘪𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘺. A preliminary analysis made it clear that after examining the characters’ interactions with each other, there were subtle queer cues evident in 𝘙𝘪𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘐𝘐𝘐 and 𝘏𝘢𝘮𝘭𝘦𝘵. Other events and interactions were then analysed to see if they supported these cues. In my opinion, the results pointed to elements of 𝘩𝘰𝘮𝘰𝘴𝘰𝘤𝘪𝘢𝘭 𝘣𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 between the relevant characters, which I interpreted as indications that Richard and Hamlet were gay men. As mentioned above, the study applied the coding process of Constructivist-Grounded Theory. The first step is Initial Coding, followed by Focussed Coding, where categories are refined, and then finally, theory development. The Initial Coding process and the process of 𝘲𝘶𝘦𝘦𝘳 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 identified 𝘲𝘶𝘦𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘶𝘦𝘴 in the scripts of 𝘙𝘪𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘐𝘐𝘐 and 𝘏𝘢𝘮𝘭𝘦𝘵. For these 𝘲𝘶𝘦𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘶𝘦𝘴 to be identified, the study focussed on the concept of 𝘩𝘰𝘮𝘰𝘴𝘰𝘤𝘪𝘢𝘭 𝘣𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 and queer interpretation, seeing that the main focus of this study’s inquiry was the relationship between Richard and Tyrrel, and Hamlet and Horatio. The study found that the scripts indeed supported a queer interpretation of 𝘙𝘪𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘐𝘐𝘐 and 𝘏𝘢𝘮𝘭𝘦𝘵. During the Focused Coding process, other moments and events in the scripts were identified that can now be interpreted from a queer perspective. During the memo-writing process of Focused Coding, the characters of Tyrrel (in 𝘙𝘪𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘐𝘐𝘐) and Horatio (in 𝘏𝘢𝘮𝘭𝘦𝘵) were examined to establish how their interactions supported a queer interpretation. The last part of the coding process (Memo-Writing) was transposing 𝘏𝘢𝘮𝘭𝘦𝘵 and 𝘙𝘪𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘐𝘐𝘐 into queer adaptations, where Richard and Tyrrel and Hamlet and Horatio were placed in same-sex relationships. Nevertheless, when reading the queer adaptations, the study found that the queer interpretations of these plays could still not ‘present’ themselves in the scripts alone. A new question emerged: ‘How to present the 𝘲𝘶𝘦𝘦𝘳 𝘤𝘶𝘦𝘴 in the new queer adaptations of 𝘏𝘢𝘮𝘭𝘦𝘵 and 𝘙𝘪𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘐𝘐𝘐?’ The study, therefore, included 𝘏𝘢𝘮𝘭𝘦𝘵 and 𝘙𝘪𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘐𝘐𝘐, where it was found that the transposition to the stage was necessary to bring to life the ‘queer interpretations’ of the title characters. Clearly, the study needed to include actors’ performances to determine how the characters’ sexuality influenced their identities and desires. The actor’s interpretation and delivery of the lines, their gestures, and actions brought the queer interpretation of the scripts to the forefront.
Thesis (Ph.D. (Drama and Theatre Arts))--University of the Free State, 2023